By Felix Phiri, M.Afr
The Southern Africa Province (SAP) is composed of four countries, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia, of which only Malawi has remained to date the only country with the presence of the MSOLA. Nonetheless, the whole Province experienced something of the close collaboration with the MSOLA at the occasion of the Jubilee, mainly the Malawi Sector and to a certain extent the Zambia Sector.
In 2016, the two superiors of the Missionaries Africa and MSOLA announced the Jubilee of the 150 years of the foundation of their two institutes, with a clear three years roadmap, each year marked by a specific theme. The Malawi Sector, being the only country with the MSOLA presence, immediately put in place a team composed of vocation animators belonging to both institutes to spearhead the planning and actualization of the activities related to the Jubilee. The team met on a regular basis in order to organize the activities together.
Several activities were conjointly agreed upon and realized in the course of the three years. To start with, there was the pilgrimage visit to Mponda, point of arrival of the first Missionaries of Africa in Malawi in 1889, to revisit our origins in Malawi – a similar pilgrimage was done in Zambia to Mambwe Mwela the place where the first Catholic presence in what is presently known as Zambia was established in 1891, in connection with the 125 years of Christianity in Zambia. The pilgrimage in Malawi was extended to Mua, the place where the first permanent mission was established in 1902. The official launching of the Jubilee took place in 2017 in St Denis parish, Chinsapo, in Lilongwe. The colourful ceremony was presided over by Archbishop Tarcisius Ziyaye, the archbishop of Lilongwe. Each Sector organized its own closing ceremony; in Malawi the ceremony took place in St Thomas-Zolozolo and St Francis in 2019. In Zambia it took place on the 10th November 2019 and the MSOLA were represented by two of the sisters. It was a colourful celebration presided over the archbishop emeritus Telesphore-George Mpundu whose personal knowledge and past history with the Missionaries of Africa added a special flavour to the ceremony. At the end of his homily he rolled on the ground in the traditional way of expressing gratitude for the missionary work realized in Zambia.
In the course of the three years, a number of activities were realized, some together with the MSOLA others alone as Missionaries of Africa. For instance, to mark this common journey, celebrations of the 30th April, the feast of Our Lady of Africa, on the 26th November (the Anniversary of the death of our founder), and the 8th December, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, were conducted with a notable participation of members of either institutes. These were occasions to express our common origin and unity of purpose in the mission. On different occasions, various talks were given conjointly with the MSOLA on the themes of the year and/or on the life of the founder and spirituality of the two societies. Furthermore, the team went around the parishes that have been previously run by the Missionaries of Africa for a reminder of our presence there as well as vocational animation. In some parishes this brought back nostalgic souvenirs of the ‘good old days.’
Among the accompanying artefacts produced on the occasion of the Jubilee the most significant epitomizing the close collaboration with the MSOLA was the printing of the Jubilee cloth (nsalu) in 2018/2019. Over 1,200 pieces of cloth was printed and sold successfully. This was the most conspicuous symbol of the jubilee, not only was it worn by many women but it was also used as ornaments during celebrations. A similar initiative was undertaken by the other Sectors which also produced their own sets of jubilee clothes, alongside other products such as jubilee golf shirts, calendars, Missionaries of Africa rosaries, etc. In 2019, the MSOLA receive a special invitation from Bishop Lungu of Chipata Diocese, in Zambia, to come and mark their jubilee celebration in the diocese. Although the invitation was specifically for the MSOLA, it was an opportunity for us to interact with the MSOLA sisters who came to attend the events and to accompany them.
By the nature of the presence of the MSOLA in our Province, common activities could only be carried out in Malawi where they still have a presence and Zambia the last country where they were. In spite of that, we can discern tangible fruits of the Jubilee in collaborating with our sisters. Firstly, the very fact of working for the same cause during these last three years reminded us of our common origin and drew us closer together. Secondly, this has been an extraordinary opportunity to revisit our immediate and distant history; the different talks given about the history of our two institutes refreshed our sense originating from something greater than we are and the visit to the historical places where the first missionaries first arrived made us realize the amount of sacrifice and courage that went to the beginnings of the church. Finally, the participation of the local church made us understand and appreciate the contribution of our two institutes to the founding of the church in this part of the world. This was not a celebration isolated from the rest but indeed that of the whole church; we were not the object of the celebration but the occasion for it.