The second three-year period (1986-1989)

On the initiative of the General Definitory, a special “Work Group for Africa” was brought together in the General Curia from the 26th to 31st May 1986. It presented a document, – approved by the same Definitory with some amendments – which referred to “the extension of the ‘Africa Project’ to the whole of Africa”, “the appointment of three Delegates General for North Africa and the Arab countries, for West Africa and for Mozambique and Zimbabwe”, “the publication of a new ‘Africa is calling us’, to be written by the Minister General” in a suitable lapse of time, the need to give “adequate prior preparation” to new volunteers and, finally, to favour the establishment of a Centre of Franciscan Studies for the formation of all the Friars.

The aim of the working group was to develop collaboration between the various Franciscan Entities in Africa, including the Vicariate of Nairobi. The new Vicar, Br. Paul Osborne, had the impression that it was wished to overrate the “Africa Project”, considering it different and superior to the other presences by its style of life and its “special status”. This created tensions rather than favour collaboration and integration. Br. Paul Osborne, therefore, believed that it was more important to share personnel, resources, formation programmes and projects with the other Entities.

The new administration took the disposition believed to be necessary to make the Vicariate progress during the Council held in Nairobi from the 16th to 18th August 1986. Within the year, the whole Council signed and sent the Friars a letter which contained some directives about the individual and community use of money “in order to avoid and reject our identification with the goods of this world”, to “respect the dignity of the people” which sought help from us and “to avoid offending the native clergy” who did not have the same means as the missionaries. In the meantime another 11 missionaries arrived, but the Vicariate needed at least 16 new Friar volunteers.

In an extraordinary session of the 22nd to 29th September 1986, the General Definitory discussed a pro-memoriam presented by Br. Gismondi on the “things already done” and on the “things still to be done” and arrived at the following resolution: “The General Definitory approves and supports the foundation of a Franciscan Institute for Africa, entrusting to the Definitor General for Africa, aided by the competent Offices and Secretariats of the Order, the task of studying the most opportune modalities, projects of preparation and proposals to be submitted to the same General Definitory for their subsequent approval”.

With the coming into force of the new General Constitutions in 1987, the Vicariate - which in the meantime had grown through the entry of new African Friars especially – became “the Vice-Province of St. Francis in Africa and Madagascar”.

On the sixth anniversary of the first appeal for the Africa Project, Br. John Vaughn, Minister General, sent out a second letter in which he gathered together many of the proposals of the “Work group for Africa”. The basic intention of the letter was to re-launch the spirit and principal characteristics of the Africa Project and to extend it to the whole continent, with a new appeal to the generosity of the Provinces. Having recalled the Franciscan presence in Africa, the Minister General reaffirmed the validity of inter-provinciality and internationality, which favour a exchange between diverse Franciscan values and traditions and facilitate inculturation. He underlined the importance of fraternity as “one of the most significant experiences” in which Friar missionaries and Africans can share their values and their needs (n. 3-4) and, therefore, the extension of this “project” to the whole continent.

The Africa Project does not limit its attention and benefits to the Vice-Province of St. Francis in East Africa and Madagascar alone, but extends them to all the Friars and Entities which work in Africa” (n. 6). In fact, “for years many countries have never ceased to invoke urgently our presence” and the Minister invited the various African Entities “to assume all the most courageous initiatives in order to set up new presences in the territories we indicated” (n. 18). Sure, challenges and difficulties were not lacking, there were “difficulties for health and inculturation, unease, difficulty in learning the languages, in adapting or inserting constructively into the fraternities and work, in accepting a profoundly different style of life.

Internationality and inter-provinciality are a constant challenge and a constant dynamic and dialectical task” (n. 10). But the balance sheet of the first six-year period was “broadly positive” (n. 9) and a new missionary commitment by the whole Order (old and new Provinces, Delegates for Africa, General Definitory) would give strength to the Franciscan presences in Africa.

The General Definitory continued to support the Africa Project with two new initiatives. After the letter of the Minister General, the “Council for Africa” was established as “an consultative organism for the study of, the information about and a means for unity among the various Entities in Africa” . In the following month (February 1988) it was decided to set up two Conferences for Africa: The Sub-Saharan Conference and COMONA for North Africa and the Middle East, which were organised in November of the same year.

In the meantime, the Provincial, Br. Osborne, made the canonical visitation to the fraternities of the Vice-Province during the months of January-March 1988. In the conclusions sent to the Minister General, Br. Osborne highlighted, on the one hand, many positive aspects such as good missionary spirit, interest in the inculturation of the missionaries and of the Franciscan charism, dedication and simple life in the fraternities, but, on the other hand, he did not hide the persistent difficulties such as the scant communication between the fraternities, a certain individualism in ideas and work, the different understanding of the spirit of the Africa Project on the part of the last Friars to arrive, the need still for volunteers and especially for formators.

The difficulty of the bilingualism of the Vice-Province, the diversity of situations and problems in the seven countries which made up the Vice-Province, caused Br. Osborne to put the question if it would not be better to have the structure of a Federation rather than that of a Vice-Province. The following year, the Visitator General, Br. Clarence Laplante, Canadian, made the same observation, adding that the candidates complained because they saw too much insecurity in the programmes of formation and at times they did not feel they were heard or understood. A little later, the General Definitory held that the Vice-Province itself would have to study its own re-structuring and to renew and organise its own formation programme.

In the elective Chapter of 1989, Br. Paul Osborne was elected Minister Provincial for a further three years, Br. Giacomo Bini was elected Vicar and Brothers Tomo Andic, Columbano Arellano, Francisco Oliveira, Augustin Pare and Pero Vrebac were elected Councillors.