Elements of methodology and Comboni Missionary praxis
Every human activity requires a procedure which allows us to reach the goal we set ourselves. It is not possible to achieve acceptable results if we work without rules. It is necessary to follow a precise method which will enable us to reach the established aim. During the process, the method and techniques more suitable for the activity are chosen, the results obtained are verified in order to draw conclusions and, if necessary, to correct the direction being followed.
Missionary activity, too, in order to be effective, requires a suitable method. However, we must not forget that none of the techniques and methods of evangelisation can replace the action of the Holy Spirit (EN 75).
2. Missionary methodology in St. Daniel Comboni
The methodology of Comboni is born “in situ”: carefully observing the Africans, he patiently adapts it to that completely different world. He learns to remain silent, to observe and to listen (W 6495). He does not jump to conclusions and tries to understand the surprising behaviour. His staying in Africa helps him to modify his approach and to make common cause with the Africans, even to the point of generously giving his life for them (W 3159).
It was essential to be accepted. So Comboni endeavours to render his life consistent through a behaviour that is close to the people and at their service. It was important to stay among the people in a stable way and for a prolonged period of time.
Being the good observer that he was, Comboni was aware of the mistakes that caused the failure of evangelisation in Central Africa; the more common ones being improvisation, the missionaries’ lack of sufficient preparation, intermittent presence among the people and ignorance of the situation challenging them. After examining and analysing the issue, Comboni proposed new solutions.
Plan for the Regeneration of Africa
The solutions are contained in the Piano per la Rigenerazione dell’Africa (W 2741-2791). Starting from the Plan, Comboni made known the difficult situation in which the Africans lived, he stirred consciences and involved many people in this cause. The fundamental points of the Plan are: save Africa with Africans, make common cause with the people, collaborate with the greatest number possible of organizations involved in the continent and evangelise as a cenacle of apostles. Comboni was convinced he had found the solution to a difficult challenge and so committed his entire life to implementing it.
· Does our type of behaviour (personal and communitarian) follow a methodology? Why? Explain the reasons.
· Point out two aspects of Comboni’s methodology that are still effective today.
· Explain an aspect of the methodology applied by Comboni which you have seen realised in the praxis of a confrere of your province and show the results that have been achieved.
3. Towards a Comboni Missionary methodology for our time
As for our way of executing plans, we Comboni Missionaries are famous for being quite impulsive and individualistic. We often act by improvising, driven by feelings and without adequate reflection. There are also those who say that there is no such thing as a Comboni Missionary methodology. However, there is a significant tradition in the Institute which shows that there has always been a concern for introducing a Comboni methodology (for example, Mons. Franz Xaver Geyer in 1915, through his book Handbuch für die missionäre des Apostolischen Vikariats Khartoum ; Fr Antonio Vignato, in 1935, in his Raccolta di suggerimenti e dottrina, per utilità pratica del giovane missionario; the continental assembly for evangelisation which took place in Nairobi in 1989; the XIV General Chapter of 1991...), even if it must be admitted that these attempts were often ignored and have not been put into practice.
Today’s circumstances increasingly require method and skill in our activities. This means we must be clear and determined when using a method.
The Comboni Missionary methodology is inspired by that of St. Daniel Comboni and the praxis developed by so many confreres in the course of the history of our Institute. We must be faithful to our tradition but, at the same time, endeavour to respond to the challenges of our present time.
To promote people so that they may be leaders
A constant factor in the Comboni tradition is that of forming people who in their turn are capable of taking the leading role in their own history (CA ’03, 42.5). It is certainly a slower process to promote people than things; however, by acting in this way we are investing in the future. A particular commitment of the Institute is that of the formation of local leaders in schools, professional centres, pastoral centres and seminaries. This increases the number of people capable of becoming local priests, religious, farmers, catechists, development agents, promoters of justice and peace, professors, etc. In this way the conditions are created to make society and the local Church self-sufficient, certain of putting into practice the plan of Comboni: “To regenerate Africa through the Africans.”
To collaborate and involve everybody
Our time is characterised by strong individualism, lack of solidarity and fragmentation. Therefore, choosing collaboration with all those involved in evangelisation becomes even more necessary (CA 97, 71); by so doing we are convinced that we implement one of the most significant aspects of the method of Comboni. He, in fact, recognizing his own limits and the vastness of the work, shared his commitment with many other people (CA 97, 72); Comboni was always open to accepting any kind of collaboration as long as the Gospel was proclaimed (W 6082). Today there is a great variety of groups, associations, NGOs, organisations for the defence of human rights, etc., which work with us in the field of human promotion, Justice and Peace and evangelisation (CA ’03, 42.3). We Comboni Missionaries are aware that we are a small group which must share its work with as many people as possible (priests, Brothers, Sisters and laity). We are called to maintain the same openness as Comboni and Our Lord (Mk 9, 38-39).
A more discreet presence in the Local Church
We Comboni Missionaries live in communities inserted in local Churches that are themselves responsible for the mission (AG 20; RM 64) and which, for the most part, have their own pastoral plans. This demands on our part a deep conversion in the way we work. It is a question of working in circumstances very different from the past. In fact, we are no longer pioneers or protagonists and we need to be more humble and detached.
We accept and carry out the priorities of the local Churches; we avoid creating parallel or personal structures which are not guaranteed to be carried on by the local people (CA 97, 76). In this way we help the local Churches to develop and become less and less dependent on outside help.
Faithful to the end
All of us know confreres who live the consecration to the mission with passion and generosity, according to the style of St. Daniel Comboni. Africans, Latin-Americans or Chinese have captured their hearts (W 941); they have made common cause with each of them (W 3159) and they share the lot of the people. They are able to forget themselves and remain among the people even in times of danger, even to the point of giving their lives for them (CA ’03, 16).
Martyrdom is not a ‘missionary method’, but more the consequence of a way of living the mission, a manner of being present which consoles and strengthens the weak in times of difficulty, seeks reconciliation and mediation in conflict situations, continues to hope when everything points to pessimism, works for peace when the opposing groups become unyielding and knows how to be patient when faced with the snail’s pace of a process.
· In your area, do you work sporadically or in depth? Explain your manner of working and show the reasons for your choices.
· Do you, perhaps, follow a method based on the power of money (“fast” mission, with a lot of show) or a slower method which involves the people in their own development? Give some examples.
· What is your relationship with the people where you live and work (priests, sisters, catechists, the faithful, and believers of other faiths or other religions, non-believers)? Is your relationship one that uses and manipulates, or one of friendship and respect? How many friends have you among your collaborators?
· Are you in the habit of periodically analysing and evaluating your activities? If you are, what do you discover and what conclusions do you draw?