The third three-year period (1989-1992)

africa projectIn the following September, the Minister General invited the Friars of the Vice-Province to discuss and send suggestions on the two main problems of the re-structuring of the Vice-Province itself and on the formation programme. The responses were collected and summarised in a letter of Br. Paul Osborne, sent to the Rome on the 8th December of the same year. The proposals in regard to the restructuring were very different, but the Provincial Definitory held that it was not the time to divide the Vice-Province because of the restricted numbers of solemnly professed Friars and because the division would have provoked even further problems.

It was suggested instead to establish Madagascar as a Foundation with its own Statutes. On formation, the Friars noted the lack of adequate discernment in the selection of candidates, the lack of a basic cultural education in the young and also the lack of formation in the formators, and they suggested to regroup and concentrate the novitiates, while the Definitory insisted on the recruitment of new formators.

Br. John Vaughn appreciated the reflection made and considered it a good first step, he also appreciated the idea of creating a Foundation of the Vice-Province in Madagascar and asked for the development of communication and collaboration between the two parts – English-speaking and French-speaking – of the Vice-Province.

During the following days, the Minister General carried out his second visit to the Africa Project, meeting the Friars, the Poor Clares and the lay Franciscans in the localities of Kivumu and Byumba in Rwanda, Kashekuro and Kakoba in Uganda, Nairobi, Bahati, Nakuru and Subukia in Kenya, Antananarivo and Soavantanina in Antsirabé (Madagascar). Br. J. Vaughn, on that occasion, stated that “the Africa Project has given new heart and enthusiasm to the Order”.

Meanwhile, a few months earlier (1989), the Genoa mission of Burundi had entered to form part of the Vice-Province and an agreement of cooperation had been signed with the Province of Lyon about the Franciscan presence on the island of Mauritius. Madagascar was made a Foundation of the Vice-Province with its own Statutes. The number of missionaries remained constant at about fifty, while the number of young native professed increased. In Livingstone (today, Lusaka) in Zambia, the new “St. Bonaventure Formation Centre” was being built with the Conventual and Capuchin Friars, which would be inaugurated on the 21st June 1992. The formation of the candidates, which was always the priority of the Africa Project, continued in two residential Houses for Aspirants, seven Postulancies (one in each country), two Novitiates and three Houses of Formation for the temporary professed, with the worries and problems of always.

In the following canonical visitation, the Provincial, Br. Paul Osborne, noted with a certain satisfaction that the life of prayer in the fraternities was “reasonably good”, that the Friars were always in search for a simple style of life, that the missionaries were praiseworthy in the zeal and spirit of sacrifice and that formation was improving in both programmes and quality of candidates. But fraternal life, as well as the local Chapters, were always weak; the enthusiasm for inculturation was diminishing in the new volunteers and it was evermore difficult to change the Friars to other fraternities, probably because of the diversity of languages also. But above all, the Vice-Province had not yet succeeded in finding a unitary vision of the Franciscan life and mission in Africa: this needed a new dynamism and a new, more decisive “leadership”.

The Minister General made the observation to Br. Osborne that, perhaps, the Vice-Province was spreading its forces thin and that it would have been better to concentrate or unite some Houses of Formation, especially the Novitiates. With regard, then, to the insufficiency of personnel, the Minister recalled that in the previous 5 years, 27 new volunteers were assigned to the Vice-Province, but there were always Friars who returned quickly to their Province of origin. What were the causes of this? The Provincial said that many did not have a good preparation or motivation. The need to prepare the new volunteers began to appear, but it was not known how to do it.

Meanwhile the General Definitory appointed Br. Liam Slattery, of South Africa, as the principal Visitator General and Br. Matthieu Beraud, a French missionary in Togo, assistant Visitator General for the French-speaking part. During the Chapter of 1992 the government was renewed: Provincial, Br. Giacomo Bini; Vicar, Br. Joseph Ehrardt; Definitors, Br. Heinrich Gockel, Br. John Harding, Br. Nicodeme Kibuzehose, Br. Christopher Rickman and Br. Lanfranco Tabarelli. Meanwhile, the General Chapter of 1991 had made the Vice-Provinces equal to Provinces, and therefore the new government was elected for six years, and no longer for three, but the next Provincial Chapter, scheduled for January/February 1998, was anticipated by six months and was celebrated in July 1997.