The SMA Extraordinary Provincial Council [EPC] meeting began on Wednesday, 14 June at the Dromantine Retreat & Conference Centre in Newry, Co Down. An EPC meeting brings together the leaders of the Irish Province from Ireland and the five countries [Regions] in Africa where Irish SMA priests are ministering [Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa].
A total of 16 participants are evaluating the implementation of the 7 Priorities drawn up at the 2013 Provincial Assembly. These Priorities were chosen to realise the Vision which that Assembly adopted:
An open and inclusive missionary community
centred on Christ and
committed to making a positive difference in and for Africa
Since 2013 members of the Society along with our lay collaborators have been trying to implement these Priorities. As we prepare for the next Provincial Assembly [in 2019] we need to assess what has been achieved and what remains to be done.
The EPC has three parts: reporting on the present reality of our men, particularly in Africa; evaluating the 2013 Priorities and mapping out the way for the coming two years to achieve what has not yet been fully realised; begin initial preparations for the 2019 Provincial Assembly as well as the SMA General Assembly [which brings SMA from all over the world together in Rome].
After the Opening Address of the Provincial Leader, Fr Michael McCabe, the EPC began a period of listening: reports from the five houses in Ireland, the five Regions in Africa as well as from Provincial Council members who are tasked with giving leadership to the whole Province for the 2013 – 2019 mandate. We also had, as at every SMA meeting, a presentation by our Safeguarding Designated Liaison Person, Mrs Elizabeth Murphy.
On Thursday, Mrs Dympna Mallon, our Laity Coordinator and Mr Gerry Forde, SMA Justice Officer, presented their Reports highlighting what has been achieved in these areas thus far and future plans. Fr Maurice Henry, SMA Provincial Councillor, presented his extensive Report giving an overview on Communications, Justice, Laity and the different Promotion activities in the Province. Fr Malachy Flanagan presented Reports relating to the status and maintenance of our Houses and, with Mr Paul Murphy [Assistant Provincial Bursar] gave an update on the different fund-raising activities by the Province. We are blessed to have a wonderful group of SMA supporters from all over Ireland. Without such people, part of the wider SMA family, our missionaries could not have achieved as much as they have. May the Lord bless every member of our SMA family for the part each one plays in the spreading of the Good News of God’s Love.
Friday morning saw the EPC dividing into two Working groups to look at the issues raised from the Reports.
Issues such as an ageing membership [we still have active missionaries in Africa in their 80’s]; insecurity due to Islamic fundamentalism, armed robberies, kidnappings…; need to empower lay people to be even more active in the church; helping to provide for the material needs of the poor without promoting a dependence culture among them; empowering people to take responsibility for their situations and seeking ways to deal with the problems they have; meeting the demands made on our members at home [parishes, caring for our elderly members…].
At the same time, we were reassured by the commitment of our priests to continue their work, their enthusiasm for mission, refusing to be cowed by feelings of insecurity. The increasing number of SMA priests from all over Africa as well as India, Philippines and Poland encourages us that the work will continue long after the last Irish SMA has departed Africa [which, please God, will not be for a long time yet].
Our EPC representatives from Africa all spoke with gratitude of the support they receive for their work from the Province. But that support comes from the ordinary people of Ireland – SMA Sponsors, Apostolic Workers, those who use our MAC Cards or drop their change into an SMA Mission Box which local shops display on their counters…
On Friday afternoon we began work on the second part of the meeting: how far have we progressed in achieving our SMA Vision and what remains to be done.
Each morning begins with a period of prayer [Lectio Divina] and the working day concludes with the celebration of the Eucharist during which our SMA members, their families, the communities they serve and the wider SMA family of supporters are remembered and prayed for.
Please remember the EPC members as they continue their work over the coming days.
May Our Lady, Queen of the Missions and of Africa, pray for us.
Martin Kavanagh SMA