140 years of presence in Jerusalem

This is an article from the site of the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem, dated December 11. The original post is here. The text was translated quickly with online help. In case of doubt, please refer to the original French.

On December 8, 2018, the Missionaries of Africa invited, as they do every year, the faithful and friends to come and celebrate with them the feast of the Immaculate Conception. This year, in addition to the Marian celebration, there was also the launching of the festivities for the jubilee of the 150th anniversary of the congregation and the 140th anniversary of its presence in the Holy Land.

The Mass of December 8 is traditionally celebrated with fervour among the Missionaries of Africa – also known as the White Fathers – because the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is the patron saint’s feast of this Society of priests and also the women’s congregation, the Sisters of Our Lady of Africa. This is also the date of the annual consular mass [1] and on this occasion the Deputy Consul General, Mr. Rémy Bouallègue, joined the ceremony.

But this year, the mass of December 8 was also celebrated in union with the mass for the beatification of the 19 martyrs who died for their faith in Algeria, including four White Fathers murdered on December 27, 1994 in Tizi Ouzou. Finally, this Mass on December 8 celebrated two important jubilees: the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the Society of the White Fathers and the 140th anniversary of the presence of the Missionaries in the Holy Land.

Fraternity beyond cultural differences

It is the date of the opening of the first novitiate, October 18, 1868, which was chosen as the date of foundation of the Society of the White Fathers. For the founder, Bishop Lavigerie, the Missionaries of Africa must be “all things to all people” and adapt to the way of life of those to whom they are sent to spread the Gospel. For this reason they ask them to wear the local habit, to eat the same food as the inhabitants and to speak the language that allows them to open themselves to the culture of the country. Founded in North Africa, the society has developed in a large part of Africa. Today, there are still 1200 White Fathers, most of whom are in Black Africa. At the service of parishes and dioceses, they are as close as possible to the needs of the population and actively participate in interreligious dialogue. Also present in Europe, they bring their missionary experience to the dioceses of rich countries, to help welcome migrants and broaden the Church’s vision of the world.

Missionaries of Africa in the Middle East?

To find a congregation that has been mainly oriented towards Africa in the heart of Jerusalem for 140 years may seem questioning at first sight, but it would then be to not know the history of the founder. Charles Lavigerie before being the Archbishop of Algiers and the founder of the Society of the White Fathers was the first ecclesiastical director of the Work of the Schools of the Orient (now the Work of the Orient) and it is in this context that he had known, like a revelation, the Eastern Churches. This memory will come back in a flash when France, which became the owner of the church of Sainte-Anne, sought a religious community to keep it. Arriving in 1878, the White Fathers set up a seminary there in 1882 to train the Greek Melkite Catholic clergy. This seminary operated for 85 years, until the June 1967 war forced its transfer to Lebanon. Since then the White Fathers have continued, in various ways, to work for the Churches of the East, their unity and mission, and the service of the Church of Jerusalem in the fields of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, and action for justice and peace. Thanks to the biblical training sessions, organized in Sainte-Anne since 1976, the Church of Africa is now coming to Jerusalem to pray and recharge their batteries.

Cécile Klos

[1] Each year, the Consul General of France officially visits each of the national domains belonging to France and certain religious communities of French origin, by taking part in the celebration of a mass.

 
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