Letter of the General Council:
Guidelines following the 2007 continental meetings between the General Council and the Provincial/Delegation Superiors
1. “The apostle does not toil for himself, but for eternity; in no way does he seek his own happiness, but that of his fellow humans, he knows that his work will not die with him, that his tomb is the cradle of new apostles: he does not therefore always keep pace with his own wishes, but always with the necessary prudence in order to guarantee the success of the redemptive undertaking” (W. 2171).
2. The continental meetings between the General Council and the provincial/delegation superiors have been a grace for the Comboni mission endeavour. Being together is a grace, listening to one another is a grace, reading reality and seeing how God moves the mission forward with the help of the Comboni family is a grace. These meetings were four moments in which, as a missionary cenacle, we have visited our mission and renewed our affection for the Institute. Together we have seen or at least glimpsed the road that lies ahead and the challenges that we must face.
3. Obviously, during the continental meetings we followed up on the main themes indicated by the Intercapitular Assembly of 2006: re-programming the Institute, redesigning our presences in line with what is more specifically ‘our mission’, re-qualifying personnel and formation, rediscovering our own spirituality. The meetings were lived in a spirit of love for the mission and the Institute, but above all with a desire to find realistic answers to the challenges of the future. We all want to believe, dare, risk – that is to walk forward under the direction of the Spirit.
TO SERVE THE MISSION
Let us thank God for a past filled with grace
4. It is fitting to look back and thank God for the holy and able missionaries who, through their lives, have written extraordinary chapters in the missionary history of the Comboni Institute. This is a remembering and offering of thanks that generates life, that transforms itself into inspiration for the future and which helps us to live the present aware that the era of large numbers of vocations, grand visions and visionaries, ambitious undertakings and large crowds of Christians is over. Today we are called to serve the mission in silence and in a more hidden way (cfr. W. 2701)
Let us believe in a future planned by God
5. Those who predict the inevitable decline of the Comboni Missionaries because of the lack of vocations or because of the high number of confreres who leave the Institute are victims of cynicism. It is certainly more evangelical to believe in the Institute as an instrument in the hands of God, to believe in Comboni who was convinced that the enterprise belonged to God. “My work will not die”, said Comboni in humanly fragile situations and at the time of his own death, still convinced that a project coming from God would go ahead with God.
Let us follow a new path
6. During the continental meetings we identified problems and together drafted plans and proposals. It has not been easy to see clearly all future aims, just as it has not been easy to establish new guidelines for planning. We all, however, declared ourselves to be ready to try and to risk. Taking into account the journey ahead and the needs of every province/delegation and continent, we have laboured to contextualise issues, solution options and proposals, always with a view to the unity and well-being of the whole Institute. Together we have come up with the guidelines that follow.
GUIDELINES FOR THE PROVINCES OF FRENCH-SPEAKING AFRICA
7. The GC reaffirms the importance of the proper training for vocation promoters and the duty of the provinces to collaborate among themselves in formation matters. Furthermore, the GC requests that confreres chosen for vocation promotion work and basic formation (VP & BF) have a good experience of mission behind them, and that provincial superiors be more prudent when choosing for this task from among newly ordained confreres who should at the very least be accompanied by others of greater experience.
8. Even if at the present an inter-provincial postulancy for CA and TC does not seem likely, the GC encourages the two provinces to continue to dialogue on the possibility of having it in the future.
Plan for the sub-continent
9. The GC takes note of the joint ventures that already exist in the four provinces – postulancy for Brothers in Lomé (T), the novitiate of Cotonou (T), CAE in Kinshasa (CN) – and of the good level of cooperation between the provincials. The GC, nevertheless, actively encourages the four provincials to continue their reflection about the drafting of a sub-continental plan that comprises a possible clustering of the provinces. In particular the GC sees the importance of developing the issue of “meeting with Islam” (The Tent of Abraham at N’Djamena in Chad) and of finding a solution to the ongoing problem of attaining fluency in French.
GUIDELINES FOR THE PROVINCES AND DELEGATIONS OF
ENGLISH-SPEAKING AFRICA AND MOZAMBIQUE
10. The GC endorses the analysis presented by the provinces and delegations during the meeting held in Nairobi, and backs the proposals that came up, in particular the draft of a plan for the sub-continent.
11. The GC looks favourably upon and encourages the sub-continent in drafting a plan that might help the various provinces and delegations in their journey towards re-qualification and renewal. In particular the GC backs all initiatives of mutual collaboration and cooperation as for example that of setting continental priorities in evangelisation, identifying areas of common interest, adopting a sub-continental charter for formation and implementing other proposals that were agreed upon at the Nairobi meeting.
Centres and groups of reflection
12. The GC looks positively on the proposal of linking the main topics of common interest for the continent (Islam, pastoral care for pastoralist communities and slum dwellers, JPIC) to centres situated in different geographical areas (Cairo: Dar Comboni for reflection on Islam; Nairobi: the Institute of Social Ministry for reflection on pastoral and urban communities; Kampala: the new centre for JPIC), thus encouraging cooperation among groups of confreres who interested in such topics, in particular the sub-continental reflection groups. Linking reflection to specific centres ought to guarantee continuity to the process of reflection without, however, harnessing the creativity that has so far characterised the various reflection groups.
13. While respecting the diversity of the various provinces and delegations and leaving the respective councils freedom to manoeuvre, the GC warmly invites the sub-continent to continue its journey of reflection with a view to future clustering, especially the Arab area (Khartoum, South Sudan and Egypt). The sub-continent must seriously proceed in this direction and without letting itself fall prey to fears or provincialisms.
14. The GC asks provincial and delegation councils to follow the journey of their pre-postulancy and postulancy with greater attention in order to help candidates make balanced and serious vocational discernments. Regarding the novitiate, the GC notes that the present situation ‘ad experimentum’ of two novitiates in the sub-continent (Namugongo and Lusaka) appears to be proceeding well and meeting its objectives.
Missionary promotion (MP)
15. The GC approves and encourages the existing collaboration that exists in MP, above all regarding the magazines - an often neglected aspect in the African context - despite the fact that many local Churches offer many possibilities for MP.
GUIDELINES FOR THE PROVINCES OF EUROPE
Vocation promotion and basic formation
16. The GC appreciates the efforts that are being made in the European provinces to renew vocation promotion. Despite the different languages, cultures, ages, education, experience and background of candidates, the GC insists on an inter-provincial postulancy, where the number of candidates may be numerically sufficient to ensure a proper formation community.
17. The GC invites the provinces to intensify their collaboration in MP and for the magazines, as indeed in VP, BF, Ongoing Formation, regarding Brothers, regarding finance and regarding JPIC.
18. The GC encourages the commitment of the provinces to evaluate the presence of our Institute in Europe and its collaboration with local Churches. At the same time the GC once again underlines that the priorities of the continent are MP, VP and BF, notwithstanding the possibility of undertaking meaningful initiatives that bear witness to our charism, especially concerning the plight of immigrants. In any case such initiatives must necessarily be very limited and must be on line with the directives of the local Church.
19. The GC is perplexed by Europe’s lack of a plan for possible clustering of Spain and Portugal, Poland and the DSP or the DSP and the LP. While aware that the European circumscriptions differ substantially in language, culture, financial practice, etc., the GC underlines the utility of starting to discuss this issue with all the confreres.
20. The GC encourages the provincials and their respective councils to continue their reflection on the internationality of their provinces and to draft proposals for implementing it.
The sick and elderly
21. The GC thanks the provinces that, with great generosity, look after sick and elderly confreres and renew their commitment to collaborate in making such centres welcoming and functioning properly.
GUIDELINES FOR THE PROVINCES AND DELEGATIONS
OF AMERICA AND ASIA
22. The GC agrees with the analysis presented by the provincial and delegation superiors underlining the profound and speedy changes that are taking place in society, the Church, the mission and the Institute in America and in Asia. The GC approves the continental plan drafted during the meeting in São Paulo (Brazil) and the time-table suggested for its implementation, in the hope that the steps proposed may be taken up and that they may be seen as a contribution to the drafting of a general plan for the whole Institute.
23. The draft plan foresees a clustering of current circumscriptions into three new provinces: Amazonia (BNE and BS), Andes (CO, EC, and PE), and Northern Region (DCA, M and NAP). The GC suggests a gradual approach to the implementation of this plan. There are, in fact, many aspects to it that need attention: for example the re-coordinating of formation houses, the setting up of more effective ways of collaboration between the magazines and mass media centres, the establishment of a Common Fund as an expression of a mission lived in solidarity and fraternity, etc. Even though the implementation of such a plan requires time, the GC suggests beginning immediately where clustering is more feasible, like South Brazil and North-east Brazil, and between Ecuador and Colombia.
24. The GC is happy that missionary promotion of the local Church (including VP and BF), pastoral care of the Afro community and indigenous peoples, and JPIC were chosen as fields of work, since these are initiatives typical of the Comboni tradition in the Americas. The choice of such activities also obliges the continent to enter into the process of re-qualifying the commitments.
25. The RM process, proposed by the Institute as a privileged instrument of renewal (identity, spirituality, lifestyle and missionary service), may well be the means through which to engage all the confreres in the plan of re-qualifying the presence of the Comboni Missionaries on the continent.
26. The GC encourages the provinces and delegations to improve their VP work, choosing as vocation promoters confreres who have had a positive experience of mission and proper training. Mexico is encouraged to continue in reviewing its VP structures and methodology in order to make a better individual accompaniment of candidates. Presently in America there are two novitiates: Huanuco (PE) and Sahuayo (M). In Asia the novitiate is in Manila.
27. The GC is grateful for the help the American provinces and delegations are giving to support the Institute’s presence in Asia and it hopes that they may collaborate by also making personnel available for it.
TOPICS OF COMMON INTEREST
Welcoming confreres “in difficulty”
28. The GC thinks that the efforts made by provinces and delegations to welcome and accompany confreres “in difficulty” are still inadequate.
29. The GC is aware that in some circumscriptions there is some resistance in moving towards the Common Fund and a lack of accountability and fairness in the use of financial means.
LIVING “MISSION” TOGETHER
30. Guidelines and decisions taken together help us to overcome provincialism, to preserve harmony and communication among circumscriptions, not to isolate ourselves but to walk forward as an Institute. Our journey will be easier if we allow ourselves to be nourished and guided by Comboni spirituality.
Assimilating our particular characteristics
31. We must all feel called to aim always at a arduous (W. 3032) and difficult (W. 5106) mission as defined and lived by Comboni and his first missionaries: “We are prepared to endure the hardest life, slow martyrdom (…) and the most painful death to succeed in our holy and laborious enterprise. That is the only small and feeble tribute we can offer to God for the conversion of unfortunate Africa” (W. 2592).
Loving the Comboni life
32. Today is the favourable time for loving the Comboni life more intensely so that we might constantly renew our being missionaries. The main reason for renewal is to make the missionary charism, inherited from our founder, ever present and relevant, that is to do that which Comboni would do today in faithfulness to the Spirit, distinguishing those aspects which are absolutely necessary to Comboni life from those which are not.
Being always in mission
33. Anyone who lives the missionary spirituality of the Gospel and embraces the suffering of all the peoples of the world according to the style of Comboni is always in mission. Anyone who lives like the good Samaritan, with the eyes of love for others is always in mission. To always be in mission means, above all, to follow Christ and to go to meet those who seek the truth and who have the right to hear the Gospel announced to them. Always and ad vitam, like St. Daniel Comboni.
34. Let us look to the future remembering the words of our Founder: “The missionary to Africa will often have to reflect that he works in an undertaking certainly of the highest merit, but one that is, nonetheless, hard and difficult. He will have to understand that he is a stone hid under the earth, which will perhaps never come to light, but which will become part of the foundations of a vast, new building that only those who come after him will see rising from the ground (…) Completely emptied of self and deprived of every human comfort, the missionary to Africa works only for his God, for the most abandoned souls in the world and for eternity”(S. 2890).
Rome, 8 April 2007
Fr. Teresino Serra, Superior General
Fr. Fabio Carlo Baldan, Vicar General
Fr. Odelir Jose Magri, Assistant General
Fr. Tesfamariam Ghebrecristos Woldeghebriel, Assistant General
Bro. Umberto martinuzzo, Assistant General