Brothers, we want to share a project that the “Santa Clara de Asís” Custody is carrying out in Jécua, a town located in central Mozambique, with some 200 ha of fertile land. It is the same place where the old Portuguese missionaries have worked with great care in the past.
We decided at the Custodial Chapter to work on this project. Also, as for the Custody’s need, it may help us achieve financial autonomy and express the “Franciscan experience” in its most profound sense. We eagerly wanted to live the same values that St. Francis left us as the core in our charisma. Specially, we also wanted to emphasize that it is an expression of reverent and careful respect for creation, our common home, and fraternal bonds with all beings.
As we know, one of the most salient features of the spirituality of St. Francis is his keen sense of God’s presence in creation and human history. Created things acquire such a symbolic value since all the creation constitutes a natural place of Revelation. The Saint of Assisi was aware that God had created the entire universe and that all beings, rational and irrational, formed a cosmic brotherhood. The reason is that we all have the same origin in the only Creator Father.
With this inspiration, we wished to make the Jécua Project a genuine reservoir of Franciscan spirituality in the spirit of Laudato Si’, expressed in the brothers’ manual work, which is always a daily grace and possibility. We were able to establish the special bonds with the people who work with us because of the respectful care that we wanted to give to this Franciscan space.
We wanted the agricultural and livestock projects to be administered according to the economy of solidarity. They will help the Custody to achieve financial autonomy and, in return, generate alternatives for the families in the area.
At a time when the Covid19 pandemic found all of humanity in a common storm, we recognized that this storm affected those with smaller and more fragile ships, especially small boats full of immigrants that often seek new horizons.
Our project was born in this context and aimed to break the logic of welfare, with which many projects are carried out in Mozambique. And such proposals are structured to depend always on external resources and aid. This project generates resources and alternatives itself, acting according to the entrepreneurial logic of developing local initiatives and actions.
We have a space of about 15 hectares as the heart of the project, and it will be dedicated to a natural reserve so that small animals such as gazelles, rabbits, and others may serenely live there. This place also has an area that the locals consider “sacred” and perform some traditional ceremonies and ancient rites. Therefore, it will be a space that we will take special care. We will call it “St. Bonaventure” so that his theology of the sacramentality of everything created may inspire us and remind us that all creation is conceived with the presence of God and His footprints.
As for Sister Water, since it is scarce for most of the year in these latitudes, we need to draw it from the mountains surrounding us. The ancient missionaries have already done it, and therefore, we can do it too. The environment, which is of particular beauty as in the mountains and the vegetation, reminds us of the Beautiful. As the biographer tells us about St. Francis’s experience: “He recognized the Most Beautiful in the beautiful beings. All the beings were good to him. They shouted at him, ‘The One who has made us is the Supreme Good'” (2Cel 165). In Jécua, everything screams out His presence!
The horizon of our project is comprehensive and ambitious. We imagine an agricultural and livestock training school, a restaurant to share our products recognized for their natural and Franciscan care for the not too distant future.
We are constructing a house equipped with renewable energy where three responsible brothers could live. We dream of a future convent with a hermitage, where we can receive brothers for rest and spiritual renewal and those who want to work and pray with us for some time.
We came up with a motto in four verbs: “Sow, collect, share and involve.” The first two imply the grace of the work by the brothers and the people in the area. This grace dignifies the person and his/her families. “Sharing” is the ripe fruit of brotherhood. And, finally, “involve.” We want to be a bridge between those who have the most or those who have the least.
It is evident that when creation is perceived as a sacrament, Divine manifestation, and path to God, we are compelled to transform our relationship of domination and power into a relationship of reverence and respect for all that is created. And this new relationship is developed in a solidarity sharing of the gifts that God gives us.
And, as Bishop Angelelli, martyr of La Rioja (Argentina) wanted to affirm: “You just have to keep walking.”
Br. Jorge Alberto Bender Weidmann, OFM
Missionary in Mozambique