Like all the provinces of the Society, Rome celebrated its main event at the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the Lavigerie Family, namely the White Fathers, Missionaries of Africa, founded in 1868, and the White Sisters, Missionaries of Our Lady of Africa in 1869.
The Symposium had long been planned to be in line with the International Conference of Major Superiors (UISG) in order to encourage the participation of the Superiors General of the 21 African women’s congregations often founded by a White Father confrere (bishop) but especially “accompanied” by the White Sisters.
The success of this symposium would not have been as spectacular without their extremely energizing presence; if the preparation of the 150th anniversary celebrations of our foundations brought our two congregations/society closer together, this symposium confirmed their complementarity, already present in the vision of evangelization of sub-Saharan Africa of our founder Cardinal Charles Martial Lavigerie: Africa will not be evangelized without the presence of women apostles who will accompany African women and families to know, love and follow Jesus.
The main purpose of this symposium was to raise the visibility of the Lavigerie family in the maze of congregations present in Rome. The invited audience was essentially composed of men and women religious present in Rome, who regularly rub shoulders with us, without necessarily knowing us in our specific charism. The theme was: “The significance of 150 years of Mission in Africa for the Universal Mission of the Church”. While the date chosen favoured the participation of African women’s congregations, it was less favourable to the presence of many members of general councils visiting their congregations at this time of the year. The 210-seat auditorium at Urbaniana University, which we had rented for the occasion, was nevertheless almost full.
The conference began with the intervention of the two main speakers. Our confrere, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, spoke non-exhaustively about the “Contribution of our two institutes to the missionary work of the Universal Church”, noting in his conclusion that, from the very beginning of our foundations, the encounter – initially with Islam, then with all Africans and all religious realities – has always been essential in our charism, as well as the struggle for Justice and Peace for and with the people in whose service we work. You will find the link to the text of his speech at the bottom of this page.
Sister Carmen Sammut, Superior General of the White Sisters, presented the essential characteristics that make the White Sisters Missionaries especially to women and for Africa, initiators who will allow the Africans themselves to continue the work of evangelization in Africa. She then drew the portrait of 7 women, missionaries of Our Lady of Africa, all models of women missionaries in the service of the universal Church. The link to the text of his speech is at the bottom of the page.
After a 30-minute break, three speakers took part in a roundtable discussion with public interaction after the presentations. Through the account of some recent encounters with very simple people in his diocese, Bishop Richard Baawobr, M.Afr., spoke of the urgency of sharing the person, the lifestyle and the message of Jesus in the human encounter. It is in the Word of God, shared within human-sized Christian communities, that our efforts to evangelize are rooted. The link to the text of Bishop Richard’s speech is available at the bottom of this page.
In a very theological intervention, Don Antoine de Padou Pooda, a priest from the diocese of Gadoua, Burkina Faso, teaching missiology at the Urbaniana and declaring himself heir to the White Fathers, then spoke to us about the heritage and spiritual fruitfulness of the “Lavigerie Family” in Africa. The link to the text of Don Antoine de Padou’s speech is available at the bottom of this page.
Sister Lea Belemsaga, Superior General of the Sisters of the Annunciation of Bobo Dioulasso, concluded the Round Table presentations by presenting a Power Point on three of the 21 congregations founded and/or accompanied by the Lavigerie Family. Sister Lea’s Power Point can be downloaded here and the link to the Power Point text (in 3 languages) is available at the bottom of this page.
The Symposium participants then gathered to share, in a spirit of conviviality, the evening meal around an excellent buffet before returning to the audience for the last part of the Symposium, a concert given by a Togolese artist who came with his family from Milan, in northern Italy. At the bottom of this page, you can enjoy a compilation of this concert.