On Saturday, 11 May 2019, after a period of silence and Reflection (since Friday afternoon) the ex-officio members and elected delegates to the 21st SMA General Assembly gathered in Plenary session to conduct the election of the SMA Superior General (SG) for the coming mandate (2019 – 2025). We were a total of 44 electors.
Part of our discernment yesterday was to list out the things we hoped our new SG could do.
Each of the 6 Working groups (3 French-speaking and 3 English-speaking) put 3-4 points on a sheet which was then posted in the room for us all to look at. After thinking about what we saw we then listed out what type of a person we needed to meet these expectations, well aware that he could not do everything, or have every quality, we wanted him to do or be.
In the first section the two most repeated points were ‘unifier’ and ‘listener’. Others included motivator, rooted in the church and our specific SMA charism, a man of mission and vision.
What qualities did he need to achieve the above (and others) : inner spiritual strength, appreciative of the gifts / talents of others, team person….
It was noteworthy that the last public prayer of Fr Fachtna O’Driscoll SMA, the outgoing Superior General, was for Fr Pierluigi (Gigi) Macalli SMA, a member of the Italian Province kidnapped from his parish in Bomoanga, Niger Republic, on 17 September last. Each day we pray by name for Fr Gigi and all others who have been taken by different jihadist and other groups in that part of Africa. May they be soon released.
Before leaving the Discernment process, each delegate was invited to write down a Scripture quotation or a phrase from the writings of our SMA Founder, Bishop de Brésillac, and place it in a calabash for future use in the process. Friday evening concluded with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrmanet seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit on all of us for what we had to do the following morning.
Fr O’Driscoll presided at the election which began after a period of prayer in the plenary session room. After reading out the particular Articles of the SMA Constitutions and Laws governing this process, he then confirmed that all eligible electors were present and the election process began.
At the end of it, Fr Antonio Porcellato, a member of the Italian Province and the outgoing Vicar General of the SMA, was elected.
Fr Antonio has a wealth of missionary experience, particularly in formation and leadership. Most of his studies before ordination were done in Italy but his Spiritual Year was undertaken in the SMA House, Wilton, Cork, where he perfected his English. After Ordination he was appointed to parish work in the Ivory Coast. This was followed by a period in the SMA International Spiritual Year programme in Calavi, Benin Republic where, along with other SMA of different nationalities, he was involved in the training of young men who wanted to become SMA members and missionaries. He then travelled across the linguistic divide to join the formation staff at the SMA House, Bodija, Ibadan, Nigeria, where we train our Philosophy and Theology students. After more than six years in Bodija, Fr Antonio was appointed to the Leadership team for the African Foundation – as we continued a process begun in 1983 to establish separate SMA units in new areas of the Society. He has also served in his home Province for some years and, six years ago, was elected SMA Vicar General.
Speaking after his election, Fr Antonio thanked all for the confidence placed in him by the delegates and he pledged to do his best to develop the family spirit which is a hallmark of our Society.
At a Thanksgiving Mass after the election, Fr O’Driscoll carried a lighted candle into the chapel and handed it to Fr Antonio, symbolising the handing on of the mantle of service and leadership to the new Superior General. This moving ceremony was accompanied by liturgical dancing by 4 of our number. The calabash, containing our quotations from Bishop de Brésillac or from Scripture, were also carried to the altar.
Archbishop Michel Cartatéguy SMA, emeritus Archbishop of Niamey, Niger, preached at the Mass as Fr Antonio had not prepared anything. The Archbishop, who is an elected delegate to the Assembly and is a member of the Assembly Liturgical team, helped to plan the Mass. At the end of his brief homily, Fr Antonio took some of the quotations, read them out, and made a comment on what a particular quotation might mean for him in his new ministry.
During the Prayers of the Faithful of the Mass we prayed for Fr Antonio, for his family, for all the different people who make up the wider SMA family, particularly our supporters who pray for us and are concerned for us and who, without their financial support, we could not do the work we do in Africa and elsewhere.
At the Sign of Peace, each one came forward to exchange a sign of peace with Fr Antonio, assuring him of our prayers and support over the coming mandate.
At Communion time we all gathered around the Altar to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.
The SMA community at our Rome HQ, on Via della Nocetta, the Franciscan Sisters of the Presentation of Our Lady of Coimbatore (India) whose beginnings are traced back to Bishop de Brésillac and the Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles (OLA) as well as others joined us for the Thanksgiving Mass and for lunch afterwards.
Next Thursday we will elect the new General Council who will assist Fr Antonio in the coming mandate. And, of course, we will continue our ‘normal’ work of making a Plan for what that work will be.
Please keep us in your prayers.