Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote that “Faith is a foretaste of the knowledge that will make us blessed in the life to come.” And this insight must be joined with Saint Augustine’s observation that: “What you wish to ignite in others must first burn within you.”
In Saint Augustine’s Seminary in Jos, in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, Oduh John Peter describes how he finally resolved his doubts. He was faced with the choice between becoming either a pharmacist or a priest. So he applied for both courses of study, telling himself that whichever was the first to offer him a place would be a sign from God. The diocese was the first to phone him. As soon as he put on his seminarian’s soutane, he says “I felt like an angel”. He experienced a burning love for God and wanted “to be as close to him as possible”. Then there were his studies. The books about the Faith were wellsprings of deeper knowledge, and they also kept him grounded. Just as they also keep the other 342 seminarians firmly grounded in the truth. Knowledge is also a source of strength, so the seminary library is a kind of “spiritual gym”.
But in order for it to remain so, the library needs to be constantly renewed and updated. Among the most recent examples of this renewal are noted classics of the interior life, testimonies of modern saints like Mother Teresa and Pope Saint John Paul II, books on the Theology of the Body and also and increasingly, works on comparative religious studies and topics such as “Culture and Inculturation”. And the students in Jos particularly need to familiarise themselves with all aspects of Islam. All this will help their ministry when they are priests and pastors proclaiming the truth. Given the huge number of students and the sheer size of the study groups, all these books are needed, and 10 copies are needed at a time. Even with heavy discounting, this still adds up to a very considerable financial outlay.
Another way of kindling the flame of charity among the peoples of West Africa is that taken by the Institute for Islamic-Christian Formation (IFIC) in Bamako, Mali. For some years now, radical forms of Islam (Wahhabist and jihadist) have been spreading in the region, seeking to set hitherto moderate Muslims against their Christian and animist neighbours. The IFIC aims to keep priests, pastors, religious and lay Christians up to date with the latest developments in dialogue with Islam and the traditional African animist religions. The close-on 150 participants on the one-year courses (half of them priests), come from almost every nation of West Africa. And there is very limited space to accommodate them all. A lecture hall with an attached accommodation block for the students and professors would be a real boost for the IFIC’s work promoting peace, and would give new impetus to the ongoing dialogue. The land for this university complex has already been secured, but they do not have the resources to start building.
Knowledge helps lay the foundations of peace – both temporal and spiritual – and, as Pope Francis has said, “a renewal of preaching can offer believers… new joy in the faith and fruitfulness in the work of evangelization.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 11).