Experiencing the Ascension in Jerusalem

Placing the Ascension of the Lord Jesus on the summit of the Mount of Olives is not just a fulfillment of religious traditions, but a profound testament to the significance of this mountain. The history and geography of the Holy Land illuminate why the Mount of Olives is the custodian of the memory of this pivotal event in our salvation.

The Scriptures tell us of two places where our Lord ascended. After the Resurrection, the Risen Lord met his disciples in Galilee (Matthew 28:16). The Acts of the Apostles situates the site of the Ascension at the summit of the Mount of Olives in the east of Jerusalem (Acts of the Apostles 1, 9-12).

The northern part of the Mount of Olives is known by several names: “The hunter’s vineyard” in Arabic, KARM ES SAYAD and “Little Galilee” in Greek tradition. The words VIRI GALILAEI (in Latin: men of Galilee) are an allusion to the words addressed to the apostles in Acts 1:11: “People of Galilee, why do you stand there looking up to heaven?

So why the Mount of Olives and not Mount Zion?

The choice of the Mount of Olives was no accident. Jesus appropriated the whole of human history to bring it to perfection. The Mount of Olives is the guardian of Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions.

The Mount of Olives was called HAR HAMISHKHA, ‘Mount of Unction’ during the Second Temple, possibly in memory of the anointing of Solomon, crowned king in an improvised ceremony held in a hurry near the spring of Gihôn in the city of David. The way this ceremony is recounted in the first book of Kings foreshadows Jesus’ solemn entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday: “They (Zadok the Priest, Nathan the Prophet…) put Solomon on King David’s mule and went down to Gihon. Then Zadok, the priest, took the horn of oil from the Tent and anointed Solomon; the horn was blown, and all the people shouted: “Long live King Solomon! And the people played the flute and rejoiced with great joy and shouted as though the earth would burst” (1 Kings 1:38-40). The same thing will happen on Palm Sunday: Jesus will come from Bethphage, on the other side of the Mount of Olives, riding on a colt; descending the Mount, he will cross the Kidron valley to go up the Temple Mount and enter Jerusalem. Then the people accompanied him, shouting joyfully, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord…”. (Mark 11, 9)

The “Mount of Unction” is named for the olive oil produced there. Olives from this mountain were used to make oil, which was used to anoint kings and prophets and for liturgical celebrations in the Temple. Jesus is God’s anointed par excellence. It is only natural that he should ascend to heaven, where he is seated at the right hand of God the Father on the Mount of Unction.

Many Jews wanted to be buried on the western side of the Mount of Olives. Believing that being buried opposite the Temple Mount meant resting on safe ground for the Last Judgement. Indeed, the prophet Zechariah foretold that on that day, history would be fulfilled: “The feet of the Lord will rest on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem to the east. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the saints with him” (Zechariah 14:4-5). Zechariah’s prophecy speaks of “the feet of the Lord”. Today, in the Sanctuary of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives, there is a stone bearing the footprints of Jesus as he ascended to heaven.

The importance of the Mount of Olives is also recognised in the Muslim tradition. In Sura 1, verse 6 mentions the straight path: “Lead us in the straight path”. The term “straight path” is called “sirat” and has two meanings, depending on the era. In ancient Islam, it meant the right path or the path to be followed. In medieval Islam, it was given added spatial significance: the right path was associated with the bridge that would link the Mount of Olives to the Mount of the Temple when the Messiah comes. Here, the Muslim tradition is similar to the Jewish tradition. Still, with a twist: at the Last Judgement, all the believers of ALLAH buried on the Mount of Olives will be resurrected and have to cross a bridge built over seven arches linking it to the Temple Mount. The “righteous” will cross the bridge without difficulty, while the “unrighteous” will fall into the Kidron. And so, there are Muslim graves in the Kidron Valley, in the shadow of the ramparts close to the esplanade of the Al Aqsa Mosque, around the Golden Gate, the gate through which, according to Jewish tradition, the Messiah must pass to enter the Temple and pronounce judgement.

Today, the Sanctuary of the Ascension is managed and guarded by Muslims. It is an exceptional site, as it is used as a mosque and, depending on the occasion, as a Christian church. Inside the mosque is the stone bearing the footprints of Jesus as he ascended to heaven, as mentioned above. This is how Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions unite on Mount Olives.

The Feast of the Ascension today

Jesus chose a mountain with olive trees, a mountain outside Jerusalem just a short distance from the holy city. He did not choose Mount Zion, which is in the city. He kept the symbol of the olive tree, a tree typical of the Mediterranean basin, a tree God gave to his people together with the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 6, 10-12). The olive tree is like the tree that “bears fruit in its season, and its leaves never die” (Psalm 1, 3). It is also the symbol of the righteous and peace since it is always green and bears fruit only after careful, patient nurturing, in other words, after a long period of peace. According to Jewish tradition, the olive branch brought to Noah’s Ark by the dove after the flood waters had receded came from the Mount of Unction.

Olive oil, the fruit of the olive tree and human labour, is food, perfume, medicine and essential for lighting lamps. This rich symbolism is abundantly repeated in the sacraments of the Church (CCC nos. 1293 and 695), which bring us into the realities beyond. Therein lies the spirituality of the Ascension. Once sanctified by the presence and, above all, the blessing of Christ, our earthly realities are lifted up to heaven: “He who was taken from you, the same Jesus, will come just as you saw him go up to heaven” (Acts 1:11).

Jews, Christians and Muslims all believe that the Messiah will return. In response to a question from a participant in the session, here at Saint Anne’s in Jerusalem, to a rabbi about the coming of the Messiah, the rabbi replied: “When the Messiah comes, we will ask him if this is the first time he has come into the world, or if it is the second time.

By: Grégoire Milombo, M.Afr.

Remembering the Blessed White Fathers of Tizi-Ouzou

How do people remember them today?

Founded in 1874, six years after the creation of the Society, the community of Tizi-Ouzou remains our oldest still active community. It was in this community that our four confreres, Alain, Charles, Jean and Christian, Missionaries of Africa, were murdered on 27 December 1994. They were courageous and zealous missionaries who devoted their lives to the end; they are now counted among the greatest martyrs of love. They were beatified on 8 December 2018 in Oran, Algeria, along with 15 other people. They were respected because of their dedication to the mission and love for Algeria and its people. We know the privileges and challenges of living in this same community.

A feeling of gratitude and recognition

It will be precisely 30 years, on 27 December 2024, since our confreres were murdered in their community home, but people still talk about them as if it were yesterday. We know that Blessed Alain, Charles, Jean and Christian were firmly committed to Algerian society when schools and training centres were still under non-national charge.

Charles Deckers, the most emblematic of the four, trained several students who passed through the vocational training centre he was in charge of. These students, now managers and senior officials in the Algerian government, never cease to remind us that Charles Deckers trained them; some are already retired. Some of these people are writers and have devoted dozens of pages to Charles Deckers in books published at some point in their careers. We are still in close contact with these people.

Charles Deckers left his mark on the town of Tizi-Ouzou through his service and generosity: the vocational training centre he ran produced hundreds of students who subsequently became leaders at all levels of the Algerian nation. The people, including those in the surrounding towns and villages, knew and appreciated Charles. He became a national of Algeria in 1972, with pride in his roots there.

Jean and Alain were engaged in pastoral visits to families, especially in the mountains of Kabylia. We still receive testimonies from some people recalling their family memories of the Blessed.

We don’t hear much about Christian, though. He was the youngest of the four; we know he was behind the library project, which, unfortunately, he did not see through to completion. Today, dozens of people have subscribed to the Library: Algerian professionals, students and researchers in medicine, linguistics and other subjects, although there has been a decline in subscriptions in recent years.

Annual celebration

We issue an invitation every 27 December to commemorate the anniversary of their assassination, and the feedback is always positive, with many people visiting the cemetery to commemorate them. Algeria is a country that celebrates its martyrs, and our confreres are among them.

Thanks to all the life testimonies we receive, we think their memory is still alive. People are thankful and have never forgotten the actions of our martyrs. Their gratitude is also expressed in the fact that they still maintain links with the present-day community of the White Fathers in Tizi-Ouzou.

The challenge of living in the footsteps of the Blessed

The missionary activity of Tizi-Ouzou dates from 1874 to the present day. It has been the work of several generations. Today, our presence is still worthy of appreciation, albeit from a different perspective than that adopted by our predecessors, adapted to the current socio-cultural context and the needs of those around us.

We often face the challenge of comparison. Some people compare how the Blessed lived with how we live today. This is an encouragement to do our best and imitate their footsteps, even though we know their opportunities were not the same as those we have today. On the other hand, comparing their lives with ours today forces us to live in the shadow of our predecessors.

Besides the above, today, there is the question of the origin of our confrères on the spot. Twenty years ago, people were still used to seeing only European confreres, whereas for the last ten years or so, we have been of African origin and younger than our predecessors. It sometimes brings misunderstandings and questions for some since they link the membership of the White Fathers to the question of colour. Some people even say that there are no more White Fathers here in Tizi-Ouzou. It’s a challenge we’re trying to meet through our dedication to the mission and heritage bequeathed to us by our elders.

We are responding to this challenge thanks to the encouraging testimonies of some former friends and pupils of the White Fathers. For example, a former pupil of the White Fathers gave a striking and encouraging testimonial after celebrating the 29th anniversary: “I saw Father Philippe dressed in a gandoura at the cemetery! It reminded me of the old days when the White Fathers dressed in the gandoura. They were all white. But when I saw Father Philippe dressed in white, even though he is not white, I understood why they are called the White Fathers: not because of the colour of their skin, but because of their white garb. I hope that all the White Fathers will wear their white gandoura at the next commemoration.” Here’s another testimony from an elderly man: “This is a place of pilgrimage! We have come to commemorate those who gave their lives for the good of all, and we are happy to meet the White Fathers who now live in this house; they remind us of the dedication of the four White Fathers.”

From commemorating the four White Fathers to remembering the former White Fathers

Some of those who attended the commemorations never knew any of the four White Fathers. They came to the commemorations of the four White Fathers to remember also those who preceded them. The names of Fathers Louis Garnier, Jean Robichon, and Georges Rogé are recurrent in the testimonies of all those present. The three are buried in the Tizi-Ouzou Christian cemetery, along with three of our four Blessed.  

By: Benoît Mwana Nyembo, M.Afr. & Philippe Dakono, M.Afr. 

Our Lady of Africa, Mother of Hope

Our Lady of Africa basilica, Algeria

In the litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we invoke Mary, Mother of Hope. As we go about our daily lives, with its ups and downs, joys and sorrows, happiness and unhappiness, kindness and violence, laughter and suffering, life can quickly lose its taste and meaning without hope. Then, we are lost and desperate. If we don’t want to lose hope, we need to remain rooted in the one who is the source of life, the source of hope.

“We were saved, but it was in hope”, writes Saint Paul to the Romans (8:24); he is saying this to us, too. “Redemption was offered to us in the sense that we received hope, a reliable hope, by which we can face our present” (cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 2007). Our present, however painful, includes distressing situations of loss of life, of suffering in wars, conflicts and tensions like those we are experiencing or seeing in Gaza, eastern Congo (DRC), Ukraine, Somalia, Burma (Myanmar), Sudan, the Sahel region, Yemen and the Red Sea region, to mention just a few current cases.

Faced with all these unpleasant situations (especially when we can do nothing about them alone), only hope can keep us going. Just like mothers, who often instil hope in their children, Mary, Our Lady of Africa and mother of us all, never ceases to intercede for us during these uncertain times.

Our world today is tormented by an absence of authentic leadership, which, instead of doing everything possible to stop wars, violence, tensions and conflicts of all kinds, stirs them up, notwithstanding the technological breakthroughs that ought to make us better, not worse, human beings. Our faith experience shows us that Mary “shines like a light that attracts all nations to God” (cf. the readings for the Solemnity of Our Lady of Africa, 30 April); these nations, walking in the light of the Lord under the protection of Mother Mary, are illuminated by Him.

Madame-Afrique’s experience in Algiers

The Basilica of Notre Dame d’Afrique is located on a promontory 124 m above sea level in the commune of Bologhine to the west of Algiers. It is a captivating sight! This imposing architectural edifice, built over 14 years, is nicknamed “Madame Afrique” or “Lalla Myriem” by the locals. It’s often easier and more understandable to the locals if you ask them how to get there when you say “Madame Afrique”. The main construction work on this historic basilica was carried out under the episcopate of Mgr Pavy between 1858 and 1866. Cardinal Lavigerie completed the job in 1872 and entrusted it to the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers).

Back in the 1930s, pilgrims from almost all over Algeria and the surrounding area climbed the hill barefoot, reciting the rosary aloud to seek consolation, protection or healing or to make or fulfil a vow. Fishermen would have their nets blessed; people went there to offer gifts after a good harvest, to renew their baptismal promises, and to have young children blessed. Candles or bunches of flowers were often provided to young Catholic, sometimes Jewish, or even Muslim couples, invoking Lalla Myriem and relying on her intercession in all circumstances (cf. Homily by Father Patient Bahati, 30 April 2020, in Rome).

As in the past, hundreds of people visit the Basilica of Notre-Dame d’Afrique daily in Algeria. Among them are barren women, pregnant women, schoolchildren wanting to pass their BAC exams or other competitive examinations, people suffering in body or soul, or simply on courtesy/curiosity visits; these people come to light a candle and pray quietly, invoking Mary in silent recollection. Although the majority of these people are from Algeria, a good number come from elsewhere and entrust themselves to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Africa, a source of joy and mother of hope for all.

The many testimonies of answered prayers and graces obtained are expressed through the ex-votos covering the walls of this lively and prayerful basilica, a symbol of inter-religious dialogue which has now instituted an annual Marian Day. The stone plaques engraved on these walls, in every language and from every era, bear witness to the fact that God never forgets the pleas of sincere and just souls: he always grants his countless graces.

Beyond the graces obtained through physical visits to Our Lady, countless graces are also obtained by all those who invoke her intercession far beyond the land of Algeria, where the basilica is located. In other words, Mary intercedes for Africa and the whole world. She wants the well-being of all her children without exception. This is confirmed by her various apparitions in many places around the world: at Lourdes in France, at Guadalupe in Mexico, at Kibeho in Rwanda, at Fatima in Portugal, at Zeitoun in Egypt, at Akita in Japan, etc.).

François Varillion reminds us in his book Humility of God that “God is pure gratuitousness”: he communicates his grace to us freely without calculation, often through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, who makes no differences or prejudices between her children.

Mary, star of hope, intercedes for us

Mary, mother of God, mother of the Church and mother of humanity, never ceases to intercede for a starry hope. The best illustration of Mother Mary as a star of hope can be found in Pope Benedict XVI’s Encyclical Letter Spe Salvi (Hope Saves Us). Mary is evoked in the following terms towards the end of this beautiful exhortation: “For over a thousand years, the Church has greeted Mary, Mother of God, as “Star of the Sea” in a hymn dating from the seventh to the ninth centuries: Ave Maris Stella. Our life is a journey. Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often obscure and stormy, like the one we see these days, a voyage on which we look to the stars to show us the way, like the Magi. The true stars in our lives are those who have followed the stars of righteousness, love and truth, justice and peace, and reconciliation, to mention only these Christian and human values. True stars are beacons of hope. Jesus Christ is the TRUE light that enlightens the world, even if the world sometimes prefers darkness to the light of Christ. Jesus is not only the true light but also the sun that rises over all the darkness of history. However, we also need the little lights of others to reach him. And who more than Mary could be the star of hope for us all – she who by her ‘yes’ opened the door of our world to God himself; she who became the living Ark of the Covenant, in which God became flesh, became one of us, and pitched his tent among us (cf. Jn 1:14)?” (Spe Salvi, 2007, no. 49).

In conclusion, our humanity on pilgrimage to this earth, our common home, should be inspired by the wisdom of the words of the fourth Eucharistic prayer for special circumstances, entitled “Jesus went about doing good”. This profound prayer calls upon God to ensure that the Church is “a living witness to truth and freedom, to justice and peace, so that all humanity may rise to a new hope”. May we allow ourselves to be challenged and inspired by the depth of this prayer through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Africa, mother of hope.

By: Vincent Kyererezi, M.Afr.

Lent, a Way to Freedom?

Do you like Lent? Well, I don’t. At least not spontaneously. Having to listen to talks about conversion, penance, fasting, questioning my lifestyle, material sharing, and with all that purple in the liturgy, so sad, for 40 days. It doesn’t really appeal to me, and I could do without it.

However, if I pause and reflect momentarily, I will be forced to admit that I need it. We’ve made the most of the festive season, we’re back to the routine of ordinary time (which, we’re told, must be lived “in an extraordinary way”!), and the little routines have started to fall back into place, with the ever-present risk of mediocrity and lack of creativity.

So, let’s move on. Let’s get going! We’ve been hearing more lately about the journey ahead. Pope Francis, for example, in his Lenten letter this year, speaks of crossing the desert and of freedom. Recently, in his invitation to us to prepare for the Jubilee Year of 2025, the theme he proposed is: “Pilgrims in Hope”. So, we need to keep moving, like pilgrims on a journey. Interspersed throughout all this is the synodal journey we started many months ago, between two celebrations, and we’re still on the move. It’s not easy to establish yourself when you’re a Christian or a missionary in our Catholic Church. Here, I’ll focus on the first two propositions.

God leads us to freedom through the desert

This is the title of Pope Francis’ Lenten letter. It begins with a quotation from Exodus (20:2): “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery”. The project is clear: our Lent is presented as a time of desert and freedom. The Pope adds: “When our God reveals himself, he communicates freedom”. From the outset, he insists on what prevents us from freeing ourselves: our attachment to slavery. In the desert, God educates his people and vigorously calls them to freedom; this was the long journey during the Exodus when the people were resistant on several occasions. 

Today, however, we too are attached to constraining bonds which we must abandon and which are often the consequence of a lack of hope. We know the desert is a place of temptation and divine seduction (Hosea 2:16-17). Lent is the season of grace in which the desert becomes once more the place of our first love, where the Lord reminds us of the very thing that once set us on this journey: that unforgettable encounter with his son. Where is your treasure?

To be concrete,” says the Pope, “we must break free from Pharaoh’s domination. He reminds us of the questions raised in Lampedusa about migrants: “Where are you?” (Gn 3:9) and “Where is your brother?” (Gn 4:9). He denounces the culture of indifference.

First, we must recognise that we live in a model of growth that divides and robs us of a future, polluting creation and our souls. Do I want a new world? Am I ready to free myself of my compromises? Our lack of hope is an obstacle to our dreams, a regret for slavery that paralyses. He believes this is why we cannot overcome global inequalities and conflicts. 

We must look our idols in the face, our desire to be recognised, valued, and dominate others. We become attached to idols like money, our projects, our ideas, our goals, our position, our traditions and sometimes certain people. And in the end, this sets us against each other. Fortunately, there are the poor in spirit who are open and ready to move forward, “a silent force of good that heals and sustains the world”- those who, like the God of Moses, see and hear the cries of people in bondage.

Lent is a time to act; in this special season, to act also means to pause, to pause in prayer to receive the word of God, to pause in action, like the Samaritan in the presence of a wounded brother: love of God and love of neighbour are inseparable.

Here again, the Pope challenges us. Since we’re on a synodal path, Lent should be a time for communitarian decisions, of decisions, small and large, that are countercurrent, capable of altering the daily lives of individuals and entire neighbourhoods. He even speaks of questioning our lifestyles: our buying habits, care for creation, and inclusion of the unnoticed and despised. He invites every community to re-examine its priorities. And as if by chance, I discovered his letter after reading the latest letter from our General Council (on the state of our finances), questioning our priorities and lifestyle.

To the extent that this Lent becomes a time of conversion, a stranded humanity will experience a burst of creativity: the dawn of a new hope. Here, the Pope reiterates his appeal to the young people during the World Youth Day in Lisbon in August 2023: “Keep seeking and be ready to take risks. At this moment in time, the challenges are enormous, the groans painful. We are experiencing a third World War fought piecemeal”. But, he adds, don’t live this time as an agony, but as a birth process.

Pilgrims of hope

This is the theme chosen by the Pope for the Jubilee Year 2025, strongly emphasising reconciliation. We just heard him tell us that our discouragement often stems from a lack of hope. Elsewhere, he even speaks of the weariness of hope, referring to people, particularly consecrated people, who no longer understand why they are so exhausted in a world of rapid change.

What can we retain from this jubilee theme for our Lenten journey?

This jubilee is also part of the synodal process.

Indeed, it’s all about pilgrimages and journeys. For Pope Francis, a Christian is a pilgrim who walks with others, searching for God’s will.

A pilgrimage is a journey, a people on the move. A Christian – let alone a consecrated person – does not establish himself in the comfort of the world. Jesus gave us the example of an itinerant life. He had no fixed abode, sometimes residing in the house of Simon and Andrew in Capernaum. The rest of the time, he travelled through villages and towns to proclaim the Good News.

What’s more, Jesus always respected the Jewish tradition of going on pilgrimage. As a child, at Passover, he went on a pilgrimage with his parents from Galilee to the temple in Jerusalem. The Gospel recounts how, at the age of 12, he remained in the temple while his parents were already on their way home. He stayed to deepen his understanding of his heavenly Father. This shows us that Jesus was not only looking for men and women but also looking for God, regularly taking time out to spend one-on-one time with his Father to be inspired about his mission.

One useful question we can ask ourselves as missionaries: do I see my life here on earth as a pilgrimage? For example, the life pilgrimage from birth to death. Or the journey of my faith and my commitment as a missionary, where from the beginning of my formation, from one stage to the next, I draw closer to the Lord and seek to belong to him fully. Or the pilgrimage of my apostolate takes me out of the comfort of my presbytery or house of formation to constantly set out to meet the people entrusted to my care. Speaking of synodality, Pope Francis says the encounter is “a time to turn towards the other person’s face and words, to meet them face to face, to allow ourselves to be touched by the questions of the sisters and brothers, to help each other so that the diversity of charisms, vocations and ministries may enrich us. As we all know, every encounter requires openness, courage and a willingness to let ourselves be challenged by the other’s face and story” (Homily, October 10, 2021, Vatican City).

In the dynamic of synodality, pilgrimage cannot be separated from encounter and thus becomes a path of hope and peace. The Lenten journey is a journey of liberation.

We are all invited to be pilgrims of hope during this Lenten season.

Pope Francis has often spoken of hope, urging us to look afresh at our existence, especially now that it is being subjected to the many trials of our world, and to look at it with the eyes of Jesus, “the author of hope”. He helps us overcome these difficult days, “confident that the darkness will be transformed into light “.

Indeed, it seems to me that when we have so many reasons to be pessimistic and so few signs of hope around us, it is in the certainty that the Lord accompanies us and will have the last word that we draw the strength and courage to continue to commit ourselves to our apostolates. Hope is a way of looking at reality with different eyes. This is what the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven in the dough tell us. Suppose we limit ourselves to media information, watching the news on TV or our smartphones, for example, these days. In that case, we are struck by the accumulation of ruins in the Holy Land, in Gaza, in Ukraine and in all the wars that continue in Africa. But if we consider in faith all the gestures of love, solidarity and sharing among our brothers and sisters, especially the poor, the efforts of Christians and consecrated persons to fight for greater justice and peace, and the confidence of all those young people in formation in our congregations who believe that a better future is possible, then our hope is nourished.

It’s up to us…

Whether we choose the image of the Exodus through the desert to free ourselves from slavery or that of the pilgrim of hope who, wherever he goes, shows people how much God loves them, the question for us at the start of Lent is: “Without getting dispersed in a flood of good but utopian resolutions that I won’t keep, is there any area of my life that I feel is a place of stagnation, fatigue, rumination, diminishing hope and the quality of my love?”. Pope Francis said that to act in Lent is also to pause. So, whether it’s a personal commitment or a community recollection (where we’re not afraid to talk frankly about the latest letter from the General Council), we must set ourselves a realistic and generous goal if we don’t want to be surprised on Palm Sunday morning when we exclaim: “Ah, is it Holy Week already?”.

Happy and fruitful Lent to all….

By: Bernard Ugeux (M.Afr.)

Pictures of the way of the Cross at St Francis Parish, Lilongwe, Malawi (2022)

A meditation with the image of Our Lady of Africa

Some elements of Marian missionary spirituality from a meditation with the image of Our Lady of Africa

This is a personal meditation with the image of Our Lady of Africa. I have learned to meditate with images (icons) with Eastern Christians in Egypt, Slovenia and with a Serbian Orthodox friend. I invite everyone to look at the image and to be touched by the details. One can make a whole spiritual retreat with the image of Our Lady of Africa. I am only giving you a summary of my meditation because of the limitations of the article.

Presence in the world

A statue of Our Lady of Africa stands above the basilica. This is the first mission of God: to be present to people through his incarnation. It is an act of love. Mission is above all a loving presence. This image of Our Lady of Africa expresses a silent presence.

A shining light

The image shines with a sunlight-like color. The crown and the skin of Mary have the same color. It is a color that seems to be a mixture of all colors. It is humanity of all races, languages, peoples, nations united and carried by Mary. It is humanity illuminated by the divine presence.

The Crown

The crown is a symbol of sovereignty. Mary is queen because her son is king. The tip of the crown is the cross, symbol of Christ. The cross supplants a globe. Christ is the King of the universe. Therefore, his mother, Mary, is also Queen of the Universe. The closed crown of Mary (a circle with arches attached to it that meet at the top) with a globe is an imperial symbol: Mary’s sovereignty is complete. Seven half-arches with fleur-de-lis can be seen: this is the purity of the Virgin Mary. It is the answer of the one who is conceived without sin (Immaculate Conception) to the 7 capital sins, it is victory over sin.

The veil

Mary’s veil appears as rays coming out of the crown and pouring over the mantle. It is a very thin veil that does not hide the hair. The veil of Our Lady of Africa is the divine graces. These graces come from her Son and are poured over Mary’s whole body. She is full of grace. The thinness of the veil shows an intimacy with her Son. Our Lady of Africa is not concerned with hiding her femininity with a veil. Rather, the veil becomes a symbol of union with God.

The hair

Hair is a sign of femininity, and of beauty. The veil does not hide the hair. Mary’s hair reminds us that she is a woman, feminine. I think of the holy women of the Gospel who expressed much love for Jesus. I also think of the women whose femininity is abused and exploited. We pray for them and commit ourselves to act against this abuse.

Looking down

Mary looks down on humanity.  She looks with love at those who pass by. She intercedes so that they may always be blessed. This is what it means to be a missionary. Her eyes are slightly closed. She is an inner woman. It is from within, from intimacy with God, that she receives her life and her mission. Her head tilted to the right is also reminiscent of her son on the cross, the supreme sacrifice of love and redemption of humanity. She was present. Her gaze exudes humility, simplicity and interiority.

The mantle

Mary’s mantle is abundant. Mary is full of grace and grace overflows. The mantle is blue with white stripes and gold motifs. The blue in the iconography symbolises wisdom and refers to incarnateWisdom, the Word, the Son of God. It is the presence of the Son in her, it is life in abundance. This overflowing life is experienced at the wedding in Cana. Blue is also heaven, holiness. From this blue emerges depth and calm. White is the colour of divinity, the divine presence. The scattered golden motifs represent the Holy Spirit blowing.  The mantle is in the form of a chasuble, a sign of the priestly function of sanctifying.  Mary gives the impression of celebrating the Eucharistic sacrifice. The white band in the middle of the robe resembles a stole, the symbol par excellence of the priesthood. Mary sanctifies the people as “priest and intercessor.” The mantle covers Mary’s body. This is evocative of the Assumption. Mary’s body has not known corruption. It is raised to heaven.

The arms

The open arms are the presence that welcomes everyone without distinction, without discrimination. They are arms that invite us to enter into intimacy with Jesus through Mary who wants to embrace us like a mother.  The open and lowered arms are a presence without weapons, without violence, without protection, a vulnerable presence that offers only what it holds dearest: Jesus Christ. Her open hands show humility, purity, simplicity in a world that clings to power and wealth. She has the attitude of the gentle, the non-violent, the one who is incapable of doing harm. It is also the arms that offer. Mary’s fingers are separated.  She holds nothing back. She keeps nothing. She gives everything.

Moussa Serge Traore

Stations of creation

Stations of creation

Way of the cross, organised by “Via Aurelia Pilgrims”

Since the Season of Creation (2021), several neighbouring religious communities of the Via Aurelia have been walking together in the spirit of the synod.

Our group “Pilgrims of the Via Aurelia”, composed of the Marist Sisters, the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Missionaries of Africa, organized a Way of the Cross under the theme of Laudato Si.

On Friday, April 8, about a hundred people from the congregations that live in the neighbourhood, or who joined from other parts of Rome, participated in the prayer of the 7 Stations of Creation. Four vessels signifying the 4 elements: Wind, Fire, Water, Earth accompanied us on our way to the cross.

The photos give you a glimpse of our lived experience. You can also download the prayer of the stations of creation.

We wish you a good journey towards Easter!