The departure procedures of the country were far simpler. So were those of arrival in Guinea. Testing for Ebola was simpler and without special precautions. The traffic though was chaotic. With so many people around, how was it possible to control the epidemic? Of course in every public space, hotel, restaurant, civil services, embassies, mobile telephone offices, there was temperature screening. The limit was up to 37.9. If your temperature was higher, no entry was allowed and the competent services could be informed. However, I did not happen to see any incident myself. Particularly in small towns I did not notice any special concern. In the capital there were several Ebola-related road posters, but in small towns people showed that they had overcome it. The truth is that after living with the epidemic for so many months, it had become a part of their life and ceased to worry them. Some argue that the Ebola has been eliminated, but the international organizations continue to talk about Ebola in order to raise funds. Others wonder why the US was involved in the fight against Ebola only in Liberia and not in the other countries. The bottom line is that Ebola is there. Whether it came from Congo or was created in a laboratory, the people are dying. The strange thing about this epidemic is that the virus does not die along with the victim. It remains alive in the dead body and is waiting for the first living organism that will approach in order to infect it. That is why most victims were infected while attending funerals.
Located in Kindia, the first major city after the capital Conakry, in the Greek block (6,500 sq m) in the beautiful tropical African landscape, further beautified by palms, mangoes and children’s smiles, the Sacred Church of Saints Parthenius and Charalambos is under construction along with the Orthodox Academy. The church will soon be ready. We performed the Little Blessing service and then chanted the Salutations to the Virgin Mary. We also made a supplication to God because despite the big economic crisis, with the help of a pious couple from Trimiklini (a village in the Limassol district of Cyprus) and the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity, the work progressed very fast. Then we visited the Academy. There more work is needed. We made some operational changes in the plans. In this project we have the support of the Pancyprian Missionary Association “Saint Cosmas the Aetolian” on the ‘initiative of our beloved Protopresbyter Michael Christodoulides, recently awarded by our Patriarch the Cross of St. Mark as a gift in return for his great love for ministry in Africa. Our Academy will initially have three classrooms, a library, a staff room and a computer room.
With the assistance of the Administration of the National Bank of Greece and the initiative of the former Managing Director Alexander Tourkolias, who showed great sensibility to the risk of the epidemic and responded immediately, we visited local schools and handed out antiseptics, soaps and mobile water containers for washing children’s hands upon arrival and departure from school.
Antiseptic liquid against Ebola epidemic
I also had the opportunity to attend a traditional wedding. Preparations began early in the morning. All the women gathered in the courtyard of the groom’s house and were preparing the food. Some were peeling potatoes, others were frying them in a large pot, others were cleaning vegetables, others were preparing rice, others meat. All together as a family were helping to prepare everything properly. The men were helping the groom get adorned, some were preparing the music for the feast, while others were greeting and welcoming guests. Some women would stop the food preparation for a while to dance themselves. Generally, the atmosphere was very nice and cheerful.
Water well drilling
Since we have our own commitments as well, we left the fun of marriage and went to the place where the workers were struggling with the limited means they had at their disposal in order to open a well, so that the local people could have access to clean drinking water. This well was another gift of love from the “Orthodox Missionary Fraternity.” Safe drinking water is extremely valuable, particularly in Africa, where women and children are forced to walk 5 and 10 km, twice a day, to carry relatively clean water to their home for the family’s needs.
In the capital Conakry and on private property granted by Orthodox Ukrainians, I officiated the Divine Liturgy. Before the liturgy several people asked to confess. I was particularly touched when a 50- year- old Ukrainian came for confession, who said he had never confessed in his whole life and that he had not been to church or received Holy Communion for 18 years! “Who is so great a God as our God?”!
Searching for church construction land in Conakry
Along with the devout Ukrainians who do business in Guinea, we visited districts of the capital Conakry to find suitable land for the construction of the Church. Some were pretty good, but the prices were unreachable. Nevertheless, we are confident that the good Lord will pave the way and soon the right place will be found.
The time of return had finally come. A little virus caused a slight increase in my temperature. I was worried because upon departure at the airport I would pass through the holy inquisition before boarding the plane, and in case I had low grade fever, I feared they might put me in quarantine. I followed the instructions of the physician from Athens health inspection department that I visited before my departure from Greece and got some antipyretic tablets. Fortunately everything went well. I passed through all 5 controls successfully. After Morocco no one seemed to care about Ebola. It was now past. I hope God grants elimination of the deadly epidemic in West Africa as soon as possible so that Ebola becomes past for our fellow humans there.
I would like to congratulate you on your well deserved election to the position of the President of the Fraternity and continuator of the noble work which originated with Fr. Chrysostomos Papasarantopoulos and to which the late Panagiotis and Elli Papadimitrakopoulos dedicated their whole life.
I want to thank you for the opportunity you gave me to visit the Fraternity on Sunday, May 10 and talk about the course of missionary work in West Africa, and also present the book dedicated to the late Patriarch Petros VII. The event was indeed magnificent and worthy of the memory of the late Patriarch.
I would like to inform you that here in Guinea we are struggling to support the victims of the Ebola virus through food distribution and medical relief. Our Holy Metropolis is the worst affected by the epidemic and the only one that has been afflicted for 1.5 years now.
One of the major problems we face in Guinea is the lack of clean and running water. This lack contributes a lot to the transmission of the deadly Ebola virus since continuous hand- washing is the best protection against the virus.
There is an urgent need for the people of at least two areas of the city of Kindia to be given God’s gift of access to clean water. I visited these places during my last pastoral visit, and needless to say, my presence in the region was regarded as a commitment for response to our desperate fellows’ request for help. Moreover, it is necessary to distribute soap and other antiseptic liquid for protection from Ebola. To achieve the above we need about 5,000 euro, and you are the only ones that are so sensitized and touched by our work and always respond positively and promptly to our requests.
Despite the difficulties, we continue the construction work of the Church of Sts. Parthenios and Charalambos in Guinea, for which your Fraternity participated in the land purchase but we are still lacking 5,000 euro. Moreover, a pending project is the construction of the Orthodox Academy on the same site. For the completion of the ground floor with 3 classrooms, staff room and library, 10,000 euro is required.
It would be a great blessing to find a noble donor who could fund and support these projects, which will be the testimony of our Orthodox faith in this Muslim country.
Tuesday 23rd May 2013, memory of the Holy Equals-to–the-Apostles, Saints Constantine & Helen. With the wishes and blessings of His Divine Beatitude Theodore II Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, I arrived in Guinea after a 29-hour-journey. At the airport I was greeted by the members of the first Orthodox nuclei in the country.
Wednesday 22nd May. In the car that was donated to us by the Saracakis Bros Company, we set off on our road trip for the city of Kindia, which is situated inland about 135km from the capital (city of) Conakry. It took us more than 5 hours to cover this relatively short distance. I got thirsty on the way so I asked if we could stop for a while in order to have some sort of refreshment and quench our thirst. “Such things do not exist here,” said my fellow travelers. I wondered how that was possible, since I saw little tables with bottles of popular western soft drinks throughout the way. “No, Your Eminence,” they told me, “these are not soft drinks but gas; here we buy gas in bottles of soft drinks and beer and only the richer in jerry-cans.”
Thursday 23rd May. Visit to the Technical School which is under construction in Kindia. At this Technical School there will be bakery courses and among the facilities, there is provision for the installation of a professional oven so that apart from their practical training, the students will be able to bake bread for the benefit of the local society. Next we visited local schools, where we distributed to the pupils stationery and sweets which had been sent in a container by the Limassol Co-operative Savings Bank. Wherever I walked, I heard the people call me ‘Fote’, especially the little children. I asked my fellow travelers what ‘Fote’ means, and they said ‘White man’. “Keep in mind, Your Eminence, that the majority of the people here have never seen a white man before except on TV, let alone one walking among them.”
Friday 24th May. We visited the parking lot of the 50- seat- bus which was donated to us by the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity and discussed with local agents the best possible ways this bus could meet the transport needs of the local community. It is worth pointing out that such a bus has never been used before, not only in Kindia but also in the whole of Guinea. Next I visited the three wells which are being drilled thanks to the good offices of the Metropolis, so that 3 of the poorest city districts can have access to water. “The poorest” is just a figure of speech, since 99% of the inhabitants live below the poverty line. Privileged are the ones who have a relative that works abroad.
Saturday 25thMay. I visited the local University. There I was given the opportunity to meet with the representatives of the students’ association and discuss their needs, which were focused on the creation of a lending library and the accessibility to the internet, and I could not help thinking how many books we throw away in the western world without even bothering to recycle them. We distributed stationery there as well.
Sunday 26th May. Divine Liturgy celebrated in a private venue provided by a family of catechumens. Cantor, Sacristan, Deacon. Priest: all in one person. The catechumens have a thirst for religious books. They said to me: “Your Eminence, send us whatever you can.”
Monday 27th May. Departure for Sierra Leone.Despite the very bad weather, the person in charge of the Mission in Sierra Leone, the Very Reverent Archimandrite Fr Themistocles Adamopoulos, managed to get to the airport in order to greet me. We were able to reach the Mission premises around midnight.
Tuesday 28th May. Accompanied by Fr Themistocles and all the clerics I went toWaterloo region, where I visited the Missionary center of Saint Moses the Black, which was inaugurated by the Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria on 23rd February 2012, and comprises the Holy Church of the Lord’s Resurrection, Presbytery, Primary School, Clinic, workroom for the creation of artificial limbs (prosthetics) and housing for the accommodation of the mutilated by mines children. Inside the Holy Church the pupils sang songs and recited poems. Next I told them words of (parental) love and gave them advice. Then I laid the foundation stone for the erection of the (Junior) High School.
In the afternoon I was shown around the Orthodox Pedagogical Academy, where I marveled at the work being done there. I visited the classrooms, the rich in the collection of materials library and the computer lab, and I also had the chance to talk with the students as well as the teachers.
In the evening I officiated at the Vespers service for the feast of Mid-Pentecost at the Holy Church of Sts Constantine and Helen, which was erected next to the Orthodox Pedagogical Academy, and I preached the Word of God to the congregation, which was mainly composed of the male and female students of the Academy.
Feast of Mid-Pentecost. We conducted a vigil at the Cathedral of Sts Eleftherios and George in Freetown. During the Divine Liturgy, I ordained Deacon Vaios Hancile to a Presbyter, Subdeacon Aaron to a Deacon and finally I confirmed Fr Eleftherios Edmonson to a Protopresbyter (Archpriest) through imposition of hands, whom I appointed Dean of the Cathedral on Fr Themistocles’ recommendation. I preached the Word of God mostly referring to Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, and in the end I congratulated Archimandrite Themistocles Adamopoulos on his multifarious, God-pleasing work in Sierra Leone, which he carries out under very difficult conditions. I also thanked all those who contribute to the fruition of the Missionary work in one way or another, making special mention of the contribution (material, moral as well as in human resources) of the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity.
Wednesday 29th May. I conducted a blessing of the waters for the beginning of the new school term, which was attended by the teachers as well as the schoolchildren of the Orthodox schools (Primary-Junior High), which are situated beside the Cathedral, and which were inaugurated by the Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria in February 2012.
Next we returned to the Missionary center where I chaired the clergy gathering. There I had the chance to meet with all the clerics, the volunteers and the Mission staff and give them the proper parental admonitions; we also discussed the various issues that concerned them.
In the eveningI departed for Senegal. Despite the bumpy journey, we managed to reach the airport in time and bade farewell with emotion and spiritual exultation, glorifying the Holy One for all the things He makes us worthy to experience daily in our humble effort to evangelize our African brothers in Western Africa.
In February a container sailed for Conakry, capital city of Guinea, filled with a harvest of love for this people of West Africa. The loading was made by volunteer partners of the newly founded Holy Metropolis of Guinea.
Among the various items that were sent to Guinea was a fifty-seat-bus, an offer of love of the Orthodox Missionary Fraternity, which is intended to serve the intercity routes in the interior of the country so that it can cover the missionary needs.
Taking its first steps in Guinea, the Mission is asked to respond to the call and expectations of our indigenous brothers for their spiritual and material support.
I am grateful to your Fraternity for supporting me financially during my humble service at the Holy Metropolises of Zimbabwe, Accra, and recently at the H. M. of Guinea, which comprises the countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea- Bissau, Gambia, Senegal and Cape Verde. I would also like to thank warmly our donors, who supported considerably the missionary work by giving the little they have.