An African proverb says you can do without the cane of an elder, but you cannot ignore his word.
In the book of Sirac the author advises his readers in similar terms when he says to them: “Do not depart from the tales of the elders, for they have learned them from their fathers. It is with them that you will learn to understand, and to have a ready answer when needed.”
In the African tradition, the word of an elder, especially the father or mother of a family, always tells us the way of life, which is good for true fulfillment or what could possibly harm him temporarily or forever. That is why in the African tradition we pay attention to what the elders say. One learns the proverbs and one tries to put them into practice even long after the death of the elder. They are remembered and transmitted from generation to generation, for their value is known. Cardinal Charles Martial Lavigerie, founder of the Missionaries of Africa (1868) and of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa (1869), is the Father and the elder of our missionary family. His word, spoken in very diverse contexts, remains valid and a source of inspiration and guidance for our vocation and missionary action as missionary disciples of Jesus and heirs of his charism.
The Word of God was welcomed as Good News by our Father Founder, the Cardinal, in his life as priest and missionary bishop and founder of the Missionaries of Africa and the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa. It is by listening to this Word that God’s gift for the Universal Church – passion for the African people and for the Gospel – took shape. He was able to transmit this gift in various ways according to the circumstances of his own life, that of his missionary daughters and sons and those of the Church of his time. This Word of God that nourished our Founding Father continues, through various circumstances, to speak today. We accept it as Way, Truth and Life to live it first ourselves and to propose it to our brothers and sisters to whom we are sent.
The encounter with the Word of God and the word of our Father stimulates and encourages us on our journey as missionary disciples of Jesus. The Lavigerian-charism inspired, and continues to inspire young men and young women from several continents.
The word of Cardinal Lavigerie was often prophetic, missionary, and always deeply committed. May it be so for all of us Missionaries (Sisters, Brothers, Priests), candidates in formation and friends, lay people and associations who share our charism by collaborating with us in God’s Mission. It will help us to live the present with the Lavigerian passion and to turn towards the future with a hope that invites us to an increasingly evangelical creativity and solidarity.
Richard Kuuia Baawobr, M.Afr. Superior General (2010-2016)