Priest takes Paulist charism to Sierra Leone
The scene was one you probably wouldn’t imagine in a predominantly Muslim country: Christians and Muslims praying together in the mosques and churches of Serabu, a remote village of about 4,200 people in the West African country of Sierra Leone.
“Among my most moving experiences were those which occurred in two village mosques, where I was invited to pray over and bless the gathered Muslim congregation,” said Paulist Father D. Bruce Nieli, who was part of an ecumenical mission team from Memphis, Tenn., to Serabu in June.
The local Muslim leadership also presented a generous gift to Bishop Charles Campbell of the Diocese of Bo during Sunday Mass.
“What a marvelous spiritual experience we Christians and Muslims had of praying and working together for the human needs of the people,” said Father Nieli, a Paulist missionary whose home base is St. Patrick Church in Memphis.
During this African journey, Father Nieli also led a three-day retreat for the approximately 25 priests of Bo, the newly created diocese in Sierra Leone’s second-largest city. The retreat focused on the upcoming Year of Faith and the New Evangelization. Bishop Campbell himself will be a participant in the Vatican Synod on the New Evangelization.
Father D. Bruce Nieli, CSP (right) joins the residents of Serabu, Sierra Leone, to pray in one of the small village's two mosques. Father Nieli was invited to pray over and bless the joined Muslim and Christian communities gathered in the mosque.
The retreatants were quite enthusiastic about the experience, according to Father Nieli.
“The priests were fascinated with the story of [Paulist founder] Father Isaac Hecker, his sojourn among the Transcendentalists and his founding of the Paulists,” he said.
There was also an opportunity for Father Nieli to have some one-on-one spiritual moments with the residents of Serabu as he prayed with them individually and handed out hundreds of rosaries donated by the Southern Eye Clinic in Memphis.
Southern Eye Director Dr. Cathy Schanzer (with her husband, Tom Lewis) led the medical team that performed some 215 eye surgeries and distributed nutritious meals to more than 1,500 patients and their families. The trip also included the opening of seven deep water wells, education on healthy sanitation practices and the opening of a new air conditioned computer center.
Father Nieli summed neatly summed up the Africa mission experience as a “deeply Paulist experience of evangelization, reconciliation, ecumenism, and interreligious encounter.”
The next mission trip is scheduled for January 2013.
The 2012 mission team from Memphis, Tenn., to Serabu, a small and remote village in Sierra Leone. In addition to the many spiritual experiences the group shared with Serabu residents, the team opened seven fresh water wells, performed 215 eye surgeries, provided 1,500 people with healthy meals and opened a computer center.