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Africa and the Reign of Christ the King:

An Interview of Father Loïc Duverger, SSPX District Superior for Africa

Brian McCall POSTED: 6/1/11

Fr. Duverger with memebers of the faithful in Cameroon

( In September 2010, Pope Benedict XVI established a Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization.  As the auto-demolition of the Church continues and the Church bleeds members from all sides, even the Vatican recognizes something must be done.  A New Evangelization has been called for repeatedly by John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  Yet, the ever “new” methods embraced by Vatican II and its apologists never seem to produce the hoped for results.  So yet another gimmick must always be attempted. Meanwhile conversions dwindle to a trickle and the abandonment of the Faith increases to a tsunami.  In the “old” days, the New Evangelization was simply called missionary work, the missionary work commissioned by Our Lord when he sent His Church to “teach all nations.” That “old” Evangelization converted continents and built civilizations. Alas, we are not likely to find much advice on restoring that missionary zeal from a Vatican bureaucracy conducting studies and writing papers on how to jump start a “new” evangelization based on the “new” (now tired) ideas of Vatican II.

So this writer decided to talk to someone out in the trenches, living the “old” evangelization—the one that worked for two thousand years.  I contacted Father Loïc Duverger, superior of the African district of the Society of St. Pius X. 

Although the name of Archbishop Lefebvre is largely associated with the crisis of the Council and his defense of Tradition, the Archbishop spent thirty years before the Council toiling in the missionary vineyard of Africa. This interview was conducted over the month of March and thus transpired over the twentieth anniversary of the death of Archbishop Lefebvre (March 25, 1991). It is clear that Archbishop Lefebvre’s love for saving souls and for the African missions is thriving in his successor in Africa, Father Duverger.  Father’s priestly wisdom and hope provide a clear argument for the restoration of the “old” evangelization and its fruitful harvest.[1]

Q.  Thank you, Father, for agreeing to this interview.  I am certain you are very busy with your Apostolate, and I appreciate the time you have devoted to answering my questions.   When were the Society’s activities in Africa begun? Who initiated the work? Was it Archbishop Lefebvre himself?

A.  The apostolate of the Society began in the early 1980s, when Archbishop Lefebvre came to South Africa to encourage the faithful who were resisting the crisis in the Church. But it was only in 1985 that the first priory was opened in Roodeport near Johannesburg in South Africa.  Then in 1986 we opened priories in Zimbabwe and Gabon—for which we are celebrating the 25th anniversary this year. Archbishop Lefebvre followed these foundations closely, but he paid special attention to the mission in Gabon—the place where he himself began his missionary life in 1932. He made an important journey there in 1985 to prepare the foundation of the mission.  On that occasion he met with the head of state, President Omar Bongo, several bishops and key figures of the country, his former students from the seminary and from the missions of Donguila, Kango and Lambaréne. Through his letters to Fr. Patrick Groche, founder of the St. Pius X mission, he generously gave much advice as a former missionary and demonstrated the care with which he followed the development of this priory. He returned there one year before his death and was happy to see the magnificent development of this work.

 Q. How many priests do you currently have in the district in Africa?

A. Today 21 priests, 4 brothers, 5 sisters, and 2 oblates exercise their apostolates in the 8 houses the Society possesses in Africa.

Q. How many priories (permanent houses with a community of priests living a common religious life) or other religious houses have been established in Africa and in which countries are they located?

A. In South Africa we have 3 houses (2 priories and a district house) which serve 7 chapels. In Gabon we possess one priory and one school.  Kenya is rich with a priory and, very recently, a novitiate of religious destined for the missions—the Missionary Sisters of Jesus and Mary. Zimbabwe is the fourth country in which we have a priory.  However, our priests are not content with these countries. They are spreading out elsewhere where the faithful call them, asking for the true Mass and the true Sacraments. Through missionary travels that are more or less long and frequent, they support groups of the faithful in Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia, Namibia, Cameroon, Tanzania, Burundi, and Ghana, as well as in the islands of Madagascar, Reunion, and Maurice. Between those where we are based and those where we visit, in total the Society is present in fifteen countries in Africa. Nigeria and Uganda are the two countries where we regularly visit which are the most developed. In Nigeria, Fr. Obih, a priest who was formerly an Augustinian religious, joined the Society a few years ago. He is preparing to come to the Society here and will crisscross the most populated countries of Africa (150 million inhabitants). In Uganda, one of the faithful who had been calling the Society for a long time has built a chapel in her home and brought together Catholics who want to preserve and strengthen their faith through prayer and good sacraments. Our confreres in Kenya come there every month to celebrate the Mass. Elsewhere there is a situation where there are only a few members of the same family who, under the good influence of the father, resist the conciliar revolution and dechristianization. And then, in Namibia, there are families separated by hundreds of kilometers who gather together when the priest comes.

Q. What countries do your priests come from? Europe, America, native African clergy?

A. The priests come from France (13), Australia (1), Gabon (1), Nigeria (1), the United States (1), Zimbabwe (1), Austria (1), the Philippines (1), and Belgium (1). It is truly international! The Society now has two African seminarians in major seminaries (one from Zimbabwe, the other from Kenya). One studies theology at Winona and the other at la Reja in Argentina. We have several pre-seminarians, three of whom are already at the seminary in Goulburn, Australia.  Others knock at the door, but we must evaluate each case so as to accept only those who are truly able to persevere in their studies.

Elsewhere in other priories of the Society, there are four Gabonese priests. And finally, a second priest from Nigeria, a parish priest, has asked to join the Society. I must meet with him in the next few weeks. Last year he went on a retreat preached by Fr. Obih, his friend, and Fr. Vernoy, the former superior of the district. After that occasion, he definitively returned to the celebration of the Mass of St. Pius V in his parish. This year, he again went on retreat and decided to join us. We are going to welcome him into a priory for a probationary time as required by the statutes of the Society. For him this will be the opportunity to complete his doctrinal formation, to better know the works of Archbishop Lefebvre and the reasons for our combat.

Q. Can you describe the nature of the Faith you find in the people of Africa who look to the Society for spiritual sustenance?

A. It is admirable to see the power of divine grace which enables these faithful to guard their faith when the world which surrounds them pushes it far away and the Protestant sects, often financed by foreigners, are rapidly multiplying. Then, we must not forget the drive of Islam which is more and more present and marks its conquests through the construction of mosques.  Along the road which leads from Nairobi to Mombasa in Kenya, the Muslims, financed by the Arab states in the Gulf, continue to build mosques all along the route even though there are already enough of them to fill the area. At Libreville, Gabon, when the Society was installed in 1986 there was only one mosque. Today around the mission three or four minarets sound the call of the Muslims several times a day. The faith of the faithful who call upon the Society is edifying and truly comforting. We would like to be able to help all those who call upon us, to respond to all the requests, but there are not enough of us. Always there is the same observation, “the harvest is abundant, but the workers are few.”

Q. What is the nature of the daily living conditions of the faithful under your priests’ care?

A. As with everywhere else, materialism wreaks havoc. Seeking after material profits touches the whole world, the very rich down to the very poor. People stream into the towns to settle there because they have the illusion of finding a higher standard of living. But instead their presence only serves to enlarge the immense shanty towns where everyone lives in a pernicious promiscuity and finds a degrading misery often worse than the poverty of the country. Also in Kenya, the priests furnish a good meal to the children of the parish on Sundays after Mass so as to supplement the poor and insufficient nourishment received at home. And everyone in this little world eats with a good appetite! Often the homes of these people consist of two little rooms for a family, which is ever expanding by taking in nephews and nieces whose parents have died or are incapable of raising children because they are even poorer. The unemployment is considerable. To cope with it the families take on multiple odd jobs through which they can earn some money. But this hard-earned money is often spent without discernment. That is how on the shanty made of boards, with a poor metal roof which leaks in the rain, there is a satellite dish and inside a television which allows the inhabitants to receive television programs from all over the world which influence, deform, misinform and pervert. They have nothing with which to pay for the schooling of their children, but they all have cellphones.

The same causes produce the same effects. Western materialism little by little invades the souls and makes them dream of and desire the artificial paradise seen on television. The souls become gradually impenetrable to grace. The harmful effects of ecumenism and religious liberty, and the increase in the numbers of Protestant charismatic sects makes religion optional and the truth relative:  Our Lord Jesus Christ, the only one by whom we can be saved, is no longer necessary. Of course, the evil is not as entrenched as in the West, but it is advancing with giant steps. The apostolic work, always enthusiastic without a doubt, becomes more difficult in certain aspects and more arduous in others.

Q. What institutions does the Society operate in Africa?  Are there any schools?

Father Louis BOHKOLTZ teaches catechism in a village school

during a pastoral visit to the mission in Libreville, Gabon

A. At this time, we are only developing priories together with their chapels. One must spend a lot of energy in this difficult climate to be able to meet the needs of the faithful: the Mass, the Sacraments, catechism, youth groups, sick calls, fitting out the houses, construction work, maintenance, administrative processes that are always long and complex. Only Gabon and Roodepoort in South Africa have schools: a primary school at Roodepoort and a primary and secondary school in Gabon. The schools are essential as they allow vocations to bloom and prepare Christian families. They are the future of the Church and our chapels. They demand our full attention and care; however, they require a considerable investment. We do hope to open one at each priory. But is must be with St. Joseph as the steward, otherwise we will never get there.

Q. You mention vocations.  Are the fruits of your priests’ efforts bearing the fruit of new vocations from the native population?

A. Before experiencing the joy of seeing every place being developed, we must occupy ourselves with the vocations which are asking to enter into the Society. The priesthood and all that touches the priesthood remains the primary purpose of the Society. One of our grand projects is the opening of a pre-seminary as a place to receive candidates for the priesthood or the religious life. This house will allow the young men selected by our priests to study for their vocation, to receive a doctrinal formation, and to learn the rudiments of Latin so as to more easily follow their studies in the seminary. This is the necessary preliminary step before opening a major seminary of the Society in Africa. We are convinced that, in the face of the immense needs of the apostolate, in order to present Africa to Our Lord Jesus Christ, there must be African priests, African brothers, and African religious.  Today, we are not able to reach this objective without the aid of “old Christianity.” The needs of the faithful are so considerable and the vocations are so few that each country would like to look after its own. Every year of his presence in Africa, Archbishop Lefebvre worked on the formation of an African clergy. He ordained priests and bishops and gave rise to African religious congregations.[2]

Q. I am aware that one of the important rules the Society has instituted is that no priest should live alone. For the moral safety of priests, the Society statutes require priests to live in a community of at least three. Yet, there is obviously so much work to be done in Africa. Are you able to adhere faithfully to this rule in Africa where there is so much to do and so few priests?

A. The temptation may exist to cut the apostolate free from the rules given by our founder. It is illusory to want to do good outside the framework given by the constitutions: the spiritual life would rapidly decline, the apostolic dynamism would go stale and sterility would become established. It is as if the devil were doing his utmost to manifest the opposite through a superficial success. Archbishop Lefebvre, by way of illustrating this temptation, used the image of a gardener who in trying to pull on the water pipe so as to water further out and yet ripped out the last spigot – now he can no longer water anything.  Our confreres understand this well and do everything in their power to respect this golden rule of apostolic effectiveness that is life in community. But we must also respond to the needs of the faithful, hence the necessity of going to the missions—never for too long—then coming back again to the priory so as to recharge our physical and spiritual strength. The ideal would be that the missions would be able to support several [priests], so as to nurture the community life. For the moment, that is not possible.

Q. What is the nature of the Society’s relations with the governments of the countries in which it operates in Africa? Are they friendly or hostile?

A. Wherever we come into Africa, we try very hard to establish good relations with the civil authorities – first in respecting the administrative steps necessary for us to settle in and then in turning to our work of the sanctification of the faithful. If they have had any fears, the civil authorities rapidly perceive that our actions are peaceful and beneficial. In Africa, as opposed to Europe, reality often overrides ideology. The true priest, in cassock, is respected. He rarely encounters hostility. He often engages in conversations on religious subjects in the offices of the administration. For example, this last Christmas, I accompanied a priest from the school at Libreville to the mayor’s office to ask that the police take charge of keeping order in the street which leads to the school. The deputy mayor was absent, so we discussed it with the secretaries and the conversation was concluded. Then the secretaries, remembering the Christmases of their childhood, started to sing at the top of their lungs, bringing together little by little the other secretaries on the floor.

Another time, at the end of a meeting held near the person responsible for the lots of the town in South Africa, the official asked for the blessing of the priest and the recitation of a prayer. So I gave the blessing and we recited the Pater Noster in his office. In several countries, there remain difficulties in obtaining authorization for long term visas. These are long, very long bureaucratic processes which have the impressive ability to teach patience, kindness, courtesy, and, in a word, “self-control.” As we say here: it is not unusual to find that after long hours waiting, the person behind the counter returns to tell you that he lacks a paper, or that your dossier is lost, or that closing time has arrived. This is not hostility toward us—everyone goes through the same procedure. That is how it is. That is Africa: the good school of patience!

Q. What about the diocesan bishops? Do you find them as hostile to the Society as in Europe (in France, for example)?

A. The relations with the dioceses are very much dependent on the bishop. We have neither very frequent nor very close relations, but on certain occasions we have been able to observe much goodwill from them. For example, the bishop of Johannesburg permitted us to venerate the remarkable relics of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus at the Priory of Roodespoort. This made for a beautiful day of celebration, a source of grace, at the beginning of the priests’ retreat in October 2010. The bishop of Nairobi, Kenya gave his written agreement for the installation of the Society in the country—an authorization that is indispensible towards obtaining an agreement with the government to open priories. Of further note is the always amiable reception by the bishop of Oyem, Gabon. When we made a stopover at his place while going to Cameroon, he invited us to eat with him. The last time we were there we ate lunch with the priests of the diocese who had come for a work session. The better bishops and priests see well that we do serious work; that we are fully Catholic. Of course, most do not understand our attitude; do not know the true reasons for our resistance and our combat. They are often very modern and filled with the false ideas spread throughout the Church today, but rarely do we encounter open hostility.

Q. Do you have any general observations on the state of the Church in Africa at this time?

A. In fact, it seems that in certain countries the conciliar reforms were put in place slowly— such as in Nigeria where communion in the hand was not permitted until 2008. The seminaries appear to be full, but who knows what kind of formation their future priests are receiving. A conciliar formation with its teaching of all the errors we are fighting? I very much fear that tomorrow, the same causes will produce the same effects. As has happened in Europe, the modernism taught by the badly formed priests will drain the churches in Africa. One can make the observation that the younger generations formed in this modernist doctrine and perverted by materialism will lose their sense of God little by little, desert the churches, and give in to all the vices and artificial paradises that modern society proposes.

Q. Is the Society’s work in Africa primarily bringing the Traditional Faith and Sacraments to Catholics or missionary activity to non-Catholics?

A. Our work is multifaceted. It is addressed primarily to the Catholics who have appealed to us, then, naturally, the souls coming to us. In Kenya, one of the catechumens is the caretaker hired by the fathers to look after the mission, another arrived one day at the church and asked to be baptized immediately, a third was brought by a friend. The Lord’s ways are many. In Gabon, we administered nearly 6,000 baptisms over 25 years—from little newborn babies to an old man on his deathbed in his plank board house. He was an animist, then a Muslim. Several weeks before his death, he had the grace to meet one of the faithful of the mission and then after a few short catechetical lessons, the priest baptized him and prepared him to die a Christian. It is without doubt one of the great consolations of a missionary to see how the Good Lord attracts souls of good will, leads them little by little along the road to salvation, and permits them to encounter a priest who goes on to conduct them to the doors of the Church and help them become children of God through baptism.  But it is also an occasion of great suffering to see certain ones who, after having traversed so many difficulties and going over so many obstacles so as to be regenerated by the waters of baptism, later are taken by passions and temptations and incrementally abandon the Christian life they had begun with such great enthusiasm.

Q. What are the biggest challenges facing the Society’s work in Africa?

A. Africa is an immense territory (3.3 times the area of the United States) with a billion people. Unfortunately, there are only 145-150 million Catholics. One person in three is Moslem. Islam progresses in the countries which do not know it, as in Gabon. (Islam arrived there in the 1960s.) To this relentless enemy of Catholicism may be added a strong push by the evangelical sects, often financed by foreigners, who draw from the Catholic Church large numbers of the faithful. To wit, an immense crowd that lies in the shadow of death. The “challenge” is laid before us. We must fight and give ourselves entirely to our task so as to conquer this continent for Our Savior. Jesus Christ must reign in the hearts of Africans. He must reign in society. This is the condition for peace and prosperity. For those who follow the news of this immense continent, it is frightening to see how war and revolution reign almost everywhere;  how the moral corruption of the elite destroy the economic life; how the most destitute suffer as victims of this disorder. If the governments submitted to Our Savior and respected His commandments, these magnificent countries which are overflowing with riches, would become veritable havens of peace and wellbeing.

One could give way to despair—wanting to change the world, to convert all these people. Is it not a ridiculous illusion, an insane idealism? Is it not better to be content with our chapels, our priories, our several thousands of faithful? Such an attitude is not Catholic. If the Apostles had held to such reasoning, St. Thomas would never have gone deeply into India, and today we would not be baptized! We have the grace of God which is all powerful and able to make sons of Israel out of rocks. Even more so is it able to do such with men deceived by false religions. We know our limits and that by ourselves we can do nothing. But greater numbers of priests increase the good that is accomplished. It is in this way that the intuition of our venerable founder is so brilliant: to lead the crowds to Jesus Christ, there must be priests who are sanctified by the Mass of all time and always more of these priests from the four corners of the earth.

Think of all the young men who will read this! To be precise, the “challenge” of the Society of St. Pius X in Africa is to form priests, to search for vocations, to make them grow, and to lead these young men to the priesthood, to encourage an increasingly growing number of priests to join us in this crusade for the triumph of Our Lord, and to support those few rare priests who remain faithful to the Mass of all times.

Q. What could Remnant readers do to help support your work in Africa?

A. First, I thank you for the honor you have given me in permitting me to present the Priestly Society of St. Pius X in Africa to your newspaper and I thank the readers of the Remnant for the attention they have given to our interview. Next, I would like to say that I know that they are already assailed by requests from all the other works they support and by the fight for the triumph of the Catholic Church in their own countries. I have a simple request—that they in charity not forget the regions of the world that are more neglected and more miserable and to pray for the priests who work there to spread the reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the only principle of peace.

In addition, if they are able to help us materially through their alms and gifts, that would be wonderful. The project that is our heart’s desire is the construction of a pre-seminary which could also serve as a novitiate for the brothers. We have 16 acres of land outside of Libreville that is mostly cleared. The roads have been laid out, a well has been dug, and electrical lines have been brought in. We only lack $700,000, an amount which would permit the construction of the house of formation for about twenty young men. If St. Joseph could find us this amount through the hands of some benefactors, that would be marvelous! Be that as it may, we express our gratitude to all who are able to bring their little brick to this project. We pray a Rosary everyday for their intentions. The Good Lord alone will know and repay them a hundredfold. Thank you all.

Editor’s Note: If you would like to contribute to the temporal needs of the missionary work of the Society of St. Pius X in Africa, please contact the US District for further information:

Regina Coeli House

11485 N. Farley Road

Platte City, MO 64079

[1] I would like to thank Mary Gillman for her invaluable assistance in translating the interview from French. 

[2] Archbishop Lefebvre was the originator of the great encyclical of Pope Pius XII “fidei Donum” (April 21, 1957), calling the priests of old Christianity to come spend several years in Africa so as to help in person with the magnificent development of this young Christianity.  From 1957 to 1981 nearly 950 French priests responded to the appeal of the encyclical.

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