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Some of today's Missionaries of Africa  (photo courtesy of Missionaries of Africa) Some of today's Missionaries of Africa (photo courtesy of Missionaries of Africa) 

'White Fathers' set to celebrate 150th anniversary

From the 8th December 2018 to 8th December 2019, Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, Queen of Africa, the two Missionary Institutes of the Society of the Missionaries of Africa (M.Afr) popularly known as the ‘White Fathers’ and the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa sometimes referred to as the ‘White Sisters’ are set to commemorate the 150th anniversary their foundation by Cardinal Lavigerie.

Paul Samasumo – Vatican City

It is almost unthinkable to talk about the evangelisation of Africa without mentioning the White Fathers and for that matter, the White Sisters.

The Superiors General, Sr. Carmen Sammut, MSOLA and Fr. Stanley Lubungo, M.Afr, have jointly spoken about their great joy at the pending year-long celebrations.

Three years of preparation

“As the commemoration of the 125th anniversary of the campaign against slavery led by our Founder in 1888 had already brought us together, the preparation of the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of our foundation brought us even closer. Following the invitation of Pope Francis expressed in his Apostolic Letter to Consecrated Men and Women in December 2014, our two Institutes have engaged, since 2016, in a three-year preparation for the Jubilee, beginning by taking the time to look at our past with gratitude. In many of our communities, this period was also an opportunity to embark on the path of reconciliation by acknowledging the mistakes which had sometimes divided members of our two Institutes in the past. This led us, in the second preparatory year, to accept the invitation to live the present with passion, before daring, in the third year that is still in progress, to look to the future with hope,” the two Superiors write in a special joint publication of Petit Echo.

White Fathers, the Gandoura and Evangelisation

The two Missionary Institutes were founded in Algeria, in 1868 by Cardinal Charles Lavigerie, then Archbishop of Algiers. The new missionary society took the Arab dress known as “Gandoura” together with the Christian religious symbol of the Rosary worn like a necklace. It was the Gandoura which earned them the name “White Fathers”. One year later, in 1869, Cardinal Lavigerie also founded the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa (MSOLA).

As the White Fathers became better known, there were numerous requests upon them to send more missionaries to various African countries. The General house in Rome did its best to respond to all the requests resulting in an unprecedented dedication to Africa’s evangelisation.

“The inauguration of the Jubilee Year comes in 2018 because 150 years ago, on the 18 October 1868 to be precise, the first novitiate of the Missionaries of Africa opened its doors at Rostan House in Ben-Aknoun on the heights of El Biar in Algeria,” Sr Sammut and Fr. Stanley Lubungo said.

Beatification of the Martyrs of Algeria

According to the two leaders, the year 2018 will be remembered for many other happy coincidences including the beatification of the 19 Martyrs of Algeria, among whom are four members of the Lavigerie family.

On this day, 8 December 2018, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints will preside over the Beatification ceremony of Bishop Pierre Claverie and his 18 companions, martyred between 1894 and 1896. The beatification will take place at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Holy Cross in Oran, Algeria.

A Jubilee Year of Grace

“It is wonderful to note that the commemoration of our Jubilee Year opens with the beatification of our brothers, in the country of our foundation on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is also the feast of our two Institutes and the long-established date for the inauguration of the Jubilee year. We could not have expected better. In addition to that, the Algerian government has agreed to grant a special visa for the beatification. Our wish for all is that the upcoming Jubilee Year comes with the abundant graces we need to faithfully fulfil the mission entrusted to us,” Sr Sammut and Fr. Stanley Lubungo emphasised.   

24 November 2018, 15:11