Thursday, 11 February 2010

Many countries, many peoples, many languages

The London hospital prided itself on catering for people of 94 different languages. Every ward and department possessed a list of interpreters who could be called in, at a moment’s notice, for translation purposes. On the whole, the system worked well, although there were some inevitable delays as interpreters were located and travelled to the place where they were needed.

However there was a day when one clinic had a greater than usual number of refugees from Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia who spoke little or no English. One tired nurse was puzzled. ‘We have so many interpreters’, she said, ’Why doesn’t the list include someone who speaks African?’ Obviously, she did not realise that there are 52 countries in Africa, each with many indigenous languages and probably an uncounted number of dialects, not all of them in a written form. Nigeria alone has 634 identifiable languages.

As for Asia, there are 32 countries, as varied as are Italy, Norway, Wales and Poland are within Europe. Just as it makes little sense to speak of Italy, Norway, Wales and Poland as if they were one country, so it is illogical to refer to Asia or Africa as if both continents were homogeneous.

In a recent interview, Fr Adolpho Nicolàs, the Jesuit Superior General declared: ‘It took me some time to realize that there is no Asia, an Asia we can speak about in one line of conversation. Asia is many countries, many cultures, many traditions, many histories and peoples. If Africa is still "one Africa" for me, it means that I do not yet understand it. I really hope that, as I grow in understanding Africa, I will come to the realization that there are many peoples, many languages, many traditions, many cultures... in Africa as well. And then comparisons become concrete and limited. I find it very hard - that is, impossible - to compare Asia and Africa. I would have to ask which Asia? And which Africa?’

Fr Nicolàs has summarised the mission of the Church in one short paragraph!

In any country, the Church needs indigenous priests, Religious and laity to whom God has revealed himself through the beauties of a shared cultural heritage.

The Society of St Peter the Apostle (SPA) exists in order to ensure that every mission diocese in every mission territory across the world has priests who are of the people and for the people. It is the only Church organisation officially mandated to support the seminaries and more than 30,000 seminarians who will later help to supply the 1,069 dioceses where they will be assigned.

Fortunately, thanks to the Society of St Peter the Apostle (SPA) in England and Wales and some generous individuals who take it upon themselves to personally support a seminarian through the SPA, many young men are able to follow their call to the priesthood whose families would otherwise never be able to afford the cost of seminary studies.

The picture above shows the French lay woman, Jeanne Bigard whose dedication and commitment to providing priests to new Catholic diocese around the world was the inspiration and founder of the Society of St Peter. The Society worldwide now supports over 30,000 major seminarians and 10,000 religious. The SPA continues to bring Christian missionaries throughout the world in communion with each other and tries to ensure that good vocations are not turned away through lack of financial resources. The SPA also enables us to take up our duty as missionaries and followers of Christ to make both spiritual and financial sacrifices, continuing the work begun by a young woman over 100 years ago.

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