By Devin Watkins
Known as the White Fathers and Sisters, the Society of the Missionaries of Africa and the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa have spent the last 3 years preparing for the 150th anniversary of their foundation.
During an audience to mark the event on Friday, Pope Francis expressed his closeness to the entire spiritual family founded by Cardinal Charles Lavigerie in 1869, and thanked them for their service to the mission of the Church, which he said is “lived with passion and generosity”.
He said the roots of the White Fathers and Sisters are marked by a particular missionary spirit for the people of the African continent.
“But,” he said, “you know your proclamation of the Gospel is not a synonym of proselytism; it is a dynamic that brings you to be close to others to share the gift received”.
Pope Francis called it “an encounter of love that changed your life and led you to choose to consecrate your life to the Lord Jesus”.
So, he said, “I encourage you to keep your gaze fixed on Jesus Christ, so as never to forget that the true missionary is a disciple above all.”
‘Nomads for the Gospel’
The Holy Father invited the White Sisters and Fathers to become “nomads for the Gospel, men and women who are not afraid to go into the deserts of this world and to seek together the means to accompany our brothers and sisters to the oasis of the Lord”.
Finally, Pope Francis prayed that the Holy Spirit make them “bridge builders”, and thanked them for promoting dialogue with Islam.
“May you contribute to the culture of encounter,” said the Pope, “and be of service to a dialogue that respects differences and knows how to find the riches hidden in another’s diversity.”