Most provinces and sectors celebrated the opening of the Jubilee Year on December 8, 2018. But in Rome, we could not celebrate that day because the bishops of Algeria had decided to beatify the 19 martyrs of Algeria on that December 8. The superiors general of our two missionary institutes in Africa, White Fathers and White Sisters, had to be present in Oran (Algeria) that day, especially since four of our confreres were among the 19 blessed ones. The following week, it was the official opening of the Jubilee Year at the international level in Tunis, an opening wonderfully prepared by the Missionaries of Africa and the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa present in the Maghreb. There, once again, our superiors had to be present. We obviously could not celebrate in Rome without them. Thus the date of Saturday 26 January 2019 was set as the official opening date of the Jubilee Year. As a reminder, this Jubilee Year will end at the end of the year with an international celebration in Namugongo, Uganda.
It was therefore last Saturday, January 26, 2019, that we celebrated with the Church of Rome, but also with the many representatives of the male and female missionary institutes present in Rome. We wanted to celebrate the event in the Church of St. Louis of the French, which is located in the historic centre of Rome, a stone’s throw from the famous Piazza Navona. As its name suggests, this church is the place of worship of the French residing in Rome, but also of all the French who pass through Rome, on pilgrimage or simply as tourists. Besides, this church is also famous because it houses some paintings, and not the least, of Caravaggio, the famous 16th century Italian painter. But that is not the reason for our choice. In fact, our founder, Charles Martial Allemand Lavigerie, was ordained bishop in this church on March 22, 1863. The celebration of 150 years of existence was therefore the perfect opportunity to honour this place with our presence and leave a mark. Thus was born the idea of asking the rector of the church, Monsignor François Bousquet, for permission to place a souvenir plaque somewhere on the estate. Our request was accepted by the French Embassy, since this territory is, de facto, French territory, and a marble plaque was blessed on Saturday, which will be placed on one of the walls near the sacristy.
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, accepted our invitation to be the main celebrant of our celebration. In his high-level homily, in Italian (!!!), he gave a very detailed account of the work of Cardinal Lavigerie and the institutes he founded, for the development of the Church in Africa, but also for the dignity of African peoples, and then invited us to give thanks to God for the foundation of all these churches in Africa, as well as for the establishment of charitable and developmental works. He then commented on the “coincidence” of our anniversary with Pope Francis’ desire to renew the missionary impetus of the Church next October, on the occasion of the centenary of the promulgation of Pope Benedict XV’s Apostolic Letter Maximum Illid; he concluded by giving three recommendations: fraternity as a new frontier of Christianity, evangelization as a concrete experience of the encounter of peoples in search of meaning in listening and respect, the Church carrying signs of God’s blessing for all men and women beyond established ecclesial structures.
You will find here a more complete summary of his homily, as well as a link to the original in Italian.
The celebration began at 11 a.m. in a full church. We had widely invited the missionary congregations present in Rome, the educational institutions, the ambassadors of the African countries in which we are present, friends and acquaintances. The entrance procession, as you can see in the video clip below, was impressive. The white sisters in the lead were followed by the many concelebrant priests, more than eighty apparently. The Mass will be rather very Roman, even if the songs and dances of the choir and (especially) of our dear White Sisters will no doubt have invited some local Christians to discover another cultural facet of the universal Church.
As prayer intentions, we had planned to bring symbols in a dancing procession, presented and accompanied by prayers. This was probably one of the great moments of the celebration, apart from the sacramental encounter with Christ.
The Jubilee logo
“Give thanks to the Lord ... make known among the people’s his deeds.”
150 years ago, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, Cardinal Lavigerie founded the Missionaries of Africa and the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa in Algeria . Blessed are you, Lord, for the faith, love for Africa and zeal that animated our Founder, our first Superior General, Mother Mary Salome and ail our predecessors in this vocation . Send your blessing on our two missionary families and on all your children . Make us artisans of justice, peace and reconciliation.
“This is what pleas es me: unfasten the unjust chains, undo the bonds of the yoke, free all those who are oppressed and break ail slaveries .”
Cardinal Lavigerie fought slavery. Today, we are the witnesses of new forms of slavery, which imprisons our brothers and sisters: human trafficking, trafficking linked to immigration, unpaid work, all sorts of abuse . Let us pray for the victims, for their persecutors, that all may regain their human dignity and live as children of God. May the Spirit of Christ inspire us so that, wherever we are, we maybe a source of life to all.
“You are the light of the world and sait of the earth.”
150 years ago, our brothers and sisters, seized by the love of Christ, responded generously to the Lord’s call for the evangelization of Africa and the African world. Like this lighted candle, they agreed to melt away in order to light up, in one way or another, the faith, and life of their human brothers and sisters. Give us Lord today, the ability to discern the needs of our world and respond generously to them, bringing – like our elders – light, joy and hope to those who need it so much.
The Congregations’ tree
Cardinal Lavigerie told the first Missionaries “You are initiators; the lasting work will be done by the Africans themselves, who will, in turn, became apostles themselves”. These words have become a reality today. The sons and daughters of Africa proclaim the Good News more or less all over the world. This tree of African Congregations is a symbol of the support of our two Institutes, which accompanied them on their first steps. Lord, we thank you for your work in Africa and we ask you to pour out abundantly your graces on your Church in Africa so that she may be ever more faithful to you and continue to grow in your love.
“That al! may be one in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
With their many different colours, these flowers make a marvellous bouquet, in the image of our diversity in communities. It is a richness to be lived and shared in our multicultural societies, where differences can be a source of conflict and exclusion. Give us the grace, Lord, to witness ever more to your unconditional love for every human being.
A basket of fruit
“By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit …”
God full of love and goodness, we thank you for the gifts of your creation: for our Earth, its beauty, and richness, for the rich heritage we enjoy. We entrust to you those who make decisions about the earth’s resources, so that we canuse your gifts responsibly and become true guardians of your creation.
Bread and Wine
“And I consecrate myself for them, so that they may also may be consecrated in truth.”
With this bread and wine, we bring you, Lord, all the young people in formation in the universal Church. The Church still needs missionaries. We pray for these young men and women who will continue your mission of evangelization. May they be driven by a love for you and for humanity in order to pass on the values of the Gospel and to make you known where you are not yet known.
The chalices of Cardinal Lavigerie, Bishop Livinhac and Father Voillard
As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of our two Institutes, we also want to give thanks for those who have continued the work of the founder. Three of the chalices we use today are those of Cardinal Lavigerie and of two of his successors who continued and strengthened bis missionary charism in Africa, Bishop Leon Livinhac and Father Paul Voillard. One of the altar cloth has been embroidered by Maghrebian women trained by our first sisters. They are used today for this thanksgiving.
The celebration then took place as planned by the liturgy. Eucharistic prayer number 3. Before the final blessing, Cardinal Filoni went down to the memorial plaque to bless it.
Philippe Docq, M.Afr.