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White Fathers Missionaries in Africa: Nomads of the Gospel

Founded in 1868 by Cardinal Charles Lavigerie, the Archbishop of Algiers and Carthage, the Society of Missionaries of Africa aimed to evangelize Africa's people. Cardinal Lavigerie introduced a white habit for the society's members, modeled after traditional North African attire. The habit consisted of a white gown and hooded cloak accompanied by a neck-worn rosary to signify their dedication to prayer. This distinctive white habit set them apart from other Catholic religious orders' typical black and brown habits, earning them the nickname "the White Fathers."  

Fr. Stanley Lubungo is the Superior General of the White Fathers. "Historically, our missionary society is known to have brought the Catholic faith to many African countries," Father told EWTN. We are known to go to places where the faith is unknown."  

The Missionaries of Africa have been geographically, socially, and culturally focused on Africa and its peoples.  

"Our confreres, our predecessors in the mission, have been deeply engaged in primary evangelization," Father Stanley explained. "They established Christian communities and erected churches. We are initiators. They would move on to another area after establishing the local church and nurturing a local clergy. This approach has become ingrained within us. We venture into regions where the Church is not yet fully established. Once our task is accomplished, we entrust the ongoing ministry to the local clergy, and we continue this practice across many parts of Africa."  

It's often said that the future of the Catholic Church is in Africa, where vocations are flourishing, parish life is vibrant, and the total number of Catholics is poised to soon surpass Europe. Mass attendance, a key indicator of religious commitment, is considerably higher in African countries than the world average.  

Africa has long been recognized as a pivotal part of Catholicism's future. Home to fewer than 1 million Catholics in 1910, the Catholic population of Africa is now 265 million. The Missionaries of Africa have played a fundamental role in planting the seeds of faith in the heart of the continent.  

Pope Francis has continued to show particular pastoral attention to the continent. On his historic papal trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pope Francis made an impassioned plea on behalf of Africa: "May Africa be the protagonist of its destiny!"  

When the Missionaries of Africa were founded in 1868, the Mother House was in Algeria. After Algerian Independence, the Mother House was moved to Rome. EWTN visited the missionaries to learn about their hopes for Africa and what they saw as the most significant challenges in evangelizing the continent.  

Fr. Luigi Morell, superior of the Italian Province of the White Fathers, shared, "I hope that the Church will continue to develop and become autonomous and able to present its own contributions in the development of the liturgy and in the understanding of the Bible rather than just having to follow what has been told it to be."  

Fr. Luigi has been a priest with the Missionaries of Africa since 1971. He has worked in Mozambique, Kenya, and South Africa. He sees the White Fathers' educational outreach as fundamental to their evangelization.  

"We always insisted that education, reading, and writing were important," he said, "knowing this was important not only because the Bible is a book of the people, but they need to read it and not just learn it by heart. Also, these aspects help the person develop into a human being who can communicate with all the faculties at hand."  

Father Salvatore, originally from Mexico, has served as a priest in the missionary society for 25 years. During his mission in the Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, he regularly faced security challenges.  

"The biggest challenges I had to face during all these years in Congo," he shared, "were life itself. And even more so, I would say survival, how to live out the gospel in a situation of insecurity and ongoing violence, which is quite difficult. How can we help people live their faith maturely, but in situations where their lives are not respected?"  

During his tenure with the missionary society, Father Salvatore witnessed a profound quest for God and a deep yearning for peace among the suffering individuals he served.  

Looking to the future, Father Stanley, the Superior General of the Missionaries of Africa, is optimistic about the Church's prospects in Africa despite its unique challenges.  

"There are two huge challenges," he noted. "Most of the time, we go to remote areas. There is the challenge of poverty. In most places where we go, the governments have not yet reached their potential. The second one, which is very new on the continent, even if it has been there, is the question of insecurity. In West Africa, especially in West Africa, you have unfortunately terrorists living there who are disturbing entire communities. Our parishes have closed because the people have run away, and we cannot stay there. We had terrible experiences—some of our colleagues were taken hostage. So, you have to think twice before you can go to places. For me, those are two challenges."  

In 2019, the Missionaries of Africa marked the 150th anniversary of their founding. On this momentous occasion, Pope Francis met with them, referring to them as "Nomads of the Gospel."   

Adapted by Jacob Stein 

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Author Name

Benjamin Crockett is a journalist for the EWTN Vatican Bureau. 

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