125th Anti-Slavery Campaign – MSOLA & M.Afr.
Dear sisters, dear brothers,
Greetings of joy and peace to all of you who form part of the Lavigerie family: The Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa, the Missionaries of Africa, and the associate members, novices, postulants, candidates, friends and benefactors of both Institutes.
We greet you, wherever you are, who work for the freedom of our fellow human beings, who have a passion for humanity and who demonstrate it in your actions. It is with you all that we wish to start this year of celebration of the 125th Anniversary of the Anti-Slavery Campaign of Cardinal Charles Martial Lavigerie, our founder. With the encouragement and blessing of Pope Leo XIII’s, he joined the world-wide campaign for the abolition of the slave trade in general and in Africa in particular.
In 1888 Cardinal Lavigerie did not limit his audience and appeal to Catholics and believers only, but he extended it to all people of good will: “Slavery, as it is practiced in Africa, is not only, indeed, contrary to the Gospel, it is contrary to natural law. Natural laws do not concern Christians only, they involve all humanity. That is why I am appealing to everyone, without distinction of nationality, party or religious creed. I do not address myself simply to faith, but to reason, to justice, to respect, to love of liberty” (Gesù at Rome, 23rd December, 1888).
This is why we want to live this year of celebration together with the members of our local churches, with other Christian Churches as well as with people from all cultures and religions. For all of us, the words of Cardinal Lavigerie continue to resound and to be a source of inspiration:
“I am a man, and nothing human is foreign to me. I am a man, and injustice towards others revolts my heart. I am a man, and oppression offends my nature. I am a man and what I would like people to do is to restore to me, freedom, honour and the sacred bonds of family, I want to restore to the sons and daughters of this unhappy race, family, honour and freedom.” (Lavigerie, Chiesa del Gesù, Rome, 23rd December 1888).
This campaign took Cardinal Lavigerie to many European cities, with the aim of raising enough awareness to wipe out the different types of slavery. The motto of his struggle came from his speech in the Church of Gesù in Rome : « I am a man and nothing human is foreign to me ».
It is therefore appropriate that this year of celebration will be officially opened at the Church of Gesù in Rome on the 11th November 2012, the feast of Saint Martin of Tours, a missionary bishop much admired by Cardinal Lavigerie. The closing ceremony will be held in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on the 8th September 2013. Why Burkina Faso? Africa suffered very much from the slave trade. Cardinal Lavigerie’s antislavery campaign relied on the work of missionaries in Africa who sent him detailed reports on what was going on there. They also did all that they could to redeem slaves and to influence local rulers. The 8th September is the feast of the Birth of Our Lady and also of the birth of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa in 1869. To celebrate a birth is to celebrate new life. We do not want this celebration to be just another commemoration with just a passing effect on our lives. For the Missionaries of Africa, the closing celebration will coincide with the 2013 Plenary Council that will take place in Ouagadougou.
Throughout this year we invite you to be creative in holding celebrations and reflections and to decide on some concrete action in order to fight today’s unjust systems.
Our action can take the form of advocacy as well as an involvement in daily life to abolish slavery and suffering of all kind. It also needs to take the form of prayer. We need to “storm heaven” as Cardinal Lavigerie did through the intercession of Our Lady of Africa: “Mary, we proclaimed you Queen of Africa here twenty-five years ago and Africa relies on your protection. What have you done for Africa? Again, how can you still bear such horrors to continue? Are you to be just a Queen of corpses? Are you a mother just to forget her children? There must be an end to this!’ (Algiers, 19th April, 1889).