The White Fathers in Senegal (PE nr. 1080)

After the death last February of Fr. Joseph-Roger de Benoist, Fr. François Richard discovered this unpublished article among his many writings. In the run up to celebrating the 150th anniversary of our Society, we remember some personalities who have left their mark on their contemporaries. In this article, we learn about the many confreres that have written a page of history of the Church in Senegal and whose stories many of us know nothing about.

The first White Fathers to arrive in Senegal were Frs. Paul Eveillard, Victor Dupuis and Victor Ficheux who were the companions of Fr. Augustin Hacquard and they had come to found the missions of Segou and Timbuktu in French Soudan. They landed at Dakar on the 5th January 1895 and took the train to Saint-Louis du Senegal where Fr. Hacquard gave a lecture at the Alliance Française. On the 16th January 1895, the caravan boarded the Brière de l’Isle, a small steamship of 50 tons, which at this time of low water could only go as far as Podor. They arrived the following day. The missionaries then boarded barges that brought them to Kayes, arriving on the 12th February. From there, the Fathers continued their journey by train, canoe, on horseback and on foot until they arrived at Segou on the 1st April 1895. Over the following years, many White Fathers’ caravans transited through Senegal where the Spiritan Fathers always made them welcome.

P. Augustin Hacquard et P. Auguste Dupuis

In June 1947, the Ordinaries of the three Missionary Institutes (Spiritans, Society of African Missions, and the White Fathers), working in French West Africa, met in Koumi in what is now Burkina Faso. Two Spiritans Bishops were absent, Bishops Grimault of Dakar who had just resigned and Bishop Lerouge of Conakry. The Bishops decided to coordinate their activities in their territories in French West Africa and appointed Fr. Jacques Bertho (SMA) to be responsible for Catholic Private Education, Fr. Georges Courrier (CSSp) as the director of Catholic works, which included all forms of the Lay Apostolate. They asked the White Fathers to take charge of Social Communications.

P. Marcel Paternot dirigeant une prière

his task was entrusted to Fr. Marcel Paternot who was the former Apostolic Prefect of Bobo Dioulasso. He had resigned because of a car accident and was, at the time, the Procurator at Lyon. In 1948, Fr. Paternot arrived in Dakar, but Fr. Salomon, then Capitular Vicar, asked him to take up residence at Rufisque about 25 kms, from Dakar. Soon afterwards, Fr. Paternot rented huts from the French Army situated at Cambérène much closer to the capital. He received reinforcements in the persons of Frs. André Prost, Robert Rummelhardt, Pierre Jamet and Bro. Roger-Marie. Fr. Henri Etienne arrived a little later and he took charge of the procure. At that time, most of the White Fathers going to French Soudan travelled by boat and passed through Dakar. Fr. Paternot bought some land between the residential and administrative area known as the Plateau and the working class district of Médina. He built a two-storey building opposite the present Grand Mosque. At the same time, he began preparations for publishing a new periodical.

P. Jamet

The first edition of Afrique Nouvelle appeared on the 15th June 1947. At first, it came out every two months but it quickly became a weekly publication in October of the same year. It was distributed in the colonies of French West Africa as well as Cameroon and the countries of French Equatorial Africa until La Semaine en AEF and l’Effort Camerounais made their appearance. In the first issue, Joseph Ki Zerbo wrote the editorial. Fr. Paternot explained the motto of the magazine, Connaître, Aimer, Servir (Know, Love, Service). In October 1950, the General Council sent two confreres for professional training in journalism to the Ecole Supérieure de Journalisme at Lille. They were Frs. François Jacquet (ordained in 1949) and Fr. de Benoist (ordained in 1950). Fr Jacquet came to reinforce the team in October 1950 and Fr. de Benoist after a number of sessions in France arrived in Dakar on the 15th May 1951. He replaced Fr. Jamet.

Despite its rather modest circulation, Afrique Nouvelle quickly became an essential element in the socio-political evolution of French West Africa. In the first fifteen years of its existence, the weekly newspaper had no competitors (no radio, TV and practically no other newspapers). It soon became the unique means of dialogue between African leaders and their constituents. Felix Houphouët Boigny famously remarked, “If you want to get your message known in French West Africa, write it in Afrique Nouvelle.” When Governor General Bechard took a lawsuit against the magazine in 1951, it confirmed the conviction of the readers that the magazine was on the African side in the fight against the abuses of colonialism and their aspirations for independence.

However, this direction of the magazine did not please its ecclesiastical boss, Bishop Marcel Lefebvre at the time Vicar Apostolic and later Archbishop of Dakar. He demanded that the White Fathers withdraw Fr. Paternot in August 1952 and later his successor, Fr. Rummelhardt in September 1954. Rome asked Fr. De Benoist to stay for four months to assure the direction par interim. However, as no agreement was reached between Bishop Lefebvre and the White Fathers regarding the appointment of a new director, this interim period lasted until the end of 1959. (When Fr. de Benoist described himself as a publishing director in his civil documents, he was authorized to become the editor under the names of Joseph Marie Roger, which name was only used by his relatives. Hence the modification of the civil status of the Father to Joseph-Roger.) In the meantime, another row with the Bishop blew up. The magazine was edited and printed in a commercial printing press. In 1955, in order to fulfil the mandate received in 1945, the White Fathers were thinking of setting up a commercial printing press of their own, which would also publish other magazines and books. The Sisters of St. Peter Claver were experts in this area and were prepared to come to Dakar for this purpose. Fearing competition for his own diocesan printing press, which was a source of revenue for the diocese, Archbishop Lefebvre opposed this project, appealed to the Sisters of St Paul in Fribourg to come and take over his own printing press. He forced the White Fathers to print Afrique Nouvelle

P. Louis Martin

there. In 1955, Fr. Louis Martin was seconded to the editorial staff. As well as their journalistic work, the Fathers also had an apostolic outreach; Sunday Mass for the Christians in their neighbourhood, various chaplaincy duties for the French Marines, Scouts and Young Christian Workers. In 1958, Fr. de Benoist obtained an important subsidy from Rome to build a bookshop. He had already drawn up the plans and Mr. Mamadou Dia, then the head of the Senegalese Government gave him some land opposite the White Fathers’ house on which to build. Later the minaret of the Grand Mosque would be built on the same land.

The project never came to fruition. During the course of 1959, Archbishop Lefebvre demanded the withdrawal of Fr. de Benoist and he left in December. (Fr de Benoist then spent four years in Mali: a language course in Faladyé, eighteen months in Kolongotomo, two years in Bamako, where he opened the bookshop Djoliba, the starting point of the Centre of the same name.) This was the opportunity to hand over the responsibility of the magazine to laypeople, only Fr. Martin stayed on for some months. The White Fathers wanted to maintain a procure in Dakar, at least for some time. They bought a villa at Point A where Fr. Henri Etienne took up residence. Frs. Jean Bouteille (coming from Bamako) and André Fournier-Leray (from Guinea) soon joined him. They assured Religious Knowledge in many scholastic establishments.

In 1968, Archbishop Hyacinthe Thiandoum, the successor to Archbishop Lefebvre as Archbishop of Dakar, asked the White Fathers for a priest to serve the parish of Saint Pierre des Baobabs founded in 1960 by Fr. Baudu, a Fidei Donum priest who had returned to France. Fr. Bouteille took up residence in the room serving as the sacristy of the big hall that served as the Church. In April 1976, Archbishop Thiandoum asked the White Fathers to take charge of the Parish. They agreed on condition that the Archdiocese build a Parish Church. To achieve that, the White Fathers donated their building and the proceeds from the sale ought to have been enough to finance the construction of the Church. However, the Bursar of the Diocese Fr. Vassal, a Spiritan, preferred to rent out the house as the rental income could be used to repay the outstanding loan on a building he had built on the top of the Plateau area known as the Pink House (on avenue de Jambaar). (Read the full story, click here now.)

Fr. Bouteille then worked at the Secrétariat Episcopal de Pastorale (SEP) and took over its direction after some time. He stayed in the Martyrs of Uganda Parish run by the Piarist Fathers from Catalonia. A team of White Fathers subsequently took over the parish of Saint Pierre des Baobabs and over the years, Frs. Pierre Nélis, Jan Decavle, Alfonso Continente, Jaime Labiano, Fernando Balduz served there. Fr. Paul Fondeur also came and for a time took over the administration of Afrique Nouvelle. Lacking a church, Fr. Decavle found the funds necessary from Belgian benefactors to build a multipurpose hall next to the presbytery. It was a very popular meeting point for young Senegalese Catholics. In 1986, the Regional of Mali deemed the time opportune to withdraw the Fathers from the Parish. The Italian Blessed Sacrament Fathers who were already running the adjoining parish of Saint Joseph of Medina replaced them. The departure of Fr. Etienne, who died in Paris in 1978, had led to the closing of the Procure and the sale of the Villa on Point A.

In 1973, Fr. Joseph-Roger de Benoist was at Bobo-Dioulasso and he had just published a biography of Fr. Jean-Louis Goarnission who had been the general councillor of Upper Volta. This led him to take another look at the history of decolonialisation. He met President Leopold Sédar Senghor in his villa at Verson in Normandy. The President suggested that he come and work in Dakar in the framework of the l’Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire (IFAN). So, the father enrolled in the l’Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes en sciences sociales and in 1976 obtained a Diploma of EHESS with a work on the balkanisation of French West Africa. In July 1976, he obtained a Doctorate of the 3rd cycle of the University. He had passed some time in French West Africa, particularly in Senegal in order to research his thesis. He was admitted to IFAN as a researcher in October 1978 and obtained his Ph. D in April 1985 with a thesis on, Administration coloniale et Missions catholiques au Soudan et en Haute-Volta). He became the first Director of Research at the Institute in 1990. Already in 1989, he was on the Board of Directors of the Historical Museum of Senegal at Gorée. This led him to become a specialist on the history of the island. During all this time, he lived in his own private accommodation and helped in pastoral ministry at the Cathedral on Sundays (A task he fulfilled up to the time he left Senegal). On 1st January 1993, he retired from IFAN at the age of 70 years. He took up residence at the Diocesan Procure. From 2002, he lived in the presbytery of the Cathedral. The Senegalese Bishops had asked him to write a history of the Catholic Church in Senegal. This resulted in the publication of ” Du milieu du XVe siècle à l’aube du 3ème millénaire: l’Eglise catholique au Sénégal ” that was published by Karthala in 2008. In the meantime, he published a history of Gorée Island (Histoire de Gorée) in collaboration with Maisonneuve et Larose. He also wrote a biopic of Léopold Sédar Senghor, politique et chrétien (Editions Beauchesne). Fr. Joseph-Roger de Benoist returned to France for good in 2006. The contribution of the Society to the life of the Church in Senegal had lasted for nearly 60 years.

Joseph Roger de Benoist

Honour and dignity in Missionary Voction (PE nr. 1080)

Any vocation in the Catholic Church is a gift; it is an honour offered to us by God himself. It is not a merited right. Moreover, as gift, we are expected to have a positive response to it. Missionary vocation, revealed and expressed in the ministry of a priest, brother or sister, is part of the range of vocations, which are present and honoured in the Church. As we well know this is not a job. It is a call, a specific and particular vocation (Cf. Ignatius A. Tambudzai and Chikere C. Ugwuanyi (eds.), The Priestly Ministry in Africa, p. 204). “No one takes this honour upon himself but only when called by God” (Heb. 5:4). When we look at priesthood in the letter to the Hebrews, we find that it harkens back to the priesthood of the Old Testament leading us to an understanding of the mystery of Christ the Priest. “It was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the one who said to him: … You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 5:5-6).

Missionary vocation, therefore, is not a profession. It is a call. People in the secular world, conduct themselves professionally, but may not consider their work a calling. Missionary life as a vocation derives its dignity and honour from an inner motivation that allows the shaping of its roles rather than merely occupying them. It does not look for public recognition, greater autonomy and reward. The dignity and honour in missionary life finds its expression in an obligation to be with and serve the people of God. Therefore, the Church sends us missionaries forth normally as members of a missionary congregation. We are to become Eucharist to the people entrusted to us. We are to be eaten in the sense that we are to truly and sincerely make ourselves available to the people of God. Visiting the sick and aged, being at the disposal of those who need our ministerial service and sharing the little we have with those in need cannot be taken for granted. It is sad and disheartening to see a priest or a confrere doing the minimum in his ministry waiting only for his monthly stipend or allowance allocated to him by his bishop or his superior or as, in our case, by our Society. However, it can happen that a confrere may be only interested in material things. As Bishop Kukah of Sokoto Diocese in Nigeria strongly stated, “God knows what you profess and certainly people know what you profess, but undoubtedly today, people question your way of living it. While many people in Nigeria today suffer poverty and want, Church leaders and men of God who have taken a public vow of poverty enjoy at least adequate material well-being and often have very comfortable houses, cars, and top technology in phones and computers” (Talk at symposium honouring the work of Archbishop Charles Heerey, 1st Archbishop of Onitsha, Nigeria).

However, missionary life as a call or a vocation is a mystery. Therefore, it is open to discussion. It is a necessity. We can never stop a discussion on a mystery, any mystery – whether it is a mystery as lofty as the Trinity, the Incarnation, or Salvation, or a somewhat lesser mystery like the Church, Holy Eucharist, human life, suffering and death. The expounding of a mystery brings clarification and can make its content relevant to the contemporary world. The recounting of the mystery of missionary life, priesthood in particular, will remain open until the coming of the Parousia. Furthermore, the dignity and honour of this vocation is realised and concretised in a missionary who is a leader, a “presbyteros,” an elder in the sense of a good shepherd who is ready to share his leadership with the faithful. He is not an ‘omnipotent’ leader or a demi-god. This is very different from political or worldly leadership with its awards and rewards! A good shepherd has to embrace collaborative ministry by encouraging his people to take initiatives in the Church since the faithful share the common priesthood by their Baptism. Though we as elders of the Church have authority, we are not to claim or amass domination or power for ourselves. In fact, we are to be credible and accountable in our pastoral leadership and ministry based on love and service following the example of the High Priest, Jesus Christ, and our original leader. What sense does it make for a missionary to leave his own country for the mission Christ entrusted to him through the Church and make life tough for the people of God whom he is to care for.

What joy or good news can a missionary, who is always lamenting, complaining, seeing everything negatively, bring to his venture as a missionary? Is he truly an instrument of ‘The Joy of the Gospel’?

It is obvious that any priest, any missionary, motivated by a desire for power is inclined to emphasise his authority rather than his service to the flock entrusted to him. In this scenario, decisions are easily made without understanding and compassion especially when “presbyteros” is viewed as a personal title and ignores its original sense as a vocation and a responsibility given by God. That ends up equating it with the political leadership, which promotes the spirit of ‘selfishness, greedy, possessiveness and materialism.’ That is the spirit of I, ME and MYSELF. It is an honour appropriated by the missionary himself and not by God. This spirit eradicates the dignity and honour of missionary life or priesthood. Mind you, Jesus was angry with the Scribes and Pharisees because they were concerned too much with honour, being a celebrity and status (cf. George Manalel, Priest as a Man: Counselling for the Clergy, pp. 64-70). The sacrament of Holy Orders communicates a “sacred power” which is none other than that of Christ Himself. The exercise of this authority must therefore be measured against the model of Christ, who by love made himself the least and the servant of all.

All in all, any vocation needs to be positively sustained by the responsibilities and duties allocated to us. It has to bring out to the full the ‘Joy of the Gospel.’ Otherwise, that dignity and honour is undermined and therefore underused. In other words, as missionaries or priests we should be happy and proud of our pastoral ministry. Miserable missionary, miserable ministry; hence, miserable mission! We are called to be and to bring good news.

Fr. James Ngahy

The French Sector of the White Fathers resumes Missionary Promotion and Vocation Work (PE nr. 1080)

After a more or less long absence from the area of promoting missions and missionary vocations, the Holy Spirit, the engine par excellence of the mission, is blowing through the French Sector. Since April 2016, we have restarted our missionary promotion and vocational work, which is one of the principal activities of our Society of the Missionaries of Africa.

The Missionary of Africa engaged in promoting the missions and missionary vocations could be described as a missionary without a fixed abode, an itinerant White Father or a Missionary of Africa embarking on a Tour de France. One fact is indisputable, when Jesus said to Peter, “do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching men” (Lk 5, 10); he revealed that a disciple is one who follows his master by taking the same route. Jesus told his followers, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Lk 9, 58). This declaration of Jesus reveals the roaming nature of discipleship intent on proclaiming the Good News. It demands that the Gospel worker accepts mobility as part of the mission received from the Lord of the Harvest. By basing ourselves on this declaration of Jesus, we can confirm that promoting missions and missionary vocations is demanding. The promoter is at the service of the people he sets out to meet. He does not do it for his own enjoyment or as a tourist. He tries to carry out this task to the best of his ability even if it makes of him ‘a man of the road.’

There are two sections to promoting missions and missionary vocations. On the one hand, it means making the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) known by presenting their charism, their mission, their style of life to society in general, this is missionary promotion. On the other hand, it involves stimulating, initiating, and raising awareness of God’s unceasing call to a priestly, religious and missionary vocation among the young and not so young. This was done in the past; it is still possible today and will continue to be possible in the future. This is the missionary vocation part of the work. All these activities require a sense of responsibility and the necessity that it be done with great care and attention. In taking on this work, the mission promoter follows and is attentive to the call of the Lord of the Harvest, Jesus Christ himself. He puts on his identity as a White Father and makes them known by visiting the places fixed on his programme. However, he does need a place to call home and this place for me is our community at rue Friant in Paris.
As the song says, “Workers for peace, the harvest awaits you: to reconcile the world, bring only love. To those who welcome you, and to those who reject you, announce the news: The Kingdom of God is close to you” God is calling, he has called in the past, and he will call in the future. The field of the harvest is vast and requires workers who, following Christ, announce the Gospel to the world and his presence to the believing communities. We, White Fathers firmly believe that the vocation, which the Cardinal received in the 1880s, is still valid for us today and that there is still a need for evangelisation.

The work of promoting mission and vocation awareness stems from the conviction that God calls and will continue to call and from the conviction that all baptised people recognise the reality and actuality of their Christianity spirituality, and its fruitfulness. As St. John says, “I came so that they may have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10, 10). The restart of missionary promotion and vocation work takes into account the circumstances of the Christian faith which prevail in the country and which demands a committed response. The present situation of Christianity in France cannot leave us indifferent. It should push us to become more engaged in the local church. It means foreseeing together, how to re-evangelise and to promote missionary vocations. We can say without any ambiguity that the Gospel message still has some impact on the life of men and women in this country. We, the Missionaries of Africa, have something to bring to the local Church in France. We have some experience in the work of evangelisation and dialogue. Stimulated by the Holy Spirit, we can begin the task of re-evangelisation and to reignite the flame of missionary commitment in young people. The inescapable reality of globalisation and human migration is an opportunity for getting involved. It reinforces our raison d’être and boosts our missionary and vocation promotion commitments in parishes and elsewhere.

The Pauline motto, “All to all” is a particular mark that the White Fathers have inherited from Cardinal Lavigerie. It makes us wanderers for Christ with other men and women. These men and women are looking for some meaning maybe because of a death, from failures, or from worries. They seek meaning through their strength, their wealth, and their pride. They seek meaning through their dreams or reminiscences, but above all, they do not abandon their search. We are these people. We are there in the middle of them. We are with them in order to proclaim something that is gifted to us and which is God given. The White Fathers are anxious to join the local church to help these men and women in their search. We are restarting our missionary and vocational promotion work and taking up responsibility for a parish in Toulouse to add to the parish we already care for in Marseille. Neither should we forget the different pastoral commitments of our various communities. We know that men and women are waiting for a word, a gesture, for the liberation the Gospel lets us hope for. This search for meaning is not only spiritual but also vocational. We are aware that a flicker of vocation still burns in the hearts of young and not so young people. Our aim is to go out, meet them, and encourage them. As White Fathers, we will also propose to them our way of living community and missionary life.

Confident and conscious of the fact that every vocation comes from God, we have started with humility but with courage and self-sacrifice. A missionary and apostolic spirit attracts men and women. They do not hesitate to take on the challenge of a missionary adventure in the mission fields ripe for the harvest. They recognise that this resolve can be blown this way and that by the various winds of conflict, divisions, hate and errors. In fact, if one dares to enter into contact with another, one takes a gamble on openness, fraternity and adventure. The adoration of God involves service, commitment and praise.
Promoting mission and missionary vocations is a fishing expedition not of fish but of men and women. Every Missionary of Africa is involved no matter where he may be and whatever his physical condition. It does not demand a lot of extraordinary energy but does necessitate a humble and maybe vulnerable presence whatever that may be. It is a community and collegial responsibility. Each member of the Society of the Missionaries of Africa is called to bring to it the best of himself, taking into account his state of health. This service of promoting the missions and missionary vocations are the lungs of the Society. Each one of us is called to be the grain of salt that gives a flavour to mission. We can be a beacon that lights up the way for those who search, knock, and ask (cf. Mt 5, 13-16).

Promoting the missions and missionary vocations needs many special attributes such as patience, hope, a positive outlook, optimism, and courage especially when the ground seems to be sterile. We should also add discernment and an unfailing trust in God, the source of all vocations. When all are mixed together, it should mean that promoting the missions and missionary vocations will bear fruit a hundredfold.

Père Norbert MWISHABONGO MUKWANGA
Responsable de l’AMV en France.

Petit Echo nr. 1080 2017/04

The Petit Echo edition of March 2017 is out. Please notice you have now three ways of reading the Petit Echo. Either, you wait until the paper edition arrives in your community. Or else, you can read it through and through online by just downloading it from the link below. According to our commitment to the Integrity of Creation, we do not encourage you at all to print your own copy of the Petit Echo (both paper and ink are threats to the environment), but, if you have a comfortable screen, you can very well read it on the screen. Note that there is a third way of reading most of the Petit Echo. Indeed, in the next few days, most of the articles written by confreres, as well as the necrological notices, will be posted as articles on the website, making it easy to read them, even on a smart phone… unless you are really far into the bush without any decent connection! If that is your case, you just have to be a philosopher and hope for some better situation in the future.

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Community and Apostolic Life (PE nr. 1080)

 

St. Vincent de Paul’s Parish, Ogo-Oluwa,
Osogbo Diocese.

Introduction

The Community is comprised of three confreres; Gilbert Rukundo, Jonathan Bahago, and Virgilius Kawama, and two Stagiaires; Edmond Ouedraogo and Dominic Abiriga. In the parish we have been running four Churches (St Vincent de Paul, St Gerald, St Paul and Holy Family). At the moment, St. Gerald and Holy Family are under the Diocesan Priests, remaining with St. Vincent de Paul and St. Paul only. We recently opened St. Jude Mass Centre for weekday Eucharistic celebrations. We also celebrate Mass in the Hospital, and Sts. Mary, Theresa, and Thomas Parishes run by the Diocesans.

Celebration of First Communion at Ogo-Oluwa

Community And Apostolic Life

The Community had its first meeting in 2017 on the 31st January, 2017. Firstly, our purpose was to define our Mission Statement regarding our pastoral work in 2017, bearing in mind the fruits of the 2016 General Chapter on parish apostolate, the Post Capitulars Acts, the Diocesan Pastoral Mission Strategic Plan (2017-2021) and our unique St. Vincent de Paul Parish atmosphere. Secondly, we treated the possible means to achieve our 2017 goal. Thirdly, we named the expected attitudes of confreres and the laity for a successful mission. These are clearly stated below:

  1. Mission Statement: Inspired by the Gospel and guided by the Holy Spirit, we are living in a Community open to diversity of our origins and personality for a Prophetic Witness of Hope and Charity to God’s People.
  2. Means:
    1. Community Life: Partake in Community programs, Team-work, Brother’s keepers, Planning and Evaluation, Respect for Day-Off, and Regular Community Meetings.
    2. Spiritual Life: Faithfulness to Community Prayer, Personal meditation and contemplation, Bible sharing, Recollections and Retreats.
    3. Pastoral Life: Reading the signs of the times, Collaboration with the Local Church, Participating in Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Interreligious dialogue, Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC/JPIC) at the grassroots, Website, Proximity, Administering sacraments, Participating in all Parish activities, Prepare well for Eucharistic celebrations and homilies, Youth ministry for empowerment, Ongoing formation of the laity, Vocation promotion, Home and Community visitations.
  3. Attitudes: Respect for others and their responsibilities, Sincerity, Transparency, Availability, Trust, Effective communication, Optimism, Patience, Hospitality, Acceptance, Responsibility and co-responsibility, Forgiving spirit, Unity and Fraternal correction.

The above Mission Statement, the Means, and the Attitudes define what our Community and Apostolic Life is what it is all about. As elaborated below:

Some specific responsibilities in the Community Life

The Provincial Superior has appointed some individuals for specific offices in the community to make sure that the M.Afr. Community Life spirit is well-lived. Gilbert Rukundo is the Community Bursar who looks after the well-being of the Confreres and the House. We, however, rally behind him in whichever need or assistance he desires from any confrere. Virgilius Kawama is the Community Animator whose main responsibility is to make sure that the community has monthly meetings, recollections, and help maintain the community spirit in whatever an individual confrere does. All community members freely contribute their quota for the smooth running of the community.

St. Vincent de Paul’s Apostolic Life

Our apostolic life is on various levels; Parish, Deanery and Diocese. Each confrere, nevertheless, has responsibilities in the parish except Dominic Abiriga who is busy with his local language course. Our parish is very small with an average of 210 parishioners in two churches; St. Vincent and St. Paul. We have one mass on Saturdays, two masses on Sundays and Mondays, three masses on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and four masses on Thursdays and Fridays.

The Pastoral Team is actively involved in the following Parish Apostolates: Parish Pastoral Council (PPC), Parish Laity Council (PLC), Church Pastoral Council (CPC), Parish Health Sunday (PHS), Parish Cooperative Society (PCS), Small Christian Communities (SCCs), Jaleyemi Hospital, Parish Organizations (Catholic Men Organization (CMO), Catholic Women Organization (CWO), Catholic Youth Organization of Nigeria (CYON), Young Missionaries (YOM), Holy Childhood), Liturgical Groups (Choir, Lay Readers, Altar Servers, Church Wardens), Parish Justice and Peace/ED (Justice and Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC), Encounter and Dialogue with other Religions (ED), Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Widows and Widowers), Societies (Sts. Anthony, Patrick, Luke, Jude, Vincent de Paul, and Holy Family), Pious Societies (Charismatic, Legionaries, Sacred Heart), Committees (Liturgical, Finance, Building/Land, Religious/Education, Welfare, Communication, Youth/Children Affairs, Marriage/Family Life, Harvest), Doctrinal Forum, Bible Study, Divine Mercy, Youth Fellowship, Catechizers and Evangelizers, Parish Bulletin, Teach Catechesis, administering Sacraments, regular home visitations, Fridays’ Communion to the Sick and Aged, and Adoration.

Apart from our Parish Apostolic Life, we are very much involved at the Deanery and Diocesan pastoral work. Jonathan Bahago is attached to St. Theresa Parish run by a Diocesan Priest most especially for Sunday Masses and as contact person with our community. Gilbert Rukundo is Assistant Chaplain to Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Hospital Jaleyemi, and is Deanery Youth Chaplain. Virgilius Kawama has a three year appointment in the Diocesan Senate (2017-2020), and is the Deanery Altar Servers Chaplain.

Provincial of Ghana-Nigeria, Fr. Dominic Apee, on a visit to the community of Ogo-Oluwa

Conclusion

In our Diocese we usually find one priest per parish. Our parish due to our missionary community life demand, we are more than one for the work that could be well managed by a single priest. As a result, we find ourselves being attached to other parishes. Nevertheless, we do not forget our Ogo-Oluwa Community and Apostolic Life for which we have been founded in the Diocese of Osogbo, Nigeria. We also find it joyful whenever we help in other parishes as it is another form of witnessing. Many faithful appreciate us especially those who were evangelized by the White Fathers. They are reminded of the good ministry of our senior confreres in the Diocese. Their previous good work challenge us to work hard so as not to change the good image of our confreres who positively touched their lives. We are trying to live a witnessing community and apostolic life spirit.

Virgilius KAWAMA

Long live the rule of three in Brazil! (PE nr. 1080)

The new missionary project of the Society in Brazil began with three confreres in 2011. In September 2012, we were four confreres. Then we had just one community living in the same house. One or two confreres could be absent for mission work or holidays while the other two remained together. In February 2013, we started two communities of two confreres in the hope of receiving new confreres. Unfortunately, the following March a confrere had to leave Brazil for health reasons, leaving one confrere by himself. In the other community, when the Vocation Director was away, the other remained alone. In April 2013, a young confrere arrived. He was expected to take part in different programmes and training experiences for the mission in Brazil. This, in turn, meant long periods of absence outside community. In May of the same year, an elderly confrere, 84 years of age, came to strengthen one of our communities. His fragile health meant he was a place of mission itself. Another confrere needed a sabbatical time to recharge his batteries. Constant coming and going is the experience of the communities in Brazil. Since 2011, one confrere has remained alone because of the travelling and other activities of one or another of the community. This meant a great deal of instability and in such a situation, a confrere gets used to living alone and doing things in his own way without reference to others. Even before the Chapter demanded the application of the rule of three, we had decided to regroup into one community because we were so few in number. We are realists. We will only consider a second community when we are six confreres or more.

This was the situation when we recently welcomed two young confreres and two stagiaires. The young confreres arrived at a time of uncertainty. They did not receive all the attention they needed because the confrere to whose community they were appointed continued his work as before. Even if one is an adult, when one is completely new in a country, one can feel a bit lost in the beginning. Aware of our weaknesses, we had to reorganize our communities so that one young confrere had a positive experience of building up a new community with another confrere who was living a more regular lifestyle. We took care that the two confreres (one young and one older) did not have too many responsibilities so that the absences of one or the other from the community was not too long. Our main preoccupation was to offer the confreres the possibility of being together or living together for as long as possible. However, the experience in Brazil has been that only two confreres, from 2014 to 2017, have been able to experience regular community life. The other community continues to experience constant coming and goings of confrere’s, right up to the present time.

The community of the Casa Nossa Senhora de Africa in Salvador da Bahia

Welcoming young confreres very much depends on the type of young confrere. There are the street confreres who are out and about in the neighbourhood right from the first day. They are the upstanding confreres. Others head for the chapel. They like to pass their time at the church or the chapel where they pray and meet the devout parishioners. They are the kneeling confreres. Others are the housefathers. They like the intimacy of the house, the meals and the coffee breaks and the interminable gossip. These are the sitting confreres. We have the e.confreres. They are in contact with the whole world from their rooms by their computers, internet, and various social networks. Finally, the reclining confreres, flying about in their virtual world. A missionary of Africa is little bit of all of them. We have to welcome him such as he is and help him to develop his gifts and talents. In Brazil, our young confreres profit from a first year free from any pastoral responsibilities. They receive pastoral training through various programmes organised through missionary pastoral experiences here and there in the country. We have learnt to give them the time that is necessary so that they can integrate at their own pace and become aware of a new missionary awareness.

Regarding the stagiaires, we have received two. The first one arrived at the time when we were reorganising the communities. He had a few problems in the beginning to get used to his new confreres. Nevertheless, he had the experience of beginning a new community with his confreres. It was a big challenge. The second stagiaire joined an already established community. In fact, he became the pillar of this community because of the continuing absence of one of the members. The presence of stagiaires has consolidated our communities to a certain extent. They have been the missing pawn in the rule of three.

Our communities in Brazil are unstable by their form and constitution. We need to strengthen them from the inside. In order to do that, we need to be faithful to a certain structured style of life. Community life cannot depend on feelings, emotions, philosophy, or personal spirituality. It needs to be based on a regular style of life, a certain ritual. The rule of three guarantees such a structured community. A community of two confreres very quickly becomes a couple of mates who do what they want, when they want or two warring chiefs imprisoned in the same prison unable to go to war apart from firing barbs at each other. To avoid this, we have insisted in Brazil on the faithfulness to the traditional structures of community life such as the weekly house council, monthly recollection, weekly recreation, monthly outing, and daily liturgy. One could argue that such structures are no good without friendship or love between confreres. However, these structures do serve precisely because they have the advantage of bringing together confreres who get on with each other and/or confreres who do not and get them to focus on the common project that brings them together. This common project had nothing personal or sentimental about it. We must emerge from a too personal, human, and idealistic approach to community life. It is by dancing the same dance that one finishes by mutual acceptance and getting to love one another.

Because the community is the place where we learn to love and to love our enemies, we have taken the initiative in Brazil, during community recreation, to ask a confrere to let us discover the beauty of his culture and his country over a drink. We laugh, we wonder, sometimes, we even dance. It is a way of ridding ourselves of those interminable conversations criticizing the state of the world, the church, the Christians, and others. It frees us from conversations where we preach to one another or take advantage to hurl hidden barbs at each other. The time of community recreation is not the time or the place to vomit up frustrations or to gossip about others. The house council is the place for that. We come together to enjoy one another’s company and we do it to uplift the confrere and the world he carries within himself.

For the stability of our communities, long live the rule of three.

Moussa Serge Traore
Provincial Delegate of Brazil

Parish of St. Bernadette: a witnessing community (PE nr. 1080)

The St. Bernadette community is one of the two Missionary of Africa communities in Lubumbashi, in the Upper Katanga Province of the DRC. We are situated in a part of the Archdiocese of Lubumbashi where the work of the Missionaries of Africa has shined for the past forty years. Now, our community looks after two parishes, St Bernadette is where we live and St. John the Baptist Parish is about three kilometres away. Our community is composed of four confreres and three stagiaires from six different nationalities. What a witness to internationality and interculturality!

The rule of three:

The General Chapter of 2016, remaining faithful to the instructions of our Founder as well as to our Constitutions and Laws, strongly reiterated the importance of the rule of three. In passing, I admit that community life was one of the motivations that pushed me to become a Missionary of Africa. During my seven years at St. Bernadette’s, our community has always been composed of three confreres and two stagiaires. Certainly, it would be presumptuous to speak of a perfect community but every member does his best to build up unity, fraternal charity and a climate of understanding. The fact that we come from different countries is a witness in itself to the population often torn by tribal hatreds. Interculturality is therefore a given and it is for us a great richness. When there are internal and external tensions, which are common to all communities, there is always a solution through frank exchanges and mutual understanding. These days we are going through a period of political crises in our country and this has resulted in attacks on our parishes on two occasions. These unfortunate events were for us an occasion to support and encourage one another.

The confreres of Lubumbashi, during the visit of the Assistant Provincial,
Fr. Gilbert Bujiriri (standing at right)

Welcoming new confreres

Welcoming new confreres and/or stagiaires has become a tradition over the past few years. Since my arrival, seven years ago, the community has welcomed at least one new confrere and one stagiaire each year. Of course, we have also said good-bye to as many in this same period. As our community and apostolic life is built up around a community project, it goes without saying that each time somebody new arrives, the community project undergoes some revision so that the newcomer can feel at ease. This gives him a chance to express what he would like to do and allows him to feel he has become an integral part of our community. I reckon that this warm welcome extended to confreres and stagiaires explains their good quality integration and evolution not only in the community but also in the parish apostolate. They are assigned to community apostolic tasks that fit their aptitudes, which in turn, also favours mutual confidence and co-responsibility.

Moments of community sharing which imply frankness, attentive listening, respect and acceptance of the other, means that we do not live beside one another but with one another building up a strong esprit de corps. When a new confrere or stagiaire arrives, we organise a meeting where we present ourselves to each other taking into account our origins, our family backgrounds, our tastes, our vocation and missionary journey. This gives us a chance to get to know one another better. We also organise Bible sharing once a week. We share the fruits of our prayer at the time of our monthly recollection, and at our weekly council meetings that we take in turns to lead, we share about our apostolic activities. Neither do we neglect the spontaneous sharing at mealtimes, community evenings and even during our birthday celebrations.

At table, a fraternal moment in community.

Pastoral particularities

Concerning our apostolic life, our community has had the enriching tradition of serving many parishes. At one moment, we were involved in three parishes, now it is down to two. It needed a very good pastoral organisation, which could also be attributed to the fact that our community has always respected the rule of three despite the personnel crises that our Society is experiencing these last few years. Three parishes meant three Parish Priests, which meant at least three confreres in community. I appreciate especially the spirit of collaboration that animates us because as far as we could we tried to help one another and to be aware of the realities of the other parishes through our work and by swopping experiences. This also opened up a very wide range of apostolic activities for our stagiaires.

As I prepare to leave Lubumbashi, I can say, with pride, that my experience of community life at St. Bernadette’s has been an enriching and fulfilling time for me. It will always remain graven in my memory. Becoming Parish Priest a year after my ordination, with no experience, I reckon that it was the good experiences of community life, which lightened the load of a job that would have been otherwise too heavy. Thanks to this welcoming and praying community, the fruits of my seven years of missionary life in Lubumbashi are palpable and I have faith that they will stay with me. As our Master, Jesus himself said in his priestly prayer, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain…” (Jn 15, 16). This is my prayer as well.

Theobald Muchunguzi

“Never less than three” (PE nr. 1080)

We began our reflection and sharing on community life in the last issue of the Petit Echo (n°1079). It is an aspect of our charism that is non-negotiable. Right from the beginning, our Founder wanted to make it an essential characteristic of our life. To-day, we are proud to say that it is part of our identity. Bishop Joseph Birraux, the Superior General (1936-1947) after Fr. Paul Voillard (1922-1936), already described it as part of the spiritual patrimony of our Society. The witness of our community life has certainly attracted many young people to us.

Yes, community life is non-negotiable; however, every Chapter has shown a concern to put it in its proper context and to adapt it to the circumstances of the day. Therefore, each Chapter has insisted on a particular aspect of living together. The Chapter of 2016 put the emphasis on four elements notably, family spirit, interculturality, the rule of three and the community project.

This issue of the Petit Echo deals with the famous rule of three also known as the golden rule of the Society as it was very dear to our Founder. Lavigerie was very practical. He regarded the rule of three as the most effective way of facing the difficulties of a missionary vocation. In his letter to Missionaries dated the 18th September 1874, he said this regarding the rule of three, “In the dangers which confront you everywhere but more especially in the midst of a pagan population, you will find a solid bulwark in the salutary prescription which prevents you under any circumstances or for any pretext whatsoever from being less than three in any mission station. This rule is set out in the following vigorous terms to which I draw your attention and must be observed to the letter: They must refuse the most attractive and urgent opportunities rather than infringe this rule; indeed the existence of the Society should be abandoned rather than this fundamental principle.” (Instructions, p. 43.) Six years later, in 1880, in a letter, dated 10th October and addressed to Fr. Livinhac, he maintained the same strictness. “Remember that the essential rule of your Society is that you remain three together at all times, whether you are travelling or in your mission posts. We are not prepared to make exceptions to this rule and in particular, I cannot admit that a missionary should be left on his own, far from his confreres, for any length of time. You are too young, amid too many dangers for you to set aside a rule which so strictly enjoins prudence and concern for your own reputation.” Today’s dangers are not the same as in 1874, but they are present nonetheless. The proof is that many confreres find themselves in difficulties nowadays.

The XXVIIIth General Chapter puts the emphasis strongly on this rule. It criss-crosses the whole of the Capitular Acts. It is mentioned, firstly, in the Discovery phase of the chapter on Community Life (p22) where the Capitulants declared, “What draws us to community life is the family spirit which enables us to feel we are brothers. This is even truer when the rule of three is respected.” It comes back again in the text in the Decision phase on Mission where the Capitular Acts in the first decision on Parishes (CA 3.4a p.31) exhort the Provinces, “that communities in parishes should consist of at least three confreres and that they should have a community apostolic project.” Finally, in the desire to support young confreres, the Chapter (CA 5.1c p 43) insisted, “The communities designated to receive young confreres must be viable and consist of at least three confreres (including the young confrere).”

The Chapter strongly invites us to return to the rule of three, which has suffered a certain decline since the Chapter of 1967. This was an era of the search for personal liberty and renewal. We were just emerging from the period of aggiornamento of the Vatican II and the spirit of ’68, which were having an impact on our Society as in many other congregations. We should remember, nevertheless, that the rule of three is not some magical solution. It appears in the text of the 2016 Chapter as part of three intrinsically interlinked elements: the rule of three, the family spirit, and the community project. We should remind ourselves of the strong words of the 1974 Chapter which declared after years of upheaval, “In whatever way it may be made up…a genuine White Father community will be recognised by the reality and depth of human relationships lived within it…, as a living witness to the Gospel and as an action-oriented group of apostles” (1974 Capitular Acts n° 94). It adds, “Rules and frameworks are in themselves sterile things. Community life is born of the shared desire of men to live truly together” (1974 CA n° 87). So on the one hand there is the rule, which the Cardinal called the skeleton of the community. It is indispensable but it does not give life as such. The heart, that is fraternal charity, needs to be in there as well. The last Chapter identified this as our family spirit.

The rule of three is not just a rule; it is also a way and an invitation to become more fraternal. The rule of three speaks to us of a physical presence. This physical presence needs fraternal charity to give it form and life. However, this physical presence also needs the rule of three with a family spirit and a common project, so that community life can respond to the demands of the Gospel. The 2016 Capitular Acts tell us, “Our communities are apostolic, they are formed and unified around a community project” (2016 CA p23). The project is the expression of the contribution of each one to the building up of the community and, at the same time, the means by which the unity of this community comes true. Bishop Birraux, in his time already, warned us against simply imposing the rule. One could live in threes, merely side by side. This is what he wrote, “I know that in many of our houses, the majority certainly, the community is as perfect as human weakness allows. However, we have other stations that are too much like a hostelry whose inhabitants come together four or five times a day for specific needs and in between times everyone does more or less what he likes. He does not accept to be disturbed in any way and does not care to get involved in the work of his neighbour even if it was only to give a little helping hand. Compartmentalisation is perfect, the partition is airtight, a tacit agreement rules the personal fief of each one and woe to anyone who violates it. One lives one’s life beside other confreres who are only concerned with living theirs.” (Letter of the 1st March 1937)

In the dynamic of Appreciative Discernment, we dreamed and now we are taking the means to bring this dream to fruition. We want to make our communities, where this is not yet the case, families that are open, welcoming, joyful, radiant, supportive, attentive to the most fragile and composed of not less than three confreres.

Didier Sawadogo,
General Assistant

Petit Echo nr. 1079 2017/03

The Petit Echo edition of March 2017 is out. Please notice you have now three ways of reading the Petit Echo. Either, you wait until the paper edition arrives in your community. Or else, you can read it through and through online by just downloading it from the link below. According to our commitment to the Integrity of Creation, we do not encourage you at all to print your own copy of the Petit Echo (both paper and ink are threats to the environment), but, if you have a comfortable screen, you can very well read it on the screen. Note that there is a third way of reading most of the Petit Echo. Indeed, in the next few days, most of the articles written by confreres, as well as the necrological notices, will be posted as articles on the website, making it easy to read them, even on a smart phone… unless you are really far into the bush without any decent connection! If that is your case, you just have to be a philosopher and hope for some better situation in the future.

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Jubilee of Mgr Michael Fitzgerald (PE nr. 1078)

On the 29th January 2017, our confrere His Lordship Michael Fitzgerald celebrated, at our Generalate, his Jubilee of 25 years as a Bishop. The mass was celebrated in the late afternoon, followed by a festive buffet. It was concelebrated by Cardinal Arinze, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and Father Stanley Lubungo, General Superior of the Missionaries of Africa. Most confreres were present as well as many friends of Michael.

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