Tuesday, May 29, 2012



Text: Archbishop Fitzgerald at Missionaries of Africa Centenary Mass | Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald MAfr, Apostolic Nuncio in Egypt,Our Lady Queen of Apostles, Bishops Waltham,Missionaries of Africa,White Fathers, Bishop Crispian Hollis,Abbot Cuthbert Johnson,

Bishop Hollis with Archbishop Fitsgerald
Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald MAfr, Apostolic Nuncio in Egypt, gave the following homily at Our Lady Queen of Apostles, Bishops Waltham, in Hampshire, at a Mass of Thanksgiving for 100 years of the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) in Great Britain. The Mass, on the Vigil of Pentecost, marked the beginning of a weekend of celebrations. (More reports to come).

Bishop Crispian Hollis was the main celebrant and the Mass was attended by Abbot Cuthbert Johnson, Fr Paul Hannon, Superior of the Missionaries of Africa GB Sector, some 40 White Fathers, members of the 'Pelicans', (the association of old students from the seminary which was based on the site of the current church) and the parish community who organised two receptions.

The text follows:

My Lord Bishop, Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It is surely fitting that this first celebration of the centenary of the presence of the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) in Great Britain, should take place here in Bishops Waltham, The site of the first
foundation in this country. It is also fitting that it should take place at Pentecost which has always been recognised as a missionary feast, the birthday of the Church and the beginning of its spread throughout the whole world.

The coming of the White Fathers to Bishops Waltham a hundred years ago must be seen within the missionary context. Although there was a practical reason behind the foundation - the wish to escape from anti-clerical restrictions in vigour at that time in France - the aim remained: the training of young men to join the mission fields in Africa. The desire was strong to deliver the people of that continent from the slavery pf sin, and indeed from slavery tout court,so that they might enjoy the freedom and dignity of being children of God; to bring them the knowledge of Jesus Christ , so that they too could benefit from the "Fountains of living water' flowing from his heart.

The first reading of this Pentecost Vigil speaks about Babel, a confusion of languages; a lack of unity due to sin which only the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love and reconciliation , would be able to overcome. An element of Babel may indeed have been present when the first Pere Blancs came to this area of Hampshire. People may have caught the not-so-heavenly strains of of the anthem Sancta Maria, being sung in Latin, each evening at the end of night prayers. Many may have been asking themselves: "who are these white ghosts haunting the former Royal Albert Infirmary, speaking in a foreign language?" Yet I am sure the other Fathers and Brothers following the instructions of the Founder, Cardinal Lavigerie, must have made valiant efforts to speak the language of Shakespeare and to fit into their new surroundings.

If these men adapted, they were certainly adopted. On this day, the White Fathers wish to express their gratitude to the people of Bishops Waltham who welcomed them and made them feel part pf the local community.
Gratitude is also due to the bishops of Portsmouth, the Bishop William Cotter who accepted a new community into the diocese and to his successor Archbishop John Henry King, who was reigning when I was here as a boy. It is a great joy that Bishop Crispian Hollis has accepted to be the principal celebrant at this Mass, thus giving a tangible expression to the link with the diocese.

This is not the time to indulge in a history of the White Fathers' junior seminary here in Bishops Waltham, but we should remember those who came here, as teachers or as students. The majority of the latter did not become Missionaries of Africa, but a good number kept fond memories of the years they spent here, as the presence of members of the Pelicans Association at this celebration attests.

It is often said that the testimony to a living community lies in the cemetery. I wish to recall the names of three confreres who died here in Bishops Waltham: Fr Pierre Marie Travers, Brother Modeste, Fr Pierce English - a Frenchman and Dutchman and an Irishman. This is a good reflection of the international character of the Missionaries of Africa, another reminder that the Holy Spirit, the soul of the Church's mission, is not restricted by national boundaries. To these should be added Fr Henry (Harry) Moreton, who was parish priest in this parish , and who died in Southampton in 1965. I wish to remember also another confrere, who though he did not die here, is buried in BIshops Waltham. I am referring of course to Mgr Arthur Hughes, a former pupil of the seminary and a missionary in Uganda, who was then appointed Apostolic Delegate in Egypt and who succeeded in having that country establish full diplomatic relations with the Holy See, the first Muslim majority country to do so. Having as a boy prayed beside his grave, I am proud to be his successor in Cairo.

The case of Mgr Hughes shows that there are many different ways of being a missionary. The forms may change sown the years, but the Church's mission remains the same - to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the whole world. Over a hundred me from Great Britain have given their lives for the mission in Africa, without counting those from Ireland and from other countries who were associated with the work in this country. There are presently 56 living members of what is now the British Sector of the Province of Europe. The Missionaries of Africa, though no longer here in Bishops Waltham, are still present in Great Britain, working to spread the Gospel among the people of Africa, committed to justice and peace for the population of this continent, arousing awareness of the need to respect the environment, engaging in dialogue and encounter with people of other religions. And they are still calling people to join them in their mission. As we celebrate the centenary of this presence, we ask God to continue to bless these on-going missionary endeavours, for His glory and for the good of the Church, particularly in Africa.

For more information on the White Fathers in Britain, see: http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/suttonlink/index.html

For the Pelican's site go to: http://www.thepelicans.co.uk/

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