After a more or less long absence from the area of promoting missions and missionary vocations, the Holy Spirit, the engine par excellence of the mission, is blowing through the French Sector. Since April 2016, we have restarted our missionary promotion and vocational work, which is one of the principal activities of our Society of the Missionaries of Africa.
The Missionary of Africa engaged in promoting the missions and missionary vocations could be described as a missionary without a fixed abode, an itinerant White Father or a Missionary of Africa embarking on a Tour de France. One fact is indisputable, when Jesus said to Peter, “do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching men” (Lk 5, 10); he revealed that a disciple is one who follows his master by taking the same route. Jesus told his followers, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Lk 9, 58). This declaration of Jesus reveals the roaming nature of discipleship intent on proclaiming the Good News. It demands that the Gospel worker accepts mobility as part of the mission received from the Lord of the Harvest. By basing ourselves on this declaration of Jesus, we can confirm that promoting missions and missionary vocations is demanding. The promoter is at the service of the people he sets out to meet. He does not do it for his own enjoyment or as a tourist. He tries to carry out this task to the best of his ability even if it makes of him ‘a man of the road.’
There are two sections to promoting missions and missionary vocations. On the one hand, it means making the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) known by presenting their charism, their mission, their style of life to society in general, this is missionary promotion. On the other hand, it involves stimulating, initiating, and raising awareness of God’s unceasing call to a priestly, religious and missionary vocation among the young and not so young. This was done in the past; it is still possible today and will continue to be possible in the future. This is the missionary vocation part of the work. All these activities require a sense of responsibility and the necessity that it be done with great care and attention. In taking on this work, the mission promoter follows and is attentive to the call of the Lord of the Harvest, Jesus Christ himself. He puts on his identity as a White Father and makes them known by visiting the places fixed on his programme. However, he does need a place to call home and this place for me is our community at rue Friant in Paris.
As the song says, “Workers for peace, the harvest awaits you: to reconcile the world, bring only love. To those who welcome you, and to those who reject you, announce the news: The Kingdom of God is close to you” God is calling, he has called in the past, and he will call in the future. The field of the harvest is vast and requires workers who, following Christ, announce the Gospel to the world and his presence to the believing communities. We, White Fathers firmly believe that the vocation, which the Cardinal received in the 1880s, is still valid for us today and that there is still a need for evangelisation.
The work of promoting mission and vocation awareness stems from the conviction that God calls and will continue to call and from the conviction that all baptised people recognise the reality and actuality of their Christianity spirituality, and its fruitfulness. As St. John says, “I came so that they may have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10, 10). The restart of missionary promotion and vocation work takes into account the circumstances of the Christian faith which prevail in the country and which demands a committed response. The present situation of Christianity in France cannot leave us indifferent. It should push us to become more engaged in the local church. It means foreseeing together, how to re-evangelise and to promote missionary vocations. We can say without any ambiguity that the Gospel message still has some impact on the life of men and women in this country. We, the Missionaries of Africa, have something to bring to the local Church in France. We have some experience in the work of evangelisation and dialogue. Stimulated by the Holy Spirit, we can begin the task of re-evangelisation and to reignite the flame of missionary commitment in young people. The inescapable reality of globalisation and human migration is an opportunity for getting involved. It reinforces our raison d’être and boosts our missionary and vocation promotion commitments in parishes and elsewhere.
The Pauline motto, “All to all” is a particular mark that the White Fathers have inherited from Cardinal Lavigerie. It makes us wanderers for Christ with other men and women. These men and women are looking for some meaning maybe because of a death, from failures, or from worries. They seek meaning through their strength, their wealth, and their pride. They seek meaning through their dreams or reminiscences, but above all, they do not abandon their search. We are these people. We are there in the middle of them. We are with them in order to proclaim something that is gifted to us and which is God given. The White Fathers are anxious to join the local church to help these men and women in their search. We are restarting our missionary and vocational promotion work and taking up responsibility for a parish in Toulouse to add to the parish we already care for in Marseille. Neither should we forget the different pastoral commitments of our various communities. We know that men and women are waiting for a word, a gesture, for the liberation the Gospel lets us hope for. This search for meaning is not only spiritual but also vocational. We are aware that a flicker of vocation still burns in the hearts of young and not so young people. Our aim is to go out, meet them, and encourage them. As White Fathers, we will also propose to them our way of living community and missionary life.
Confident and conscious of the fact that every vocation comes from God, we have started with humility but with courage and self-sacrifice. A missionary and apostolic spirit attracts men and women. They do not hesitate to take on the challenge of a missionary adventure in the mission fields ripe for the harvest. They recognise that this resolve can be blown this way and that by the various winds of conflict, divisions, hate and errors. In fact, if one dares to enter into contact with another, one takes a gamble on openness, fraternity and adventure. The adoration of God involves service, commitment and praise.
Promoting mission and missionary vocations is a fishing expedition not of fish but of men and women. Every Missionary of Africa is involved no matter where he may be and whatever his physical condition. It does not demand a lot of extraordinary energy but does necessitate a humble and maybe vulnerable presence whatever that may be. It is a community and collegial responsibility. Each member of the Society of the Missionaries of Africa is called to bring to it the best of himself, taking into account his state of health. This service of promoting the missions and missionary vocations are the lungs of the Society. Each one of us is called to be the grain of salt that gives a flavour to mission. We can be a beacon that lights up the way for those who search, knock, and ask (cf. Mt 5, 13-16).
Promoting the missions and missionary vocations needs many special attributes such as patience, hope, a positive outlook, optimism, and courage especially when the ground seems to be sterile. We should also add discernment and an unfailing trust in God, the source of all vocations. When all are mixed together, it should mean that promoting the missions and missionary vocations will bear fruit a hundredfold.
Père Norbert MWISHABONGO MUKWANGA
Responsable de l’AMV en France.