The coming Synod is timely and appropriate
Sr. Magdalene Philip Umoh was born in Nigeria. She belongs to the congregation of the School Sisters of Notre Dame commonly known by the abbreviation SSND. Since 2013, she has been missioning in Sierra Leone. She currently works at the University of Makeni (UNIMAK)- a catholic university of the diocese of Makeni/ Sierra Leone- as the University Chaplain as well as a chemistry research assistant. Towards the coming synod of bishops, in this interview with Fr. Louis Bira sx, she shares with us her youth ministry experience. For her, the coming synod is timely and appropriate!
Fr. Louis Bira (LB): Since 2015 October, you are the catholic chaplain of the University of Makeni (UNIMAK). Your service includes Youth Ministry. How do you welcome the decision of Pope Francis to call for a Synod of Catholic Bishops on Young people, the Faith and Vocational Discernment?
Sr. Magdalene Philip Umoh (MPU): The Pope’s call for the synod on young people is quiet timely and appropriate because young people are overwhelmed with the influx of unfiltered information which has become detrimental to their personal, religious and moral integrity. This will, in a way, build relationships and togetherness among the young. In addition, it will give a sense of belonging to the Christian faith community as well as remolding and reshaping the world view of the young people in light of the gospel values. Again, I am foreseeing this call as a way of re-creating mentorship and guidance for the young especially those sitting on the hedge of life confused, disappointed and abandoned.
LB: What are the main challenges of the young people you encounter here in the University?
MPU: I encounter a range of challenges affecting the young people here at the university. However, the following are what cuts across many young people today as I share my life with them each day namely; a declining of mentorship and parental guidance, lack of patience endurance towards life, inability to cultivate a culture of silent listening, a deeper longing for prosperous spirituality, lack of trust, respect, and sacrificial love for each other. Love for the young people has become commercialized, utilitarian and democratic. They flow with what works at the moment. I also see a lack of focus and understanding in choosing career path as a way of service and not money making oriented. All of these are gradually building a culture of independence rather than inter-dependence and as such, the community bond is broken.
LB: As catholic chaplaincy, which kinds of activities do you often organize for the young students?
MPU: The acronym ‘Catco’ known as the Catholic community is not just limited to Catholic students but rather to every Christian who desires to deepen his or her spirituality in light of the gospel values and the social teachings of the Church. As such, we build our activities in such a way that it caters for both the spiritual and character/moral formation of the person. Hence, the office of the chaplain in collaboration with the management has organized and implemented the following activities; access to guidance and counseling, celebration of weekly masses, advents and Lenten retreats, a three-day annual retreats which gives the students an opportunity to reflect on their moral, academic and spiritual life, recollection days once in a semester, lectio divina, visitation to the sick at the hospitals which enables them to feel and be in prayerful solidarity with the sick and the afflicted, bible quiz competition for pupils in the primary schools to help in building the religious formation of the young ones. We also plan activities to celebrate life together which includes christmas specials wherein the birth of Christ is dramatized, football competition among the youths in the minor seminary and in one of the parishes in Makeni Diocese (Magburaka). We have equally had Sunday liturgical celebrations in the following parishes within Makeni Diocese; Our Lady of Fatima Cathedral, Immaculate Conception Parish Magburaka, Port Loko Parish and Our Lady of Sierra Leone Parish Kamabai. This, in a way, is to create communion among the youths in the university and the local church.
LB: Is there any activity you consider the most interesting for your students? If yes, why?
MPU: I find the retreats and visitation to the different parishes as the most energetic, interesting and life-giving for the students. From the retreat evaluations, the students deeply appreciate the time they spent reflecting on their past, present and future lives. This helps them in setting their annual goals and priority for the future. Many of them had not the opportunity to make a retreat before except now that they have become members of CATCO. I feel these quiet and reflective days truly help them in taking stock of their lives, identifying their needs from wants and in making responsible choices thus far. Worshipping with the local Church builds communion and oneness between the university students and the youths of the local church.
LB: The majority of the students attending UNIMAK are Muslims. Do you have cases of some of them becoming Christians? If yes, what do they say push them to become Christians?
MPU: CATCO is a Catholic community; yet it is open to people of different faiths and religions who are willing to experience life in our Catholic community. Apparently, we have had few instances whereby Muslims have become Christians. This happens as a result of the welcoming environment we give to them. They expressed their feeling of at homeliness and acceptance in the group. We operate as a family when one member is affected everyone is affected. Therefore, they are inspired by the sense of open-mindedness, tolerance, solidarity, care, love, unity, and concern amongst the Catholics. They admire our respect for the dignity and worth of the human person enshrined in our faith values. They also have been driven and encouraged by our commitment to religious tolerance and diversity which in essence has inspired them to becoming one. They feel a part of a larger community that seeks to improve their personal integrity.