They are celebrating the 150th year of their foundation. The event is a good opportunity to acknowledge a history that contains extraordinary pages of a missionary path. A former Superior General, Father Enrique Sánchez Gonzáles gives some input on the meaning of this celebration.
The dedication and passion for Africa and its people, the enthusiasm, spirit of sacrifice, love for the poorest, testimony of fidelity to a vocation that demands radicalism and total generosity, are some of the values that have characterized their being and the work of thousands of Comboni missionaries who have been weaving a story that is far from seeing the end.
The path that the Comboni missionaries have walked during these 150 years has been marked by an infinity of experiences that, in several moments, made them appear as pioneers, founders and creators of many works and initiatives that designed the face of many local Churches that have found the joy and the meaning of life in the Gospel.
During their 150 year walk, Comboni missionaries were not spared from dark times marked by trials, sacrifices, suffering, tragedies and martyrdom, which they shared with the peoples with whom they joined their path of life.
If the past is characterized by episodes that fill the heart with gratitude and recognition for the often heroic way in which so many Comboni missionaries have lived passionately the charisma of St. Daniel Comboni, the present shows a mission that continues to be demanding but which is, at the same time, fascinating.
Africa, as a symbolic place that has allowed us, the Comboni missionaries, to live our missionary vocation, remains the continent we watch, beyond its geography, its cultures and its peoples. Africa is in fact to us the place par excellence where we see our missionary vocation fulfilled. A vocation, whose first recipients are the poorest and the most abandoned. And although there are still situations of need and abandon, Africa is a place where there are millions of brothers rich in great humanity. This continent is a reality that allows us to understand that the mission has long ceased to be a community that tries to lead and teach the others, and to become instead, the experience of learning and receiving from those who have much to give.
For 150 years, Africa has been the cradle and laboratory of the Comboni missionaries. There, we have been taught a way of being, and there we have followed our vocation as envoys and evangelizers. In the African continent we have made that experience that has forged great missionaries who have marked several generations and who left traces to guide the passage of many contemporaries. We have learned to be Comboni missionaries in Africa and for Africa.
Thus, the past leads us to recognize moments of great satisfaction and the present shows us a reality in which, we can admire with simplicity the fidelity and missionary passion of the vast majority of Comboni missionaries.
The story of this adventure continues and we are facing today the challenge of a mission that does not stop, that has still many goals to achieve and that has becomes itself a series of challenges that provoke us and to which we cannot remain indifferent.
In a world that is changing vertiginously we are given new opportunities to bring the Gospel to those who need it most and, at the same time, we realize that demands have increased, that religious indifference is increasing, while materialism and consumerism have become priorities, devaluing and disqualifying everything related to the spiritual dimension of the human being.
We, the Comboni missionaries, must make choices in the face of such challenges. First of all we must challenge ourselves by being authentic, honest, coherent and outspoken, and by living the choices we made when we decided to consecrate ourselves to God for the mission, radically. The mission of our times and that of the future will require more and more individuals capable of being witnesses to God, rather than promoters or simple drivers of human development. Every day of our existence we, the Comboni missionaries, are supposed to examine ourselves and find the best way to become true missionary disciples of Jesus in a world marked by competitiveness, by what is transient and ephemeral, by the need of making multiple experiences, by the desire to achieve the highest degrees of excellence in all fields. Here and now we are asked to keep in mind that we are people consecrated to God for serving and giving ourselves to others. As missionaries we are called to communicate our experience of meeting Someone who has changed our lives rather than communicating what we have learned. We must talk about this Someone that we have met and learned to know, Someone we love with all our heart and for whom we did not hesitate to leave everything to follow Him.
Another challenge is the service to others. In these times marked by egocentrism we must be careful not to take for granted that we can carry out our mission in any place just by living our vocation. Let’s not forget that our specific vocation forces us to go to peoples, beyond our borders, in a world overwhelmed by globalization. We, the missionaries, must be open to the challenge of the cross-cultural and international differences which are part of our Comboni reality. Let’s not reduce our mission to a generic commitment that turns out to be a mere analgesic that prevents from experiencing the urgency of going further, of reaching out to those who are in the peripheries of the world. We must be part of ‘a Church that goes forth’, as Pope Francis underlined.
Let’s be attentive not to end up by calling ‘mission’ any work of humanitarian assistance. Let’s be capable of discovering where and how we must be present in the outskirts of humanity, in the realities that allow us to realise that the word ‘mission’ today has overcome the concept that limited it to a geographical reality.
The ‘new areópagos (courts)’ of the mission put us before areas that demand a specific preparation and great courage. Missionaries often have to deal with student communities, with people from the working class, intellectuals, as well as with people involved in the mass media and the political and economic fields. All these are missionary realities like those we find in remote villages of Africa, where doing good and marking the presence of the Gospel are urgencies. In the past, the missionary presence has often contributed to the respect of human dignity, justice, peace and harmony between peoples.
The mission today challenges us with a more radical and prophetic commitment to everything that refers to people and the recognition of their rights and duties.
As missionaries, we can neither be quiet nor remain indifferent to the suffering of so many innocent people; we cannot close our eyes before unprincipled behaviours, according to which, people are used and thrown away as if they were objects.
The commitment in the field of social justice, defence of human rights, environmental protection, implementation of more solidarity models of life also are and will be demanding challenges for the mission of today and that of the future.
They are the same challenges that prompt us to collaborate for the construction of a more human, fraternal and peaceful world. This will be achieved in the measure in which we establish attitudes of solidarity, attention and sensibility to situations of poverty which millions of our brothers experience.
In conclusion, though the challenges that should be considered are many more, the mission of the future will demand of us great aptitude to learn to work by overcoming the ‘we know best’ attitude that makes us rely on our own forces only. The collaboration with other institutions is the acknowledgment of the importance of dialogue and of the recognition of the others as important actors of the mission, as well as the acknowledgment of the limits of resources and personnel of the missionary institutes.
However, the first among all challenges, consists of remaining open to the action of the Holy Spirit, knowing and recognizing that He is the protagonist of our mission.