"Rejoice, for your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20).
After returning from the places where we were blocked during the confinement brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, we, as General Council, wished to celebrate a mass in memory of all our confreres who died since the beginning of the confinements. When Father Gotthard Rosner, Superior General of the Society from 1992 to 1998 passed away on 2 September 2020, we decided to honour his memory and to pray for him and for all the confreres who have died since the beginning of the confinements. There are forty of them in all! It’s a lot in six months. Some succumbed to Covid-19. Others have died from other illnesses. But they all share one thing in common: they past away during a period where it has been impossible to organise a normal funeral for them. In this evening’s Eucharistic celebration we want to pray for all of them as we begin our activities together again in Rome.
We were sad to hear of the deaths of our confreres and especially for our communities not to be able to say goodbye to them in the usual way. Today, it is a song of thanksgiving that we address to God for their long lives consecrated to the Mission in Africa and for the African world. The youngest among them in missionary life had fifty three years of missionary oath and the oldest seventy two. Like the seventy-two disciples sent by Jesus, most of them came back full of joy telling how even the evil spirits submitted to them in His name. And we are witnesses to what they did! Yet this is not the reason why we rejoice and give thanks. We rejoice because their names are written in heaven (Luke 10:17-20). We give thanks to God who first called them and made them grow in their love for him and in their relationship with him. They remain for us, above all, witnesses of this faith.
Father Gotthard Rosner, who died on September 2, is the latest of the confreres to return to the Father. He was a member of our Generalate community as Superior General of the Society. In celebrating this Eucharist for him and in associating in it all the other confreres who have died in recent months, we recognise the role he played in his mission at the service of confreres and we symbolise this by placing the names of the other confreres around his. Among the names of those for whom we pray tonight is that of Father Jean-Claude Ceillier with whom he served on the General Council.
Having spent several years in our houses of formation Father Gotthard is known to many confreres. Many confreres, but also other people who knew him, have testified to his very human sense and the compassion he felt for the people to whom we are sent. He was ready to listen and to accompany. A man with a big heart, he was a source of inspiration for many. As Superior General, Father Gotthard lived through very difficult times such as the genocide in Rwanda, the death of our blessed confreres in Tizi Ouzou and the overthrow of the Mobutu regime in the Democratic Republic of Congo. All these events strongly affected the confreres in those countries as well as the Society as a whole.
May the souls of our deceased confreres through the mercy of God, rest in peace!