Comboni missionaries working at the Institute of Social Ministry in Nairobi are helping Catholic parliamentarians to understand the social teaching of the church.
When we hear about missionaries, it is almost a must to imagine the African village in the savannah, the women going to the river to fetch water, the elders meeting around the fire. A romantic vision which has little to do with reality, especially now that many aspects of modern life – from computers to mobile communication – have reached even the most remote areas of the continent.
Yet, it is hard for the idea of mission as proclamation of the Gospel within a parish environment to die, even among missionaries. In reality, the missionary effort of the Church is developing new, exciting ministries. One of these is the work among politicians. The first to open a liaison office between the Catholic Bishops’ Conference and Parliament were the South Africans. Their model is that of a presence amongst politicians, illustrating the view of the Church without lobbying. In Kenya, the approach has been different.
In 2011, a group of Catholic Parliamentarians approached a Comboni missionary, Father Francesco Pierli director of the Institute of Social Ministry (one of the institutes of the Tangaza University College in Nairobi) to start a collaboration. After months of research and discussion, the Catholic Members of Parliament Spiritual Support Initiative (CAMPSSI) was born. The program foresees moments of spirituality – a weekly Mass and retreats – and networking sessions. These sessions help establish connection between citizens’ groups and their concerns with parliamentarians. They are also used to promote the ongoing formation of members.
Anytime an important Bill is taken to the floor, we ask competent people to analyze the proposed law in the light of the Social Teaching of the Church. The result is shared and it helps in forming the conscience of our legislators. Later this year, we shall start a School of Politics. It will be the occasion to seriously analyze legislation, issues of national importance, and offer political formation to MPs. Most of them, in fact, come from other walks of life and often have little knowledge of the fabric of politics.
Is CAMPSSI a real missionary endeavour? We believe so. The Church has been good at evangelizing people, much less at challenging societies to change. The result has been the establishment of a religious world that took the place, and not even entirely, of the previous traditional religion, but did little to change the ways of life. The social transformation that should come with the Gospel simply did not happen.
It is enough to read the final documents of the two Synods of Bishops for Africa, or the many pastoral letters of African bishops, to realize that the returning refrain is about changing behaviour in society. This invitation is not enough to make waves and bring about a new reality. A new proclamation of the Gospel must be undertaken to evangelize politics and the financial world: the two powers that effectively decide the direction of our societies.
CAMPSSI is an initiative that responds to this vision. Being a by-partisan programme, it brings together politicians from different walks of life. They interact at a different level of party politics and they are thus able to share, each remaining free to follow his or her personal conviction in matters political. The discussion focuses on policy making and the guidelines to follow, starting from the Social Teaching of the Church.
So far, the work with CAMPSSI members has helped in shaping some important Bills. Thanks to the work of this initiative, parliamentary commissions have met with religious leaders to hear their view on the new Education Bill, and listened to citizens about the Marriage Bill. This means a new style of policy making, where interested parties have a voice in decision making. The society thus becomes more democratic and transparent, and this is a positive change.
Working side by side with politicians might not be the usual missionary ministry. It does not have the heroic overtones of lengthy safaris in the savannah, nor the romantic traits of intercultural relationship. However, it is an important step in the construction of a democratic society. It supports devolution, placing the citizen at the centre. People are no longer the subject of the law; they are given the opportunity to participate in choosing their own future. This, in my view, is an important achievement of the Gospel. It is the chance to build a different society, where the respect for human life and its rights is guaranteed. It is the chance to making society come closer to the Kingdom envisioned by Jesus. (G.C.)