In his first letter to the Christians in Asia Minor, Saint Peter writes: “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 2:5).
The Carmelite Fathers in the Central African Republic understand these words both literally and metaphorically. They see themselves as living stones in the Church and they also manufacture stones, or more precisely, bricks, with which they build schools, churches and hospitals. The very first missionaries here did the same thing over 120 years ago. Now it is a matter of trying to rebuild the country after decades of power struggles and civil war. “Our bricks will prove stronger than war and hatred”, says Padre Federico – and by that he means both the living stones which are the Carmelite Friars and the bricks for building the houses.
For while the old bricks, made of baked clay, eventually crumbled, the new bricks they are producing are made of earth, sand and cement, compressed in a special machine with just a little water. They will last practically forever, an image of the fidelity and perseverance of the Carmelites. Bodelo is 20 years old. A refugee, he sought shelter with the Carmelites, along with his family. Seeing the new bricks, he exclaims enthusiastically: “Mbi ye ti ga maçon – I want to be a bricklayer.”
For Bodelo and other refugees like him, there will be opportunities to work in brickmaking and rebuilding. The Carmelites will also be selling the bricks for other projects – like the centre for undernourished children that is now being built in Bangui at the Pope’s request. “Not a bad beginning”, laughs Padre Federico, “to have the Pope as our first customer!” But what matters most to him, and to the Holy Father too no doubt, is the steady trickle of young men knocking on their door. “They are the stones with which we are building the Church of Christ in this country”, he says. Except that while it takes no more than a week for a brick to be ready to build with, the formation of a young Carmelite novice will last from the first moment of his vocation until the end of his life, built into the walls of the living Church. “And whereas all the bricks are identical, each brother is quite different from the next. They all have the same goal and all burn with the same love, but each one builds different mansions with this love in the Kingdom of God.” For 10 years now, Padre Federico has been responsible for the formation of the postulants, novices and seminarians.
He has asked our help for the 38 young Carmelites in the monasteries and seminaries of Bangui and Bouar and also Yaoundé in Cameroon. A total of €22,800 will help these young hearts burn brighter and these young men become living stones in the spiritual house of the Church.