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As a missionary priest one of the key elements is finding satisfaction in the missionary work entrusted to one despite the daily challenges. This gives a missionary priest something to look forward to and something to aspire for. Recently I interviewed Fr. Eric Aka over the same and here is what he had to say...

I am Eric AKA, member of the Society of African Missions. I am Ivorian born in a family of 19 children including 2 nuns. It goes without saying that my father was polygamous.

When and where were you ordained?

I was ordained on the 8th July 2000, at St. Joseph Epoux parish, Abobo station (Abidjan) in Ivory Coast.

Where did you do your first missionary experience?

I had my first missionary experience in the Holy Family Parish at Guffanti in the Apostolic Vicariate of Kontagora, Niger State in Nigeria.

What were the positive and negative challenges that you faced in the mission?

In the year 2000, the parish of Guffanti was in a very rural area of ​​the Vicariate with inhabitants whose main activity was agriculture. It consisted of 25 village communities eager for the Christian faith. They wanted to know and belong to the Catholic Church because they refused Islam. This craze made the reception of the proposal of the Catholic faith favorable. In addition, parents encouraged their children to apply for Catholic baptism even though they could not receive it because of their marital status. Indeed, they were predominantly polygamous. The willingness of many young people to participate in the animation of parish life was a major contribution to the realization of the mission. Added to this is the dynamism of women in the spread of the social doctrine of the Church. The desire to strengthen unity among Christians and to contribute to the development of their villages was also a positive challenge.

The absence of basic public services, the insufficiency of financial means, illiteracy, the insufficiency of the number of catechists and priests and the poor state of the road network were the great challenges of this mission.

What motivated you to continue despite the challenges?

My faith in Jesus allows me to join people in their daily desire to improve their living conditions. God, through Jesus, joins us to journey with us. This presence allows me to face difficulties in seeking solutions. It is precisely the difficulties encountered in this mission that led me to do a master’s degree in Local Development Engineering and Cooperation Project.

The other reason that pushed me to continue is my great desire to make known the wealth that Jesus represents for humanity. Added to this is the sense of responsibility. The bishop entrusted me with this mission. I am serving an eager population. I will not give up this responsibility at the slightest difficulty.

Where are you currently in mission?

I am currently on mission at the County of Lofa in Liberia. I reside at St. John Vianney Parish in Foya but I am responsible for the Catholic communities throughout Lofa County.

What is the difference between what you do now and what you did before?

Liberia is a country that has experienced 14 years of civil war and in 2014 the great Ebola outbreak. This leaves traces in people’s mentalities and attitudes. The approach in the proposition of the Catholic faith is not the same as that made when I was in Nigeria; the circumstances are not the same.

Liberia is a country undergoing reconstruction both in infrastructure and in human resources. The Catholic Church accompanies the State in this reconstruction. At my level, I am very devoted in supporting the local dynamics.

What challenges do you encounter in your new mission?

In geographical terms Lofa County is the second largest and the third largest in terms of population. It has 5 parishes scattered on both sides of the county. I am 4 hours drive away from the farthest. I am the only priest to serve all these parishes which also have Catholic communities spread in the villages. I am assisted in my work by catechists, an SMA deacon, 4 nuns and a lay missionary. Since November 2018, I have been joined by a priest from the province of Italy for a year-long experience. All these to describe the huge lack of personnel in terms of catechists, nuns, lay missionaries and priests.

Secondly, supporting people's willingness to become more involved in the development of their living environment and participating in decision-making bodies is one of the major challenges. Before the turbulent times in Liberia, Lofa County was considered the breadbasket of the country. Currently an effort is made by the inhabitants to restore this blazon. However, their will alone is not enough. They need financial and technical support and the answer to this need is a challenge. The lack of qualified personnel in different fields is an obstacle to the development of the County. There is a need to train young people and even adults.

Finally, I am confronted with the thorny problem of financial means. Indeed, the population of Lofa is mainly low-income agricultural famers. I am totally dependent on outside help. Therefore, the financial empowerment challenge of the different parishes of Lofa arises. Measures are being put in place in Foya to mitigate this challenge.

What are the expectations of sending and receiving entities regarding your current mission?

One of the entities' expectations for the current mission is to strengthen our SMA presence in this part of Liberia so that this adventure does not rest on me alone.

Compared to your previous mission, do you find satisfaction and accomplishment in what you do?

In my current mission I will be satisfied and accomplished when there is a team of SMA priests in Lofa. The SMA through its Plenary Councils has made Liberia a priority. I am grateful to the entities that send some of their members to Liberia. It needs more.

Do you think the SMA and its mission are still relevant?

The SMA has given itself as mission the first evangelization of Africa and peoples of African descent. Pope John Paul II said that there is no evangelization without the integral development of Man. To answer the question of the relevance of the SMA and its mission today, we must have as an indicator the integral development of the inhabitants of the countries where we are present in Africa. It is clear that we are far below this indicator. As long as the SMA has not achieved its goal, its mission remains relevant. It can support African dioceses in fulfilling this mission.

In addition, the SMA can offer her expertise to the churches of Europe and America as part of the new evangelization of these continents. It can help these churches to better respond to the African presence within them.

As the SMA prepares for the General Assembly, what would you like to see happen in the SMA in general?

I wish to see greater solidarity in the SMA both financially and at the level of human resources. That all feel part of the same family and that some stop pulling the strings to their own interests to the detriment of the whole.

                                                                                                                                         by Dominic Wabwireh, SMA