Bishop Henri Coudray: “I built a cathedral in the middle of Islam”



La Croix: Why did you choose to become a missionary?

Bishop Henri Coudray : When I announced my vocation to them, my parents welcomed him. My mom said: “With your father, we will spend our retirement in your presbytery”. It immediately created a distance in me from the ministry of a diocesan priest! Then I returned to the minor seminary, where I already had ideas of a missionary elsewhere, but I thought it was only a certain romanticism. Once at the major seminary, I followed a retreat preached by the Jesuits. This is where I really asked myself the question and I felt that I was called to be in an area where there were not many Christians.

My missionary theology is that expounded by Saint Peter in his first letter: “Be of good conduct among the people of the nations” (1P2,12). When I discovered Chad for the first time in the 1960s for my cooperation, it seemed to me that it would be unhealthy to be present almost exclusively with “Christianisables” and not to be with Muslims. .

How did you experience your mission as missionary bishop, in a predominantly non-Christian territory?

Bishop HC : God does not lack humor. While I wanted to do the “truant” Church – to live an apostolate on the borders of Christianity and Islam, which I did all the same for a long time – I found myself becoming an actor in the establishment of the Church in full dar al-islam, in the heart of Islam: 540,000 km2 large, the equivalent of mainland France, the Vicariate of Mongo is 95% Muslim.

→ MAINTENANCE. Chad: “The Church has been trying to play a moral role for a long time”

While it was still integrated into the archbishopric of N’Djamena I was commissioned to see if its status should change. I saw that there was a need for autonomy in designing pastoral care, which lacked proximity to the bishop. Thus in 2001 the territory was detached from the district of N’Djamena to form an apostolic prefecture, at the head of which I was appointed.

When it was erected as an apostolic vicariate eight years later, I became its first bishop. Since there was a bishop, there was therefore a need for a cathedral that I had built. From now on, the Catholic Church – with its several thousand faithful – is part of the landscape, it is at home, within its walls. This also made it possible to make visible the believers in the north of the country and to prevent the “northerners” from being automatically assimilated to Muslims.

I lived my office as bishop as that of a missionary whose deep conviction is the joy of sharing a Christ who is not exclusive and of a Christianity whose fertility is not calculated by the number of baptisms – even if we do a number of them.

What does it mean to you that your successor at the head of the vicariate is a local?

Bishop HC : Contrary to what some – who say they are specialists – want to believe, Chad is not a Muslim country. This is wrong: there are no more than 55% Muslims, while the rest are Christians whose numbers are growing. And among the children of those who come to the Church, some will have a religious vocation, I am sure. This is particularly the case with our future bishop in Mongo, who is an indigenous person from the vicariate. It is a great joy for me to know that the one who succeeds me is someone from the region. His episcopal ordination will take place next February, and out of the three co-consecrators, I will be the only one who is not a native of Chad.

Furthermore, I wouldn’t want to ethnicize things too much, but it seems important to me to underline that the future bishop, Father Philippe Abbo, is of the same ethnic group – the Dadjo – as Saint Joséphine Bakhita, this former slave who became a nun and canonized. by Pope John Paul II. I find it particularly strong symbolically.

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