Relationship with the People
There is a particularly deep relationship between Fontem and Chiara Lubich, something which can be gleaned during the three visits she made to the area.
Within a few months of the arrival of the first focolarini in Fontem, Chiara came to visit in June 1966. Triumphant arches were set up along the road to welcome her and as one who accompanied her on that journey recall: It was as if God himself had come to welcome us and the arches had been built by the angels. The sensation was very strong because there were only the arches along the road, no one, only the silence of the forest and the leaping water of the stream which you have to look after before understanding the final ascent….. It was as if God was there and said to Chiara: ‘Welcome Chiara to the land Mary has reserved for you’.
The welcome of the local people was extraordinary. Chiara visited some of the constructions underway and while at the site for the hospital a group of women with hoes on their heads passed by. Although on the way to their farms to gather something for the next family meal, when they saw Chiara they put down their hoes and rushed to greet her improvising a dance for her with her in the middle. These women, the strength and support of the traditional society, were the first to meet her and to express their thanks and unity in dance!
An unexpected visit followed later: the Fon together with the Mafua (the queen, his sister) had heard of Chiara’s arrival and wanted to meet her and to welcome her. ‘You have come to this place without hope. Tonight you will sleep here but I pray that the Holy Spirit will come as fire and keep you warm and that you will not catch any sickness’.
To which Chiara replied: ‘thank you for your words. I really hope to be able to do something so that you have a better future, especially for your children. Let us hope God blesses us all for our fraternal collaboration. We are honoured that you have come to meet us tonight. This has been an unexpected gift for me.
The next day there was the official welcoming ceremony at the Palace in Azi. Having respected all necessary protocol the Fon asked to speak with Chiara. He said to her: ‘You are a woman and we know women are useless. Instead you have found such a great movement which has reached even here. Can you tell me how this has been possible?
In response Chiara shared with him her experience of life and the intervention of God in everything.
During the official speeches, Chiara confided that despite her many travels she had never received such a reception, such an understanding of the Focolare Movement as she had found among the Bangwa. In fact she assured the Fon and his people that Cameroon was like the first country ‘in our hearts’ and to which they would dedicate themselves with more love.
Her impression after the official welcome at the Azi Palace: The Bangwa were united to their King, and between me and the King there was a very beautiful unity because he is someone of great intelligence and a great human maturity….I had the impression we were in the Den of Iria when the sun sets…. in fact what I will never manage to describe is how the Ideal had embraced the whole tribe. Mary had embraced all of us, Christians and pagans, to the very last one. It was like a sun was shining that enveloped everyone, everyone, everyone in a marvellous unity!’
She had promised to dedicate herself with much love to Cameroon and so it comes as no surprise that she returned for a SECOND VISIT in 1969 for the inauguration of the hospital.
Dearest everyone’, that’s how Chiara began her talk when she come for the inauguration of the hospital that January 19th 1969.
‘My heart is full of joy to be here among you for the second time. I have never forgotten, and never will forget, my first visit, when Providence ordained that I should come to Fontem.
I remember saying to you then that God had asked me to go often to many parts of the world but I had not met anywhere else the kindness, good, profound human values, such affection, such faith as I had found among this people . At the time there was nothing of what we are inaugurating today. However what is even more important was present then: you were there dearest brothers and sisters and there was above all God with you , that God whom you had incessantly prayed to for a long time to come and relieve your most urgent needs, those of your children and you dearest ones.
We all felt Him there that day, like a great sun that enveloped everyone. And while He assured you that you had received all that you desired He gave me and my collaborators the strength and the means to be doing something.
So here I am today, back among you. My first impression as I arrived here was of seeing a miracle! I have been able to admire something wonderful: new roads, a very big and beautiful hospital, the college, a great eagerness to build, for example the bridge, the houses….new houses! Many houses!
How come all this has happened? How has woodland lost in the heart of Cameroon become in such a short time the centre of so much life, of so much generosity, of so much joy? It is because we have started to live among us the great command of the Lord: ‘Love one another as I have loved you’. Yes, we have obeyed our God having prayed to Him a lot and he has blessed our obedience.
Let us go ahead then: let’s not stop at what we have already achieved. If God is with us and if we always pray to Him and listen to Him, He is omnipotent and He will carry ahead this work of His and I assure you that He, who is great, will do great things.
Yes, I already see rising up in this place a great city, a city which will become famous all over the world not because it will have great material wealth but because a great light will shine forth, a light which will enlighten everyone and everyone will want it. It is a light which breaks forth from fraternal love kept alive among you, in the name of God. And in this place where previously there was only forest, many people will come to learn how to love, how to change the world, how to reduce illness and bring joy to families, how to bring peace to the world which is constantly threatened by war.
Courage, my dearest brothers!
The Pope,who is the Leader of the world has said that this is the hour of Africa. And I would like to add for you that this is the hour of Cameroon, it is the hour of Fontem because God through our dear bishop Mons Peeters, whom we all love, has looked down on this place.
I will only be a few days with you…Oh! How I would like to stay with you always. I feel at home here, in my native city, among people who really love me, among my people. But you know I have to leave. Where must I go? I will visit my, your, other brothers and sisters in Europe, Asia, North and South America. By the grace of God , everywhere there are men and women, young people and children who have made the same discovery as you have and who try to love in mutual love as you are doing . I speak to them all about Fontem, I cannot not speak of Fontem for Fontem is in the bottom of my heart. I will tell everyone what can be achieved with prayer and what can be built with love.
Then when God wants I will come back to see you. In the meantime let us promise one another to keep on loving one another, to keep making the world a better place where there is more fraternity, to keep building a new world…..’
There are many great moments in the life of a society and that was one of the most important ones for the Bangwa, because of the faith in God the people found again and because that faith had an instrument: Chiara and her companions who by their presence always gave evidence of this faith, they made the society of the children of God visible, they gave evidence of the church of mutual love.
After many years Chiara made a THIRD VISIT to Fontem in May 2000. Chiara meets the new Fon Njifwa for the first time and embraces her people again. Chiara has the same profound unity with him as she had with his father; she has a particularly beautiful understanding of and affection for the Mafwa, queen and sister of the Fon.
Chiara begins her talk before the authorities and the crowd saying:
‘…my dearest people, it is with great joy that I have returned to you. It is a great joy because I am meeting again with one of the peoples I have most loved in life, a people whose development I have followed with all my heart. It is a great joy because I can see that what the Lord allowed us to foresee during my previous two visits, when these places were still covered with thick forest, has been accomplished.
Do you remember that speech I gave? I said: ‘ I can envision a great city springing up on these very grounds, a city that will become famous throughout the world, not for the great amount of material wealth, but for the light which is going to shine forth from it and enlighten everyone. It is the light that comes from mutual love kept alive in our midst in the name of God’.
And she continues saying:
‘And many people will come here in order to learn how to love. Now this great city exists…Throughout the years this city has witnessed to the fact that unity is possible; also because of the experience of living and suffering together, due to the common story that links everyone. We felt we were part of one and the same family. Consequently, the fact that you came from different continents did not come into evidence due to a grace that fused all into one and surprised people coming from outside. Anyone who came here has always noticed the joy and harmony of this place.
For my part, I have never forgotten, nor will I ever forget the first time , the Providence of God wished to bring me here in your midst.
At that time, there was nothing or very little of what we can see today, but I have found you , brothers and sisters , and God with you , to whom you had prayed unceasingly for such a long time so that he would help you in your most urgent needs. He was present – I often tell about it – the first time we met, we had come together for a large celebration, I felt the presence of God almost like a sun that enveloped us all. I felt that the sun had given us strength , enthusiasm and light to embark together on this divine adventure’. ‘…you should realise that here a miracle has taken place which I have never seen in any part of the world….
Whom have we to thank? Surely one has to thank all of you who have worked and built. But above all , you have to thank Jesus… But now I cannot leave you without making a pact with you: a solemn pact. It is a strong and binding pact of mutual love. It is like an oath in which we commit ourselves to be always fully at peace among ourselves and to recompose it each time it has been broken’.
The great love and trust which Chiara has shown to the Bangwa has been felt by the people as something extraordinary. Like the presence of God who asks to add something to the traditional customs, something ‘more’, an increase of love in relationships and in their life.