By Father Jean-Claude Ceillier (+2019)
Founded in 1868 at Algiers by the His Grace Charles Lavigerie, at that time Archbishop of Algiers and future Cardinal, the Missionaries of Africa or White Fathers are an institute essentially directed towards the mission ad extra. From its origins, the Founder clearly formulated its priorities that defined his plan: to constitute a society consecrated to the evangelisation of Africa consisting of men of all nationalities and ready to commit themselves to a lifestyle marked by a family spirit and work in common.
The beginnings of the mission of the White Fathers, distinguished by their founding location and by the orientation given by Lavigerie, evolved in the framework of presence and testimony in an entirely Muslim environment. More precisely, this was in Algeria, the Sahara and Tunisia. Quite soon afterwards however, in the 1870s and onwards, the apostolic horizons of the young Society expanded. On the one hand, and although this was not on the African continent, Lavigerie insisted on founding a community at Jerusalem in 1878. The WFs are still there today, notably involved in dialogue with the Oriental Churches.
At the same time the same year, Pope Leo XIII entrusted Lavigerie with vast regions of sub-Saharan Africa, from the east of the present-day Democratic Republic of Congo to the shores of the Indian Ocean. Some years later, ultimately, the Missionaries left from Algiers and through Dakar reached the hinterland regions of West Africa. Thus, they arrived at Ouagadougou in 1900.
Almost a century and a half after its foundation, the Society of Missionaries of Africa remains attached to the initial inspiration of its Founder. This takes place in a social, cultural and religious context that has, clearly, very greatly evolved. The Missionaries of Africa maintain a particular sensitivity to all that concerns the Islamic world and many of them are involved in interreligious dialogue, in Africa itself or in old Europe.
In Africa itself, their commitments are lived out in the context of the local Churches, at the same time marked by a distinct concern for primary evangelisation and involvements in favour of justice and peace, for the sake of the Gospel.
Long consisting of men from Europe and North America, committed as priests or brothers, the Missionaries of Africa today have been joined by many young men from Africa itself, as well as from Asia and Latin American countries. The entire Institute currently numbers 1100 members and its Generalate is in Rome. Its Formation Centres are in Africa, in Asia, in America, and in Europe. A General Chapter is in preparation for 2022. As happens every six years, this will enable an assessment to be made of lived experience and to prepare, as far as possible, a better service for mission in the years ahead.
J.Cl. Ceillier, M.Afr (+2019).
Historian of the Society
Translated by Donald MacLeod M.Afr