The presentation and acceptance of the Project

ofmIn the official presentation of the “Africa Project” to the Order, Br. John Vaughn recalled that the initiative was the fruit of consultations on various levels and that it is inserted into the context of the celebrations of the birth of St. Francis. Having recalled the history of the presence of the Order in Africa, the Minister indicated the “principal characteristics of the new Africa Project” in the following points:

 

  • The inter-provincial nature, which corresponds “better to the new demands” of mission and to the challenge of tribalism.
  • Franciscan offer: “the missionary Friar will be first and foremost a guest and disciple of the local Church, but will not arrive empty-handed: his gift to the local Church is Franciscan spirituality, which is alive in the universal Church”.
  • The African response “to our offer of spirituality” in the sense of a reciprocity and enrichment of the Franciscan charism through African values.
  • Primacy of the Fraternity over work: “the first objective is the realisation of these values of fraternity in our style of life”.
  • New juridical structures, “very simple and flexible”.
  • Suitable preparation, to be “taken very seriously”.
  • A Franciscan approach, making the whole Franciscan Family increase also.

Within these characteristic points there was clearly a choice of orientation and method, in which greater importance was given to the “implantatio Ordinis” and to inculturation of the Franciscan charism. One day, “the African Franciscans will be the missionaries of their own continent”, and therefore the entire Order will be enriched by the mutual exchange of culture and African experience.

The letter also indicated the invitations which the General Curia had received from the Bishops of Freetown (Sierra Leone), Ibadan, Kaduna and Jos (Nigeria), and the existing concrete possibilities in East Africa (Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda, Kenya), in South Africa and Zimbabwe, and in French-speaking West Africa.

Despite the implicit difficulties in the Project, but which could be overcome especially on the basis of the new ecclesiology of communion and of a new vision of mission, an “order of march” in two successive stages was established:

Pentecost 1982: the collection of the names of the Friars who wished to participate in the Project; August 1982: informing the available Friars about the mission of destination and about a time of preparation before departure.

The Minister concluded the letter by hoping that “our Africa Project could be a project of peace”. Br. Moons and Br. Brady returned to Africa, where they visited Tanzania and Burundi, and found a good reception on the part of the Bishops and various possibilities for establishing the Order.

The first reactions of the Friars to the announcement of the Africa Project also began to arrive. From Togo, Br. Matthieu  Beraud summarised for the General Definitory the positive reactions of the Friars in West Africa, gathered in a Chapter of Mats in Dapaong, who applauded the initiative, rejoicing at seeing the Order open up to Africa in a new way.

A little later, the German Conference sent its agreement to the Project, admiring the courage of the Order and favouring the inter-provincial structure as well as offering the services of some Friars from their region.

In November, the General Definitory decided to gather all the Friar volunteers in the General Curia for the month of January 1983. In December, Fraternitas wrote: following the letter announcing the Africa Project, “31 Friars from 11 countries, spontaneously offered themselves to participate in the first stage of the project; others are impatient to offer themselves in the future. Other Friars, more than thirty, coming from many Provinces, offered their services in supporting the project in their own regions”.

The report on the preparation of the new missionaries said: “For five weeks during January and February 1983, the General Curia was very animated as a seminar for the Africa Project was being held. Twenty nine volunteers gathered there on this occasion before setting out for Africa (…). There were 7 Friars from Italy, 6 from the United States, 3 from Germany, 2 from Canada, Japan and England, 1 from Belgium, Spain, Chile, Brazil, New Zealand, Australia and Yugoslavia. The seminar (…) was presented in four parts:

  1. orientation and presentation of the participants;
  2. African history, culture, religion, politics and economics;
  3. missiology and Franciscan spirituality;
  4. planning the paths to follow in order to carry out the ideals contained in “Africa is calling us”.

At the end of the sessions, the fraternities for Nigeria, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania and Rwanda were formed and it was decided to “have the minimum necessary to sustain the Project” and a Friar as Moderator of the Project with “ordinary power”, helped by a council. Nearly all the volunteers then left for the country of destination, leaving the Province of origin to enter into a reality which, juridically, did not exist yet. The first were the three Friars of Rwanda, where they arrived on 21st February, seven Friars for Kenya, three for Malawi and five for Tanzania followed in the month of April.

Meanwhile, on the 9th March 1983, the General Definitory erected the “Vicariate of St. Francis in Africa”, into which the missionaries would be incardinated, and appointed those responsible: Vicar: Br. Gualberto Gismondi; Pro-Vicar: Br. Gregorio Tajchman; Councillors: Br. Giacomo Bini, Br. Andrea Comtois, Br. Paschal Gallagher, Br. Heinric Gockel. Thus began the adventure of the new Franciscan presence in Africa.