The first novitiate of the Missionaries of Africa opened its doors in October 1868 in Algeria. In 2018, we will celebrate 150 years since we were founded: 1868-2018. We wish to make this celebration of our foundation an occasion to deepen our charism. The tone was already given in 2008 when we celebrated our 140th birthday. In its letter of the 21st February 2008 on vocation and missionary promotion and entitled “En route for the 150th Anniversary” (published in the Petit Echo 2008/04), the General Council of the time wrote, “This year the Society is celebrating its 140th anniversary. However, it is especially the 150th anniversary that urges us to redouble our efforts. We have 10 years to do so.” They go on to say that “we now must prepare the generation of the 150th anniversary.” These few words indicate the spirit in which we want to live this Jubilee. Initially only the Missionaries of Africa were involved. However, in the meantime, contact opened up with our sisters, the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa and so began a sort of pilgrimage. The two General Councils re-examined our common past and came to the conclusion that we are members of the same family and that we have a precious pearl in the charism of our founder. Six years after the letter of our General Council, more precisely on the 1st November 2014, a joint letter from the two Superiors General invited our two Institutes to a common celebration and preparation to commemorate and celebrate our common stories with gratitude to God. They wished this celebration of the 150th anniversary of our foundation to be a return to the source, to the vision of our founder in a creative faithfulness which would allow us to incarnate our common charism into the realities of the today’s world.
The countdown began two years ago with the beginning of three years of preparatory work. The first year covered the period from 30th April 2016 to 8th December 2016. The second year covers the period from 9th December 2016 to 8th December 2017 and the third year from the 9th December 2017 to 8th December 2018. The Jubilee Year will be from 9th December 2018 to 8th December 2019. This time of preparation is also marked by significant events which tell our story in the world. Last July, the Church in Zambia celebrated 125 years of our presence in that country. In October, it was the turn of India to celebrate 25 years of Missionary of Africa presence there. Soon, Ethiopia will celebrate 50 years since we arrived there at the request of Pope Paul VI to train priests of the Ethiopian Catholic Church in the Ge’ez rite in a country that has a big Orthodox majority.
1868 – 2018: 150 years of existence! 150 years of grace.
We would like to have a common celebration. Founded in 1868, we Missionaries of Africa will celebrate our Jubilee in 2018. The first novitiate of MSOLA opened on the 8th September 1869 which means that their Jubilee year will be in 2019. In a spirit of fraternity and collaboration, these two Jubilees will be joined together into one Jubilee year the opening of which will be in December 2018, the year of our Jubilee and the Jubilee year will close in December 2019, the year of the MSOLA Jubilee. We wanted to have this common celebration so as to remember that we are daughters and sons of the same father; Cardinal Lavigerie. In their letter of the 14th March 2016 on the occasion of the opening of the first preparatory year, the two Superiors General wrote, “We see this year as a year of gratitude for our common charism, this precious pearl, which we have received from Cardinal Lavigerie. It will be good for us to re-read the history of both institutes, in order to discover how true it is that we have the same vocation and the same mission.” The celebration of this Jubilee year is an opportunity for us to revisit our family ties, to appreciate and to build a greater unity between us, members of the same Institute, and between our two Institutes. As this first preparatory year providentially coincided with the Year of Mercy, it was decided to make it a year of reconciliation with our past and between ourselves.
We want to commemorate our charism in order to update it. For us this means returning to the source, to the original insights of our Founder and to remember them during this celebration of our 150 years of existence. Memory is resurrection because it makes the past immediately present to us. For us, remembering means faithfulness to our charism and our readiness to respond to the calls of history. Therefore, the theme of the second preparatory year invited us “to live our common charism together today with passion.” This theme challenged us to live our charism in a creative fidelity in the light of present day realities. This fidelity is always true to itself and yet always different because it is always open to the demands life presents to us. We want to live our fidelity to our Founder not by repeating it but by deepening it. According to a wise saying, fidelity to the master is not putting something in a museum, but to inflame in us a desire for action. The insightfulness of our Founder is very much relevant in the context of today’s world. We have seen how his anti-slavery campaign mobilized people against the phenomenon of modern slavery. So this Jubilee is an opportunity for us to ask ourselves today how we can transform the insights of our Founder into a powerful force in the face of new realities in Africa and in the World such as encounters with peoples of different cultures and faith, human trafficking, questions of justice, peace, and integrity of creation. We are coming to the end of this second preparatory year and it is quite legitimate to ask ourselves, as Missionaries of Africa and as a community, what prophetic act have we undertaken and what have we done in common with our sisters. A well known hymn (in French) which roughly translated says “I seek the face, the face of the Lord. You are the body of Christ; you are the love of Christ; you are the peace of Christ; you are the joy of Christ. So? … What have you done with him? “This could very well be the question that the generation of the 150th generation will ask us.
The celebration of a Jubilee is not simply a commemoration of the past no matter how heroic it was. Remembrance is reappropriation. It plunges us into reality and turns us resolutely towards the future with hope. Soon we will enter the third preparatory year which in its turn will open to us the doors of the Jubilee year and the doors of the future. 150 years of life is impossible for a human being, however for God it is only a beginning. It is He, whose strength is always new and creative, who will lead us in this adventure and who reminds us that our fidelity means never breaking with our roots and to continue to bear fruit.