Fr Alphonse Sekongo SMA – 1st SMA African Missionary to Ireland
MISSION SUNDAY 2016 – SPECIAL
‘Wherever you are sent, don’t be worried, because
God is already there and has prepared the ground for you.’
Fr Alphonse Sekongo SMA has recently been appointed curate to SMA parish, Blackrock Road, Cork, working alongside Fr. Noel O’Leary SMA (Parish Priest), replacing Fr John Horgan SMA.
He was born in 1979 in Ferkessedougou, Ivory Coast, one of three children born to Sekongo Kitiafohoro and Soro Naminata. He is fluent in three languages: Hausa, French and English.
Having previously served in Ghana, Fr Alphonse becomes the SMA’s first African missionary to be appointed to Ireland. He is, therefore, a pioneer in every respect. In a recent visit to the SMA Communications Office, Fr Alphonse responded to some questions about himself, Africa and his journey to Ireland.
He started his journey with the SMA in 2002 when he joined the Foyer SMA of Anyama for three years of philosophy at the West Africa Catholic University in Abidjan.
After which he went to Benin Republic for the spiritual year that was followed by another year of pastoral experience known as ‘Stage’ in Kontagora, with Fr Donall O Cathain in Nigeria.
Fr Alphonse completed his theology studies at the SMA Formation House, Ibadan and attended lectures at the Saints Peter & Paul Major Seminary, Bodija.
He was ordained an SMA missionary priest in the SMA Community Chapel by Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly SMA, former superior General, then Bishop of Killaloe Diocese, on 21 May 2011.
Fr Alphonse served his first five-years of mission work in Ghana as Assistant Priest in Madina-Queen of Peace Parish, before his appointment to Cork.
How do you feel about being appointed to Ireland?
“My coming to Ireland was not something planned. I am a pioneer of a new relationship and new missionary adventure between Africa and the Irish Province.
“When I was asked to come to Cork my first reaction was ‘Wow!’ I went to the chapel and I said to God, ‘Lord, this is a new calling, to a new missionary land – Ireland. It’s a big task on my shoulders. Am I going to be up to the task? Can I make it work? Will I be welcomed?’ I had so many questions about being a suitable person for the call.
“After praying I called one of my friends, an old SMA priest, and he told me, ‘if you have received the news, it is God who is calling you for a new missionary challenge, this time to Europe. Don’t forget it was Europeans who brought the word of God to Africa and now you are being called to give back.’
“These words really consoled me.
“I remember during my spiritual year a French SMA Father said something that really struck me and helps me today. He said, ‘Wherever you are sent, don’t be worried, because God is already there and has prepared the ground for you.’
“These were words of comfort to me. This is how I felt when I heard I was coming to Ireland.
“Later I called my mum. She asked, ‘Is it your choice?’ She said, ’You are going far away. Why?’ That’s all she said. I knew she was sad that I would be going so far away from home”.
Do you have any expectations?
“My only expectations are that I might be able to fulfil the mission I came to Ireland for, according to the will of God. I hope I can give a new energy to Ireland and a better collaboration between Irish and African SMAs. The Irish know the reality of Africa and have more experience. My hope it to learn from my Irish confreres while here, especially from those who have worked in Africa and who are now retired. I hope I can become more grounded in spirituality and if, through my service here, we can get vocations, I will be happy.
“In Africa my missionary work began in a city parish, in charge of different apostolates in Accra, Ghana. I was attached to the mother church, with a number of satellite churches, serving a great number of parishioners. The satellite church I was attached to had 500 people and I was accountable to the parish priest. I was serving a young community so I saw my role as one of trying to give them hope while administering the sacraments. I tried to be close to the people, to listen to them and to give them relief in their difficult moments. Sometimes, all I could do was just be present.
“I also found myself in charge of the Friends of SMA, comprising married people, singles and youth. We were able, again, with the grace of God, to give a new boost to the group. They are very important to the SMAs in almost all the African countries where we work. This group is now settling down, having their own constitution and by-laws, and a great support to the SMA. The regional superior, Fr James Owusu, is giving it a push to make sure the group becomes strong in the Ghana region.
What differences do you find in Ireland and what do you hope to contribute?
“In Africa everything is done within the context of the family setup. I would love to help bring the African warmth and sense of togetherness to the Irish Church and province. I also wish to bring a sense of gratefulness to Ireland and its missionaries – a real thanksgiving – as my presence, and the faith I received, is really the fruit of their work. The Irish brought the word of God to many parts of Africa, the seed was sown, it grew up, and now the fruit is coming back to its source. And I am part of that fruit, a product of the African Church coming back to Ireland and the Irish Church, offering our talents and gifts, as Christ taught us.
What differences do you see between the Irish and African Church?
“The first difference is the age profile. In Africa we have all ages attending Church, but in Ireland I don’t see the youth. I see only the aged. In Africa the mass could go on for two-hours plus. Here it is 45 minutes on Sunday and during the week it is 30 minutes. So there is a real difference of time. Also, in Africa, the masses are lively. We sing and we dance throughout. Here it is cool, there’s no noise, no dancing and little singing. Here you have nice infrastructures, in Africa we have mostly temporary structures and the people are happy to come and hear the Word of God. So for the past few weeks this is my impression of the Irish Church and the difference with Africa. Maybe with time I will see more than today.
“I have found the Irish people to be very welcoming, accommodating and I like their sense of humour. It has helped me to decompress.
“I was also so happy to see the SMA retirees in Blackrock. They worked for God and for us in Africa, and now God has given them time to come home to rest. As a young missionary I see them as a great sign. We need to work hard and when we are old we can look back and say, ‘Thank you God for what we were able to achieve, like these men’.
“Daily I ask God to give me more wisdom and time to appreciate things. To be gentle in all that I do, to take my time before judging people and for the strength to carry out my daily activities successfully while I am here. I am open to good advice from anyone and I want to love as much as possible and to smile as much as possible.
What was your happiest memory?
“My happiest memory was my ordination. I thanked God for allowing me to become his messenger; for choosing me, not because I am the best, or perfect, but for giving me the chance to work in his vineyard and administer to the people of Africa and now Ireland. When I see that through me some people find happiness, it gives me joy. So, that is my happiest moment, my ordination to the priesthood.
What was one of your best learning moments?
“One of the great moments of learning was when I joined the minor seminary, just prior to joining the SMA. It was a moment that helped shape my life today. It was the first time I left my family and had to take responsibility for myself including managing my time and resources. I remember my mum gave me money. She said to me, ‘This money is for you and you have to manage it well. If it is not sufficient, do not ask others, you must be yourself. Just be content with what you have and you will find it is enough.’ This was a good moment.
“I learned also how to be accommodative and how to accept the other person who is different from me. If the person is in a good mood and I’m not, I have to accept. I learned how to take care of myself, how to manage my time, to talk to people and to forgive. I learned the importance of playfulness, how to joke with people and how to be myself, not someone else. I learned the importance of ‘Be Yourself’. These are very strong memories within me.”