Solidarity, now or never

Solidarity, now or never!

Over the past months of April and May, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the martyrdom of Joaquim Vallmajó, Missionary of Africa in Rwanda from January 1966 to April 1994.

In his native land there were tributes, talks, projection of documentaries and, above all, great admiration for his person. His martyrdom-murder has left an endless number of questions in the air that not only concern him but also thousands of other people who lived through that terrifying and inexplicable catastrophe that occurred between October 1990 and December 1998. A piece of history, which should cover the double genocide of a single people with two different faces, depending on where you look from and the time in which it took place.

Joaquim Vallmajó lived these events intensely until April 26, 1994, when the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) military came to arrest him in Kageyo.

What we are interested in is his decision to stay and to give his life to the service of the people he loved with so much passion. Joaquim responded positively to the question that every missionary asks himself when faced with an extremely serious conflict situation: am I going or am I staying? This decision was not taken beforehand, and even less imposed on him. This decision needs discernment. The final decision is first and foremost up to each individual, even if it is influenced by many factors, some of which are of community and social nature.

As for Quim – such was his nickname in his family – he had made up his mind during the last two years. In June 1992, after rescuing some Rwandan novices who had been trapped in an area of insecurity, and after witnessing the departure of some confreres to the capital, he wrote in sorrow: “The fearful missionaries have fled the area, but those of us who have understood that we have married a people, we are still here !

Solidarity, now or never. From that moment on, there has only been one line of conduct for him, which led him to commit himself entirely to activities in the service of a multitude of refugees and displaced persons, wandering from one place to another, carrying their most indispensable belongings on their heads.

It is not our purpose here to narrate the vicissitudes and sufferings of the many people Quim accompanied and for whom he worked so hard for weeks and months. We are only trying to guess and recompose the martyr’s offering of his life. Martyrdom is, above all, a great gift from God. One does not desire or seek it oneself, but one accepts and welcomes it when the time comes. We seek the reason for his choice between life and death; the reason for risking everything for him in the face of the immense socio-political and military tragedy that was clearly upon him. Quim was an expert in the area and in the ways in which he called “political disasters, both on one side and the other”. He, for his part, had had good and poor relations with both sides. In carrying out his projects he had only one objective: to improve the living conditions of all the people, especially the poorest.

From his many letters to family and friends, we have extracted a few paragraphs that indicate his willingness to go all the way. They are written with a pen, rushing and without hesitation, on thin sheets of airmail paper. We now have filed them away as if they were his will. They are engraved as if on parchment, to last for ever…

In October 1992, Quim is in a critical situation; he is very tired physically, has to deal with critics for his humanitarian emergency management and cannot find any confrere to continue in his ways.

Angry and hurt, at the end of a hard day at the wheel of his truck, a child, crossing the road, shouted at him: “Komera, Padiri”, that is, “Courage, Father”. Quim confesses that “he fell off his horse like St. Paul saying ‘it was you, Lord, once more’.”

In December 1993, taking advantage of a trip to Europe to contact various organizations and ask for help, he stopped in his homeland to spend Christmas at home and greet family and friends.

When he said goodbye to the Bishop of Girona, he gave him to understand that “it was very probable that they would not see each other any more”. He also left some friends a lot of slides about “the exodus” and the camps, telling them that they would serve them more than himself.

The events of 1994 began to precipitate in February. Quim, with a prophetic vision, exclaimed: “We are headed for civil war as in Burundi! A month later, he reflects his pain and indignation with the regimes, and renews his commitment to the most disinherited. He wrote a long and risky letter. Among other very harsh things, he says: “Power goes crazy and absolute power goes absolutely crazy. I am afraid of the madmen in power…”

On April 6, the night of the attack on the presidential plane, he was caught in Kageyo, at the convent of some religious friends. There he was confined until the end. He took advantage of the time to make a spiritual retreat and visit the surroundings. Sister Marie Pascale of Byumba, 7 km away, left a few sentences in her diary, an expression of his last wish. He had told her: “I am staying even if I have to die. We know that missionary life involves this. Our Founder, Charles Lavigerie, sent his first missionaries and said to them: ‘Go, go, you already have a visa for martyrdom’.” Twice, both the day before his arrest and the day before his martyrdom, UN soldiers came to evacuate him, but he refused to leave his people. He was really looking forward to returning to his parish to see what the situation was like. He had kept in his pocket the keys of the church and of the stores.

When, in the early afternoon of April 26, RPF soldiers came to announce that their chiefs wanted to see him and talk to him, he must have felt an extraordinary inner strength. First, he reassured the nuns by saying, “I’ll be right back,” and then, as he got into the truck, he made a magnificent sign of the cross on himself. And… no one else ever saw him or knew anything sure and precise about what happened to him. A few months later, a fellow seminarian indicated the true reason for Quim’s martyrdom: “I was always convinced that for Quim the gospel that does not pass through Calvary and the cross does not lead to resurrection.” That is why, even today, his clear missionary vision continues to captivate us: “Solidarity, now or never!”

Josep Frigola, M.Afr.

Taken from the Spanish Magazine “Africana” nr. 199 of December 2019

Hopes dashed

Twenty years ago…

Hopes dashed

It happened on August 2, 1999. Two African teenagers were discovered in Brussels, dead in the landing gear of an Airbus A330-300, the flight reference of the now non-existent Belgian airline Sabena, which covered the route Bamako-Conakry-Brussels. They had died of cold. Their names were Yaguine Koita and Fodé Tounkara. They were 14 and 15 years old respectively. One of them held a letter addressed to the leaders of Europe to his chest. Probably, without the existence of that letter, this tragic accident would have gone unnoticed by the media. Two more people, on the endless list of unknown immigrants who die every day in the attempt to reach Europe, is not relevant news.

What attracted the attention of public opinion was that letter to European leaders, explaining the reasons for their complicated adventure, pleading with them to take into consideration the difficult situation of students in Africa and asking for help on their behalf. It is worth reading it, despite its style, a style that is sought above all when choosing the right words to address European leaders, but always with unquestionable courtesy. It goes like this:

Conakry, 29/7/1999

Excellencies, Messrs. members and officials of Europe,

We have the honorable pleasure and the great confidence in you to write this letter to speak to you about the objective of our journey and the suffering of us, the children and young people of Africa.

But first of all, we present to you life’s most delicious, charming and respected greetings. To this effect, be our support and our assistance. You are for us, in Africa, those to whom it is necessary to request relief. We implore you, for the love of your continent, for the feeling that you have towards your people and especially for the affinity and love that you have for your children whom you love for a lifetime. Furthermore, for the love and meekness of our creator God the omnipotent one who gave you all the good experiences, wealth and ability to well construct and well organize your continent to become the most beautiful one and most admirable among the others.
Messrs. members and officials of Europe, we call out for your solidarity and your kindness for the relief of Africa. Do help us, we suffer enormously in Africa, we have problems and some shortcomings regarding the rights of the child.

In terms of problems, we have war, disease, malnutrition, etc. As for the rights of the child in Africa, and especially in Guinea, we have too many schools but a great lack of education and training. Only in the private schools can one have a good education and good training, but it takes a great sum of money. Now, our parents are poor and it is necessary for them to feed us. Furthermore, we have no sports schools where we could practice soccer, basketball or tennis.

This is the reason, we, African children and youth, ask you to create a big efficient organization for Africa to allow us to progress.

Therefore, if you see that we have sacrificed ourselves and risked our lives, this is because we suffer too much in Africa and that we need you to fight against poverty and to put an end to the war in Africa. Nevertheless, we want to learn, and we ask you to help us in Africa learn to be like you.

Finally, we appeal to you to excuse us very, very much for daring to write this letter to you, the great personages to whom we owe much respect. And do not forget it is to you whom we must lament about the weakness of our abilities in Africa.

Beyond the style of the letter of these two teenagers, there is its lucid and moving content, even if it obtained few results. No one expected this tragic event to alter the European Union’s migration policy. The world of politics and economics that we have built is complicated and complex; it does not, unfortunately, admit of solutions based on feelings. The world is only simple for the simple at heart. But I believe that your gesture was worthwhile. And the cries of anguish of so many marginalised people who need our solidarity and commitment to greater justice are certainly worth it today.

Agustín Arteche Gorostegui, M.Afr.

From the Spanish M.Afr. Magazine Afrikana N°199 of December 2019

Translation: Mafrome

Pilgrimage to Bayonne

Pilgrimage to Bayonne

Sunday, 20th October, 8 am, the older confreres of the EHPAD of Billère should have barely started their day and yet, while it was still dark, a good twenty of them rushed into a bus that would take them to the very origins of our foundation, the birthplace of Charles Martial Allemand Lavigerie. It was there that he was born, there that he grew up, there that he was baptized, then educated, before leaving, at the age of 17, for Paris to complete the minor and major seminary.

Patrick Bataille, the Delegate Provincial of France, and his assistant, Bernard Lefebvre, had come from Paris especially to celebrate this penultimate French event of the Jubilee Year. The closing Mass will be held later this year around the community of Toulouse.

They are the most valid of our EHPAD confreres who had registered. Yet the day would not have been possible without the support of about twenty HBB volunteers (Basque-Béarnaise Hospitality) who helped them all day long to get on and off the bus and to get around during the various stops of the pilgrimage.

First stop, Bayonne Cathedral. The local bishop, Father-Bishop Marc Aillet, was waiting for us to celebrate World Mission Day 2019. During his homily, the Father-Bishop first greeted the evangelization effort of the Missionaries of Africa, men and women who dedicated their lives to evangelizing what he calls the Continent of Hope, because it is in Africa that the youth of the world are found and that the Church knows the greatest expansion. He then reminded us that every baptized person must take ownership of Christ’s mandate and radiate faith wherever he/she is. And with the help of the ubiquitous social media, Mission Ad Gentes is here, at our doorstep! His homily was punctuated by a key sentence from today’s Gospel: “When the son of man comes, will he find faith in hearts? »

The Mass was followed by an aperitif in the beautiful cloister of the cathedral and a meal at the diocesan centre. After lunch, visit to the statue of Lavigerie, erected in 1909 on the “Place du Réduit”, to honour this local child who had become extremely popular.

On the other side of the bridge over the Ardour, stop at the Church of the Holy Spirit where the cardinal was baptized on the 5th of November 1825, only 5 days after his birth. The priest in charge of the church was waiting for us to tell us the story of this small Gothic-style church, which was elevated to the rank of a collegiate church by Louis XI at the end of the 15th century. After praying Vespers, we gathered around the baptistery.

We got back in the bus that took us to the Saint-Etienne cemetery where we saw the family vault of the Lavigerie family, and especially the tomb of the Cardinal’s parents, restored in 1955.

The last resort, the neighbourhood of the “Domaine de Huire”, of which a piece of the Cardinal’s birthplace still exists. It is impressive to step on the ground that the Cardinal stepped on in his tender years. It was then time to get back on the road to Billère where we arrived shortly after 7pm. It was a very beautiful day blessed by God who, in fact, spoiled us with intermittent rains.

Philippe Docq, M.Afr.

You will find below an interactive map with the different places we visited. Then some pictures of the day. And after the photos, an article published in 1992 in Nuntiuncula (Belgium Sector) on the history of Cardinal Lavigerie’s childhood.

(Appendix to “Nuntiuncula” nr 495, September 1992)

On the occasion of the centenary of the Cardinal’s death, many memories were evoked.

In general, we talked, as it should have been, about the size of his enterprises and his multifaceted activity. However, it may also be appropriate to mention for a moment his family and his Youth.

Indeed, it is quite difficult for us to picture our Founder at home or at school… 

This picture depicts Cardinal Lavigerie’s birthplace and underneath it reads this text: « This house is part of the “Domaine de Huire”, near Bayonne, and bears its name. »

The original of this drawing no longer exists, but this is a photo taken on the original. This drawing was probably in this house in Huire, when it was occupied and destroyed during the 1940-1945 war. This may have been the work of Mr Julien, the Cardinal’s uncle by his marriage on 29 October 1832 to Louise Latrilhe, his mother’s sister. He was a quite famous painter and engraver in the 19th century.

The main house in the middle was inhabited by Mr Latrilhe, the Cardinal’s maternal grandfather. In 1947, the White Sisters bought this house, which had undergone many modifications between 1832 and 1947… It was enlarged several times to house a community of more than 50 sisters, but the old part has not changed much on the outside. The Cardinal’s parents stayed in the house with the tower on the right.

According to tradition Charles Lavigerie was born in the room upstairs in the tower. It is not known what happened to this house between 1834 and 1923, when it was the coachman’s residence.

She no longer belongs to the White Sisters anymore.

Huire is located in the commune of St Esprit, in the St Bernard district. In the Cardinal’s time, this locality was part (since the Revolution) of the department of the Landes and the diocese of Dax. It was only attached to the diocese of Bayonne and the department of the Pyrénées Atlantiques in 1857.

The Huire estate, in one piece, included about 22 hectares of farmland and about 3 hectares of rush land for grazing. It was composed of:

    1. A main house, called “Grand Huire”, with its enclosure, two large gardens (vegetable and fruit garden), a vine in full production, an orchard and a meadow. In addition, there were three barns, a wine press, a stable, a shed and a cattle yard.
    2. A small winegrower’s house.
    3. Two tenant farms: “Petit Huire” and “Broc” each with a house, a barn, a cattle yard and a garden.
    4. Another mansion, with grove and adjoining garden (occupied by the Lavigerie family).

The Cardinal’s maternal grandfather bought the Huire Estate from Mr Bisconty, Director of the Navy’s Food Department, on the 14th of May 1813. But it seems that he did not settle in Huire with his family (six girls and a boy) until 1819 or 1820. Shortly after the purchase of the property, English troops (allied to the Spanish at war with France) had invested Bayonne. On the 14th April 1814, the French defenders of the citadel (above Huire) made an attack and fought in Huire, Broc, Chanda, the glass factory of St Bernard and the convent of St Bernard.

A corvette and nine French gunboats bombed Huire, Chanda and the convent of St Bernard.

It was in the “Maison Latrilhe” that a suspension of arms between the belligerents was signed on the 27 April 1814. A new convention lifted the blockade of Bayonne on the 5th of May 1814 (following the fall of the Empire and the abdication of Napoleon).

Pierre Latrilhe (I), born in 1719 in Vialer (30km N.E. from Pau) married Marie Brascon (or Brascoun) in Pau on the 6th May 1761. He was a “master foundryman” at the “Monnaie de Bayonne” (Bayonne Treasury) in 1767. In 1771 he was called “Sieur” Pierre Latrilhe. The Treasury played a considerable role under the Ancien Régime, as few cities had the privilege of coining coins. Bayonne had had this right for four centuries. The employees of the Treasury formed a special category among Bayonne’s craftsmen and bourgeois. Peter I died on February 20, 1800.

The first child of the Latrilhe-Brascon family, born in 1764, was also named Pierre. To distinguish him from his father and two of his brothers who bore the same first name, he is referred to as Peter II. This Latrilhe-Brascon home had ten known children: eight boys (five of whom lived only a few days or months) and two girls. One of them, Catherine Louise, now Mrs. Le Mosquet, played a major role in the Latrilhe family and played an important role during Charles Lavigerie’s childhood and youth for his literary and cultural training.

Peter II married Rose Agnes Fourtricot on September 9, 1798. Rose Agnès Fourtricot was only 19 years old at the time, while her husband was 34. Like his father, he worked at the Bayonne Treasury. At the time of his marriage, he was “Director of Works” and at the time of the birth of his first child, “Essayeur”, i. e. responsible for the “titre” of the coins. He had to check the exact weight of the precious metal of each coin minted at the Bayonne Treasury and mark it with the Latrilhe stamp. In 1828, Peter II became Director of the Treasury This important position imposed heavy costs on him: the purchase of precious metals, the installation of workshops, equipment, etc. He had to borrow. However, business was very bad in France in 1830. Pierre Latrilhe could not repay his creditors. The Domaine de Huire, where he lived, was seized and put up for sale by public tender in 1832.

To get out of this difficult situation, Peter Latrilhe II exchanged Huire for the house of Biscardi (a little higher on the same hill) belonging to Mr. Isaac Léon, a wealthy Jew from the commune of St Esprit. As the properties were of very unequal value, Mr Léon paid a balance (a sum of money that compensates for the unequal value during an exchange) of 48,000 francs. This allowed Pierre Latrilhe to repay his creditors.

Martial (or Marthial) Allemand Lavigerie, originally from Angoulême, came to live in Bayonne around 1802 as Receiver of the National Lottery. At the same time, at the beginning of the century, at least three of his brothers and sisters (from a family of thirteen children) also moved to Bayonne.

Martial had married Louise Vaslin. Divorced in 1796, he remarried on 17 June 1801 to Marie-Louise Raymond de Saint Germain, born in St Domingue in January 1776. The household moved to Bayonne probably shortly after their marriage.

Martial Allemand Lavigerie has always remained Receiver of the “National”, “Imperial” and “Royal” Lottery. His duties had certainly put him in touch with important people in the Bayonese financial community. In 1807, Martial became a member of “La Zélée”, the lodge of the Freemasons of Bayonne, and he held several services there. His young wife died in I8I3, one month after the birth of their fifth child.

Léon Philippe Allemand Lavigerie (who will be the Cardinal’s father) was Martial’s first son. He did not live in Bayonne, but in Angoulême with his mother, Louise Vaslin. However, in I8I7, he began his career in customs at the port of Bayonne. He was 22 years old. Apart from two months in Vannes in 1820, all his posts were in or near Bayonne: Ustaritz, Urdos, Aînhoa, Bordeau… He rose through the ranks: from “supernumerary” in 1817 to “Receiver” to Royal Customs Declarations in 1824. It was then that he married, on November 3, 1824, Hermine Louise Latrilhe, who lived in Huire.

The main building of the Huire Estate had only one floor and, despite a few large rooms, it was cramped now that the family was expanding. The young Lavigerie-Latrilhe household went to live in the annex house on the same property. It was here that the first three children of the household were born: Charles (1825), Pierre Félix (1828) and Louise (Mme Kienner) (1832). People say that the whole family lived together at the “Grand Huire”, even though the young Lavigerie household lived in the neighbouring building. Everyone gathered for meals at the “Grand Huire”.

When the Latrilhe family was forced to leave the Domaine de Huire in 1832, the Lavigerie family moved to the Villa Beaulieu in 1832 or 1833, which they had built in 1832, also in the St Etienne district. From there Charles and his brothers went daily to St Leon’s College near Bayonne Cathedral.

Pilgrimage to the saints of Africa: women ahead

Hello from Fribourg! Here is the link to the beautiful report by the journalist who covered the 18th Pilgrimage to the Saints of Africa on 2nd June. There are very beautiful professional pictures, almost Caravaggio! This pilgrimage is an initiative of the Missionaries of Africa of Switzerland. It has taken its cruising speed and a steering committee is gradually taking over…

Claude Maillard, M.Afr.

article & photos : Bernard Hallet 03.06.2019

Saint-Maurice on the 2nd of June 2019. Togolese Agnes Rondez during the pilgrimage to the saints of Africa | © B. Hallet

The 18th edition of the pilgrimage to the saints of Africa focused on the place of African women in the Church and society. Togo was the country honoured at this event hosted by the Abbey of Saint-Maurice (VS) on the 2nd of June 2019.

The brightness of the courtyard between the Saint-Maurice school and its refectory is almost blinding. The picnic ends and small groups gather in the rare shaded areas left by the sun at its zenith. Choirs and pilgrims are drawn to the procession that is being formed and that will lead them to the basilica for the mass of this 18th pilgrimage to the African Saints.

The songs rise, punctuated by percussion, among which the voices of the women, the majority on this day, dominate. They are in honour of this African pilgrimage to Saint-Maurice. “Exceptionally, this year we have no invited bishop or saint to honor. The theme is therefore the place of women in the Church and society,” explains Father Claude Maillard, White Father, member of the pilgrimage committee. He added that Togo is the country in the spotlight and that Bishop Jean Scarcella, Father Abbot of the Abbey, has agreed to preside at the pilgrimage mass.

The essential role of women

“The role of women is essential in Africa,” explains Father Maillard. It has its full place in the family, the community that is the pillar of social life in Africa. In a society dominated by men, he believes that things are moving, especially in politics. Slowly, of course, but surely.

Agnès Rondez, a Togolese woman who arrived in the Jura in 2001, spoke on the theme of the day, drawing inspiration from the lenten campaign – Bread for All. She supports the statement: “In Africa, women are the carriers of the world, tireless, they are the driving force,” she says. She creates, she sews, she is “up front” to feed the family and take initiatives. “In Togo, at the market, it is the woman you will find,” she smiles.

Saint-Maurice on the 2nd of June 2019. Togolese Agnes Rondez during the pilgrimage to the saints of Africa I © B. Hallet

It can also start in childhood, in the parish and in youth activities,” says Agnès Rondez. She remembers the years when she served at Mass and was part of the Valiant Hearts (the equivalent of Scouts). However, she acknowledges that the situation differs greatly from one country to another.

Yvonne, from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), puts this into perspective. “Women are marginalized in the Church and in society and are unable to find their place. Yet she gives life, she must be listened to,” deploring a situation in which the woman is not heard. She denounces the rape and murder of children and women and castigates the multinationals present in the DRC who exploit them. Nevertheless, she still has a smile and hope for African women.

“The assembly reacted strongly during the conference. These were words that the mothers applauded and commented on a lot,” says the White Father. Earlier in the morning, the pilgrims also prayed for these suffering African women.

Apostles of forgiveness

“Yes, Africa is alive in the Church and will be faithful to the prophetic words that Pope Benedict XVI gave her during the Second Synod of Africa”. Father Godfroy Kouegan, a Togolese priest from the diocese of Aneho, said in his homily that “the hour of Africa” had come, a favourable hour that urged Christ’s messengers to move forward in deep water and release the nets for fishing (Le 5:4). In a gentle voice, the priest, currently at the Abbey of Saint-Maurice for a sabbatical period, noted that “Our joy, the true joy of Africa is the courage with which she takes up her cross and advances with perseverance and confidence”.

Father Godfroy Kouegan urged pilgrims to become apostles of forgiveness and reconciliation. | © B. Hallet

“I dare to put on each of your lips these words of the psalmist to bless this Abbey, its Father Abbot and his canons: “To you always, life and joy!”, thanked Father Kouegan who was surprised that the Abbey was interested in the black continent. “She[the abbey] is in search of life[…]. Life and hope that transcend all the assaults of death, the culture of death that the world today develops unconsciously or not”.

“It is to make Church, family of God, to live and make events like this live in Catholicity,” he concluded, before exhorting pilgrims to “leave here and become the apostles of forgiveness and reconciliation”.

The time of maturity

At the end of a rhythmic and colourful day, Father Claude Maillard said he was serene and delighted. He praised the commitment of the choirs, the true “backbone” of this pilgrimage. “Africans bring a lot to our communities and parishes, thanks to the anchoring they have found there.

“Africans take charge of “their” pilgrimage. It is no longer said that it is the pilgrimage of the White Fathers“. The event has reached its cruising speed, we must continue. “It’s time for maturity!” 

  • Saint-Maurice le 2 juin 2019. Messe du pèlerinage aux saints d'Afrique à la basilique de l'Abbaye. | © B. Hallet
  • Saint-Maurice le 2 juin 2019. La Togolaise Agnès Rondez lors du pèlerinage aux saints d'Afrique I © B. Hallet
  • Le Père Godfroy Kouegan a exhorté les pèlerins à devenir des apôtres du pardon et de la réconciliation. | © B. Hallet
  • Saint-Maurice le 2 juin 2019. Procession en rythme jusqu'à la basilique de l'Abbaye. | © B. Hallet
  • Saint-Maurice le 2 juin 2019. Le Père Claude Maillard, membre du comité du pèlerinage aux saints d'Afrique. | © B. Hallet
  • Saint-Maurice le 2 juin 2019. Messe du pèlerinage aux saints d'Afrique à la basilique de l'Abbaye. | © B. Hallet
  • Saint-Maurice le 2 juin 2019. La chorale érythréenne a rythmé le pèlerinage aux saints d'Afrique. | © B. Hallet
  • Saint-Maurice le 2 juin 2019. La chorale érythréenne a rythmé le pèlerinage aux saints d'Afrique. | © B. Hallet
  • Saint-Maurice le 2 juin 2019. “Cheese!“ Photo souvenir avec Mgr Jean Scarcella lors du Pèlerinage aux saints d'Afrique. | © B. Hallet
  • Saint-Maurice le 2 juin 2019. Messe du pèlerinage aux saints d'Afrique à la basilique de l'Abbaye. Le Père Godfroy Kouegan. | © B. Hallet
  • Saint-Maurice le 2 juin 2019. Chants et rythmes lors de la messe du pèlerinage aux saints d'Afrique. | © B. Hallet
  • Saint-Maurice le 2 juin 2019. Recueillement lors de la messe du pèlerinage aux Saints d'Afrique. | © B. Hallet
  • Saint-Maurice le 2 juin 2019. Sur un rythme chaloupé, les femmes du Togo apportent les offrandes à l'autel. | © B. Hallet

PEP/Fra – Sector France: News from Verlomme Community

From the Mini-Lien of the French sector, a look back at May from the sector community, at rue Verlomme.

Communauté de Verlomme :

The most important event of the month is undoubtedly the Sector Council meeting.

But the one we remember best is our annual community outing: it was on Saturday, May 11th that we first met at St Etienne du Mont Church, located on Mont Ste Geneviève. The current church dates back to the flamboyant Gothic and Renaissance periods. In particular, we admired the vault of the flamboyant choir, the finely carved stone rood loft, the carved wooden pulpit, the organ buffet and the stained-glass windows. While walking around the sanctuary, everyone was able, according to their interest, to stop in front of the hunting of Saint Genevieve, the tombs of Pascal and Racine, and many works of art: frescoes, paintings, statuary.

We then crossed the square to enter the Pantheon. This XVIIIth century building of neo-classical style, has suffered the convulsions of our history. First conceived as a church by Louis XVI in 1791, it became a republican temple to house the remains of the “great men”. It once again housed the Catholic cult under Louis XVIII and Napoleon III. It was under Louis-Philippe and the Third Republic that it resumed its function as the mausoleum of the great men of the country.

It is therefore with both religious and republican devotion that we entered this édifice, which is impressive in its size and majesty. After having visited the frescoes and sculptures on the ground floor, we were able to reflect on the ashes of the 81 personalities, men and women, who were “honoured by the grateful country”. Some of us (but we won’t say who) have dreamed of being “pantheonized”.

This did not prevent us from going for a good meal at the restaurant on Place de la Contrescarpe.

On the way we sang in chorus the words of Georges Brassens:

Poor kings, pharaohs! Poor Napoleon!
Poor missing people lying in the Pantheon!
Poor ashes of consequence!

You’ll envy a little the eternal holiday-maker,
Who, with his pedal boat, climbs the wave dreaming,
That he spends his death on vacation….

You’ll envy a little the eternal White Father,
Who says his rosary dreaming of the days of yesteryear,
Passed under the African sun.

François Richard

PEP/Fra – Sector France: News from Marseille Community

From the Mini-Lien of the France Sector, here is a look back at the month of May experienced by our confreres in Marseille.

Community of Marseille:

After the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Church of Our Lady of the Limits and the 150th anniversary of our Missionary Institutes “White Fathers” and “White Sisters”, May was a special month. Henri Blanchard joined the community of Sainte Foy-lès-Lyon on April 29th and Moses, having completed his internship (stage), went on a family vacation in Uganda on May 4th. He will continue his training in Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire).

Michel was called to meet the young confreres in Tunis and left on May 3rd. And the day before his return to Marseille, he learned of the death of his paternal uncle, whom he considers to be his father. It was this uncle who took responsibility for the family after his father’s death. This uncle, a Muslim, encouraged Michel to follow his path towards the priesthood and mission. Michel therefore left directly from Tunis on May 11th for Ouagadougou, from where he joined his family in mourning. Raphaël participated in the Sector Council from May 7th to 10th. Steve, the new confrere, acclimatized to Marseille. Very handyman, he takes care of the garden and storage in the workshop and store. He strives to improve his French, especially for reading. On Sunday, May 26th, he presided at the Eucharistic celebration and preached.

Meeting place of the group "imamsprêtres" (encounter and sharing between Imams and Priests) of Marseille where Raphaël goes. Here he is with Gérard Chabanon, Michel Girard and Jean Chaptal.

The month of June will be for Raphael the month of farewells in the parish, in the associations and services of the diocese in which he was involved. At the beginning of July, he will join Fribourg, Switzerland, for a ministry at the service of the confreres. But he will also be able to commit himself once again to the service of Islamic-Christian dialogue.

Guy Vuillemin

PEP/Fra – Sector France: Nouvelles de la Communauté de Toulouse

Community of Toulouse :

Active Spring at the “Minimes”

Just like Spring, the Toulouse community is waking up with lots of activities to reactivate a flowery life. Perhaps inspired by the Resurrection of the Lord that we have just celebrated with great pomp and circumstance, the memory of the foundation of our Society has reminded us of our spirituality that has enabled us to adhere to the Mission of being All to All. Thus, on May 3, we celebrated in community the end of Emile Kimembe’s internship. He arrived safely in his family in Congo DRC on May 6.

During the aperitif to celebrate the end of Emile's internship

The next day in the evening, we shared a meal with some former White Father students from rue Vélane in Toulouse in the presence of the Provincial Delegate, Patrick Bataille, who trained two of them. There were only three. Together with their spouses and children we were about twenty people.

In their testimonies they expressed the desire for stronger unity among them and close collaboration with the Society of Missionaries of Africa. One of them, Jacques Kampetenga, is a deacon and explained his journey. They are ready to start a group of elders. In any case, their many children are our friends and potential collaborators to support us. It was a very good time.

On Sunday, May 5th, the Church of the Minimes filled up for the installation ceremony of Norbert Mwishabongo as the new parish priest of the Pastoral sector of the Minimes. The Mass was presided over by Hervé Gaignard, the Vicar General, because Bishop Le Gall was unable to attend. Patrick Bataille, our Provincial Delegate, all the collaborating priests of the parish, the Episcopal Vicar of the Deanery, and the National Chaplain of the African and Malagasy Coordination concelebrated Holy Mass.

After the mass there was an aperitif that allowed people to meet each other, then a simple and very convivial meal. The borough mayor was present for the installation and stayed all the time during the meal during which he renewed his commitment as mayor of the district for the responsibility of the Church. He also expressed his desire to collaborate with the new priest and his team.

To close our series of images as part of the organization of activities for our 150th anniversary, Bishop Michael Fitzgerald gave a lecture on “Islamic-Christian Dialogue: the contribution of the Missionaries of Africa and the Sisters of Our Lady of Africa” on May 22 in the Church of the Minims.

Mgr Fitzgerald with two animators during the conference

Presented by the animator as a man of great openness, Bishop Fitzgerald demonstrated this in welcoming the other. Through his extensive experience in the field of Islamic-Christian dialogue, he has demonstrated that dialogue is possible even in our current context in Toulouse. We thank him for agreeing to come from Liverpool to revive our commitment to ” Encounter and Dialogue “. Go well, my Lord.

Simon Gornah, M.Afr. (texte et photos)

PEP/Fra – Sector France: News from the Billère Community

From the Mini-lien of the French sector, a return to the month of May in Pau-Billère.

Community of Billère Lavigerie :

In May “do as you please” in Billère… (“Fais ce qu’il te plaît” : French proverb)

Several confreres’ outings this month: the first week, a 1800km trip in the Var with a team of Lourdes hospital workers – our photographer made for us a small souvenir image.

On the 19th, at Tournay Abbey, with the Pastoral Care Center for Migrants, and in particular with about a hundred Iraqis and their children (who speak among themselves in Aramaic), we celebrated together the 150 years of the W.F.

On the 8th, of course, we celebrated the martyrs of Algeria with a Eucharist in our little chapel corner; next year we will have our large room on the 3rd floor to celebrate…

The work is nearing completion and the director of Fed’Es, Mr. Didier Debrand, came on the 12th, to announce that he would take over the management of the house himself until all the people from the two EHPAD’s1 were installed.


1 EHPAD means “Etablissement d’Hébergement pour Personnes Agées Dépendantes” (Accommodation establishment for dependent elderly people).  In France, even though the buildings for the Old Folks communities still belong to the Missionaries of Africa, their management is entrusted to an association. Details can be obtained from the Sector house in verlomme.

PEP/Fra – Sector France: News from Bry-sur-Marne Community

From the Mini-Lien of the France sector, a look back at May in the community of Bry-sur-Marne

Bry Community:

Jean FISSET left us end of April very peaceful, while some members of his family were at his bedside. He, who was very family-minded, was able to leave in peace. The funeral was a family celebration rather than a community celebration because John’s family, including his brother and sister, filled the chapel. The liturgy of the Mass had been prepared by John himself before his death, and his nephews were keen to respect his last wishes. Bernard Lefebvre, who knew him well, came to preside at the Eucharist, and Gérard Demeerseman was able to retrace in his homily John’s attachment to the Muslim world to which he had dedicated his entire missionary life. When we returned from the cemetery, the whole family gathered one last time for a glass of friendship, which made it possible to see how much Jean was appreciated by all his family. He has now joined the great family of confreres who are waiting for the resurrection; may he rest in peace.

A few days later, the entire house was celebrating the 100th anniversary of a resident, Mrs. Berthe LE CAM. The same day it was the “Pierre angulaire” (the residence) that organized the celebration with a bouquet of 101 red rose buds. And the champagne flew freely over a huge cake. Mrs. LE CAM then confessed the secret of her longevity: a glass of red wine every day at noon and an aperitif on Sunday, a diet she intends to follow for many years to come, as she is not yet completely dependent. The following Saturday, it was his family that wanted to celebrate her again. As for us, we can now wait quietly for the celebration of our next centenary at the beginning of next year, our confrere Georges BERGANTZ, who will in turn make it because he is even more fit than Mrs Le CAM, and especially shares with her the same secret of longevity. What is certain is that celebrating centenarians gives a lot of hope and happiness to all. Long live Mrs. Le CAM.

Bishop SANTIER, Bishop of Créteil and therefore our bishop, wanted to visit us a second time this year, which touched us very much. But especially this time he wanted to exchange with us, and for a good hour he presented his diocese to us with passion. Everyone was surprised to see how cosmopolitan this diocese was: many foreigners and a large number of religions, including Judaism and Islam, and even Buddhism. Interreligious dialogue has thus become an obsession for the pastor of our diocese, which sounds familiar to many of us. All this greatly enhances the dynamism of the diocesan Christian community, which is living a true renewal. Finally, we feel a little more at home in this diocese, because we have spent our entire lives in an equally complex environment. It is up to us to remain more White Fathers than ever.

Last Saturday, an orchestra came to enliven our afternoon, the “HARMONIE TUTTI” orchestra, the fruit of Bry’s music school. It was obviously not the Scala of Milan, but it must be acknowledged that their conductor is a virtuoso, both to conduct and to play as a soloist. They now know the code to enter the house.

Finally, at the month’s end, on Ascension Thursday, Jo le NIGEN will renew his contract with the White Fathers in our community for another three years. We will talk more about it in the next Mini-Lien. The park is already looking forward to it, but less than we certainly are. Congratulations, Jo!

Clément Forestier (photos J-Y Chevalier)