History of the province 
of St. Francis of Assisi

The “Africa Project” of the Friars Minor has already lived through its first generation and this is the moment to gather memories in order to pass them on to the next generation. That which could have been considered an utopia has become, in the course of twenty years, an historical reality, has been fixed in structural and mental structures.

It is not that the Franciscan presence in Africa began with the “Africa Project” of our times. Francis himself arrived in Egypt to meet the Sultan in 1219, living a singular experience which would reveal to him the way in which the Friars should go “among the Saracens and other infidels” . Other Friars left at the same time for Morocco where they found martyrdom (1220) and where others followed in subsequent years until they established an almost continuous presence up to our days. The Friars also continued to go to Egypt and Libya in the XIII century.  In modern times, following the discoverers of new lands or the more recent colonizers, the Friars of different European nationalities went to the African continent.

The Portuguese Friars arrived in the Congo towards the end of the XV century, then to Mozambique in 1900 and Guinea Bissau in 1932. The Belgian Friars established themselves in the Belgian Congo from 1919 onwards. The German, English and Irish Friars arrived in the south of the Continent (Kokstad, Rhodesia, South Africa) in the first half of the XX century. The Italian Friars continued the Franciscan presence in Libya and later on in Somalia and Burundi. The French arrived in Togo and Ivory Coast (1956) and in Madagascar (1961). The American Friars joined the Belgians in Congo-Zaire and the Croatians opened a mission in the region of Kivu (1970).

An evaluation of this long Franciscan missionary experience in Africa was made by the same Minister General who launched the “Project”: “The examination of what these Friars accomplished confirms our admiration for their zeal and dedication. It was a question, in the majority of cases, of small groups of Friars, often spread out and far from each other, without many prospects of success. Many of them established themselves in the coastal countries, often among large Muslim majorities without real prospects of conversions and even less possibilities of setting up local Franciscan fraternities. In some cases they had to limit themselves to taking care of foreigners only. Even if the sanitary conditions have improved, the climatic conditions in certain countries remain noteworthy.

The spiritual difficulties met were also great: the encounter with Islam, the evident sectarian attitude of many independent churches, an eclectic variety of animism and also grave difficulties with the Orthodox Churches. The difficulties in the cultural area were no less: tribalism, apartheid, the inaccessible mysteries of the African culture, the colonial and anti-colonial attitudes reminiscent of slavery, exploitation by the rich and the very many African traditions which seemed to be contrary to Catholic tradition” .

It is important to add that the Friars Minor began the mission “ad extra” in the modern sense and they created a presence among Muslims, starting out with explorers, using commercial routes of the time and approaching the local populations in so far as they could to proclaim the Gospel, to offer the salvation of Christ to all they met and also to help the poor countries in their development and civilisation and to establish the Catholic Church. The Franciscans followed the “missionary models” of their times.

All of this still did not lead to a stable presence of the Order in Africa, the idea of forming young local men to the Franciscan life still being absent. It was also noted that the Order was absent in a great part of Africa, especially in the English-speaking part. The “absence of presence” was also felt as an “absence of returns”, as a lack of an African contribution to the enrichment of the Franciscan charism.

This new sensitivity had been aroused by the missionary renewal of the II Vatican Council (The Ad gentes decree), which had an important and innovative echo in the reflection on Franciscan missions during the General Chapter of Medellin in 1971.

In 1980, initiatives were in full swing in view of the celebration of the VIII centenary of the birth of St. Francis (1981/1982). Among them, a special mention is merited by the historical Congress in Rome in 1980  as a recovery of the missionary memory and by the establishment of a Mission Council on 31st January 1981 as an “organ of international competence”. A few days later, Friars representing the 15 Franciscan Entities in 7 different African countries met for the first time in Salisbury (Zimbabwe), from the 3rd to 12th February. They asked for help and gave suggestions for the establishment of the Order in Africa.

In the following months, Br. Anselmo Moons, Definitor General, and Br. Mel Brady, Secretary General for Missions, visited Nigeria, Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast for the purpose of “assessing the possibilities for expansion of the Franciscan presence in Africa” in the perspective of presenting a special project for Africa to the General Definitory and then to the entire Order . Br. Anselmo Moons presented the “Africa Project” to the General Definitory on the 25th June 1981.


The first Africa Project

Given the novelty of the proposal, it is interesting to read the integral text of the “project”.

General objective: A new presence of our Order in Central Africa.


The centre of gravity of the Church is constantly moving towards the countries of the third world. Africa also promises to become an important part of the Church. In the countries of Central Africa we are only present in Zaire.

We believe that our Order can contribute to the local African Church by offering it the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi.

We also hold that the African Church could enrich the Order with new interpretations of the fundamental elements of the Franciscan ideal: fraternity, poverty, peace, hospitality, joy, prayer, liturgy, simplicity, family spirit, etc.

The VIII centenary of the birth of St. Francis furnishes us with the opportunity to stimulate the Order with a project which seems too difficult to realise according to the norms of prudence, a project which involves the entire Order and gives it a new sense of vitality.

In which Countries?

In East Africa there are possibilities in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia, Malawi and Angola; in West Africa in Nigeria, Upper Volta and Liberia.

A Letter from the Minister General

The response of the Order to the project will depend a lot on the appeal which the M.G. should send to each individual Friar. The appeal’s power to convince will depend greatly on the determination with which the government of the Order will guide the project to success.

The lack of sufficient personnel to maintain the activities of the various Provinces is not an acceptable excuse. The letter of the M.G. must give enough concrete information about the project so that the candidates may know what is required of them. The letter must speak about everything the Friars have done and are doing in Africa. A generous response to the appeal of the M.G. could be useful to the groups already in existence but needing reinforcements. The letter must make it very clear that the offer of “Friars that can be well done without” is not acceptable.

The "Africa Project" also can do without these Friars. Friars which the Provinces “cannot do without” are needed. The M.G. must explicitly insist that the bigger Provinces should offer at least two Friars and the smaller Provinces at least one. The Provincials must encourage the Friars to come forward without putting obstacles. Only when the Provinces make real sacrifices will they be able to receive new vitality. This appeal should furnish at least one hundred Friars from whom a final selection can be made.

The first three-year period (1983-1986)

The Vicariate began with 5 fraternities, each one of which had its own responsible person: Br. Andrea Comtois for the fraternity in Malawi, Br. Gregorio Tajchman for the fraternity in Nigeria, Br. Giacomo Bini for the fraternity in Rwanda, Br. Paschal Gallagher for the fraternity in Tanzania, Br. Heinric Gockel for the fraternity in Kenya and Bursar of the Vicariate. The members of the Vicariate were, in the beginning, 31 from 21 different Entities of the Order.

The first Council of the Vicariate, with the participation of the General Definitor Br. Anselmo Moons, was held in Nairobi from 3rd to 12th September 1983. Some fraternities were adjusted, the possibility of enlarging the Project to French-speaking West Africa, the conditions for accepting candidates to the Order and the search for, preparation and reception of future volunteers were  discussed. Br.  Giuseppe-Maria Massana was charged with initial formation in the Vicariate and, in the prospect of having new volunteers, it was decided also to open one or two communities in Uganda.

Another Council of the Vicariate was held in Malawi in March 1984. In his first annual report on the Vicariate, Br. Gualberto Gismondi signalled the difficulty on the part of the local Churches to understand the demands of the life of the Friars (“Simplicity, fraternity, poverty, are values which must still be acquired by the young Churches in which we intend to operate”) provoking, at times, dissent, equivocations and misunderstandings; the insistence of the Bishops on giving the Friars parishes, proposed as an almost exclusive model of pastoral activity; the difficulty of the Friars to learn the local languages and, therefore, the difficulty of communication with the population.

The Vicariate sought to give itself the first necessary norms for constructing the new Entity, made fraternal relationships with the Franciscan Entities which already existed in Africa, sought to carry out the task of making the Order sensitive to the “Africa Project” and tried to find the means to give preparation to the Friar volunteers who were presenting themselves. Initial difficulties of different kinds were certainly not lacking, but there were also different positive elements, among which was what had seemed the most difficult, that is, the inter-provincial fraternity.

“The international character of the community not only did not create problems, but, in the common judgement, it has been shown to be an irreplaceable value for the project and the Vicariate and an occasion of a prophetic testimony in the face of tribal tensions and nationalisms of the continent”.

Gismondi concluded by affirming: “The experience of this first year allows us to look to the future with confidence and hope and to ask for a courageous and continuous renewal of the missionary commitment expressed through adhesion to the “Africa Project”.

The second Pan-African Congress was held in Rome from the 3rd to 17th May 1984 to have an exchange of ideas and experiences in view of better cooperation in the future. Important topics, such as the formation of African Friars, the problem of inculturation and the possibilities of facing up to the material needs of the local Churches were discussed . In a subsequent meeting of the Definitory, Gismondi observed – with the approval of those present – that the Africa Project was not limited to the Vicariate of St. Francis alone, but referred to the whole continent. The entry of Madagascar, a mission of the French Friars, into the Africa Project was prepared. 

After one year of life of the Africa Project, Br. G. Gismondi again highlighted the points of the letter “Africa is calling us”, which served as constant reference points for the growth of the Vicariate: the setting up of fraternities and their primacy over work, the “implantatio Ordinis” in Africa, presence in the midst of poor and oppressed populations, the construction of simple and flexible structures and collaboration with the local Church.

The second “seminar” for the preparation of volunteers destined for the Africa Project was held in Rome from the 15th to 30th October  and the Congress for all of Africa was held that same month. It asked the General Definitory to “up-date the structures of the Order in Africa, among other things”. The Vicariate saw, therefore, new volunteer missionaries come, even though others returned to their countries of origin for different reasons and each of the following countries: Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Malawi began to have two fraternities. The first years were characterised by a rapid expansion of the fraternities with the arrival of the first native candidates to the Order and the beginning of the consolidation of the essential structures. An important encouragement came with the visit that the Minister General, Br. John Vaughn, made to Africa from the 4th to 28th April 1985.

Even in their apparent simplicity, the presence and words of the Minister were accepted as “an encouragement to remain faithful to the spirit and fundamental values of the Africa Project, an invitation to look, with the eyes of God, on this people on whom too many look upon with the eyes of self-interest, avarice and power”. He thanked the Lord for the presence of young African candidates to the Franciscan life in Malawi, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania. “An audacious dream – the Vicar wrote – is a full-blooded and operative reality today. We can say that the Project and its realisation have been a great challenge and prophetic anticipation for the Order and the Church. Thanks to these, we have lived once again the enthusiasm of our origins”.

Other steps in the development of the Vicariate were: the sending of lay volunteers to some fraternities, the approval of the first Statutes of the Vicariate, the attempt to find means of financial support for the Vicariate through “contact Friars”, an increase in the number of councillors of the Vicariate from four to five members and the appointment of the first General Visitator in the person of Br. Sylvère Leblanc, of the Province of St. Joseph in Canada.

The first canonical visitation was carried out in January and February 1986 and was immediately followed by the Chapter of the Vicariate, during which the new superiors were elected: Vicar: Br. Paul J. Osborne; Pro-Vicar: Br. Giacomo Bini; Councillors: Br. Augustin Paré, Br. Claus Scheifele, Br. Finian Riley, Br. Roy Corrigan and Br. Columbano Arellano.

Balance and difficulties

At the Chapter of 1986, the Vicariate had 66 Friars, of whom 50 were solemnly professed, 4 temporary professed and 12 novices. There were, besides, more than 29 postulants and one hundred aspirants. The Friars were engaged in different ministries: formation, administration, youth and parochial pastoral activity, spiritual exercises and direction, assistance to the Franciscan Sisters and Secular Franciscans, catechesis and teaching, and pastoral service to the maladjusted.

Among the missionaries of the first stage, 11 had already left the Vicariate because of health and adaptation problems while only 7 new volunteers had arrived. The presence of the Friars was already attested to in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi and Madagascar and so, during the Chapter, the Vicariate decided to call itself “The Vicariate of St. Francis in Africa and Madagascar”. In only three years, the Africa Project had made such good progress, despite the difficulties and uncertainties of the beginning, as to be able to contribute to changing the image or the model which there had been of the missionary in certain regions of Africa.

The more important difficulties, which the Visitator also highlighted in his report, regarded the personnel above all. The lack of Friars on all levels was very much felt, especially in the area of formation, which constituted the priority of the Vicariate. The service of the Friars was also requested insistently by the Franciscan Sisters and Poor Clares. The Chapter, therefore, decided not to open new fraternities, except the new formation community in Lusaka (Zambia) in the Inter-Family Philosophical Institute, and to get involved again in the search for new volunteers for the Africa Project, supporting itself on the vote of the 1985 General Chapter which had requested that the missionary project for Africa should constitute one of the priorities of the Order for subsequent years.

It was not easy even to safeguard the priority of the fraternity, for which the Chapter established that in future every community would be formed by at least four Friars, even at the cost of reducing the number of presences. Besides, the extension of the territory (six States!), the difficulties in movement (long and expensive journeys!) and at times the difficulty of language – the Vicariate being bi-lingual officially (English and French) – impeded the Friars in knowing each other. For the purpose of creating a minimum of unity, Franciscan solidarity and sense of belonging, the Chapter proposed that the Vicar should visit the Friars regularly, that a Chapter of Mats should be celebrated before the ordinary Chapter and that a bulletin of the Vicariate should be published. It was also proposed to celebrate “regional Chapters” now and again.

Perhaps the greatest difficulty – which does not appear in the official documents, but which is well known to whoever participated in the Africa Project for a few years and which found expression in some private documents, such as letters – was that of finding a basic common orientation together, a style of Franciscan life which would correspond best to the African reality and to the spirit of the Africa Project and which could be shared by all Friars of the Vicariate. In reality, “already in Rome – as one missionary of the first hour expressed himself – during the month of formation, while a great time was given to the cultural-scientific part, always useful, very little time was dedicated to the spiritual and essential assimilation of the Africa Project”. Having arrived in Africa, the Friars, who came from very many different cultures and formations, did not find a common formulation.

This was affirmed in two tendencies, one which was more demanding and radical, very close to the African people, whose style of life and home they chose, and another tendency which believed, on the contrary, that it was necessary also to use the means of western civilisation for the fraternity and for the social-economic promotion of the region. These two tendencies constituted something like “two souls”, which have deeply marked the Africa Project right up to our days.

The second three-year period (1986-1989)

On the initiative of the General Definitory, a special “Work Group for Africa” was brought together in the General Curia from the 26th to 31st May 1986. It presented a document, – approved by the same Definitory with some amendments – which referred to “the extension of the ‘Africa Project’ to the whole of Africa”, “the appointment of three Delegates General for North Africa and the Arab countries, for West Africa and for Mozambique and Zimbabwe”, “the publication of a new ‘Africa is calling us’, to be written by the Minister General” in a suitable lapse of time, the need to give “adequate prior preparation” to new volunteers and, finally, to favour the establishment of a Centre of Franciscan Studies for the formation of all the Friars.

The aim of the working group was to develop collaboration between the various Franciscan Entities in Africa, including the Vicariate of Nairobi. The new Vicar, Br. Paul Osborne, had the impression that it was wished to overrate the “Africa Project”, considering it different and superior to the other presences by its style of life and its “special status”. This created tensions rather than favour collaboration and integration. Br. Paul Osborne, therefore, believed that it was more important to share personnel, resources, formation programmes and projects with the other Entities.

The new administration took the disposition believed to be necessary to make the Vicariate progress during the Council held in Nairobi from the 16th to 18th August 1986. Within the year, the whole Council signed and sent the Friars a letter which contained some directives about the individual and community use of money “in order to avoid and reject our identification with the goods of this world”, to “respect the dignity of the people” which sought help from us and “to avoid offending the native clergy” who did not have the same means as the missionaries. In the meantime another 11 missionaries arrived, but the Vicariate needed at least 16 new Friar volunteers.

In an extraordinary session of the 22nd to 29th September 1986, the General Definitory discussed a pro-memoriam presented by Br. Gismondi on the “things already done” and on the “things still to be done” and arrived at the following resolution: “The General Definitory approves and supports the foundation of a Franciscan Institute for Africa, entrusting to the Definitor General for Africa, aided by the competent Offices and Secretariats of the Order, the task of studying the most opportune modalities, projects of preparation and proposals to be submitted to the same General Definitory for their subsequent approval”.

With the coming into force of the new General Constitutions in 1987, the Vicariate - which in the meantime had grown through the entry of new African Friars especially – became “the Vice-Province of St. Francis in Africa and Madagascar”.

On the sixth anniversary of the first appeal for the Africa Project, Br. John Vaughn, Minister General, sent out a second letter in which he gathered together many of the proposals of the “Work group for Africa”. The basic intention of the letter was to re-launch the spirit and principal characteristics of the Africa Project and to extend it to the whole continent, with a new appeal to the generosity of the Provinces. Having recalled the Franciscan presence in Africa, the Minister General reaffirmed the validity of inter-provinciality and internationality, which favour a exchange between diverse Franciscan values and traditions and facilitate inculturation. He underlined the importance of fraternity as “one of the most significant experiences” in which Friar missionaries and Africans can share their values and their needs (n. 3-4) and, therefore, the extension of this “project” to the whole continent.

The Africa Project does not limit its attention and benefits to the Vice-Province of St. Francis in East Africa and Madagascar alone, but extends them to all the Friars and Entities which work in Africa” (n. 6). In fact, “for years many countries have never ceased to invoke urgently our presence” and the Minister invited the various African Entities “to assume all the most courageous initiatives in order to set up new presences in the territories we indicated” (n. 18). Sure, challenges and difficulties were not lacking, there were “difficulties for health and inculturation, unease, difficulty in learning the languages, in adapting or inserting constructively into the fraternities and work, in accepting a profoundly different style of life.

Internationality and inter-provinciality are a constant challenge and a constant dynamic and dialectical task” (n. 10). But the balance sheet of the first six-year period was “broadly positive” (n. 9) and a new missionary commitment by the whole Order (old and new Provinces, Delegates for Africa, General Definitory) would give strength to the Franciscan presences in Africa.

The General Definitory continued to support the Africa Project with two new initiatives. After the letter of the Minister General, the “Council for Africa” was established as “an consultative organism for the study of, the information about and a means for unity among the various Entities in Africa” . In the following month (February 1988) it was decided to set up two Conferences for Africa: The Sub-Saharan Conference and COMONA for North Africa and the Middle East, which were organised in November of the same year.

In the meantime, the Provincial, Br. Osborne, made the canonical visitation to the fraternities of the Vice-Province during the months of January-March 1988. In the conclusions sent to the Minister General, Br. Osborne highlighted, on the one hand, many positive aspects such as good missionary spirit, interest in the inculturation of the missionaries and of the Franciscan charism, dedication and simple life in the fraternities, but, on the other hand, he did not hide the persistent difficulties such as the scant communication between the fraternities, a certain individualism in ideas and work, the different understanding of the spirit of the Africa Project on the part of the last Friars to arrive, the need still for volunteers and especially for formators.

The difficulty of the bilingualism of the Vice-Province, the diversity of situations and problems in the seven countries which made up the Vice-Province, caused Br. Osborne to put the question if it would not be better to have the structure of a Federation rather than that of a Vice-Province. The following year, the Visitator General, Br. Clarence Laplante, Canadian, made the same observation, adding that the candidates complained because they saw too much insecurity in the programmes of formation and at times they did not feel they were heard or understood. A little later, the General Definitory held that the Vice-Province itself would have to study its own re-structuring and to renew and organise its own formation programme.

In the elective Chapter of 1989, Br. Paul Osborne was elected Minister Provincial for a further three years, Br. Giacomo Bini was elected Vicar and Brothers Tomo Andic, Columbano Arellano, Francisco Oliveira, Augustin Pare and Pero Vrebac were elected Councillors.

The third three-year period (1989-1992)

In the following September, the Minister General invited the Friars of the Vice-Province to discuss and send suggestions on the two main problems of the re-structuring of the Vice-Province itself and on the formation programme. The responses were collected and summarised in a letter of Br. Paul Osborne, sent to the Rome on the 8th December of the same year. The proposals in regard to the restructuring were very different, but the Provincial Definitory held that it was not the time to divide the Vice-Province because of the restricted numbers of solemnly professed Friars and because the division would have provoked even further problems.

It was suggested instead to establish Madagascar as a Foundation with its own Statutes. On formation, the Friars noted the lack of adequate discernment in the selection of candidates, the lack of a basic cultural education in the young and also the lack of formation in the formators, and they suggested to regroup and concentrate the novitiates, while the Definitory insisted on the recruitment of new formators.

Br. John Vaughn appreciated the reflection made and considered it a good first step, he also appreciated the idea of creating a Foundation of the Vice-Province in Madagascar and asked for the development of communication and collaboration between the two parts – English-speaking and French-speaking – of the Vice-Province.

During the following days, the Minister General carried out his second visit to the Africa Project, meeting the Friars, the Poor Clares and the lay Franciscans in the localities of Kivumu and Byumba in Rwanda, Kashekuro and Kakoba in Uganda, Nairobi, Bahati, Nakuru and Subukia in Kenya, Antananarivo and Soavantanina in Antsirabé (Madagascar). Br. J. Vaughn, on that occasion, stated that “the Africa Project has given new heart and enthusiasm to the Order”.

Meanwhile, a few months earlier (1989), the Genoa mission of Burundi had entered to form part of the Vice-Province and an agreement of cooperation had been signed with the Province of Lyon about the Franciscan presence on the island of Mauritius. Madagascar was made a Foundation of the Vice-Province with its own Statutes. The number of missionaries remained constant at about fifty, while the number of young native professed increased. In Livingstone (today, Lusaka) in Zambia, the new “St. Bonaventure Formation Centre” was being built with the Conventual and Capuchin Friars, which would be inaugurated on the 21st June 1992. The formation of the candidates, which was always the priority of the Africa Project, continued in two residential Houses for Aspirants, seven Postulancies (one in each country), two Novitiates and three Houses of Formation for the temporary professed, with the worries and problems of always.

In the following canonical visitation, the Provincial, Br. Paul Osborne, noted with a certain satisfaction that the life of prayer in the fraternities was “reasonably good”, that the Friars were always in search for a simple style of life, that the missionaries were praiseworthy in the zeal and spirit of sacrifice and that formation was improving in both programmes and quality of candidates. But fraternal life, as well as the local Chapters, were always weak; the enthusiasm for inculturation was diminishing in the new volunteers and it was evermore difficult to change the Friars to other fraternities, probably because of the diversity of languages also. But above all, the Vice-Province had not yet succeeded in finding a unitary vision of the Franciscan life and mission in Africa: this needed a new dynamism and a new, more decisive “leadership”.

The Minister General made the observation to Br. Osborne that, perhaps, the Vice-Province was spreading its forces thin and that it would have been better to concentrate or unite some Houses of Formation, especially the Novitiates. With regard, then, to the insufficiency of personnel, the Minister recalled that in the previous 5 years, 27 new volunteers were assigned to the Vice-Province, but there were always Friars who returned quickly to their Province of origin. What were the causes of this? The Provincial said that many did not have a good preparation or motivation. The need to prepare the new volunteers began to appear, but it was not known how to do it.

Meanwhile the General Definitory appointed Br. Liam Slattery, of South Africa, as the principal Visitator General and Br. Matthieu Beraud, a French missionary in Togo, assistant Visitator General for the French-speaking part. During the Chapter of 1992 the government was renewed: Provincial, Br. Giacomo Bini; Vicar, Br. Joseph Ehrardt; Definitors, Br. Heinrich Gockel, Br. John Harding, Br. Nicodeme Kibuzehose, Br. Christopher Rickman and Br. Lanfranco Tabarelli. Meanwhile, the General Chapter of 1991 had made the Vice-Provinces equal to Provinces, and therefore the new government was elected for six years, and no longer for three, but the next Provincial Chapter, scheduled for January/February 1998, was anticipated by six months and was celebrated in July 1997.

The fourth three-year period (1992-1995)

Taking into account the problems highlighted, the new administration transferred the Novitiate from Bahati (Kenya) to Mbarara (Uganda), already considered to be the only Novitiate for all the African countries of the Vice-Province, while the Foundation in Madagascar continued to have its own Novitiate.

In May of the same year, 1992, the Secretariat for Formation and Studies of the Sub-Saharan Conference was established. This met for the first time in Lusaka from 19th – 24th April 1993, discovering an unexpected richness in the field of formation in Africa and, in this way, set in motion a work of coordination and reflection which led to the Congress of Nairobi in 1995 on “Franciscan values and the African culture”,and to another Congress, held in Lusaka in 1999, on “The formation of the Franciscan temporary professed in Africa and Madagascar”.

A renewed attention was paid to initial formation in the Vice-Province. Following the publication of the Order’s “Ratio Formationis Franciscanae” in 1991, a “Ratio Formationis” of the Vice-Province was also worked out (1992), in which African values as a context for Franciscan values and the commitment to construct fraternal communion between the Friars of different nationalities, cultures and ethic-groups were highlighted.

The following year was the X anniversary of the beginning of the Africa Project (1983-1993) and it was celebrated with a Chapter of Mats in Nairobi from 3rd to 8th August, with the participation of 57 Friars (missionaries, Africans and Madagascans) and of the Minister General, Br. Hermann Schalück. After ten years, the Vice-Province had 53 solemnly professed Friars from the 5 continents and of 15 different nationalities, 23 temporary professed, 11 novices and 15 postulants. 14 of the 16 fraternities of the Vice-Province were Houses of Formation, clearly indicating that the “implantatio Ordinis” was really the absolute priority.

During the Chapter, the most characteristic aspects of the preceding years were gone over again: the progress in formation, the forms of evangelisation, the experiences lived by the young local Friars from each of the countries which make up the Vice-Province. An important intention was to reinforce the unity between people coming from such different regions, cultures and languages. The Chapter also looked forward in order to construct the future and to know how to respond to the challenges of the mission and of the new evangelisation in Africa and Madagascar. The Minister General reminded all of some fundamental elements of the Franciscan mission, such as the primacy of the person over works, the importance of the quality of life of each one and he stressed that the whole Order should show a lot of attention and interest in the development of the Africa Project. The Chapter having ended, Br. H. Schalück took advantage of the occasion to visit the fraternities of the Friars and Poor Clares in Uganda.

At this happy time of great unity and hope for the future, right during the celebration in Rome of the two Synods on Africa and the Consecrated Life, there occurred the tragic period of the genocide in Rwanda (April – July 1994) which affected the whole Vice-Province. All felt impotent in the face of the unstoppable wave of hate and mass killings. Only the help of God had been able to protect the Rwanda Friars, formed by men from both ethic-groups in conflict. But Br. Georges Gashugi fell under the blows of blind and unjust violence as the first Franciscan martyr in Rwanda, which was followed four years later by the killing of Br. Vjeko Curic, martyr of solidarity and reconciliation, for which he had worked continuously without sparing himself.

A new and very specific task opened up for the whole Vice-Province, that of healing the internal wounds of many people persecuted or seeking refuge everywhere and also of many of our African Friars, together with working for reconciliation on all levels and through all means. From that moment on the Franciscan mission in Africa is called “reconciliation”.

Subsequent developments

The consequences of the development of the “Africa Project” form part of the contemporary chronicle which is probably already known by our readers. I will limit myself to some of the more important or significant moments. Br. Giacomo Bini, already in the final months of his mandate, was elected Minister General during the General Chapter (May 1997). Inspired by his personal experience, he wished to open an international fraternity in Brussels in 2000 for the preparation of new missionaries, especially for those to Africa, but also for the projects of the Order in Asia. Meanwhile, in the Vice-Province they were trying to reconstruct the Franciscan presence in Rwanda and to orient and encourage the Friars to follow a possible common line. This task had a significant moment during the reflection of the Provincial Chapter of 1997, where the assembly made the effort to take on once again the spirit of the Africa Project.

In the same Chapter, Br. Jacques St-Yves (1997-2004), a Canadian and long-time missionary in Peru, was elected Minister Provincial. He had joined the Vice-Province of the Island of Mauritius in 1998. From then on it was called “The Vice-Province of St. Francis in Africa, Madagascar and the Island of Mauritius”, comprising nine countries, and it became a “Province” with the new General Statutes of 2004.

It is important to add that during this first period of the “Africa Project” the Franciscan Family also developed. In every country of the Vice-Province there were Poor Clare Sisters (the final group arrived in Kenya), who had good relations and exchanges of services with the Friars. Br. Joseph Massana was the animator of the French-speaking Poor Clares for many years.

By 1989 there were also 36 communities of Franciscan Brothers and Sisters of the Third Order Regular, some of African foundation, to which the Friars gave spiritual assistance. In addition, wherever the Friars worked, groups of Franciscan Tertiaries were born. A special mention is reserved for the great development of the Secular Franciscan Order in Tanzania, thanks to the tireless work of Br. Valerio Berloffa,  and also in Malawi, through the work of Br. André Comtois.

Thanks to the support of the Friars, the Secular Institute of the Missionaries of the Royalty of Christ, founded in Italy by Br. A. Gemelli, spread throughout Africa, especially in Malawi, Burundi and Rwanda. But the great animator of the Franciscan Family was Br. Heinrich Gockel, who developed bonds and formation between the various Franciscan Congregations in Kenya and in the whole of English-speaking Africa and in 2001 he could inaugurate, in Nairobi, a Centre for the Franciscan Family called “Porziuncola”.