Celebrating Missionaries of Africa @150, Gong-Gong Magazine

Author: Fr. Christopher Chileshe

Fr. Christopher Chileshe

Missionaries of Africa at 150 years – Visa for Martyrdom!’ This is indeed a catching title for the 2018 Gong-Gong Magazine. The Society of the Missionaries of Africa was founded in 1868 in Algeria; and it rapidly grew into an influential Society of Apostolic Life alongside the birth of most African countries. This anniversary celebration is a time to remember, understand and refine the vision of our founder, Cardinal Charles Lavigerie. He was always clear in his mind that this foundation was the work of God, that God himself had willed and chosen the missionaries to be witnesses of His Love to the African peoples beyond Algeria and the Sahara desert. GonG_GoNG 2018 EDITION

The missionaries were to wage the last ‘crusade’ onto the African soil but with
truly apostolic arms of charity and martyrdom. At a time when all seemed lost in the European Church (especially France) a seed of charity and faith had germinated on African soil. The Society was for Lavigerie, a mark of heaven’s blessings which had “become a big tree where birds of the air begun to find shelter.”

Lavigerie knew that he was sending the missionaries into a difficult and
challenging environment; but he remained very hopeful! He once wrote
to them saying; I hope that the Light of Truth will rise on this land (Africa)
previously accursed…may the sons of ‘Ham’ feel the effects of his Mercy through you. ( M.Afr, Cardinal Lavigerie Anthology, Volume I, Rome, 2016, Pg 101.)

Lavigerie was actually touched by the missionaries’ spirit of self-denial and
sacrifice in their acceptance of this difficult mission. He encouraged them
to have a deep passion and zeal for the mission. They were to always respond
with boundless dedication and humility. This is why Lavigerie would attach to
their application letters what he saw as their future motto; ‘Visum pro
Martyrio’ (Visa for Martyrdom) – to which one of the newly recruited
missionaries replied: For this I have come!  (M.Afr, Cardinal Lavigerie Anthology, Volume I, Rome, 2016, Pg 101.)

Such an acceptance was not only for the quick mortification of one’s
blood (which happened several times) but also for the long martyrdom of
everyday terms of abuse, insults, and lowest slanders even from the baptized Christians
themselves! Acceptance of the ‘Visa for Martyrdom’ meant imitating Jesus Christ in his
kenosis – Phil 2:7. This acceptance also implies finding Joy as St. Paul did (… in all our
hardship, I am filled with encouragement and overflowing with joy.” – 2 Cor 7:4) and
inheriting eternal life! – Mt. 19:29. This promise of Joy comes from God himself and
moves the missionaries to dare take part in the work of God in Africa. It is a vibrant and
over abundant joy which led one missionary to express it with such simplicity;
I lack everything, but nevertheless, I would not exchange my lot with any king
on earth. ( M.Afr, Cardinal Lavigerie Anthology, Volume I, Rome, 2016, Pg 101.)

The missionaries of today and tomorrow are gifted with the same vocation and vision of
Lavigerie. We are to be ‘all things to all’. We are to embrace modern martyrdom and
courageously tread the African way with the boldness of a true disciple of Christ. We are
to be witnesses who are sure of the abundant joy Christ has promised us for eternity.
If Lavigerie was to come today, the 21st April 2018, he would probably say this to us:
Be aglow with a renewed courage. You are young and the sacrifice you have made of
self is admirable. God chose you to this life, to be his voice to be heard by the many
people of Africa. It is up to you now to also ask the Lord to send more of his good
workers to help you in this mission. Pray for missionary vocations from your province. (Insight taken from Lavigerie’s letter to the missionaries of 1974, M.Afr, Cardinal Lavigerie Anthology, Volume I, Rome, 2016, Pg 101.)
This edition of the Gong-Gong Magazine invites us to this renewal of our missionary
vocation. The articles and presentations all remind us of the calling from God which we
recreate each day in prayer and sacraments. They also remind us of our personal response,
passion and zeal in the mission given to us. ‘Visa for Martyrdom’ is still a meaningful
reality for us today in 2018 and beyond! In spite of the challenges Christianity is facing
today we still have the calling to witness to Christ’s Love in the .Com world which is
unfolding before us.
This magazine re-confirms that our love for God makes us dare do something in the
evangelization of the African peoples through; encounter and dialogue, justice and peace,
integrity of creation and the many other fields of our mission. All these for the purpose
of keeping alive that joy which Jesus Christ has promised us for today and in the life to
I wish you an informed reading and above all, a blessed moment of self-renewal in your
missionary vocation. May Our Lady, Queen of Africa, continue to intercede for all
missionaries, past, present and yet to come. Have a joy filled reading.

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