The Stakes of a General Chapter
Baobab nr 38 of september 2021 - Editorial
Soon the pre-capitular assembly of our 29th General Chapter will meet in Bobo-Dioulasso. This is an important time in the life of our Society and in particular of our PAO Province. We will have to respond to the questionnaire sent by the General Council and which will be dealt with during this Assembly. Let us return to the importance of a General Chapter.
Whether we are talking about monastic orders, apostolic congregations, or Societies of Apostolic Life such as ours, the importance of a General Chapter is not limited to the following Apostolic Life, such as ours, the supreme authority is always represented by the General Chapter (from the Latin capitulum, referring to the chapters of the Rule that were read out daily in the abbeys). This chapter brings together, at regular intervals – for us every six years – delegates from all the provinces. These ‘capitulants’ can be members by right (the Superior General and his council, the provincials) or elected members (in proportion to the importance of each province).
The 2016 General Chapter in Rome
For us the proportion of elected members is 60% of the total number of capitulants. The General Chapter is usually held in the premises of the “Generalate”, for us in Rome. A congregation may change its venue for each chapter. This is the case of the Spiritans: after Ireland and Portugal, they held their 2012 General Chapter in Tanzania, in the town of Bagamoyo, where the Spiritans established their first mission on the east coast of Africa in 1868. For us, Missionaries of Africa, it was on 11 October 1874, in Algiers, that we held the first General Chapter of the Society. There were then 17 participants and it lasted a total of 14 days. In fact, the first eight chapters of the Society had in common that they were very short and entirely under the direct responsibility of the Founder himself.
150 years later… we can ask ourselves what is at stake in a General Chapter for our Society today? Like a pause in the life of our Institute, a General Chapter is an opportunity both to remember what has been experienced since the previous Chapter and to look ahead to the next Chapter. This is done in order to “constantly update the charism of the congregation”. In fact, the initial charism received by our founder, and then assumed by the first generations, needs to be reinterpreted according to the new needs of the Church and of society.
Thus, at the opening of the 1967 General Chapter of Aggiornamento, the holy Pope Paul VI exhorted us in the following way: … “May Our Lady of Africa, and the holy martyrs of Uganda, whose recent canonisation you have mentioned, intercede for you, and may they help you in your hard work in the African continent! Certainly, difficulties, misunderstandings and failures will never be lacking on a path marked, from the beginning, with the sign of the cross…
… But the apostle knows that the risen Christ, ‘Light of the Nations’, calls all peoples to blossom into fullness… to participate as sons in the life of the living God, Father of all men. (Populorum Progressio, no. 21), and he is proud and happy to contribute his stone to the construction of this great edifice.
Dear confreres, let us prepare our next General Chapter with great hope and pray that we all take this important time of our Institute seriously. Let us pray for the success of our pre-capitular Assembly and good luck for the Chapter 2022.
Fathers Luc Kola and Delphin M Nyembo