Agenzia Fides REPORT – Fr. Bruno Favero, OMI, National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Senegal and Mauritania sent Fides his testimony on Bishop Maixent Coly, Bishop of Ziguinchor (capital of Casamance, Senegal), who died August 24 at the age of 61, after a long illness. The funeral of Bishop Coly will be held on September 1 in the Cathedral of St. Anthony of Padua in Ziguinchor.
Casamance has been troubled since 1982 by a civil war led by the “Mouvement des forces democratiques de Casamance” (MFDC), a guerrilla group founded by a Catholic priest, Father Augustin Diamacoune Senghor, who died in 2007 (see Fides 15/1/2007).
Fr. Favero writes: "The last time I saw Bishop Coly was July 3 in Ziguinchor, after the priestly ordination of six new priests, both religious and diocesan, from the Diocese. He was tired, of course, but happy. On that occasion, he invited me to join him in the bishops' residence to continue the celebration along with other priests, but I apologized saying that I couldn't go but that I would visit him the following week, the next day he had another vascular failure. This time it was fatal.
Our friendship began ten years ago, in 1999, when after many negotiations he welcomed two of us Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate into his diocese, to take care of the Temento Mission on the border with Guinea Bissau and the Diocesan Shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Peace. Ironically, a few months later, with the creation of the Diocese of Kolda, the new foundation was part of the new ecclesiastical district. This did not change our relationship at all. On the contrary, with the creation of the interdiocesan pilgrimage, the Shrine became a place for the annual meeting of the two dioceses and their bishops. Unfortunately, in the summer of 2000 a first heart attack seriously affected the health of the Bishop, although it did not diminish his pastoral and missionary zeal.
What was striking about Bishop Coly was undoubtedly the simplicity and immediacy in the relationship. He was open, friendly, accommodating to everyone at the same time - prominent figures and ordinary faithful - paying equal attention to each person. Even during the period of the disease that made it hard for him to travel, he continued to visit the parishes, to personally deal with many situations where there was need of his intervention, writing and speaking on the particular situation that the region of Casamance was living, and playing a unique role in the area of peace and reconciliation.
Bishop Coly's commitment to peace in Casamance can be divided into two phases. The first lasted until the death of the founder of the MFDC, who was a Catholic priest. Bishop Coly made a special effort with this brother to try to get him back on the "right path" and convince him to take the road of peace. The second phase was initiated after the death of Fr. Diamacoune, when the movement he founded was divided into different factions. Dialogue with all these groups became more difficult, but Bishop Coly always tried to open a path for dialogue and negotiation with all of them.
His bluntness and at times vehemence, were always tempered by a great capacity to review his position and to ask for pardon when necessary. The years of illness coincided with a very favorable missionary expansion, with the creation of new parishes and foundations, the opening of the Catholic University (ICAO), the launch of the pastoral plan, and many other diocesan initiatives aimed at reviving pastoral ministry.
Many had proposed that he abandon the leadership of the diocese, but certainly his desire was to serve until the end, until the last moment, because this was his idea of a bishop who must give his life for his people.
Certainly, a void remains in all our hearts with the passing of a pastor who knew how to live suffering with strength and serenity, along with the sense of giving one's life until the end."