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Longing Fulfilled on Election of First African Superior General of 318-year-old Order

New Superior General of the Spiritans, flanked by members his Council. From left to right: Fr. Marc Botzung (France), Fr. Jean-Marc Sierro (Switzerland), Fr. Philip Massawe (Tanzania), Fr. Jude Nnorom (Nigeria), Fr. Alain Mayama (Congo Brazzaville), Fr. Jeff Duaime (USA), Fr. Albert Ndongo Assamba (Cameroon), Fr. Kieran Alaribe (secretary general, Nigeria), and Fr. Tony Neves (Portugal). Credit: Fr. Dominic Gathurithu, CSSp.

The election of Fr. Alain Mayama from Congo Brazzaville as the new Superior General for the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans) not only testifies that Africa is becoming the axis of Catholicism. It also fulfils a deep desire that one of the Congregation’s founders harbored to have a black man become the first Superior General of the Missionary Religious Order.

In a Wednesday, October 27 interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Mayama recalled that Venerable François-Marie-Paul Libermann who has been described as “the second founder of Spiritans” served black people wholeheartedly and would be “happy to see” the Congregation’s progress through the election of an African.

Founded in 1703 by Claude Poullart des Places, the Congregation of the Holy Spirit underwent transformation in history, including being fused with the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary that had been founded by Fr. Liberman. Through the years, the Congregation has had 25 Superiors General, including Fr. Mayama who is the only African on the list.

Fr. Alain Mayama, Superior General of the Spiritans. Credit:@csspnigeria

Following his election on October 18 at the end of the Spiritans’ three-week General Chapter that was held at Bagamoyo in Tanzania’s Catholic Diocese of Morogoro from October 3, the member of the Spiritan Province of Congo Brazzaville described his election as “a moment of grace” for the Congregation’s founders and members all over the world.

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“For me, it is a moment of grace for the entire congregation,” Fr. Mayama said of his election, and added in reference to one of the Congregation’s founding Superiors General, “In the perspective of Liberman… for a black man to become the first superior general of the congregation is a big moment and a historical moment.”

“I believe that our founders will be also happy to see that the Congregation has grown and we have come to embrace all cultures and welcome all people into the Congregation irrespective of their race or color or wherever they are coming from,” he said.

Fr. Alain Mayama, Superior General of the Spiritans. Credit:Courtesy Photo

The Priest who has been serving as General Assistant in the Spiritan Generalate in Rome since 2012 further described his election as a great and historical moment for the Congregation, and added, “It is an honor and a privilege to be a part of that history, a very significant moment that is happening also on the African soil where the first African has been elected as the Superior General of the Congregation.”

Fr. Mayama agreed that indeed, the universal Church seems to be finding its future in Africa and underlined the need for the Church on the continent to accept the leadership opportunity with humility and to serve the rest of the world, especially in areas where the Catholic Church leadership has difficulty finding workers.

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“When you look at the composition of many Congregations, you will see that the number of Religious coming from Africa is growing everywhere,” the 50-year-old Spiritan Priest who began his missionary life in Cameroon as a formator told ACI Africa October 27.

In the Spiritan Congregation, he went on to say, “a majority of members are now African. And the challenges facing our Religious Orders today are mainly challenges that African Religious Priests and Sisters are facing.”

The Congolese Priest explained that those taking responsibilities in many Religious Congregations are people coming from Africa and Asia where he said vocations are on the upward trajectory.

He highlighted some of the continents where Catholicism has shown a downward trend and called on regions where the Church is more vibrant to serve fully, building on the values that early Christians left as a treasure.

“Europe is going down because they had their own time and things seem to be going well for Africa or Asia. We don't know how long it's going to last. We just have to welcome the opportunity and then to serve with simplicity and humility,” Fr. Mayama said.

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Credit: Spiritans Nigeria/@csspnigeria

He added, “Maybe our time also will come and pass and it will be time for another continent or another place (to be the axis of Catholicism). But God has it all. We just welcome the opportunity and then do our best to be part of the Church’s history and build on whatever values we got from our ancestors and from our founders.”

Following his ordination in 2000 and missionary life in Cameroon as a formator, Fr. Mayama was later commissioned to the United States for further studies. He assumed responsibility of chaplaincy at the Port-Huron hospital in Detroit from 2007 to 2008.

He then returned to Africa, taking up the formation ministry in Libreville, Gabon, from 2008 to 2010, when he was elected the Provincial Superior of his native Province of Congo Brazzaville.

Fr. Alain Mayama, Superior General of the Spiritans. Credit:Courtesy Photo

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In his position as Superior General of the Spiritans, Fr. Mayama will accompany more than 2,600 Spiritan missionaries who minister in 60 countries on the five continents, together with the thousands of lay people who share the spirituality and mission of the Spiritans.

Highlighting some of the priorities during his eight-year tenure, the Congolese Priest told ACI Africa that he will pay more focus on competency-based formation and mission as initially stipulated by the founders of the Spiritans. 

Going forward, he said, one priority will be engaging Spiritians on “how to refocus our attention on mission in the footsteps of our founders, that is, the evangelization of the poor. How do we address the issue of going to our priority missions?”

He identified the challenge of finance, which is to be overcome if the Congregation is to have an impact in specific missions. 

The focus, he said, will be to revisit the Congregation’s charism in terms of investment in particular missions proper to the Religious Order.

“If we go to Moroto in Uganda, for instance, we’ll need to make sure that confreres working there are well equipped to be able to respond to the needs of the people there. It shouldn't be the responsibility of Spiritans in Uganda to ensure that the needs are met. It has to be the responsibility of the entire Congregation,” he explained. 

The Congregation will identify priority missions that need full support and all efforts will be put in place to support Spiritans in these missions, Fr. Mayama said.

On embracing competency-based formation, the new Superior General says members of the Congregation will need to undergo appropriate training to achieve relevant skills aligned to specific missions.

“We need to come out of the classical way of training missionaries. We have to make sure the personnel acquire competence,” the Spiritan Superior General told ACI Africa October 27.

He added, “In today's world, competency is very key in order to achieve something in the mission. So, we really have to reconsider the way we train our members in order for them to be ready to face the challenges of today.”

Participants in the Spiritan Chapter at Stella Maris Hotel, Bagamoyo in Tanzania's Morogoro Diocese 3-24 October 2021. Credit: Courtesy Photo

The Spiritan Priest reiterated the message of the General Chapter of the Spiritans that took place in Bagamoyo, Tanzania on the theme, “Behold, I am doing something new” taken from the Prophet Isaiah, and called on his confreres to cooperate with God’s grace in their respective missions.

“The message to my confreres and lay Spiritans is to avail ourselves of the newness that God is realizing in us. We need to avail ourselves and to welcome that newness. It means that we have to cooperate with God's Grace because God is definitely doing something new in us and in our Congregation,” Fr. Mayama said.

He encouraged members of the 308-year-old missionary Congregation to “dispose ourselves to welcome the grace of God and to cooperate with that Grace and everything will be alright.”

“All members are aware of the challenges facing us, and they will definitely cooperate and accept God to work through them and to make our Congregation new once again,” the new Superior General of the Spiritans told ACI Africa October 27.