Balance and difficulties

ofmAt the Chapter of 1986, the Vicariate had 66 Friars, of whom 50 were solemnly professed, 4 temporary professed and 12 novices. There were, besides, more than 29 postulants and one hundred aspirants. The Friars were engaged in different ministries: formation, administration, youth and parochial pastoral activity, spiritual exercises and direction, assistance to the Franciscan Sisters and Secular Franciscans, catechesis and teaching, and pastoral service to the maladjusted.

Among the missionaries of the first stage, 11 had already left the Vicariate because of health and adaptation problems while only 7 new volunteers had arrived. The presence of the Friars was already attested to in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi and Madagascar and so, during the Chapter, the Vicariate decided to call itself “The Vicariate of St. Francis in Africa and Madagascar”. In only three years, the Africa Project had made such good progress, despite the difficulties and uncertainties of the beginning, as to be able to contribute to changing the image or the model which there had been of the missionary in certain regions of Africa.

The more important difficulties, which the Visitator also highlighted in his report, regarded the personnel above all. The lack of Friars on all levels was very much felt, especially in the area of formation, which constituted the priority of the Vicariate. The service of the Friars was also requested insistently by the Franciscan Sisters and Poor Clares. The Chapter, therefore, decided not to open new fraternities, except the new formation community in Lusaka (Zambia) in the Inter-Family Philosophical Institute, and to get involved again in the search for new volunteers for the Africa Project, supporting itself on the vote of the 1985 General Chapter which had requested that the missionary project for Africa should constitute one of the priorities of the Order for subsequent years.

It was not easy even to safeguard the priority of the fraternity, for which the Chapter established that in future every community would be formed by at least four Friars, even at the cost of reducing the number of presences. Besides, the extension of the territory (six States!), the difficulties in movement (long and expensive journeys!) and at times the difficulty of language – the Vicariate being bi-lingual officially (English and French) – impeded the Friars in knowing each other. For the purpose of creating a minimum of unity, Franciscan solidarity and sense of belonging, the Chapter proposed that the Vicar should visit the Friars regularly, that a Chapter of Mats should be celebrated before the ordinary Chapter and that a bulletin of the Vicariate should be published. It was also proposed to celebrate “regional Chapters” now and again.

Perhaps the greatest difficulty – which does not appear in the official documents, but which is well known to whoever participated in the Africa Project for a few years and which found expression in some private documents, such as letters – was that of finding a basic common orientation together, a style of Franciscan life which would correspond best to the African reality and to the spirit of the Africa Project and which could be shared by all Friars of the Vicariate. In reality, “already in Rome – as one missionary of the first hour expressed himself – during the month of formation, while a great time was given to the cultural-scientific part, always useful, very little time was dedicated to the spiritual and essential assimilation of the Africa Project”. Having arrived in Africa, the Friars, who came from very many different cultures and formations, did not find a common formulation.

This was affirmed in two tendencies, one which was more demanding and radical, very close to the African people, whose style of life and home they chose, and another tendency which believed, on the contrary, that it was necessary also to use the means of western civilisation for the fraternity and for the social-economic promotion of the region. These two tendencies constituted something like “two souls”, which have deeply marked the Africa Project right up to our days.