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Living together, praying together, serving everyone - Interview with friar Venceslas Sassou Skpade

Venceslas was born in 1989 in Lome, Togo. Togo is located in West Africa. 'I am the third of five boys in our family. My father was in the army at the time and my mother sold fish at the market. When I was three I moved to my grandmother in Vogan-Zooti. My family was not Christian but rather followed the traditional animist religion. At school I was told about the New Testament by an evangelical pastor and that made me curious. I asked questions and more children in the class were Christian, although they belonged to different churches.

I was especially moved by the words from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John. Words like “God has loved us” and “By His stripes He has healed us” kept me busy. I also thought: If God loves me, why should I not serve Him? My mother's religion meant that if you did something wrong, you would get a disease. I became interested in Christianity with my grandmother, but then I moved back to my mother and on April 7, 2007 I was baptized. I was not afraid to tell my family, also through the power of my faith. In fact, 11 years later my mother and brothers were also baptized.

Solemn profession of brothers Elom and Venceslas in 2022

Help and serve

I was attracted to the Catholic Church. There was always discussion among students about venerating the saints and Mary. But it was about veneration, rather than worship, and we also venerate elderly people, or pay respect to the head of the village. This is how we also honor Mary. During my preparation for baptism, I became active in and led a Catholic charismatic group.

At first I wanted to become a doctor. I wanted to help people and serve them. I participated in a reflection by the Salesians and that struck me. There was a speech by a Salesian who talked about Mother Teresa, how her motto was, “I thirst.” There are so many people who are thirsty for encouragement. This also gave me the experience that I could serve people in a different way, namely by becoming a priest. This way I could offer something to people who are spiritually thirsty. I wanted to go to the seminary, but that was not that easy because they preferred boys who had already attended a secondary school for priestly students. I didn't have that. I didn't want to sit still and prepare in advance. I then studied philosophy for two years and obtained my bachelor's degree in philosophy in Kinshasa.

During my first year of philosophy I heard about the Augustinians because I studied with Laurent Kliba who also became an Augustinian in Belgium. I noticed that the Augustinians did a lot of work like diocesan priests, but from within a community. They worked together more. I came into the picture of the Augustinians and I was asked if I wanted to study in Belgium and be an Augustinian there. I hadn't immediately thought of that. For me the most important thing was that I wanted to live in a religious community and where is less important.

For me, the first Christian community is a beautiful image, a beautiful image for the church. That means one of heart and one of soul, and that is very important to me. We come together from different countries and villages, but still want to serve God together. For me, community means living together, praying together and serving everyone together. Everyone has their own role in this that connects them. I also think it's a nice idea that everyone gets what they need. If everyone has the opportunity to use his or her talent for the community, that is great. We don't have to be friends, but we do have to be brothers.

I would like to serve the church in Belgium. That could be in a retirement home or in a parish, I do not have a specific target group in mind. My passion is listening to people in need. I would like to pray together with them and go on their way.