On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, 8 December 2014, SMA members throughout the world [bishops, priests, brothers and seminarians] , SMA Lay Associates and our supporters will also celebrate the foundation of the Society of African Missions.
One hundred and fifty eight years ago the SMA was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin at the sanctuary of Fourviere in Lyons, France. The Church in which they stood had been built upon an ancient shrine of Our Lady, on the ‘Forum Vetus’, the old Forum of Trajan, where many early Christians had been martyred. No more appropriate place could have been chosen for these men to offer their lives to God, and for the SMA to take its formal foundation.
Besides its founder – Bishop de Brésillac – the other SMA members who gathered with him were: Fathers Planque, Reynaud, Riocreaux, Bresson and Brothers Rene Guillet and Eugene Reynard. They all committed themselves to a ‘resolution of perseverance’.
Since the 1980’s the Society has sought to promote the Cause of its Founder for Sainthood. This is a long and detailed process. When the Cause of Bishop deBrésillac was accepted by the appropriate Vatican Congregation – Congregation for Saints – a Relatore was appointed to supervise deBrésillac’s Cause and see that the all requirements were met.
There were several difficulties relating to our Founder. Normally a Cause is introduced quite soon after the death of the person concerned [usually within 30 years]. We didn’t submit our Cause for more than 120 years! Secondly, Bishop de Brésillac was little known in the SMA and outside, sometimes even ignored.
When our SMA missionaries travelled by boat from Liverpool to west Africa [Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria] they usually landed at Freetown to visit and pray at the grave of the Founder. After his remains were transferred to Lyons in France this tradition came to an end. Our picture shows some SMA’s praying at the grave. The photo below shows the site of the grave with a small prayer chapel erected over it to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the Society .
Today our Founder is much better known not only by us but also by lay people who are close to us as friends and benefactors. Various publications have made him known. Different celebrations in recent times and also the commitment of many confreres, particularly young confreres, have made him better known. A question we had to ask ourselves was: “Do you believe that the Servant of God still has a message to communicate to the world in which we live?” To date, the answer we have is ‘yes’, especially in terms of a missionary’s personal spirituality and the involvement of his community in the mission in the name of Jesus Christ, and that of His Church.
The present Relatore is Polish-born Fr Jozef Kijas OFM Cap. He has regard for the Cause of Bishop deBrésillac and the process will continue apace under his gentle guidance. A most detailed study of the writings of the Founder and the story of his life – the Positio – is now under intense scrutiny by six historians and this should take up to a year. After taking note of their remarks / questions / corrections etc the final Positio will be prepared. This document is divided into three parts:
– a 600 page summary [the Founder’s writings and those written about him, accounts of witnesses interviewed by the Vicariate of Rome as part of the Cause process];
– 500 pages of a biography with 1,700 footnotes;
– 50 page Information section which will seek to show that Bishop deBrésillac practised the Christian virtues to a heroic degree. And some other incidental documents.
As you can see it is easier to be a Saint than to be canonised!
As part of making the Founder better known, Fr Semplicio publishes occasional articles about the Founder. Read here his latest – The Company of the Apostles.