Africa is the continent of Christian hope. Once China had closed its doors to missionaries, Xaverians felt the call to work in other lands still deprived of the heralds of the Gospel. The first African mission began in Sierra Leone in 1950. Later Xaverians entered the “green heart” of Africa by opening missions in former Zaire (1958), presently D.R. Congo, and Burundi (1960). Following the massive expulsion of Burundi, new missions were opened in Chad and Cameroon (1982). Our latest opening is Mozambique (1995).
Since 1950, the Xaverian Missionaries have worked in the north of Sierra Leone, where the population is predominantly Muslim. We concentrated our attention on schools, provided programs for the poor, health care projects, a campaign to care for victims of leprosy, and rehabilitation of child soldiers following the civil war.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Xaverian Missionaries directed their attention to creating prepared Christians. We multiplied the mission stations, built schools, prepared leaders, and provided for the birth of numerous Christian communities. Our first African martyrs, Fr. Didone, Fr. Carrara, and Br. Faccin, were killed during the civil conflict in 1964.
In Burundi, the efforts of the early missionaries were blessed with success and the number of Christian communities increased. We sustain Christian communities, develop social works, and care for youth and families. Because of today’s tragic events and bloody divisions, we are called to work for peace and reconciliation. Our latest martyrs, Fr. Maule, Fr. Marchiol and lay volunteer Catina Gubert, were killed in Buyungero in September 1995.
Cameroon and Chad
In Cameroon, about 30 Xaverian Missionaries work for the formation of the laity and catechists, for the establishment of basic Christian communities, and for the training of Theology students.
The Christian message is 60 years old in Chad, and the Xaverian Missionaries promote the formation of leaders of communities, sharing the Gospel values, in this Muslim nation.
The Xaverian Missionaries arrived in Mozambique in 1992 as a response to the request made by the bishops seeking help for this war-devastated country (following the war for independence and civil war that lasted 20 years, 1972-92). The Church in Mozambique has a missionary structure (church, school, and cooperatives) catering to education and social needs as well as to religious ones.
Our work in Mozambique is evangelization as we gradually take root in the diocese, getting to know the local language, culture, religion, etc. in view of offering our service according to our Charism. We are also creating new Christian communities, and forming church leaders and catechists so that they in turn may become witnesses, missionaries and founders of new Christian communities; organizing youth groups, the catechumenate, and human promotion.
As a follow-up to the murder of the three Xaverian Sisters in Burundi we bring you an excerpt from the Missionaries of Mary General Directorate letter to the Congregation.
Your closeness, your writings and prayers, were great support in these days and we experienced the grace of being united in the Lord’s Family, which, particularly in intense moments of joy and suffering, reinforces even more the communion of service in mission. For each we express our gratitude.
Now with this letter, we want to reach each of you and ideally merge in one embrace. We reach out also to our sisters of the Democratic Republic of Congo. We seek to comfort all of us and encourage us to live the pain caused by the murder of Olga, Bernadette and Lucy in communion with the Lord Jesus and with all those throughout the world who suffer violence, often anonymously and in total forgetfulness.
So many memories crowd our minds. We thank the Lord for giving us these sisters. We have enjoyed their fraternity and friendship, have been witnesses of their passion for Jesus and the Gospel to the poor. All three, despite advanced age and frail health, had ardently desired to return to Kamenge.
Olga could not conceive the idea of having to stay in Italy. Even with the advance of years, she had preserved a great apostolic zeal. She loved to meet people on the street, visiting families and accompanied elderly people who are unable to travel to the parish in the preparation of the sacraments.
Lucia, for her part, discovered every day that what mattered was her life given with joy to the Lord for the mission, charity and prayer. She was committed to serving the community, welcoming people, caring for the poor and sick and participating in parish ministries.
Bernadette had the gift of bringing all people together with simplicity and tenderness. Her smile greeted all who approached her. For years she was in charge of the community and lived in the midst of people, participating in the life of the Christian community, accompanying young people, boys and girls, in the Parish School,, always attentive to the needs of the poorest.
Beautiful testimony was given by the Xaverian brothers of Kamenge, where our sisters collaborated: “It’s three sisters,” said Fr. Claudio Marano in an interview to Vatican Radio, “who have lived, given their lives for Africa…” Fr. Mario PulciniStated: “Sister Lucy cared for thousands of patients. Did an amazing job for the parish, for the Church, simple services and … was very well supported by the people. Sister Olga had worked many years in Congo in catechesis, in pastoral work of teaching and … had a great feeling for the sick. Sister Bernadette, who was superior for several years, and in the general direction, devoted herself especially to cutting and sewing school for girls. Really is a great loss for us, to Kamenge, for the Church in Burundi and I think also for the Congo now. “
Now the bodies of our sisters Olga, Bernadette and Lucy rest in Bukavu alongside Luigia Galbusera and other missionaries in the land which they loved and where they lived most of their years. The brutal and senseless deaths are the outcome of a life spent in the service of God and humanity and through them our sisters are forcefully proclaiming to the whole world the beauty and boldness of love that surpasses all boundaries. At this time they feel alive and young more than ever, even though we lack their physical presence.
Although we have prepared our 9th General Chapter praying and reflected more deeply on the “whole” of Jesus, the sacrifice of our sisters has painfully shocked us and made us experience once again our littleness. We have the ability and grace to believe that the grain of wheat falls to the ground, when it dies it bears much fruit. We can witness to people who that the Holy Spirit has planted in our hearts hope and forgiveness.
Olga, Bernadette and Lucy have participated in the passion of the Lord Jesus. They are for us missionaries living icons that put their trust in the Lord…in a constant effort to get out of themselves to accept and go toward the ‘other,’ abundant with spirit and good heart.
We know that you, too, as we have received many testimonies of solidarity. Pope Francis was “struck by the tragic death” of our sisters and expressed the hope “that the blood shed becomes the seed of hope for building an authentic fraternity among peoples.” We assured of his prayers for these generous witnesses of the Gospel.
We unite with the families of our sisters and all the people who can no longer enjoy their amiable presence and their many services. We unite with the distressed Christian community of Kamenge and the people of Burundi that still bear the wounds of a bloody fratricidal war. Olga, Bernadette and Lucy knew their anguish and pain, and now definitely pray for all populations of the world for peace, security, and dignity for the children of God. They pray also for us, because, with renewed momentum, we reaffirm our “Yes” to God and to the brothers and sisters for whom we have chosen to give our lives.
Mother Celestina Bottego, our founder, on September 10, 1964 wrote: “…Moreover, we know that everything works together for the good for those who love God, to those who have been called according to his purpose. Because those whom he has always known, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son, because he might be the firstborn among many brethren; those whom he predestined, he also called; and those whom he called, he also justified; those whom he justified, he also glorified” (Rm -30 8.28).
Dear Sisters, Olga Lucia and Bernadette’s sacrifice urges us to turn our gaze to the essential Gospel values to which, in everyday life, they gave their lives; accepting us as we are to share the life of the people; to donate with joy the little or much we can we in entrusted service, believing that even the smallest, humble gestures made in love are precious for the proclamation of the Gospel.
In communion among us, with Fr. James and Mother Celestina, with all the sisters who have preceded us in heaven, we continue the journey with faith in him who has loved us first and who gave his life for us. Mary, mother of hope accompany us.
We continue to feel united in affection and prayer.