7th reflection text taken from the documents of our two Societies.
“Fraternity and Fight Against Racism” (1985)
Missionaries by vocation, we married Africa and the East by taking our oath. Our own mission is to welcome, understand, respect and love Africans wherever they may be, and to share our convictions with others throughout our lives, “to the point of death,” our oath states. Apostolic action in international communities has already helped us to overcome narrow nationalism. Life in Africa has formed us in the esteem of what is foreign to our original culture. The entry of young Africans into our Missionary Society is in the same perspective. We must be consistent with our life-long commitment. We must go further, at least if we want to remain in the line drawn for us by our founder, Cardinal Lavigerie, who wrote from Algiers: “I am a bishop, that is to say a father, and although those for whom I plead here do not give me this title, I love them as my sons, and I seek to prove it to them, happy, if I cannot communicate my faith to them, at least to exercise charity towards these creatures of God. “We are his sons, responsible for his heritage, living witnesses of his fruitfulness. His action and his Instructions to the Missionaries show us the way forward.
Cardinal Lavigerie could not bear the injustice and suffering that so many Africans suffered in his time. After a period of charitable action (buying back slaves to free them), the Cardinal embarked on an international campaign that today could be described as a “struggle for human rights”. Among other things, he wrote to the Christians of Sicily: “In pleading the cause of so many unfortunate, I have in view only the salvation of their bodies and souls, that respect for justice, the laws of nature and the laws of God, according to which all men are equal, are free, are brothers, and must treat themselves as such, whatever their origin and colour. Have you, Catholics of Sicily, forgotten the rule of Christian solidarity? Do you no longer know that when one member suffers in the immense body of humanity, all the others owe it to him to sympathize?”
The Cardinal increased his interventions with the political authorities and pointed out to them that the measures they took “were insufficient because they reached only those who sold, and not those who bought”. He assures that he could give names and, comparing the sufferings of slaves to Christ’s passion, he continues: “There is nothing missing, neither Herod nor Pilates, nor Judas, nor the cruelty of floggings nor cowardly insults, nor the cross.” (…) Lavigerie has always had a great respect for African people, languages, cultures and traditions; his action was to restore their dignity to Africans. In this also he was the disciple of Christ who gave a place to the excluded of Jewish society of his time. Today, we are called to do the same, in another time and in the face of other tragedies. This is why: A missionary from Africa cannot be racist, whether in welcoming foreigners in community, in conversations or reactions in front of television, in the choice of newspapers or publications to which he subscribes or subscribes the community. A missionary from Africa must have a positive look at the men and women of the Third World, whether they are ‘there’ or ‘here’. He must be attentive to their sufferings, to their hunger for bread and friendship, to understand their aspirations to take control of their own destiny and the legitimate means they give themselves to achieve it.
(Letter from the Provincial Council of France to the French confreres, in Le Lien, May-June 1985)
Text prepared by Jean-Claude Ceillier
Published in the Mini-lien nr 475