Pope Francis on February 8, 2019 received in audience — in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Vatican Palace — the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) and the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa (White Sisters), on the occasion of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the Society of the Missionaries of Africa and of the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Africa.
Here is a translation of the Pope’s address to those present at the meeting.
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The Holy Father’s Address
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I receive you joyfully on the occasion of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the Society of Missionaries of Africa and of the Congregation of Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa. I thank you Superiors General for the words they addressed to me, and I wish to express my warm greeting and my spiritual closeness to you and, through you, to all the members of your Institutes present in Africa and in other areas of the world. Thank you for the service to the Church’s mission lived with passion and generosity, in fidelity to the evangelical institutions of your common Founder, Cardinal Lavigerie.
You prepared to celebrate this Jubilee, in the course of the last three years. As members of the great “Lavigerie Family,” you returned to your roots, looked at your history with gratitude, to be able to live your present commitment with renewed passion for the Gospel and to be sowers of hope. Together with you, I thank God — not only for the gifts He has given the Church through your Institutes –, but also and above all for the fidelity of His love, which you celebrate in this Jubilee. May this Jubilee Year reinforce in you the certainty that “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9). Therefore, may your consecration, your ministry be able to manifest concretely — in your fraternal life and in your various commitments –, the faithfulness of God’s love and His closeness, to sow hope in the hearts of all those who are wounded, tired, discouraged, and, so often, feel abandoned.
Dear friends, you know it. When Monsignor Lavigerie, then Archbishop of Algeria, was guided by the Spirit to found the Society of Missionaries of Africa, and then the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters, he had in his heart a passion for the Gospel and the desire to proclaim it to all, making himself “all things to all men” (Cf. 1 Corinthians 9:22). For this reason, your roots are marked by the mission ad extra: it’s in your DNA. So, in the footprints of your Founder, your first concern, your holy anxiety is “that so many of our brothers live without the strength, the light and the consolation of friendship with Jesus Christ; without a community of faith that receives them, without a horizon of meaning and life” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 49). However, in the light of the path travelled, since your foundation, you know that the proclamation of the Gospel isn’t synonymous with proselytism; it is that dynamic that leads to making oneself close to others to share the gift received, the encounter of love that has changed your life and has led you to choose to consecrate your life to the Lord Jesus., Gospel for the life and for the salvation of the world. It’s always for Him, with Him and in Him that the mission is lived. Therefore, I encourage you to keep your gaze fixed on Jesus Christ, not ever to forget that the true missionary is, first of all, a disciple. Take care to cultivate the particular bond that unites you to the Lord, through listening to His Word, the celebration of the Sacraments, and the service to brothers, so that your gestures manifest His presence, His merciful love, His compassion for those to which the Spirit sends you and leads you. So, may the celebration of your Jubilee help you to become “nomads for the Gospel,” men and women who aren’t afraid of going to the deserts of this world and to seek together the means to accompany brothers to the oasis that is the Lord, so that the living water of his love slakes their every thirst.
I hope that this Jubilee Year will also contribute to developing fraternal bonds among you because the proclamation of the Gospel cannot be lived except thanks to a genuine missionary communion. With the strength of the Holy Spirit, be witnesses of the hope that doesn’t disappoint (Cf. Romans 5:5), despite the difficulties. In fidelity to your roots do not be afraid to risk yourselves on the roads of the mission, to witness that “God is always novel, that He drives us continually to set out again and to change our place to go beyond what we know to the peripheries and borders” (Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, 135). May the Spirit make you builders of bridges between men, there, where the Lord has sent you, may you be able to contribute to making the culture of encounter grow, to be at the service of a dialogue that, in respect of the differences, is able to draw richness from others’ diversity.
And I thank you, in particular, for the work you have already done, to foster dialogue with Islam, with Muslim sisters and brothers. With the style and simplicity of your way of living, you also manifest the need to take care of our common home, the earth.
Finally, in the wake of Cardinal Lavigerie, you are called to sow hope, fighting against all of today’s forms of slavery, making yourselves close to the little ones and to the poor, to all those that wait, in the peripheries of our societies, to be recognized in their dignity, to be received, protected, raised, accompanied, promoted and integrated.
With this hope, I entrust you to the Lord, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Africa. I impart the Apostolic Blessing to you and to all the members of your communities, and I invoke God’s blessing on those with whom you share life, there, where the Lord has sent you.
And, please, don’t forget to pray for me. Thank you.
© Libreria Editrice Vatican[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]