|Kenya –The ACSSA Seminar in Africa-Madagascar|
(ANS – Rome) – The Acts of the first International Seminar on the History of Salesian Work for Africa and Madagascar have been published. The seminar took place in Nairobi from 11th to 14th October 2011. The volume, entitled ‘History and Salesian identity in Africa and Madagascar: Conservation of cultural heritage’, is the fruit of collaboration between the Salesians and the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians. The text also opens up some interesting reflections on the conservation and transmission of documents in an epoch of modern technologies in continual progress.
The Nairobi seminar, promoted by the Association of Salesian Historians (ACSSA) and funded by the Salesian Historical Institute (ISS), had as patrons the Rector Major, the Mother General and the Regional Councillor for Africa and Madagascar.
In the first section, Questions of conservation and production, Sr Maria Rohrer explains the importance of passing on memories of Salesian educational and apostolic experience. Fr Marcel Verhulst and Fr Léon Verbeek, who are researching sources for a history of Salesian work in Africa, give an outline of good practice and raise the question of looking after information. They call for studies on sources, local and central Salesian archives and ecclesiastical and civil archives. Besides the Salesian situation, the scholar Albert De Jong CSSp illustrates the problems of production, storage and conservation of sources in Africa, focussing on the characteristics of the continent and the problems, material and cultural, which threaten to break up a heritage of experiences which were traditionally entrusted to oral transmission.
The second section of the Acts, Historiographical Framework, opens with ‘Contemporary African Historiographies: roots, conflicts and paths’ by Fr Reginald D Cruz. He brings out the need for a history of Africa which is not just written abroad, by foreigners, but with the sort of quality which encourages constructive dialogue between different interpretive models. Without documents and sources of various kinds it is not possible to write a history which is credible from a scientific perspective. Essays by Fr Francesco Motto, Sr Piera Cavaglià and Fr Zimniak extend the focus from local level to the wider Salesian level, illustrating the progress made in studies of Don Bosco and the two Salesian congregations.
The Appendix contains two contributions: a reflection by Fr Motto on the intrinsic relation between history and the congregation, illustrating the vital factors, internal and external, which create conditions suitable for promoting study; and a bibliography of available African historical sources, assembled by Fr Verbeek, a useful tool for those wanting to study issues from a general or a Salesian perspective.
The texts of the Acts, published by LAS and edited by Fr Stanisław Zimniak, are in the languages most widespread in communities in the continent, French, English and Italian, in order to facilitate understanding and study at local level.
In the preface, Regional Councillor Fr Guillermo Luis Basañes writes: “Therefore the promotion of historical research into our memories is essential for us to live out the charism of our Founders in new social, political, cultural and religious circumstances and to deal with other agencies, religious or civil, with greater freedom.”
The volume is dedicated to Fr Jacques Ntamitalizo (1942-1995), the first African to participate in the 21st General Chapter (1977-1978). He gave a significant speech which has passed into Salesian history as the ‘Cry of Appeal’ for Africa.