Mission requires, today more than ever, a spiritual exodus that enables us to have no other security but the Gospel that we proclaim
“…for he has anointed me and sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour” (Lk 4:18-19).
1. The Comboni Missionary in his mission experience
In our missionary history we have experienced the effectiveness of the proclamation when we shared situations of insecurity, poverty and dispossession. When our hands were no longer filled with things, these became free to offer the only gift that the Lord has asked us to take with us to the mission: his Word. It was when we “were loosing” possessions, structures and means, which we thought to be essential to the mission, that we began to give greater space to God’s Word, that our witness became more transparent, in complete sharing with the poor, having ourselves become poor indeed. But those have been rare moments of grace: most of the times we went back to surrounding ourselves with resources and works which took us away from people, for whom we had no longer time...
Is this still the mission of the Comboni Missionaries? What do we announce? Rather, whom do we announce? If we read the “Report on the first stage of the process of Ratio Missionis”, we find that we are described as missionaries who are characterised by their “doing”, who live a mission based on projects requiring a lot of means and personnel in order to be carried on1. The “doing” becomes mission, at the expense of proclamation, witness and coherence between what we say and how we live2. We still vividly remember many confreres and, among them, especially those who were in love with Christ and the people. “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”3. Mission requires, today more than ever, “a spiritual exodus that enables us to have no other security but the Gospel that we proclaim, and to live mission in weakness and as wanderers, like Christ, the apostles and Comboni”4.
2. The Comboni Missionary, like Christ, announces and witnesses
Mission is to proclaim the Kingdom already present, first of all, in the missionary. Mission, then, is the narration of the com-passion of God for the world, loved such as it is, to which He has sent the Son so that he would “make common cause” with the suffering humanity. “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life (Jn 3:16). Who is, then, the true missionary? “He is the one who throughout his entire life announces what God has told him. He is the one who tells of the encounter he has had with Christ”5 and which has made of him an announcer and a witness. The Comboni Missionary, like Christ and on the example of Comboni, is called to become embodied into the history of the people to whom he is sent.
Our Rule of Life clarifies this even better: “The missionary reads the Word of God in the light of the Spirit and in communication with the Church. He applies it to his life in meditation and he allows himself to be judged by it and to be converted to God's way of thinking and acting”6.
In the Report on the first stage, that of seeing, we were in agreement in recognising that we still base our mission on doing/achieving, more and more tied to material structures7. Paraphrasing the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 10:5-10), the Superior General reminds us that “The Gospels are very concise on saying what the disciples must say and do. In the school of the mission of Jesus, there is greater insistence on the lifestyle of the announcers. The life of the disciples requires some essential elements. The disciples are encouraged to have a preferential attention and dynamic care for the sick, the poor, the lepers, the possessed. They must be passionately in love with humanity and its integral liberation, like Christ. Like the Master on the road to Emmaus, they are called to be fellow travellers... and, like Christ, they must prefer to be with the poor and the suffering. Love and mission are inseparable”8. The evangelizer has then to be available, human, prayerful, prophetic, wise and friendly9.
3. The Comboni Missionary, generous and daring like Daniel Comboni
Chapter Acts 2003 nicely frame the mission of a Comboni Missionary: “The Plan of Comboni and his life-style stimulate us to share our faith with the most marginalised of peoples, so that they may become a new community according to the Gospel”10. Sharing is the new word of mission, which is made complete when the missionary, like Christ, becomes “embodied” into the history of his people, so that these may have the fullness of life (see Jn 10:10). It is no longer a matter of “going for...”, but “of being with...”, to journey together, by sharing the difficulty of believing, hoping and loving, but also the joy of daily discovering the signs of the Kingdom already present. It is a matter of being willing to live and to work together with men and women of good will, so that these signs become more and more visible. To achieve this we need to ask the Spirit for a radical conversion of the heart which “allows us, indeed, to find ourselves once more at the heart of the charismatic experience of Comboni, to re-found with him the new path of the mission, free of models and compromises that often are too closely linked to a Europe-centred mentality, to a sense of superiority and of too much concern with financial efficiency, to doing rather than being” 11.
By sharing we are directed towards being and it becomes the paradigm of mission for a Comboni Missionary today. The attitude of one who shares consists in listening, respect, trust, optimism, commitment, collaboration, generosity, friendship... One who makes common cause is involved to the end with the destiny of his people and with the environment where he lives, he allows himself to be permeated and transformed by the poor and the least.
Then also the Comboni Missionary’s activity will not go in a one-way direction: the proclamation of the Gospel and the life witness will find attentive listeners, brothers on the journey who, like him, are confronted by God’s Word and bring into play the challenges which today’s mission presents.
Here is a list of some of them: First evangelisation, inculturation of the Gospel, human promotion, engagement in justice and peace and in non-violence, the rights of man and the respect of creation, interreligious dialogue, in particular with Islam, the growth and self-sufficiency of the young Churches, and a new style of missionary presence in the Churches of ancient tradition; situations that are chronic and humanly desperate, such as wars and guerrilla activities, refugees, famine, AIDS, denial of the most basic rights, conflict situations; the challenges of the new aeropagi, namely the world of culture, finance, mass-media, the new lifestyles, the organised civil society, the minority groups, the diversities, the immigrants...12.
Comboni reminds us that “the missionary, completely emptied of self and deprived of every human comfort, works only for his God (...). His spirit does not seek from God the reason for the Mission he has received, but rather acts on God’s word, as a docile instrument of his adorable will. In every circumstance he repeats with deep conviction and lively joy: we are merely servants; we have only done our duty” (W 2702).
For our reflection
1. From your experience, in which circumstances did you feel more in tune with the mission of Christ and of Comboni?
2. To what extent is your “doing mission” fruit of a deep encounter with Christ?
3. To what length are you willing to become involved with the history of the people you are sent to serve as a missionary?
1 “Reviewing the mission, Renewing ourselves”, 5.
2 “Reviewing the mission, Renewing ourselves”, 10.3.1.
3 Letter of the CG “Towards the General Chapter 2009 together”, April 2007, 4.
4 Instrumentum Laboris for the General Chapter 2003, 54.2.
5 Letter of Fr. Teresino Serra, “To be mission”, insert of Familia Comboniana, September 2005.
6 RL 47.1.
7 “Reviewing the mission, Renewing ourselves”, 8.2.2; AC ’03, 108.
8 Letter of Fr. Teresino Serra, “To be mission”, insert of Familia Comboniana, September 2005.
9 Letter of Fr. Teresino Serra, “A demanding mission”, MCCJ Bulletin 225, January 2005.
10 CA ’03, 40.
11 Instrumentum Laboris for the General Chapter 2003, 49.
12 Instrumentum Laboris for the General Chapter 2003, 72 (but the entire chapters II and III should be taken up again).