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The future cannot be predicted but it can be created gradually! It is understandable, then, when the patience becomes a virtue: the consecrated person creates a boundary between life and death to choose Life, because "He is faithful who called us".

There are many young Africans, Filipinos and Indians who feel called to the mission in Africa.

June 25, 2018, marks the 159th death anniversary of our founder, Mgr de Brésillac. Members of the Society of African Missions (SMA) evoke the life and death of their founder, who died in Freetown, Sierra Leone, just six weeks after arriving on African soil.

This day is a challenge for us: who are we as members of the SMA today? We need to examine the importance of Freetown and its impact on the SMA.

On December 8, 1856, Bishop de Brésillac and his companions gathered at the shrine of Notre-Dame de Fourviere in Lyon: it was an important moment in the history of the missionary movement of modern times. What was inaugurated there was to make an immense contribution to the "spiritual and material" development of Africa and its peoples. That is why, and we have no doubt about it, that the SMA has had a profound impact on Africa and continues, even today, to mark the continent to which Mgr de Brésillac and his followers devoted their lives, their energies and their services.

Just two years after the birth of the Society, the first SMA missionaries arrived in Africa, in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in the heart of the Apostolic Vicariate confided to Mgr. De Marion Brésillac. These two years were devoted to the promotion of the new Society, the setting up of the seminary, the fundraising and the preparation of the missionary work in Africa. Two months after the arrival of Fathers Louis Reymond and Jean-Baptiste Bresson and Brother Eugene, Mgr de Brésillac left for Africa with Father Louis Riocreux and Brother Gratien Monnoyeur. On May 14, they landed in Freetown. It was the fulfilment of the deepest desire of our founder: to continue the missionary apostolate he had had to abandon in India.

Upon his arrival, the city of Freetown was affected by an outbreak of yellow fever. Despite the insistence of the captain of the ship who wanted to prevent him from landing, Mgr de Brésillac went ashore to begin his missionary work in Africa.

Why did not it make more sense? Why did he absolutely want to land in this country devastated by the disease? Why did he take what, in hindsight, many had to consider as the least wise option?

Trying to answer these questions could be futile. But he must have been motivated by his missionary commitment and his desire to go among these abandoned people. He did not forget the promises he himself made when he retired before leaving for India: they were the guiding principles of his missionary life:

* "To be a missionary from the bottom of my heart".

*  "Do not neglect anything to advance the work of God".

*  "Seize every opportunity to preach the Holy Word".

*   "Finally, and that is why I implore especially your blessing, O my God, to use all my means, all my forces, all my study to contribute to the foundation of an indigenous clergy".

His previous experience in India had enriched the Founder on the missionary apostolate, but had also sharpened his own ideas about the missionary's primary commitment: an indigenous clergy. When he was in India, Bishop de Brésillac was deeply involved in this field. Later, in the vision he had to found his new company, this will be one of the most important elements.

If the formation of the native clergy was to be a fundamental aspect of the mission's policy, a second aspect was its own commitment to reach the most abandoned, which prioritized primary evangelization as one of its main targets.

These two aspects of the missionary apostolate were what shaped his attitude and determined his vision. They also needed to determine the vision of the SMA to date. Commitment to the most abandoned peoples of Africa should be one of the keys to our missionary policy and the foundation of our mission and apostolate.

Love of Melchior de Marion Brésillac for the African continent which he had chosen as a place to be evangelized for his new Society, inspired him, pushed him, forced him almost to go ashore to meet the people he had come to serve, even though the advice of wisdom he had received around him suggested that he would better stay safe aboard the ship. This was the culmination of all his work in previous years for resources, for recruitment, for the animation of the mission. Now he had finally come to Africa, to his people, he was at home. He was going to proclaim the Good News to the people entrusted to him. And we know what's next. Father Riocreux fell ill and after a few days of fever, he died on June 2, at the age of 27. In the meantime, Father Bresson also fell ill and died on June 5, at the age of 47.

These examples show how Mgr de Brésillac and his missionary charism touch and inspire the lives of men and women, young and old, lay and consecrated on several continents. It is now up to us today to implement his missionary inspiration with discernment and courage. Pope Francis continues to push us in this direction to become a Church moving forward, meeting the other and serving the other.

One of the challenges today is to live the renewal of the spiritual heritage of Mgr de Brésillac in "reciprocity", that is to say in collaboration and communication, in a spirit of family and equal dignity. It means promoting dialogue, focusing on how the other is putting into practice the same missionary vocation and allowing different pastoral realities and different feelings to interact with one another.

In our globalized world, this reciprocity applies on several levels: SMA units and regions of several continents, SMA fathers and OLA sisters, SMA members and various forms of lay volunteers, local churches from which we come, members of other missionary institutes, with whom we share a long missionary history and a common spirituality, people of good will, even if they do not share our religion or our beliefs. For this, we must increase the sharing and reflection of the experience of the field and the inspiration drawn from the Founder. It is more useful to live in our environment than to talk about it.

The Reciprocity is a modern concept which is not in the vocabulary of our founder. He indicates us anyway some conditions necessary for the reciprocity. In his "Retreat to the Missionaries", he dedicates the sixth discourse to the qualities of a good pastor. He identifies three virtues. "Love, patience, gentleness" - "Caritatem, patientiam, mansuetudinem" That this is our travel allowance when we join our Christian communities, be it our missionary baggage. And that's what I wish for all of us.

 

GUVVALA Joseph, SMA  
SMA Media Center – LYON