Europe – In search of identity

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In the past years, the Comboni Missionaries working in Europe questioned their presence and work in the old continent. Mission, according to many, was located outside Europe; it was the work beyond borders, among pagans. Yet, the events in the last century urge us to review that old model of mission. The Vatican Council II opened the Church to a new dialogue with society and other religions. It called for a commitment for Justice and Peace, and for Reconciliation. There was a new discovery of the Word of God, of liturgy as part of life. The enthusiasm of those days is long gone. This is true also of the missionary world. Missionaries feel the lack of a theological-pastoral model to face the challenges of today.

In these years, society has placed many challenges to the Church. It has structured itself more and more along the lines of the lex mercatoria. Everything is now run by consumerism. Wealth is pursued through investments in funds, not on people’s work and production of goods. In this way, millions have been forced into destitution, especially in the South of the world. The financial crisis we are still living, and the rebellion of the poorest – with their will to emigrate towards the West – urgently pose questions to the Church, and to missionaries everywhere, including Europe.

Today we speak of ‘global mission’: mission cannot be confined in geographical areas or to ethnic groups. Mission is a reality in every continent. A reality that requires inculturation of Christ’s message – i.e. the comprehension of the Gospel from within a culture – in local realities to answer to the thirst for justice, peace and reconciliation. Europe sent many emigrants abroad. It is now time to welcome some immigrants from the South, people looking for prosperity and freedom. Our continent is used to the dryness of science and technology. We are not called to make space for the rich human relationship offered by the poor of the Earth. We used to believe to be the light tower of civilization and faith; we now see the importance of learning from other cultures and peoples, to recover forgotten values, entering in a new reciprocal dynamism.

No change is trouble free. Novelty generates resistance, suspects, refusal, exclusion, persecution, violence. Yet, there is a way out. And the Comboni Missionary want to walk the walk. This is the way that requires to strip off the arrogance and illusion to propose magic formula that only seem to be innovative, and doing so by networking with others. The first step is to share life with people, promoting human relationships and values – listening, welcoming, trust, respect, sharing of life. This is the style of mission of the Comboni Missionaries; it is in our tradition to proclaim the Gospel within community life. A life of prayer, sharing and journey with the people we meet in villages, forests and urban areas. A life based on simple structures, open to all.

This intuition needs to be expanded and renewed in a shared project. This is what representatives of Comboni Missionaries working in Europe said when they met in Limone sul Garda (Italy) last April to play and reflect on a new style of missionary presence in Europe: ‘like sentinels, we are called to read the signs of the times, with contempl-active eyes and hearts, refusing the commoditisation imposed by the markets, adopting a life-style at the same time simple, sustainable and respectful of the environment, and in solidarity with the poor. We want to be ready to share what we learnt from other people, in different cultural environments, with the people we now serve. We wish to dedicate enough time and energy to the youth, our future’.

Renewal will come from below, from the grassroots. From those people who accept to start a journey of change living in communion with the people in their environment, with the people left out by society. In this project of renewal, much space will be devoted to the youth and the laity, especially to women. The youth have visions (Joel 3:1), they are ready to risk with generosity; they know how to be critical of non authentic relationships. Women are the carriers of life, they have trust in the future.


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