Below is a brief description of Fr. Koroma's homeland, followed by the homily he gave here at OLM this weekend.
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN SIERRA LEONE
I come from Sierra Leone, a small West African country (a former colony of Great Britain), that has witnessed one of the bloodiest wars in Africa. This senseless war, from hindsight, has left massive scars on the land and its infrastructure; but more so, on the bodies, souls and minds of the already impoverished population due to years of inept and corrupt governance.
The country has a population of about five million. Of this, 10% are Christians (Catholics make 4% of the population) and about 60% are Muslims including my family. The rest are followers of indigenous beliefs.
Pastoral activity in Sierra Leone is manned by both Missionaries and Diocesan clergy. Besides the celebration of the Sacraments, pastoral work consists of building small Christian communities at grass-root levels, the formation of Priests and Religious, the training of Lay leaders and Catechists.
Due to the massive devastation of the country, pastoral agents are also actively involved in the day-to-day programs of human promotion and development. In concrete terms, they are rebuilding institutions and structures destroyed during the decade-long war such as churches, catholic schools, vocational centers and hospitals.
They are also setting up rehabilitation centers for rape victims, orphans, amputees and ex-child combatants and establishing Justice and Peace centers that help to educate the resilient population along the ways of justice, peace and genuine reconciliation. On the whole, the Church in Sierra Leone is helping to restore hope and dignity to a war-ravaged and traumatized people.
In the light of the salvific mission of Jesus Christ, this is Evangelization at its best:
Working passionately and relentlessly for the integral salvation of the human person, not just for the salvation of his/her soul. By virtue of our baptism, this is the sacred mission we are all called to undertake (wherever we find ourselves) with profound conviction and abiding commitment.
Fr. Bob John Koroma
Instituto degli Oblati di Maria Vergine
Via Casilina 205
(23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year B; This homily was given by Fr. John Koroma on 9 and 10 September, 2006, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; read Isaiah 35:4-7 & Mark 7:31-37)
I would like to start by expressing my profound thanks and gratitude to Fr. Lolio, Fr. Chris, the Religious of the Parish, and to all of you, God’s people, for giving me this grace-filled opportunity to be in your midst in this splendid parish.
I feel blessed to be invited to come and pray with you within the context of the Mass. That I, a West African priest, can come here and feel such a tremendous sense of belonging; the feeling of being part of this parish family is a clear indication of the universality of the Church—this huge family of God that transcends color, race, nationality, and status. What a beautiful gift, to be a part of the Church, this new people of God.
At the heart of the Christian faith is the conviction that the God, who revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, is not an abstract being; a self-knowing and self-loving god who merely contemplates himself; a god who is merely a figment of our imagination. No! The God who manifested Himself in the person of Jesus Christ is a personal, loving, and caring God who heals and saves. This is vividly demonstrated in today’s Gospel, which narrates, in a dramatic fashion, the healing by Jesus of a deaf and dumb man.
When Jesus heals, the purpose is not simply to cure the physiological ailment of the person, to restore his or her physical health and wholeness; it goes beyond that. The primary motive of Jesus’ healing ministry is always to restore the dignity and worth of the person, to integrate him or her back into the life of society.
During the time of Jesus, the sick and the handicapped were often ostracized. People thought that they had been controlled by demonic forces. When Jesus heals them, he integrates the person back into the life of the community.
My dear brothers and sisters, what Isaiah prophesied in the first reading today is what the entire mission of Jesus Christ is meant to bring: a radical transformation, an integral liberation from the shackles of sin in all its tragic manifestations of suffering, pain, division, terror, anguish, hatred, greed, and war.
Like the deaf and dumb man in the Gospel, we all need the healing touch of Jesus. But, first and foremost, we must humbly acknowledge that as humans, each and every one of us is sick. Our ailments might not necessarily be physiological ones; they could be emotional, psychological, spiritual, or moral, like anxiety, resentment, frustration, and guilt.
Just as the people brought the deaf man to Jesus for healing, we also need to reach out in faith and trust in Jesus; we need to allow Him back into our lives with His healing and restorative power. Jesus, who is present among us in this celebration, the doctor par excellence, will certainly do the rest. What a privilege we have as Christians! What a grace! What a treasure! May the Lord bless us all.