by Gordon Nary
Gordon: When you received your vocation, with who did your first discuss it and what was their response?
Father Charlie: When I first became aware of my vocation I discussed it with my parents. I was almost sure my mother would be happy to hear that but I was not sure what my dad’s reaction would be. As expected my mother was very encouraging in that regard while my dad was kind of okay with the idea but he did not show immediate approval. He was sort of being careful and helping me really think through it. But I know that deep down he was happy with it but just didn’t want me to take it lightly but give it sufficient consideration
Gordon: Why did you become a Jesuit?
Father Charlie: I became a Jesuit after completing my undergraduate studies. During my undergraduate studies, I began to think about the meaning of my life and what would be the best expression of my life in the world. I became very clear that unless my life was broken and shared like the body of Christ, it would not be meaningful. What I was not sure about was how to express that. But this image of the Eucharist, of the broken body of Christ, stayed with me for a long time and constantly came up in mind. At that point, I began to go to daily mass at a nearby Jesuit house. So, I got close to the Jesuits. In addition, our university chaplain was a Jesuit. One day I visited the Jesuit House for spiritual direction as I considered what my vocation could be. At the Jesuit house, I bumped into that year’s (2000) Jesuit Year Book. I read the stories of Jesuits’ engagement all across the world. Reading the Jesuit yearbook, I was inflamed by the zeal of Jesuits and collaborators and how those Jesuits I read about gave their lives to the service of the Gospel. I read about powerful testimonies of commitment to the service of faith and promotion of justice. From that moment I began to see that being a Jesuit would be probably the best way for me to express my life and to share it with and for others. I sought guidance from the Lord and through the direction of several Jesuits and non-Jesuits I became convinced that the Jesuit life was the best way for me to show up in the world.
Gordon: When you served as University Chaplain, Lecturer and Researcher at Copperbelt University ln Kitwe, Zambia, and on what topics did you lecture and what did you research?
Father Charlie: When I served as Chaplain and lecturer at the Copperbelt University in Kitwe, Zambia I also taught business and economics in the School of Business. I taught research and methodology in business and economics and the history of economic thought. In regard to research, my work focused on the role of business in economic and social development with a lot of emphasis on the reform of corporate social responsibility (CSR) of mining corporations in Zambia. Another way of looking at this is understanding ways of reconciling business and society which seem to be pitted one against the other as communities often feel that they get a raw deal as businesses come to exploit their resources and take out the gains and expatriate the profits at the expense of those communities.
Gordon: When were you appointed to head the Justice and Ecology Office (JEO) of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM) and what are your primary responsibilities?
Father Charlie: I was appointed the head of the Justice and Ecology Office (JEO) of the Jesuit Conference of African and Madagascar (JCAM) in March 2018. As head of the JCAM JEO I coordinate all Jesuit international development work in Africa, I work to create synergies for greater impact of the Jesuit social ministries in Africa. My office also provides liaison and creates strategic partnerships in matters concerning justice and ecology within and beyond the Jesuit organizations and units. My office is a vital African Jesuit Conference interface between global policies in the economic, social and environmental spheres and local issues confronting populations in Africa and Madagascar. So, my office also connects the Jesuit Conference of Africa to the rest of the world in what concerns justice and ecology.
So, my works are a blend of strategic partner engagement and international advocacy, international development, networking, and socio-economic analysis.
Gordon: How does it make you feel following in the footsteps of your predecessor Fr. Rigobert Minani SJ?
Father Charlie: Fr. Rigobert is an inspiring Jesuit. I worked with him very closely even before my appointment. He is a good model in the ministry. I knew I had a lot of support from him and he had laid a very good foundation on which I am building.
Gordon: What are the primary ecological challenges in Africa and Madagascar and what are you doing to address them?
Father Charlie: There are many ecological challenges in Africa and Madagascar but most of them are climate change-based or induced. They oscillate between too little or no rain (drought) and too much rain (floods). In all such cases, the poor are the hardest hit and both extremes affect food security but much more for the poor. It is for this reason that one of our strategic focuses in our intervention is ‘climate justice and food security’. Jesuits in Africa who intervene in this area of action walk with and accompany poor farmers and work with them to build climate resilience.
Gordon: What was your response to His Eminence John Cardinal Njue blessing and Dedicating Africama House
Father Charlie: It was such a joy to welcome His Eminence John Cardinal Njue to come and bless and dedicate Africama House. Having the Cardinal come through felt that we are part of the wider Church and that we are sent out with the blessing of the Church. The Cardinal’s coming to bless Africama House felt very reassuring; we felt connected to the wider mission of the Church and confident that we are part of the mission that Christ has left with and for His Church. It was just so inspiring to have him come and to encourage us.
Gordon: Please provide an overview of your Child Protection policy?
The Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar has a well worked out child protection policy. As I speak, since last year we have a fulltime and experienced Child Protection Officer at the Conference level. Every Jesuit Province in the Conference also has a Child Protection Officer. Our commitment to child protection is strong and is founded on our firm belief in the Christian option for weaker and vulnerable members of society and children fall in that category.
The Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM) promotes, within the communities, formation houses, ministries and governance of the Society, a consistent culture of protection and safety for minors and vulnerable persons; that is, a normal, habitual way of living, relating, working, in which those whom we serve, particularly children and vulnerable persons, always feel respected, safe, and loved. JCAM commits to creating a culturally sensitive and contextually relevant safeguarding environment to ensure a generation free from abuse.
This Child Protection Policy (CPP) applies to all staff, priests, brothers, the board of trustees, paid staff, volunteers and sessional workers, agency staff, students or anyone working on behalf of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM).
Gordon: What is your favorite prayer?
Father Charlie: My favorite prayer which I try to recite every day (I do pray it often but sometimes I don’t) is St. Francis Prayer for Peace: “Lord Make me a Channel of your Peace…” This prayer is really powerful for me and I use it to set my day’s intention every morning and to help me evaluate my day. We need peace as individuals, our communities need peace and the entire world needs peace; it is a basic necessity for homes, communities, and the world at large to function properly and be enjoyable space to live in. But that peace emanates from ourselves as individuals. For that reason, that prayer for me is one of the best and is a favorite prayer for me.
Gordon: Thank you for a beautiful and incisive interview