ROME, JUNE 4, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The Missionaries of Africa, better known as the “White Fathers,” elected their first African superior general, Father Richard Baawobr, 51, native of Ghana.
The priest, who was elected Monday in Rome, replaces French Father Gerard Chabanon. Father Baawobr served for a time as Father Chabanon’s first general assistant, and is familiar with the challenges involved in his new mission.
Father Baawobr is the 14th superior general after the founder, Cardinal Charles Lavigerie, who started the society of apostolic life in Algieria in 1868, in the heart of the Muslim Maghreb.
Richard Baawobr was born in Namdom-Lawra, Ghana, on June 21, 1959. He entered the Missionaries of Africa, doing his novitiate in Fribourg, Switzerland, from l981-1982.
He took his “missionary oath” (the White Fathers do not take religious vows, as they are a society of priests) on Dec. 5, 1986, and was ordained a priest in Ko, Ghana, on July 18, 1987.
Father Baawobr’s first post in Africa was Livulu, in the Diocese of Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he stayed for four years.
He then went to Rome for four years to study the sacred Scriptures, and later to Lyons, France, for Ignatian spiritual formation. He participated in two of the society’s chapters before being elected superior general.
There are some 1,500 Missionaries of Africa worldwide from five continents. 360 young men are currently preparing to be missionaries in different houses of formation. The White Fathers are especially active in Lebanon, Jerusalem, Algeria, Tunisia, Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Sudan, Kenya and Tanzania.
The Missionaries of Africa are known as “White Fathers” because of their habit, which consists of a long white woolen tunic, the slightly modified typical Arab attire.
The Arab attire was a sign of the missionaries’ willingness to adapt to the usage and customs of the local villages, a key characteristic of the institute.
The objectives of this society of apostolic life are to offer Christian witness in Muslim villages, to proclaim the Gospel in Africa, and to promote Christian unity in the Middle East.