Reciprocity – Bishop de Brésillac

On 25 June each year the members of the Society of African Missions [SMA] call to mind the heroic life and death of their Founder, Bishop deBrésillac, who died on that date in Freetown, Sierra Leone, just six weeks after he landed on African soil.

On this 155th Anniversary of his death may Bishop deBrésillac pray for his followers, our supporters, benefactors and, most of all, the peoples of Africa we are privileged to ‘walk with’ in our common journey to God.

The SMA Vicar General, Fr Antonio Porcellato, shares some thoughts on the Founder and ‘reciprocity’.

On 14 May last at the Pontifical University of Urbaniana, Fr Donbosco Mawdsley, an Indian SMA missionary, defended his doctoral thesis in Canon Law entitled: “De Brésillac’ s vision for the formation of local clergy as a patrimony of the Society of African Missions.” I emphasize the fact that it is an Indian who is studying this issue for which Brésillac committed all his energy during his 12 years in India as a missionary of the Paris Foreign Missions Society. A national of the country sees things from a viewpoint different from that of a European or an African.

Voi sarete questa volontà” is the title of a small book published in Italian in 2007, written by Sr Marta OLA, where she studies the SMA missionary charism which Bishop Brésillac initiated and Fr Planque continued. Again it is very interesting to see how the work of the Founder of the SMA presented by a sister opens encouraging perspectives on a common heritage to be lived out today by the members of both Institutes.

A number of years ago, when I was in Genoa SMA House, I studied the first chapter of the SMA Constitutions with a small group of lay people: five couples animators of the “Friends of the SMA.” I still recall with excitement those meetings where the laity used to find a fruitful and stimulating material for their family and career in the thirty articles on nature, apostolic activity and community life of the SMA.

In the frame of the monthly meetings organized within the SMA Rome Community for this year of deBrésillac, Fr Pierre Trichet gave a talk on “Brésillac as seen by his colleagues.” He presented a number of letters where we find passages with comments – not always very positive – about our Founder. The letters were written by his confreres of the Paris Foreign Missions Society. DeBrésillac spent 15 years as one of them and we cannot overlook their point of view.

On YouTube, there is a channel called SMAOLLYWOOD. There are videos of various types in different languages, reports from Africa, fragments of historical documentaries, vocational videos made in Africa, Europe or Asia. A few days ago I watched one of those videos, prepared in the Philippines DF by a lay person who helps organizing vocation animation. Despite its simplicity, it really touched me. It is centred on the expression with which Brésillac entrusted the legacy of his work to Fr Planque “You will be this will.” Those words are proposed and applied to the young Filipinos who may think of a missionary vocation.

These examples show how Brésillac and his missionary charism touch and inspire the lives of men and women, young and old, lay and consecrated people in several Continents. It is now up to us to implement today his missionary inspiration with discernment and courage. Pope Francis continues to push us in this direction to witness a Church that goes forth, which meets the other and puts her at the service of the other.

One of the challenges before us is to live the renewal of the spiritual heritage of Brésillac in “reciprocity,” that is to say, in collaboration and communication, in a spirit of family and on equal dignity, convinced that I need the other to know me better in my identity. This means promoting dialogue, to focus on how the other puts into practice the same missionary vocation and allowing various pastoral feelings and realities interact with one another.

In our globalized world, this reciprocity applies at many levels: the SMA Units and Regions in several continents, SMA and OLA members, SMA members and the various forms of lay volunteers, local churches where we are sent or where we come from, MEP and other missionary institutes, with whom we share a long missionary history and spirituality, people of good will, even if they do not share our religion or beliefs. For this we need to increase the sharing and reflection from the experience of the field and from the inspiration drawn from the Founder. The SMA Bulletin was and still now is a way to do this, but we need to develop other means more accessible and convenient. Reciprocity was often quoted during the last SEDOS Seminar in Rome that brought together a hundred missionaries. It is more valuable to live it in our surroundings rather than talk about it.

Reciprocity is a modern concept which is not in the vocabulary of Brésillac. It tells us anyway some necessary conditions for reciprocity. In his “Retreat to Missionaries”, he dedicates the sixth speech to the qualities of a good pastor. He identifies three virtues. Love, patience, gentleness – Caritatem, patientiam, mansuetudinem! Let this be our provision of travel when we will join our Christian communities, that this is our missionary luggage “(p. 114). And this is what I wish for all of us on the eve of June 25th, the day of his birth in Heaven, in this year when we celebrate the bicentenary of his birth on earth.

Antonio Porcellato, SMA Vicar General, Rome