For the final word in this series of five articles on Central Africa, we give you the words of Father Federico who will speak to us about an extraordinary man: Father Anastasio Roggero.
Father Anastasio: the Soul of Carmel de Bangui
Robert Lalonde, ACN Canada
Translated and adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada
“Father Anastasio is the founder and the soul of this paradise that is the Carmel of Bangui. He is more than twice my age and has triple the enthusiasm. Since 1998, he has been living in our convent in Prague, but since 1975 his heart has been in the Central African Republic. This gentle and smiling brother, always equipped with his camera, travels the world at a hundred kilometers an hour, from India to the United States, speaking well (this in 8 different languages) of we missionaries; it sounds just to me that at least once, a missionary should speak well of him.
Without him and his animated and tireless missionary spirit, our missions would not be what they are; and that which everyone seems to envy us for. In order to better devote himself to his mission, which he does with a very unique sense of zeal, he would like days made up of 36 hours. Father Anastasio, who is gifted with an incredible memory, worked over many years as a Church history professor. His great memory allowed him to collect the faces, images, stories and friendships of thousands of benefactors the world over. And it must be said that when he first began his work, he didn’t have an address, or any money to take him to Africa.
His three great loves
For those who do not know, it was he who invented the celebrated lavender of the Arenzano brothers which perfumes the world. Father Anastasio has three loves: The Child Jesus (preferably the one in Prague or in Arenzano), the poor of Central Africa (if you give him a dollar, you can be sure he will give it to them) and Tecktonas [teak] (sure he has planted as many as there are inhabitants in Central-Africa).
At the end of the 90s, he bought a forested area in a suburb close to the capital of the Central African Republic with the intention of founding a convent for Carmelites. Unfortunately, the Sisters did not come. Father Anastasio transformed the grounds into a garden with an immense plantation of palm trees and a luxurious nursery of teaks and other plants while saying: “We can produce oil in little time; the teaks will be useful in 40 years.”
Later, more precisely in 2006, Brothers settled there and changed the convent into a building which would then become an oil mill. This is how it came to be in the capital that a long awaited, for many reasons, and steady presence of Carmelites remained. Since then, Father Anastasio visits Carmel almost every three months to encourage their work and to manage the growth of the Tecktonas.
Some teaks later
When he is with us, our breaks are animated with stories of his voyages and brightened by excellent chocolate which is never missing from his suitcases. I was certain that he would come as scheduled, despite recent events and the unstable environment which has overtaken the country. He arrived a few days ago by passage through Morocco.
Before his arrival, I confided in him, a little preoccupied, that our dear refugees had used the teaks and palm tree branches to build hundreds of little huts around the convent. But barely arrived, he greeted me and before I could say a thing, he reassured me: “Do not worry dear father prior! You, you are young. But I, I know war because I saw it as a child. I thought that the teaks would be useful in forty years, when I would no longer be; but they are already useful and I was able to see! I am going to run and take some pictures!’
This is how Father Anastasio is. Though he has never been a missionary in the strict sense of the word, it would be hard to come by someone who loves Africa the way he does.”
And Father Federico concludes his letter by writing: “These last few days, we have received numerous messages of gratitude from the entire world and especially from Brothers and Sisters of our order. This popularity surprised us a little. Do we deserve all these compliments? I must say that we are not even aware of having done something extraordinary. If you were in my place, you would have done the same thing. Moreover, know that there are places living in similar situations to ours with even greater numbers of refugees.”
We leave it up to you to decide!