Echoes from the Plenary Council – 20th November 2019

Echoes from the Plenary Council - 20th November 2019

Today we enter our third day looking at the theme of identity with specific reference this time with our collaboration with the laity. At the morning Eucharist Didier made a nice link with the first reading from the book of Maccabees and our looking at the question of Identity over the last few days. The seven brothers stood firm and accepted even death rather than betray their faith. They knew who they were and their strong sense of identity meant that they were able to close their ears to the enticing voices that would have led them astray. Yes, they preferred death rather than betraying all they held dear. Their identity was crystal clear, they were rooted and their values could only be dictated by their strong faith and sense of belonging. 

Yesterday afternoon we were able to look at some more questions concerning our community living, the witness we give – with special attention as to just how have we in leadership been able to encourage such community living. We were able to discuss the efforts that have been made to be communities of three and also work towards true interculturality at all levels.  We were able to share and explain what were the obstacles and see how we could move forward.

1. Some positive energising points concerning fruits coming from the chapter:

    • Many communities are now 3 members 
    • There is a greater effort for interculturality
    • Greater accompaniment of young confreres.
    • Ability of structures to help confreres in difficulties (centres, certain resources)
    • Communities are examples of solidarity, welcoming, joyous – missionary initiatives 

2. Obstacles:

    • Serious addictions of confreres
    • Lack of resilience
    • Struggle for power 
    • Competing needs of the provinces and needs of the Society
    • Interculturality can lead to people not finding their place in the Society
    • Poor communication and long-term planning at all levels
    • We are not willing to let go of certain commitments in order to reinforce communities
    • Difficult to have intercultural communities when there are few nationalities  
    • To believe that the provincial has to be originally from the province
    • The need to have procures with communities of three especially when dealing with many confreres on home leave, or candidates or stagiaires that are back home and all the work that it entails (paper work, health)
    • There is also the obstacle that getting visas for certain countries can be very difficult.

 3. Solutions: 

    • Stability of appointments. We need to take root 
    • Need of procures   
    • Greater animation of confreres
    • Leadership should reflect interculturality 
    • Need to change of policy in the way of choosing provincials, provincial bursar, rectors of formation houses (let only those working or appointed to the province be the ones that vote!!!!!!)
    • Accompaniment confreres – professional help when needed. Making use of available resources (ongoing session etc.) 
    • Prioritise the needs of the Society. 

The photo album has been amplified since yesterday. The photographer is Stéphan Joulain. Thank you to him. 

Echoes from the Plenary Council – 19th November 2019

Echoes from the Plenary Council - 19th November 2019

Yesterday and today we have been working in groups. After sufficient time for personal reflection we were able to look at various questions concerning our identity.  The chapter had set in motion a whole process of renewal both for our personal and community life. We spent time therefore seeing just in what measure such renewal had taken place and how those in leadership were able to foster such renewal. This involved also looking at issues like our prayer life, availability, generosity, our spirit of self-giving and sacrifice. Are such attitudes present in our communities or at times are they in short supply? The chapter also spoke about joyful radiant and supportive communities; thus together we were able to share on just how we feel this is being achieved or is not being achieved. For many of us and, for many years now, the community project is all important. It was a moment, therefore, to share on just how this is put into practice in our provinces and sections. IN many of our provinces the community project is well done.

As regards the methodology our main concern was to identify all that has been achieved positively in our communities and also in our personal lives. From there to be aware of what might have hampered such community and personal renewal to be able to see together how to move forward for even greater consolidation and growth.  There was a feeling that many of the events that had taken place this year had indeed energised our personal and community renewal. These were events that created an enthusiastic dynamism about identity and mission. The question remains how to reap the fruits of such events and the visibility thus generated. Some of these events were:

    • The jubilee celebrations at all levels creating a welcome visibility.
    • The meeting of our two institutes with pope Francis
    • The booklets printed in the jubilee year such as “15 days with Lavigerie 
    • Take the community project seriously
    • The beatification of our confrères has intensified the renewal that we were looking for with the jubilee
    • The creation of Michael Fitzgerald as cardinal
    • Collaboration with our sisters, with the Church, lay people, with other institutes 

Some provincials mentioned the renewal enhanced by regular visits, newsletters, possibility of ongoing formation, recollections and retreats. Spiritual inputs during the plenary council.

As regards the obstacles (to such personal and community renewal) or what is lacking here are some of the points raised:

    • Lack of stability at the personal level but also at the level of community. Lack of endurance and communication. Growing individualism
    • Issues of transparency and accountability. Coming and going as we like without informing. Spirit of entitlement 
    • Lack of missionary zeal. Lack of interest in what is taking place in the Society. Do we belong? Is there a sense of belonging? In that sense it comes down also to the problem of communication from leadership downwards – the need of formation. How do those in leadership exercise their leadership how can they be helped in their task? 
    • Young confreres tend not to read as much as previously for so often communication comes down to the use of WhatsApp. (Maybe some invest far more time in social media rather than in the written word)

Francis Barnes

Echoes from the Plenary Council – 18th November 2019

Echoes from the Plenary Council - 18th November 2019

We remembered during our prayers this morning and at the Eucharist our confrere Darek who would be laid to rest in Ouagadougou today. We also remembered and prayed for our former superior general Theo van Asten who would be also laid to rest today.

Today we began our plenary council in earnest. In fact, over the next three days we will be discussing the question of our Identity. Some may well ask why should we be looking at our identity. Don’t we know who we are? Most of us know whom we are yet somehow it is more a question of appropriating our identity, allowing that identity and the core values that stem from that identity to be the motor that drives us forward. Such core values are there to help us discern and see the way forward to live and fulfil the missionary life we have chosen. A distorted view of whom we are will lead to a distorted and dysfunctional way of being. The morning was spent in quiet reflection on what was shared in the input, In the afternoon we were able to meet in groups to look at certain issues proposed by the General council. Some of the salient points pointed out in the introduction by Francis were:

    • Surely for us missionaries our ultimate goal will be to develop and nurture those choices that are consistent with our Missionary of Africa vocation. Our happiness and sense of fulfilment hopefully will stem from living in harmony with the choices we have made and the core values that are ours. 
    • Hopefully there is something that does indeed differentiate us from other congregations, something specific to us that is reflected by the way we live our charism, something that reflects an identity particular to we, Missionaries of Africa.  It does not make us better or superior to others but reflects the reality of the way we live our lives and the way we live out the mission that is ours.
    • Thus a whole process of renewal and a renewed appreciation of our charism has been initiated by the chapter. It is spirituality that is the thread that weaves itself throughout our charism and if we get our spirituality right the rest should flow. 
    • Our spirituality of community certainly, of dialogue yes, of multi-culturality, of discernment, a spirituality of frontier situations, of the peripheries. In a word prophetic spirituality deeply rooted in the gospel.
Francis Barnes

Here are some pictures sent by John Gould, the superior of the Section of Asia. They were taken during a eucharistic celebration, presided over by the Archbishop of Kampala, Cyprian Lwanga, who teherafter blessed the new chapel.

Echoes from the Plenary Council – 17th November 2019

Echoes from the Plenary Council - 17th November 2019

On Sunday, November 17, the Plenary Council split into two groups to celebrate Mass at Nabulagala Parish, where the Superior General, Father Stanley Lubungo, was the main celebrant and at the Sharing Youth Centre, where the Assistant General, Francis Barnes, was the main celebrant. 

Did you say Nabulagala?

Today, the Parish of Nabulagala is a historical and spiritual landmark in Uganda. However, Nabulagala has long remained a small outstation. A look back at history with a text by Manu Quertemont (Familles-Mission 2 / 2011) 

February 17, 1879: Arrival in Entebbe of the first Fathers


Echoes from the Plenary Council – 16 November 2019

Echoes from the Plenary Council - 16 November 2019

Today was a more relaxed day with a half day of recollection in the morning and a free afternoon. The recollection was given by a little sister of St Francis, Sister Pauline. Her topic was very much in line with our year of jubilee celebrations and of course the plenary council with its aim of evaluating the last three years and looking to the future.  

Speaking with a clear and audible voice she reminded us first and foremost about the whole idea of jubilee as found in the book of Leviticus chapter 25. She reminded us that we are in fact celebrating 150 years of meaningful existence and the prophetic mission bestowed on us by the Cardinal. Yes, a time of counting our blessings one by one, a time of looking back with gratitude. She went on to share her own gratitude for all that the missionaries of Africa/MSOLA had achieved in Uganda. The trumpet has indeed been sounded throughout the land and the Church here is well aware of the heritage bequeathed by our ancestors. Of course she mentioned Father Lourdel and Br Amans, the White Sisters and the great work accomplished by all these brave men and women for building up the Church and the growth of religious life in this pearl of Africa. Where would we be without these great missionaries- she asked. Addressing each one of us she stated that the question is not what I have received from the Society but what has been my contribution? Are my gifts and aptitudes in tune with the charism of our founder? Yes, she continued we are called to do but above all we are called to be. What is my way of being? It could well be a question of time – time to be with myself, to be present to my brothers, time to be present to the Society. Again we need to look back at our own missionary life, the places where we have been and ministered. Take a look at our ancestors and see the impact they had, the traces they left, the people whose lives had been touched, the stamina and energy that were theirs.  They planted a seed as tiny as the mustard seed and yet here in Uganda it has become a great tree. What traces have we left? What impact has own missionary life left? 

To end she recalled what in fact are the three pillars of our charism; Spirituality, community life and mission. These form the tap root of our life and mission and we need to continually grow ever stronger in these areas. It is about committing ourselves to our charism, to our mission, to be unafraid, to leave our comfort zones, to play our part and do it courageously like our ancestors. Thus she concluded by saying:  – ‘you are martyrs, you risk your lives, determined to die to self so that others may have life to the full – concentrate on the good that you have achieved and the love of God that has shown throughout your life.’

Francis Barnes
General Assistant

Echoes of the Plenary Council – 15 November 2019

Echoes from the Plenary Council - 15 November 2019

The morning was taken over by introductory matters, concerning the plenary council itself. There were welcome words by Aloysius Ssekamatte the provincial of EAP who, as provincial, welcomed us into his province for this important event. Then Stan began by warmly welcoming each one of us to this special occasion. Indeed, he pointed out that for the next few days, with the presence of all the provincials, the section superiors, the coordinators, the secretaries and the General Council, Lourdel house has become the headquarters of the Society. Our main concern is the plenary council but it will be concluded by a pilgrimage that will officially close our 150th jubilee year of our two Institutes. So, for all of us it is a unique occasion. 

Stan took the opportunity to share with us also the sad events of the last few days for between the 7th and the 12th of November we lost three confreres. On the 7th we lost Maurice Aduol Odhiambo (I don’t know if this is the right spelling?) in a tragic accident in Mozambique, a confrere with barely two years of missionary oath. On the 11th we lost our American confrere Joe Braun (I don’t know if this is the right spelling?) aged 88 after many years of missionary life. Then on the 12th we heard of the terrible loss of the passing of Darek Zielinski aged 53, after a few days of illness. He was at the height of his missionary life. He also reminded us of the sad loss of our Stagiaire Bruno Ruzizi in Ghana after a motorbike accident earlier in the year. All very sad events that were painful for us all. We duly observed a minute of silence to remember them. 

In the afternoon Stan gave the opening keynote address which served somehow as an evaluation of what has been achieved so far since the last chapter of 2016.  Yet, the plenary council is also a way of looking together to reflect on the means that we can still put in place to consolidate even more the process that the chapter began; a process hopefully that will bear even more fruit for the whole Society and, being attentive to the Spirit, to open us up even more to the future and where our charism might lead us.  That process is somehow the growing awareness that is there concerning the three pillars of spirituality, community and mission. We have been enriched also by some special events, the beatification of our four confreres last year on the 8th of December in Algeria, the moving pilgrimage for the opening of the Jubilee year in Tunisia also in December. The meeting with Pope Francis in February, all the many and various publications concerning Lavigerie (one of them being ‘Prier 15 jours avec le Cardinal’ by Bernard Ugeux). All these events and encounters in our various sections and provinces have enhanced our own sense of identity; they were moments of grace and blessings for the whole Society. Such events were also important moments of missionary animation that will certainly bear fruit in the future. 

In all of that there was also a heightened awareness of inter-culturalilty and its importance for us at all levels; the importance of our communities of three, the importance of the community project and of course a new and profound look at our charism today so that we might be even more prophetic in all our endeavours. This will take us into areas of great concern; migrants, human trafficking – inter-religious dialogue, the peripheries of where we live and work and of course in those areas which are becoming more and more insecure.  What is sure is that the plenary council offers us a new start to once again own the decisions of the chapter and place those decisions on the agenda of our leadership role in order to galvanise our drive and energy into a more dynamic and prophetic society. 

Francis Barnes
General Assistant