No 69 March 2006.2
Missionaries of Our Lady of Africa
Sr Serrano answers Fides questions.
“The African world is no longer limited by geographical boundaries and we are ready for apostolic commitments outside Africa, at the service of the African world and we want to be present where important decisions are made for Africa" says new Superior General of the White Sisters
Spanish born Sr Maria Pilar Benavente Serrano was elected in July the new Superior General of the Missionaries of Our Lady of Africa, known also as the White Sisters engaged in evangelisation on the continent of Africa. Born on 6 August in 1948 at Teruel, the new Superior general has been on mission in Burkina Faso and Mauritania, she has worked as assistant at the Congregations International Postulate, and then went again on mission to Algeria for six years Between 1993 and 1999 she was Assistant General and 1999 al 2005 also Secretary General.
How many Missionaries of Our Lady of Africa are there today and what is your charisma?
Our congregation was founded in Algeria in 1869 by Cardinal Lavigerie who had founded the White Fathers the year before. The French born Cardinal realised that in the Muslim world where we were to work the presence of women missionaries was necessary to complete the work of the White Fathers. Women were more welcome in homes. We were founded to work among Muslim women and to promote first evangelisation in Africa. Our field of activity is then evangelisation of Africa, working to solve its problems and promote its future. Our modest contribution could be called a presence of the Church where the Church is not yet present or is a minority, where people have not heard about Jesus Christ.
We are today about 1,000 sisters present in Mauritania, Algeria, Tunisia, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Rwanda, Burundi, and Congo.
What main difficulties do you encounter in missionary work?
Within the Congregation I would say the main difficulty is a decrease in numbers. We are less numerous than in the past and it is a challenge to continue our activity with creativity and not be discouraged by the drop in numbers. This was one of the questions discussed during our July Chapter. Difficulties in missionary work are mainly due to globalisation. We live in a very complex and complicated world where even local simple missionary presence feels the influence and currents of the world. Other challenges are differences among diverse religious groups, and the problems of violence and ethnic conflict and hatred.
Superior General please tell us about your relations with Muslims and other believers.
We are sent to the Muslim world as part of our charisma and still today this world represents a challenge. The Congregation strives to prepare the Sisters for inter-religious dialogue through the study of Islam, Arabic and also for dialogue with followers of traditional African religions. The preparation of our Sisters is a major challenge. In the field there are two aspects. In some places we have established positive inter-religious relations and friendly collaboration to promote the common good of the civil society. At the same time we are aware of conflicts many of which are not really religious but they play on religious differences to make them more acute. We want to be present in these contexts to promote dialogue and improve relations as far as possible.
What were the main questions examined by the Chapter and the emerging indications for the Congregation ?
The theme of the Chapter was “Building and celebrating our communion for mission”. The key words therefore were mission& communion. “Mission” has always been ours, we are a missionary congregation. So we sought to define clearly our charisma with a new understanding. “Communion” within the Congregation and with the outside world. In the beginning our Sisters were all of Western origin, but now they come from all the continents including Africa itself. Communion within the Congregation is a call to live the Gospel and so we reflected on how to experience communion in a multicultural congregation. With regard to relations outside the congregation we discussed various ministries of communion.
Another aim of the Chapter was to reach a new understanding of our exclusive charisma for Africa in this globalised world, the phenomenon of migration, international relations from the political point of view, the universality of the Church...these factors mean Africa is no longer confined within continental geographical borders. We are still exclusively for Africa, sent to Africa but with a new understanding of Africa. This means we are ready for apostolate outside Africa, at the service of Africans and the world of Africa and we want to be where important economic and political decisions regarding Africa are taken. Another aspect of our charisma discussed by the Chapter was our encounter with Muslims: we realise it is important to establish an inter-religious encounter as a guarantee for building peace and justice and promoting communion among all men and women.
Rome, (R.G.) Agenzia Fides 16/11/2005 -
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