The process is over! The Sectors, the Provinces, the Financial Council, the General Council… have all examined it attentively, with imagination, generosity and restraint and ended up approving it. Will 2018, the Jubilee Year for our Society, be a jubilee year for balanced budgets as our treasurers are confidently asking us to do?
There are no photo calls! There are only two ways to balance a budget; limit the expenses and consolidate incomes. How can this happen? Remember it is not a treasurer who writes, only someone who loves the Society and its Mission and wants to see it endure for a long time so that future generations will celebrate the 200th Anniversary of our foundation in a good financial state.
Here I am risking bringing down the wrath of my confreres on my head. Well never mind, I will be frank. Have you ever done an account of your monthly and annual personal expenses with the aim of finding out exactly how you used your allowance (or Mass stipends)? For many years now, I have done this with the idea of helping our candidates at Abidjan and at the Spiritual Year of Samagan to deepen their understanding of what our famous simple style of life is all about. I am sorry to have to tell you this…generally speaking, taking into account what I need for toiletries, telephone ( I am not as gifted as our candidates at finding out the cheapest networks) drinks, public transport, clothes (hand-me-downs), post, books and other little items…that I only use half of my allowances over the year. However, holidays at home cost me more as I normally hire a car to move freely around the vast expanse of Belgium. It is also true that I did not need to buy a computer before I returned home in July 2017 and neither have I had to help my family. So where does the rest of my allowance go? Certainly, I help needy people or I help the community in an indirect way by paying for things that I could legitimately claim from the bursar or directly by paying for community expenses that were budgeted or not budgeted by the community.
Am I exceptional? Certainly not. I know my confreres – from totally different continents and ages– who generously share a good part of their allowance with needy people. I have seen candidates leave Initial Formation with a windfall having lived abstemiously and saving for the rainy day when they will incur big expenses or thinking of helping a younger sibling finish their studies. But if one is able to save money and help deserving needy members of one’s family, why not also help the Society, which I consider my first family since I took my Oath? It needs the help just as much. It cannot give us more than it receives despite the goodwill and the proficiency of our Treasurers. Is this not what a simple lifestyle means?
Unfortunately, I have heard the expression too often, “I have a right”! Personally, I have always said that any allocation is not a right but a help from the Society for my personal upkeep (C&L 102). I ask for it when I need it and anything left over I return in one way or another. Allowances form a big part of the budget of the Society. If we could limit ourselves to our real needs that would help the Society to balance its budget.
Expenses could also be reduced by acting more honestly. I admired the candidate who showed me a receipt for fuel at a petrol station. The attendant had written 30,000CFA but he told me that he had only put 20,000CFA worth of petrol into the car. This honesty is to be applauded. On the other hand, I remember a confrere who was invited by his Provincial to a meeting. He went by bus but he got a lift from another confrere for the return journey. When the time came to reimburse him for the cost of the trip, he demanded to be paid in full for the return journey. Had he the right or not? I can only dream. We are certainly not members of the same Society.
There are many ways of limiting our expenses, with honesty, with a real desire to live simply in communion with the people among whom we live, in communion with our employees who often receive a wage that is less than our daily allowance and who have a family to support. The money the Society entrusts to me even my allowance is sacred. I ought to use it wisely and give a detailed account of how I used it. What I do not spend today could help an important project of the Society tomorrow.
To begin with, let us respect our Constitutions. Nobody has the right to interpret them individually because they are the same for us all. Article 87.2, states, “The missionary renounces, in favour of the common task, all that he may acquire by his work.” That means everything, salary, Mass offerings (if the confrere received allowances or Mass stipends from the Society), collections (when they do not go to the parish) daily allowances or little envelopes received after giving a retreat, recollection or a session…everything. Not to do so is to give a lie to the Oath. There should be no argument about this which is essentially about keeping money that does not belong to me. If a part of my salary can be kept to cover legitimate expenses, this should be done in dialogue with the Provincial and the Provincial Treasurer and why not with the Provincial or Financial Council.
What about health? Of course! Health expenses are normally covered by the Society which tries to provide us with the best possible health care. However, repayments by EMI or other insurances companies depend on us. So we have to fill in the forms correctly, follow meticulously the recommendations that are given to us; all this helps in no little way to balance the budget. Taking inspiration from J.F. Kennedy, “Do not ask what the Society can do for you, but ask yourself what you can do for the Society, your family.” When I have to travel, buy something for the Society, do any task, get treatment, should I not ask myself, “And if I had to pay, would I do it the same way? ”
I recently read in “Le Monde diplomatique” (November 2017, N°764 – Pages 4 and 5) a very interesting article entitled, “A meeting with the pioneers of African capitalism” by Olivier Piot. In 2016, there were 140,000 millionaires in Africa (2,300 in Côte d’Ivoire, 2,700 in Ethiopia) and between 25 and 50 billionaires in Africa in 2017 (8 in South Africa, 7 in Egypt, 3 in Nigeria, 3 in Morocco, 1 in Algeria, 1 in Angola and 1 in Tanzania). However, what the author of the article wanted to emphasise was that 22 of the 40 biggest fortunes in Africa have been involved in charitable works amounting to 7 billion dollars in 2014. For example, a South African, Patrice Motsepe, gave half of his wealth to his foundation (http://motsepefoundation.org). This foundation, which includes many members of the Catholic clergy on its board of directors, aims to lead and support projects for the most needy.
The Society has always been supported by benefactors. The Cardinal knew what it was to beg and from the very beginning of our Society, the function of procurator was created. These confreres did a lot for the mission in Africa. The level of poverty in Africa is still very high (however, in France in 2014, 14% of the population lived below the poverty level). However, there is also in Africa people of means. The time has passed when we could say that we cannot ask for anything from the “poor Africans.” Our African brothers and sisters also have their pride, among others that of being able to help the mission to develop. Would it be possible, at Provincial level, to look for the means there where they are, in the pockets of those who are better off? I am certain that there are confreres who would be very good at this kind of work which could yield a good return to the common purse of the Society.
We all have benefactors who are personal to us. They help us because they are friends, from our family but maybe just because we are missionaries. I owe them a lot. It was thanks to them that I was able to get around the parish for pastoral work because at the time the Province gave nothing and the Diocese had barely enough to make ends meet. What is the intention of our benefactors when they give us a gift? The Constitutions and Laws state, “With regard to gifts, donations or legacies, the intentions of the donor must be respected” (C&L 103). What follows in the same article is also important, “When gifts are made by relatives, there is a presumption that the donor intended to benefit the missionary personally.” It says relatives, not friends, neighbours, or parishioners. Also, “to benefit the missionary” does not mean using the gift in any old way. Would I have received these gifts if I was not a missionary? These benefactors, even from my family, do they not wish to help me be a competent missionary (Cf. Ongoing Formation) in good physical and mental health, generous and, why not, supportive of my brothers in the Society which might help them make fewer demands for allowances or help coming from the Society?
Then there is article 101 of our Constitutions and Laws which says, “Even the use of personal property, whether for the apostolate or for community life, must be arranged in dialogue…” It is not because I have money that I can do what I like with it, even for pastoral work, even for building a chapel because of the risk that the other members of the community might be classified as being less generous because they do not have the same benefactors. At Temnaore, where I served for three years, we put all the gifts we received from our families and benefactors into a community fund. The Christian population were regularly asked to pray for all of them however without letting them know which confrere’s benefactors had supplied the funds. It was a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand was receiving (or giving).
In conclusion, I would like to share the major developments – ex post facto discoveries – that accompany my way of living the simple lifestyle of the Society: honesty, transparency, confidence in the future, detachment (even when robbers come calling at the door), solidarity with the needy, with the confreres and with the Society presently and in the future and a… certain dependence. I need others, for knowledge, guidance, prayer, forgiveness, material help, in communion with those who cannot get by on their own. In all this, I come close to Jesus, if that is possible, who made himself poor in order to enrich us in his poverty.
I did not write all this to look good. I have no glory to gain from it. No, I wrote it because I love the Society which I hope will live for a long time yet, that it will fulfil its mission, joyously and freely and that together from top to bottom we will be able to celebrate the 200th birthday of our foundation…by balancing our budget!
Georges JACQUES, M.Afr.
Vice-Provincial Europe (PEP)