Roma, January 29, 2008
Prot. N° 0000 042/2008
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!(2 Cor. 1, 2)
I am happy to write to you in the name of the General Council and also the Commission for Africa. Already in this new year of grace, there have been two significant events in the life of the Congregation in Africa. On January 1, 2008, the General Council erected the newest unit in the Congregation, the Vice-Province of Nigeria. In this same month, many confreres gathered in Kenya to participate in the priestly ordination of the first Kenyan Redemptorists. As you know, that celebration took place amid the terrific suffering and widespread insecurity of the Kenyan people. The birth of the new Vice-Province and the ordination of these confreres invite us to make every effort to ensure that the Congregation will continue to carry out its mission in Africa, despite the difficult conditions that Redemptorists share throughout the continent.
The purpose of this letter is to communicate to you the principal decisions that have been taken by the General Council after hearing the Commission on Africa. The Commission met in Roma December 6-8, 2007; a copy of the minutes of that meeting accompanies this letter. The Commission then participated in two full days of dialogue with the General Council that included a lively exchange of ideas and a serious analysis of the strengthens and weaknesses of the Congregation in Africa. The General Council is grateful to the members of the Commission for their dedicated work: Fathers Athanase Nsiamina, Georges Darlix, José Collado, Seán Wales and João Pedro Fernandes.
The General Council reached greater clarity regarding two important areas of our mission: initial formation and finances. The decisions are the fruit of a long process of study and discernment, recalling especially the dialogue that took place during the general visitations of January – May 2005 and the African regional meeting of December 2006. Although there still is need to clarify some important details, I would like to inform you of our conclusions to date and ask that you help us to implement them. You will not be surprised that the General Council continues to advocate greater cooperation among Redemptorists, both within Africa itself and among the various Regions of the Congregation.
Initial Formation of Candidates
It is no secret that the General Council wishes to help to improve the initial formation of our candidates and young professed members. Among the issues that the General Council identified regarding initial formation in Africa are: the preparation of formators, the questionable quality of academic formation, the small number of students and consequent lack of peers in a number of formation communities, the poor preparation for intercultural ministry and community life, a confusion of roles that has the superior of a unit also serving as a formator, the questionable stewardship of finances. These and other issues were thoroughly discussed during the visitations and the last regional meeting. The Commission and the General Council hope that concentrating our forces in interprovincial centres will help the Congregation to address the obstacles we presently face and help to prepare African missionaries for the twenty-first century.
The General Council believes that each unit in Africa should be responsible for the first stages of the formation of candidates: vocational promotion as well as aspirancy or postulancy. It is prudent that the initial discernment regarding the authenticity of a vocation be made within the proper culture of a candidate. However, the General Government strongly supports collaboration in carrying forward the best possible novitiate programmes. We see a number of benefits in concentrating our forces in a single novitiate for the French-speaking novices at Fada N’Gourma(Burkina Faso) and interprovincial programs for the English-speaking novices at Ibadan (Nigeria) and Merrivale (South Africa). For the moment, the Vice-Province of Luanda has been conducting its own novitiate atHumpata but is looking at the advantages of participating in an interprovincial programme.
The General Council prefers that the post-novitiate formation be carried out in four centres: in Kitambo (Democratic Republic of Congo) orOuagadougou (Burkina Faso) for French-speaking Redemptorists, andNairobi (Kenya) or Ibadan (Nigeria) for the anglophones; in Nairobi, we favour the academic program at Hekima College (the Jesuit School of Theology).
The General Council reviewed the names of confreres that had been submitted by their respective superiors to the Commission for Africa as possible formation directors in these houses. We expect to receive a list of the nominations from the respective superiors and we will be willing to confirm those appointments in order to guarantee greater continuity in the process of first formation. We understand that some levels of formation will not have novices or new students this year and we hope that the participating units will use the hiatus as a time to prepare formators and attend to other necessary details.
Both the Commission and the General Council spent considerable time studying the financial challenges for the Congregation in Africa. We were grateful that some of the questions had also been examined by the General Secretariat for Finances during its latest meeting in November 2007. There are two principal challenges that must be addressed. First, how can the Congregation help the African units meet their annual operating costs, especially the expenses connected with the first formation of Redemptorists? Secondly, how can the Congregation establish an economic foundation or patrimony that will afford some measure of security and a justifiable autonomy to the African units?
In the regional meeting at Ibadan in December 2006, the idea of a Fund for Africa was proposed with the aim of assisting units with the cost of first formation. The General Council now wants to establish a Fund for Africaas a designated reserve within the Solidarity Fund that is presently administered by the General Government. To meet the projected needs, the Solidarity Fund would have to grow considerably, since the Commission for Africa foresees the need to generate some € 400,000 annually to subsidize the costs of formation programmes in Africa.
The Econome General and a general consultor are studying the implications of designating within the Solidarity Fund a special reserve forAfrica and will make further recommendations to the General Council in March 2008.
Traditionally, the patrimony for a growing unit has been supplied by the mother Province. While still supporting that solution whenever feasible, the General Council believes that some of the founding units in Africa will not be able to provide an adequate patrimony for their confreres in Africa and that this burden must be shared somehow by the Congregation.
Finally the General Council looks favourably at naming a Redemptorist as the procurator for Africa. The procurator would be expected to give part-time service to the General Government by helping to raise new money for projects of the Congregation in Africa. He would serve as a member of the Commission for Africa and execute decisions according to the priorities established in that body. The Commission suggested the names of some confreres and the General Government is contacting some of them to speak about their availability.
I am sure that this information will provoke questions and observations from many confreres in Africa. I hope that you will take the time to communicate your concerns to a member of the Commission for Africa, who will share them with the other members. The General Council will continue to give priority to our mission in Africa, especially the question of a greater solidarity in first formation and finances. To this end, an ongoing dialogue with the Commission for Africa is essential and we ask all confreres to ensure that the members of the Commission are kept informed of the concerns and hopes of your unit.
Let us commend our efforts to the Mother of God: Our Lady of Africa, Mother of us all, be especially mindful of the peoples of Africa. You, who were present with the Apostles at the beginning of the Church, support the apostles of today that they may boldly proclaim the Word of God. You, who were open to the Holy Spirit to welcome Jesus within you and give Him to the world, obtain for many young people a like openness and availability…Amen!
Fraternally in Christ the Redeemer,
Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R.