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    Our dear departed

    Petrus Sonnemans

    Petrus Sonnemans

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    Frederic Vital Mees smallPetrus Sonnemans (1937-2020)


    Born in Deurne (NL) on October 4, 1937
    First Vows on September 8, 1960
    Ordained priest on August 1, 1965
    Missionary in Congo (AFA) and Belgium
    Died in Sint-Pieters-Leeuw on 24 August 2020 at the age of 82 years

    Last week, Father Jan Van Sande, wrote as follows: “I have just received the obituary of Tju (...), the man of the sun, a good friend of many years and especially for you, a child of the house. A guitarist priest for Bart, a gifted artist who stayed with the people he loved with all his heart and soul until his last days in Congo”. These words sum up in a few words what Pierre was: a child of the sun, a faithful friend, a man who loved to be with family and friends, a true brother to his peo­ple in Congo.

    Music brought us together. Dur­ing a musical evening in the par­ish hall of Blauwput, the fathers of the Vlamingenstraat, together with Pierre and Toon Coolen, performed a joyful song about a musical stork. I also wanted to learn to play the guitar, and Pierre was going to teach me. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship. Since Pierre - or may I say Tju, as he was then known to his confreres and later in Congo - was faithful: faithful to his family, to his confreres, to his friends and, above all, to his vo­cation and himself.

    He was a child of the sun. Life smiled upon him, and this lively and cheerful aspect colored his days. I rarely saw him discour­aged. Of course, life had its diffi­cult sides for him, but he was a man of the sun—a talented man: a gifted artist, musician, guitarist, songwriter, and painter. For many artists, this is a dilemma. For Pierre too. What comes first? He had chosen Jesus. For him, Jesus was never a personage of books and burdensome theology. Jesus was his great friend, his example, and his brother. And Peter remained faithful. Music and art would forever be second­ary to this one goal: to tell the Congolese this Joyful Message of Love that offers every life a bright future, even beyond death.

    In Congo, Pierre became a bridge-builder. Literally, during his lifetime, he repaired or rebuilt countless bridges. In an African way - because he felt at home among his people and managed to adapt perfectly to their way of being, thinking, and working - he did it with great success, with a lot of help from his family and friends from the Netherlands and Belgium.

    Indeed, he even used equipment that was rusting in the bush, with old trucks, if the latter were robust and usable enough. Not only did Pierre's bridges reached the other side, but they also reached the people. They made it easier for many people to meet each other. These people had their particularities, and often, each had a different language and culture. Bringing people to­gether means cultural exchange, openness to each other, mutual understanding, and why not also learning each other's language. Tshikapa is a crossroads of cul­tures. Four great tribes live there, and several languages are spo­ken. Why not speak these lan­guages in the celebrations? After all, everyone understands them. “Every language is a human be­ing”, says the Koran. Respecting the language of the other or speaking that language is a way of building bridges. They are bridges between people. They go from heart to heart: a small mir­acle of Pentecost.

    And art is an essential tool: beau­tiful liturgical vestments with beautiful African symbols made by the hand of Pierre, contempo­rary music with new groups. Thus, Pierre brought sunshine into the lives of the people of Tshikapa: the Baluba, the Lulua, the Tshokwe, and the Bampende. And this has earned Pierre a new name. In Bantu culture, every name has a meaning. One does not receive it without any reason. When Pierre received the name “Wakudiba”, it was not a transla­tion of his family name, but a title of honor for what he was to his people: a man like a sun, pure, honest, warm, faithful. He was in­deed one of them. He was their brother.

    The day before you made your last departure for Congo, Tju, you were with us. We had an in­tense conversation and, in the end, after weighing the pros and cons together for a long time, we asked ourselves: "Why are you still leaving? You deserve a rest, and you can still be useful here". Your answer was neither pompous nor pedantic. You did not talk about vocation or life choices; you simply said what you were: “but who should then talk to my people about Jesus?”.

    When you unexpectedly re­turned to Kessel-Lo, the sun was veiled. You were confused. You entered more and more into your world, which was foggy for us. We saw you almost every day. Proximity, walking together, be­came an essential form of com­munication. And there you dis­covered joy. When words die, and words become sounds, ten­derness takes over. Friends and some of the family members, in­cluding your sister Liesbet, came to visit you. We felt that you were gently sliding towards a country where we could not follow you. That's how you left our home. 

    “Waya bimpe, Wakudiba!”. Safe Journey, Pierre, Tju, dear friend. Return safely home to your elder brother and friend Jesus, and may your joy now be complete. ■

    by Bart Van Thielen
    (For the community of Zuun)