Echoes from the Plenary Council – 30th November 2019

Echoes from the Plenary Council - 30th November 2019


Tony gave a very crystal clear presentation concerning the state of our finances. But as he pointed out the core of the issue is that of sustainability so as to ensure that our financial resources cover our needs not just for today but also in the future. In view of that he mentioned the question of transparency, accountability, the collaboration with professionals and audits (both internal and external). The financial world is a minefield and the pitfalls are many. More and more the need to engage with professionals is felt and already the collaboration that is there is bearing fruit. For some time now the financial council of the Society has each provincial treasurer as a member. This has improved collaboration and a common vision is emerging. There is also the much felt conviction that sustainability has to be applied to each and every province, community and confrere. This involves working effectively and responsibly at every level. Income from confreres (pensions, ministry, salaries, legacies) are steadily decreasing even if they are still the most important source of income. Yet the picture is changing and there is the growing importance of investments yet, as we know, such investments can be volatile and erratic for they are dependent on the markets. 

For the moment our income is stable yet expenses are constantly increasing even if the number of confreres decrease every year. We are not yet out of the woods but what about tomorrow? Surely we have, first and foremost, to be grateful for God’s providence for the benefactors who have supported us for the last 150 years. We are also grateful for our predecessors whose generosity and sacrifice helped to create the reserves we have today. In all of this solidarity is called for, for it is solidarity that has bound us together for all these years and must do so in the future. Yet let us not be afraid to mention certain tendencies of confreres that threaten such solidarity. There are confreres who have income generating projects for their own personal gain and interest to the detriment of solidarity certainly but also to the detriment at times to their pastoral involvement; others are only too happy to keep all the money they receive from the ministry that is theirs or keep the salaries they have. Such tendencies not only gravely threaten solidarity but threaten the identity that is ours. Linked with this Tony asked us to challenge ourselves with regards our lifestyle and attitude towards material things. Do I witness in any way to a simple lifestyle or does my lifestyle hinder the very witness I am supposed to give? On top of that it happens that confreres, even candidates, can have a keen spirit of entitlement (Rome will pay, the Society has the money, it is my right). Such sense of entitlement has no place in our Society.  

There is a pressing need for a rigorous financial system that is not porous and is not prone to wastage. Controls, checks and balances have to be in place at all levels so that money is always used for the right purposes. All our resources are to be used wisely and responsibly; this would mean that financial considerations must play an important role in the discernment process. Each and every one of us must be in solidarity with the whole Society and that demands a healthy concern for the future on our part.  For this caution and vigilance are part and parcel of the mentality that is ours and if necessary sacrifices will have to be made. As regards fundraising we must be ready to mobilise income yet all of this demands humility, creativity, transparency, conviction and motivation. 

In the final analysis our financial resources must be protected and sustained for they are the indispensable tool that makes our mission and ministry possible. It is imperative that such planning and appropriate directing of such resources pave the way ahead for a secure future. That future is in our hands. 

Francis Barnes

This is probably the last report we will receive from the Plenary Council. Many thanks to Francis Barnes who has been very faithful to let us know the progress of the Plenary Council. 

Echoes from the Plenary Council – 29th November 2019

Echoes from the Plenary Council - 29th November 2019

Initial Formation

Once again today we had a very clear introduction to the question of Initial formation given by our secretary of formation Bob Tebri. He stated clearly that what he would share was not a reflection on what formation should be but rather a look back over the last 3 years or more to see just how we are faring with the recommendations made by the last chapter (and how thus to move forward). This is indeed the methodology that has been used throughout this plenary council. 

Since the last chapter there have been numerous meetings for those involved in formation at various levels. The programme of all the pre-first phase centres have been harmonised for there was a great discrepancy and some were also mirroring what would later be covered in the first phase. For the most part the follow up of stagiaires by provincials and coordinators has greatly improved which also is the case for the evaluations that are made.  Most receiving communities were made up of 3 confreres though unfortunately there are still exceptions where the stagiaire becomes the third member. Certainly on the whole our formation continues to reflect the values of our charism by the M.Afr formation we desire to give (JPIC-ED, Missiology, spirituality, human development issues, integrity of ministry (some candidates elaborate their own code of conduct ). In our formation houses there is a growing awareness of candidates to be present in the peripheries for their pastoral ministry, hospitals, prisons, the slums. It would be interesting to hear from provincials if the same interest and ardour is there when they become young confreres.

Formation is a rich and complex process; it is difficult to find a word that conveys the formation reality with all its nuances. The same certainly could be said about leadership and yet it is incumbent on those in leadership to work for solutions. Certainly in the group work today we tried to look at certain issues that continue to arise in our formation process be it with stagiaires or young confreres. Let us not forget that the period of stage is also a period of formation and in some way because of the accompaniment needed it could also be true of the young confreres. We discussed about the stage, about the reticence of certain of our stagiaires or young confreres to accept an appointment to a given province or even a type of ministry. Many felt that there seemed at times to be a lack of readiness and availability. There are situations where after a few months in a particular mission a young confrere is asking to change or a stagiaire may be ill at ease because he did not get the specific place he had desired. Maybe our discussions were begging the question that is so fundamental concerning our identity. Surely the very basis of whom we are, the very basis of our identity is mission and that entails our constant availability, generosity and flexibility; how do we form for such important elements of whom we are?

Yes, in many ways the questions discussed around the accompaniment of stagiaires; their receiving communities, the role of leadership and the role of stage coordinators are issues that have been discussed so many times over the years, directives are there, guidelines are there so how is it that such questions are still arising? Surely it is a question of all   leadership teams to take these matters seriously and follow the guidelines that have been in place for so long. Our animation, our visits, our overseeing, our proximity are all the important aspects of how we follow up things.

20191128 Echoes from the Plenary Council

Echoes from the Plenary Council - 28th November 2019

Meeting with the president 27th November

Just to say that yesterday Stan, Aloysius (the EAP provincial) and myself were received very cordially by the President of Uganda. We met in the afternoon sometime after 3 though we began the day by meeting with the Archbishop of Kampala in his residence in the morning then, along with members of other Churches (the new Anglican Archbishop, an orthodox vicar general, and other clerics), we waited for a couple of hours before heading off for Entebbe. Once there we were all invited for lunch at the State house (without the president being present). A very nice lunch followed by tea or coffee in one of the many lounges.  It was only later, sometime after three, that the whole group was received by the President and each one was able to present himself. We three Missionaries stood out from among the others for we were wearing our habit and rosary. After some minutes the three of us, along with the Catholic Archbishop of Kampala were given a private audience with the president in another smaller meeting room.

The meeting must have lasted about 20 minutes or so. The president seemed very aware of the Missionaries of Africa (when we arrived in Uganda, Lourdel, Amans and the fact the first schools were set up by the White Fathers). Throughout the President seemed relaxed and very attentive to all that was being shared. Stan invited him to come to the shrine of the Martyrs on the 8th December for our closing ceremony of our 150th anniversary and he said he would come if only for an hour. 

Francis Barnes

The Mega-Provinces at the service of Mission - 28th November

Today Ignatius introduced an important topic: The Mega-Provinces at the service of Mission, communities and confreres. The basic issue was to see whether these new structures have truly improved the quality of our service to Mission. It is not really a question of returning to the former structures that were in place though certainly some would hanker after the power and authority that was once theirs and has been taken away with the creation of sectors. Some would even say that some of these sectors have become peripheries, they no longer have the voice that was once theirs and the direct contact, especially with the General council, has been all but taken away. Yet, in some sectors it is as if nothing really ever changed, the sector house is there, the Provincial Delegate and the treasurer both have their large vehicles at their disposal and feel as though their task is a full time occupation. However, from the outset the whole thrust of the new structures was not to increase the number of those holding office but rather make more confreres available for pastoral ministry. Certainly there are differences in sectors as there are some, especially in Europe, where the Provincial Delegate is truly a full time job and the number of confreres in their care is high. Yet in others the number of confreres is rather low which would enable the delegate to be involved with ministry though some don’t see that and still don’t fully understand. Yes, there are some sectors where there is only one community. What is the answer? To regroup? In that sense it is up to the provinces to rethink, if necessary, the whole structure of governance even if it means revisiting and revising the presence of sectors. It has to be clear that as a general principle being the Provincial Delegate or sector treasurer is (though there can be exceptions) is not a full time job. They must be able to create that fine balance with the pastoral ministry that is theirs and the task of being there for the animation of the confreres in their care.

One of the issues was also what we might term a question of identity especially the question of belonging not merely to a given sector but to a province. In that sense one of the main concerns of the combined leadership of a province is to create that sense of belonging. The awareness of being part of the whole province is a spirit that has to be created and enhanced. When a provincial team works well together; when co-responsibility is understood and local communities become part of the communication process; when there is transparency from top down hopefully there will be always that sense of cohesion and fraternal communion.

Looking at the issues together in groups and in the plenary session it might well be said that there has been a certain lack of clarity and up to now no real evaluation of things. The Statutes of the province have to be clear and roles clearly defined. When a Delegate is elected, or a sector treasurer appointed he must clearly have a written mandate, in other words, a clear understanding of what his role is and what has been delegated to him. In the past this may not have always happened and it would cause confusion and frustration. In some provinces it is taken for granted that new delegates need to be initiated and some formation is necessary. Another aspect that clearly came out from responses given in preparation for the plenary council and from the floor today is the importance of internationality and this important aspect of our identity is of prime importance in order to avoid any form of nationalism which would disfigure the identity that is ours.

One other very important aspect of our leadership role is that of visits to communities for being on the ground with the confreres must never be underestimated. Some spoke about the importance of a canonical visit at least once a year with a report made. Provincials and their delegates must never be seen as remote for their presence is the major way of being in touch. Being close and allowing the confreres to feel that we in leadership are truly there for them is no doubt the most important aspect of our ministry and if we fail to be there for the confreres we fail in our leadership and the Society will suffer the consequences.

Francis Barnes

Echoes from the Plenary Council – 27th November 2019

Echoes from the Plenary Council - 27th November 2019

The Media and Social Networks

Stan introduced in a very clear way today’s important topic. He began by citing what the 2016 chapter had said in 3.3:

‘Cardinal Lavigerie demanded of us that we learn the languages and traditions of the people to whom we are sent. Today a new continent has appeared whose language is digital. The chapter asks us to remain faithful to this insistence of the Cardinal by learning this new language for our Mission of Evangelisation whilst at the same time making any discernment in accordance with our charism.’

The General Council took seriously the challenge laid down by the chapter and for our Society, provinces, sectors and sections this has to be a priority and it will always be in view of evangelisation. We have all experienced the great task of learning languages, languages that helped us to become more rooted in a culture and be enriched by it. This is also the same with the digital language. Once again it is very much a question of seeing just what we have achieved on the ground wherever we are. This is also very much in view of seeing how we can move forward and make greater efforts to achieve even more.  Already in Rome a workshop was held in 2018 concerning communication with each province and section represented. It was a great success and yet still more has to be done. Next year in 2020 workshops will be held in different provinces (SAP, EAP, PAO, PAC) where a greater number of confreres will be able to participate. The workshops will be for 10 days or more. In 2021 it is hoped that the workshops will be held in Ghana/Nigeria and Ethiopia. 

The interest is there and some of those that participated in the last session continue to be very active in their various provinces. For example, the jubilee year was a great boost for such efforts in communications and there were many good initiatives taken.  Small films were made; radio programmes were aired. We would by surprised by the number of articles, photos, clips that were produced on various M.Afr. web sites. It would suffice to google Missionaries of Africa, Cardinal Lavigerie etc to see the vast amount of material available to the public. In Rome we have equipped the meeting room of the General Council with all the modern means to be able to be in video link with most of our provincials (though we are still learning). We also desire to transform the Petit Echo and the Web Master’s office into a joint office for communication. In view of this we will be sending a confrere for media and communication studies next year. 

We realise more and more that such means of communication can be an important tool in our proclamation of the gospel as a prophetic and liberating word to the people of our times. Certainly in the face of greater secularisation, ever growing insecurity such communication must help us witness to our solidarity against all forms of conflict, division, injustice. Maybe above all else our skills in communication will help us to build bridges, to be more connected and thus create real and valuable relationships between all people. This surely is evangelisation. 

Francis Barnes

Echoes of the Plenary Council – 26th November 2019

Echoes from the Plenary Council - 26th November 2019

At the service of the confreres and of the Mission

Martin introduced the morning with the beautiful story of Emmaus taken from St. Luke 24: 13-25. This also served as a springboard to put across some important points of his talk. For those of us in leadership we know that much of our ministry is directed towards the accompaniment and animation of our confreres. Such care encompasses all confreres from the young, to the elderly, those that are well and those that are sick, those that find themselves in difficulty and those that seem to be losing some of their energy and dynamism.  Our ministry is all about sustaining the confreres in their steady and genuine living out of the gospel. In Luke 24: 15 we read: ‘while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them.’

We see clearly here how it is Jesus who takes the initiative to draw close to the two disciples. In the gospels we see how often this was the way Jesus ministered taking the initiative just as he had done in the calling of the disciples. This is also the challenge for all those in leadership. There are often spontaneous moments for drawing close, coincidental or unplanned encounters but no doubt there will be the scheduled meetings during canonical visits.  He asked them: ‘what are you discussing as you walk along.’

The main concern is the concern for their welfare, a concern for the way things are going. This of course involves our capacity to listen attentively to their story. Emmaus is a hauntingly beautiful story for the two disciples are very honest about their disappointments, their lost hopes and yet they will be touched by the wisdom of the one who listens to them; who takes the time to share with them, to stay with them when they ask him. This is real encounter and should be a lesson for us all in leadership for the quality of our visits and the time we spend is of the utmost importance. Time for sharing, for relaxing and for praying. A moment of grace of being touched by the very presence of the Lord at the heart of such encounter. Walking the Emmaus road is the wonderful experience of encounter that we are called to make with all our confreres, to allow then to speak out their story, their dreams, their hopes and to be touched by grace.

Francis Barnes

Echoes of the Plenary Council – 25th November 2019 (2)

Echoes of the Plenary Council - 25th Nvember 2019 (2)

After a day of relaxation in Jinja, a Eucharistic celebration at the first phase centre where we were received as elders, where we planted two trees, one in memory of the 150th and the other in memory of our young confrere Maurice Aduol Onyambo who studied philosophy there, an excursion to the Nile River and then to the Nile spring, we continued our thoughts and sharing on Monday November 25th. This time, it was our confrere Stéphane Joulain who led us in the reflection on the theme of the protection of minors and vulnerable adults. What attention should we give to the victim of abuse if we want to put into practice what the Pope invites us to do in his letter Vos estis lux mundi? How should the provincial and his team deal with the confrere who is accused of such a crime and how can they help him to deal with this very delicate situation?

It was a busy day as we looked at what we were doing in the provinces and what could be done better today. We are aware that there have been advances since the chapter, but that we must not stop there, that there is still room for improvement, especially with regard to support for victims. The rain, as it happens almost every day, came to help us during the afternoon nap to regain our strength to undertake the second part of our exchanges, always on the same subject. And in the evening, to feed our dreams, what better way to watch a short film together about the work of our confreres in Gao, Mali! Especially since tomorrow, we will not fail to celebrate in the evening the birth of the Cardinal in heaven….

Réal Doucet

Google Photos Refresh Token invalid. Please authenticate from Photonic → Authentication.
Error encountered during authentication:
  "error": "invalid_grant",
  "error_description": "Bad Request"
See here for documentation.

Echoes from the Plenary Council – 25th November 2019

Echoes from the Plenary Council - 25th November 2019

Last week had been quite heavy for a lot of work was done, inputs were given, group sessions and of course the plenary sessions were held at regular intervals. It all involved a lot of listening and trying to be faithful to the methodology to see just what we had achieved but above all to see just how we could move forward with even more enthusiasm and drive for the mission that has been entrusted to us. By the time Saturday came some were already whispering that maybe the session programmed for that day concerning ‘the Charism’ would finish earlier so that there would be some time to relax. On top of that Sunday was foreseen for our visit to our formation house in Jinja and that would mean the whole day with a good few hours of travelling involved. 

In fact, Saturday was to be like the previous days for the whole day. The topic was given by Reginald Cruz, a Xavarian brother who is a lecturer in Tangaza. For those of us who may have been somewhat apprehensive, because it might prove to be tiring, we were delighted to realize that at the end of the day, despite a certain fatigue, we had all been very positively inspired by the whole day. Reginald came across as a talented and skilled presenter and there was no way that we could have fallen asleep even though at times the presentation could be quite condensed. 

The charism is very much concerned with identity and Reginald was able to put us truly back on track with his enlightening presentation. This was accompanied by a powerful power-point presentation. The content itself was very rich and of course the link with all that had been discussed during the week was very clear. The charism must reside in the receiver so that he can discover, accept, nurture and eventually be able to live and share that charism. He must be part of the story, he must part of the melody and for that to happen we must be careful not to suffer from historical amnesia. Grounded in the present surely, but it is also important to be grounded in the past, grounded in memory. Our present reality must be informed by the past for it must guide us in our discernment today. As Pope Francis states clearly we must ask for, and preserve, the grace of memory and that certainly will help us to remember and to recall but also it is an imperative to re-establish our connectedness with the story, with the charism that the founder transmitted. 

It is for us members to live it, safeguard it, constantly deepen it for the understanding of the charism is in the hands of its members. It must never become a museum piece, or like water in a bottle – it has to flow and it can only flow through us. We, in the final analysis, are the ones responsible for it and its transmission today. If we take our task lightly; if our living out of our charism is merely arbitrary or ambiguous then we will fail to be the worthy stewards of what has been preciously entrusted to us and the consequences will be felt, and we may well lose our way. What is worse we will merely stumble in the darkness we have created.  But let us remember the charism is a result of the Spirit. The charism of the founder must be seen as an expression of the Holy Spirit. 

Fidelity to the founding charism and its subsequent spiritual heritage alongside our desire to live fully the gospel we preach is the story that we must identify with, it must become the song we sing, the narrative that is ours. May it not slip through our fingers like some fine grains of sands but let it embolden us as we confidently embrace the future.

Francis Barnes

Google Photos Refresh Token invalid. Please authenticate from Photonic → Authentication.
Error encountered during authentication:
  "error": "invalid_grant",
  "error_description": "Bad Request"
See here for documentation.

Echoes of the Plenary Council – 22nd November 2019 (2)

Echoes from the Plenary Council - 22nd November 2019 (2)

Yesterday afternoon (the 21st) the group work and the plenary session that followed concerning the question of mission took in many different aspects.  Our involvement in JPIC, the rise of fanaticism and insecurity in the area where we work, ecumenism and dialogue, mission in general, parish work, mission in Africa and beyond, migrants and human trafficking. In fact, the main concern was to see what we have achieved since the chapter in these areas or how far have we moved forward to be in line with the chapter demands. In many ways it was easy to list all that we have done and are achieving even though at times our efforts may have been not so successful or hampered by different circumstances. Yet the real question remains:  how to move forward and be more prophetic especially in the choices of insertion that we make? Above all we have to focus on just how we want to be missionaries in the world today and just where our charism is truly needed. Certainly we need the professional help of confreres that are specialised through their studies in these areas and yet surely we cannot send all our confreres for study. It is about working on the ground, about being interested in all these areas in the parishes where we are. All must become conscious of these fundamental attitudes of mission that encompass all these important areas and that can be integrated in the ministry that is ours. We have coordinators in all these areas and some can be very effective for they visit the parish communities and they organise meetings so that there is, through their animation, much greater awareness. Once again all those that come to Rome for the various sessions in these areas (ecumenism, interculturality, integrity of mission, communications, JPIC, Human trafficking etc.) are called to be animators when they return to their province and use the skills they have attained to animate their provinces and sectors/sections. 

Mission must not be conceived as projects with financial implications and duration; mission surely is a way of life, it is a way of being, it is about the transmission of life and life in abundance. Some would call into question the term prophetic when we talk about the choice of prophetic insertions; others would prefer to call them symbolic. Yet surely prophetic somehow has to do with being audacious, it is about taking risks, even though we feel we don’t really have the personnel, it is about going to places and living among people in situations where many would prefer not to go.  In fact, it is about moving out into the peripheries and not being isolated from the real needs of the world in which we live (that would be self-absorption).  

Francis Barnes

Echoes from the Plenary Council – 22nd November 2019

Echoes from the Plenary Council - 22nd November 2019


Didier gave this morning a very thorough introduction to the theme of mission. He started by stating clearly that Mission is the manifestation of our identity and clearly defines who we are and want to be for it is at the heart of our life. As Pope Francis says it is in our DNA. Lavigerie preferred to use the word Apostolate and would write to Fr. Livinhac in 1880 to say that that only important task is the apostolate anything else is peripheral. For him the model for us all should be the Apostles reflected by a holy, zealous, and mortified life, not backing away from any difficulty, not even death, when it comes to extending the kingdom of God. We must not be over absorbed by personal issues, finances or whatever but have our eyes fixed on what is our finality: Mission.

Already with the letter sent out by the General Council in view of the extraordinary month of mission certain areas of conversion were highlighted: lack of missionary dynamism, a loss of the missionary reflex, pastoral routine, a preference for our comfort zones, a lack of resilience. Indeed, we are sent by Christ to a complex changing world and as the 2016 chapter pointed out the key word is our fidelity to the charism that is ours, a fidelity to our roots and the orientations bequeathed by our founder. This has enabled a certain renewal in all our provinces and sections and a growing number of confreres working in the peripheries, at the service of migrants, against human trafficking and often in collaboration with our MSOLA. Yet despite that there is a certain lack of energy and drive, even a certain stagnation. What is all important is to identify the obstacles for the realisation of the ideals proposed by the chapter.   How can we can we maintain the renewal that has begun and how can listen to the appeals that are made to the Society?

We have always been concerned with JPIC -ED and the work of our confreres throughout the years is truly laudable. The workshop that was held in Rome in March 2018 convinced all the participants to seek even more how to live passionately these two important aspects of our missionary identity. Indeed, encounter and dialogue is at the heart of our missionary vocation and we are proud of the work done by our centres in this all important area (PISAI, IFIC, Tangaza end others). With the rise of Jihadist terrorism, the voice of such dialogue and encounter must be there to help our local churches and contribute to a truer understanding of Islam. Since 2017 two meetings took place between two of our centres working for such dialogue to seek ways of extending their influence beyond the walls of their centres. Ecumenism was often the poor relation of Encounter. We were able to host in Rome a workshop: Ecumenical dialogue a call for a prophetic engagement.  

The peripheries.  

Certainly a very important criterion when looking for new insertions. Hence the chapter asking us to discern just where we might seek to minister and work in collaboration with others. South Sudan comes to mind and such urgent appeals may well mean that certain of our existing insertions could be handed over. Yet just what have we handed over since the Chapter?  The Chapter also exhorted us to make all our parishes missionary parishes. 

Migrants Human Trafficking and Refugees. 

The Chapter desired all provinces and sections to be mobilised over the issue of Human Trafficking in collaboration with our MSOLA and other organisations. In fact, a lot has been done and many confreres are involved. We can think especially with our involvement with ‘Talitha kum’. Such a call also enabled us to hear the appeal of the bishops of Uganda begging for our presence amongst the refugees in the camps of Arua. Already our two superiors General (M.Afr and MSOLA) have visited the bishop of Arua and the camps in question. This is indeed a pertinent and prophetic calling which hopefully we are ready to answer. Our General council goes even further by suggesting that we return to South Sudan where indeed the needs are so great. Surely to answer to these two urgent appeals would be one way of our Jubilee year bearing fruit that will last by our prophetic commitment. Yet such displaced populations are not just the concern of Uganda for it is an ever increasing reality faced by other provinces where insecurity is becoming a major issue. 

Mission of the Society to the African world and wherever our charism is solicited. 

For many this directive coming from the last chapter has created a new dynamism in our missionary endeavour in PEP and AMS.  However there are voices raised against our new insertions in places like Liverpool or Brooklyn and elsewhere. Surely though our charism is always in a state of becoming and must respond to a changing world where our charism is indeed solicited and where our missionary presence is needed. 

Such a  changing world is also  very apparent in places like PAC and PAO that are experiencing more and more situations of insecurity and violence: The Church has not been spared such attacks. In such situations, what attitude should we adopt? To leave or to stay? What guidance can we give to manage such situations? Such questions we have to face realising that no one ever said that we must run away from difficult situations and surely we must think of our desire to be with our people in thick and thin.  It calls for a true discernment and we will try to look at such questions in our next group meetings and plenary sessions. We will keep you posted.

Francis Barnes

Echoes from the Plenary Council – 21st November 2019

Echoes from the Plenary Council - 21st November 2019

The laity: Input given by Ignatius

Ignatius Anipu gave the input on the morning of the 20th concerning the laity. He based his presentation on two sources: the responses of the consultation in view of the plenary council and the document “Living our Charism Today. “

We might well ask if the Society does indeed desire to share our charism with lay people, which would require a greater openness and commitment on our part. In that sense the work of today, both at the personal and group level, is to share our experiences of working hand in hand with such lay groups and what proposals would we make to move forward in welcoming and accompanying such groups.

It is a fact that there is an increasing number of lay people that desire to share in our charism. This surely comes from seeing how we live and work here in Africa and beyond. It is also true that collaborative ministry is all important today something that our Pope Francis often speaks about and encourages. For many years now we have had groups (friends of the M’Afr) in Europe, in the Americas, but increasingly the greater number is to be found in Africa but also in Asia, Mexico etc. Again such groups reflect a deep desire to be associated in one way or another with our mission and some would be even ready to work in other countries. We do not hold the monopoly of our charism for surely it should be a gift for the whole Church. This goes back even to our Cardinal who was convinced of such collaboration (the armed auxiliaries, the doctor catechists like Adrian Atiman).

Such lay people would commit themselves as fully fledged partners in Mission and in all its aspects (JPIC, Dialogue, the peripheries, etc.). Would such groups be formed into an association, a third order, a fraternity? Whatever we need to create bonds even if they are not so tight but, at the same time avoiding imprisoning them in some sort of clerical straightjacket.

It is a call to take existing groups and their support seriously. This would involve such groupings to have statutes. In some places such statutes exist yet the question remains of how best to accompany such groups. It is a fact that many of these groups have a chaplain We must ask ourselves in leadership just where do we stand concerning the accompaniment of the existing groups of lay people and how to improve what we do?

In the particular group I am part of here in the plenary council the sharing was very rich indeed. We were convinced of the need to share our charism and in reflection we see how much is happening on the ground especially in Africa but not only (we spoke about Mexico, the Philippines, Poland where such groups are active). One of the confreres did say though that the question of our collaboration with the laity keeps coming back especially at chapters and he wondered whether this is just another one of those topics that we never really come to grips with and yet we continue to make bold declarations. Unanimously all of us felt that this time we really see that the increasing desire for such collaboration and a sharing in our charism is indeed coming from the lay people themselves. It is our desire to respond to such an ardent desire. And, as the booklet on ‘Living our Charism Today’ states clearly on page 32: If we are ready to listen to what the Spirit has to say to our Society today, our Charism may surprisingly renew itself in the lives of many lay persons.’

Francis Barnes