The Missionaries of Africa stress the importance of community spirit and working together. Even though their work may take them away for some time from the community, the community is the home to which they return. The international aspect is a feature of our community life - people coming from different continents and countries living and working together.
From the very beginning in 1868, Cardinal Lavigerie, Founder of the Missionaries of Africa, wanted the group he founded to be a society of missionaries living in community, residing, praying, and working together; and he laid down that they should never be less than three together. There were, of course, practical advantages to be gained from community living. Missionaries could support each other in difficult and dangerous times. They could care for each other’s material and spiritual needs. They could also be an effective team that worked together in the missionary apostolate.
However, there was a more important and fundamental reason for adopting community life. The earliest Christians lived in communities, sharing their possessions and witnessing to Our Lord’s great commandment of fraternal love. “See how they love one another” was the reaction of their pagan contemporaries, as Tertullian noted in the 2nd Century AD. Community life was a lesson in itself. People in Africa who witnessed the community life of the first Missionaries of Africa called them “the people who eat together”.
Because of the “Rule of Three”, the Society did not offer single missionaries to bishops for work in their dioceses, but communities. Throughout the Society’s history there has been a constant effort to resist the break-up of its communities. If very special circumstances require a missionary to work on his own, he will usually have a “community of reference” or be attached to a non-White Father community. Missionaries of Africa are “apostles” or promoters of community wherever they happen to be.
Since many bishops in Africa adopted the building of small Christian communities as a “pastoral” priority in their parishes, the communities of Missionaries of Africa have taken on a role of leadership and example in this apostolate. The kind of community adopted by the Missionaries of Africa was called by Vatican II: “Communities of Apostolic Life”, i.e. it is defined by the missionary apostolate and not by religious or monastic life.
Aylward Shorter M.Afr