VATICAN CITY, AUG. 22, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The Missionaries of Africa, also known as the White Fathers, have elected a new superior general, Father Gérard Chabanon of France.
Father Chabanon, 56, was elected to a six-year term in early June, succeeding Father François Richard.
Founded in Algeria in 1868 by Monsignor Charles Lavigerie, the society of apostolic life has 1,700 members and works under the direction of bishops in 22 countries in Africa and in 18 countries in Europe, America and Asia.
Here is an interview with the newly elected superior general.
Q: Based on your knowledge and experience, what can be said about this great continent of Africa and its peoples?
Father Chabanon: I know Mali somewhat, where I worked abroad as a volunteer of the national service. At that time, I was still an adolescent. I met sound young people who were willing to learn. Then, after my ordination, I was sent to Tanzania, where I stayed for 20 years.
When I became regional superior of Tanzania I had the opportunity to visit the neighboring countries: Zambia, Uganda and Kenya. More recently, I had a meeting in Bukavu, in Congo. Two years ago, I attended the plenary council in Bobo-Dioulasso, in Burkina Faso, as provincial superior of France.
Q: What do you know about the brothers, the structures, and the functioning of the Missionaries of Africa?
Father Chabanon: I know above all the situation of the brothers who have worked in East Africa and are now living in Europe. As regional and provincial superior, I learned about the functioning of the missionaries through congresses, meetings and several council meetings.
For a year and a half I lived in Totteridge, near London. While there, I learned about the structures of formation that enabled me to understand the different phases of the initial formation.
Q: You come from Vals, where there is a seminary of the Missionaries of Africa. Did your early contact with the society influence your vocation?
Father Chabanon: Undoubtedly, as I felt the call to work as a missionary. I knew the Jesuits who were in Vals before the White Fathers. Then the missionaries arrived and I felt the need to respond to the call to Africa, by joining the Society of Missionaries of Africa.
Q: In the course of your missionary life, is there a passage of the Gospel that particularly inspired you?
Father Chabanon: The passage of the Gospel that has inspired me most in the last few years is the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. Everything seemed to work to separate these two personages; yet, despite their differences, during their conversation their meeting proved authentic.
What I find fascinating in the passage is the fact that Jesus helped the woman to go beyond her instilled convictions. Without moralizing, he helped her overcome an evidently unacceptable style of life and led her to a life-giving message.
Q: You have taken part in two general chapters. What is your impression of this last one?
Father Chabanon: I think that this chapter, in virtue of its composition, especially the substantial group of youths that took part in it, is coming closer to the Gospel values.
The second important thing was the use of so-called perspective programming. The latter helps us to progress in a slow but steady way on solid ground, allowing us to establish the priorities that our congregation can manage in terms of human and financial resources.
[Translation by ZENIT]