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!” 

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