mbmIn this interview, Fr. Michel Bonemaison, currently archivist at the General House in Rome, briefly shares with us his missionary experience. From this missionary experience was born his passion for writing which led him to the writing of several articles and books including the very last book entitled: “Naissance d'une Eglise locale: Le Haut - Dahomey 1931-1964 (Tome 1)”. He shares with us the major points. The book is available on Amazon.

Can You briefly share with us your missionary experience?

It was at the end of August 1965 that the African missions allowed me to arrive in Dahomey, the present-day Benin Republic as a teacher at the minor seminary of Parakou, but very quickly I engaged myself in pastoral. I fulfilled my pastoral work mainly in Bembéréké for seven years; and the others were just nominations of three successive years in bagou in Gogonou, in Ouénou, in Tobré, Péhouko and recently in Bori. I laid the foundations of some churches for instance Péhouko; I founded the Parish of Bori. But at the same time the various bishops entrusted to me the charge of forming the catechists in Gogonou and then in Natitingou where I was in charge of ongoing formation. I also took care, according to the request of the successive bishops, of all that was social. I founded the diocesan Caritas, I set up a diocesan youth ministry, in Natitingou in particular. This is essentially in a few words what has been so far my experience in the service of the gospel and of Africa.

How did You end up writing books?

I wanted to transmit the years of pastoral experience through writing because I love to write, to friends and family; I was writing letters or articles to magazines such as Missy, “Peuples du Monde”, etc. And thus transmitted this pastoral passion through my love of writing and this allowed me to let myself be questioned in order to progress in my vision of Africa and the vision that I had of my pastoral, and of my apostolate. This is how I ended up writing books: the first was a commented translation and now today I am releasing my second book, fruit of a research. A Research on the birth of the church in northern Benin where I worked.

What are the major points of this book?

The book talks first of all of an era, from 1931 to 1948, an era limited in time. It was the time of the founding of the mission in 1931; the mission of Niamey which becomes apostolic prefecture in 1941. Then there was a division, the erection of the apostolic prefecture of Parakou in 1948. In 1931, 1942, 1948, we had two apostolic prefectures Niamey and Parakou.
In West Africa, the upper Dahomey and Niger were under French territories. Territories comprising today of eight dioceses: two in Niger, Niamey and Maradi; One in Burkina Faso: Fada N'gourma and five in northern Benin: Parakou Natitingou, Kandi, Djougou and N’Dali, all cited in the order of their creation respectively.

This book also presents actors, these are men: fathers of the SMA, of the African missions; mainly Bishop François Steinmetz, Bishop Louis François Parisot and Bishop François Faroud the first priest of Niamey, first apostolic prefect of Niamey, first apostolic prefect of Parakou; and then Fr. Alphonse Chall who founded the Zehnder mission; Fr. Jean-Baptiste Truands who founded the mission of Kandi; Fr. Joseph Huchet who founded the mission of Natitingou; Fr. Maxim Chazal who founded the mission of Fada N'gourma then of Tanguiéta.

My project is to give a voice to these priests who are the pioneers of the mission, through their letters and articles kept in our archives in Rome: So, you see why it is important to leave letters, to leave traces. Their articles were mainly taken from the echo of the African missions, which is a mine of extraordinary richness. The book has 429 pages; it is edited by the African missions in Rome and it will be released in July.

I wish you good reading and a good discovery, a true discovery in love with this territory on which I set my feet and which I love very dearly.