The 1st symposium, held from 10th to 13th July 2006, had an introductive and explorative character: a kind of "brain storm". With the 2nd symposium, held from 9th to 12th July 2007, our journey of missionary reflection found its way.

Benito De Marchi

RECALLING THE TWO PREVIOUS SYMPOSIA and the Road already Travelled

1. The Road already Travelled

1.1: “To renew mission – by revisiting Comboni”: the convergence of two different needs at the origin of the “Limone Symposia”.

On the one hand, there was the need of re-inventing mission and re-creating the whole missionary imagery through a dialogue with the complex and plural realty of the contemporary world: a new missionary imagery for a new time.

On the other hand, there was the desire, particularly and understandably felt in the Italian Province, to free Limone, the place-symbol of our Founder and of our historical and spiritual origins, from a kind pietistic marginalization so to make of it a propelling centre of mission for the whole Comboni family.

These two strands of interest, originally independent from each other and perhaps not so homogenous (as I will say later), had been mutually related especially in the reflection which the GERT (gruppo europeo di riflessione teologica/European Group of Theological Reflection) developed on the meaning of the missionary presence, specifically the Comboni missionary presence, in today’s Europe, within a context of both growing interdependence at the world level and of an extension of the missionary finality in a renewed consciousness of the Church-World-Kingdom of God relationship.

In order that the convergence of these two interests could represent a creative encounter and not simply a juxtaposition, it is necessary that they are seen and pursued in relation to a “focus” that may articulate them together. Such focus could be expressed through the following twofold question: Which mission today? In which way such a renewal of mission would challenge and at the same time find inspiration in the Comboni charism and missionary tradition?

The annual symposia of Limone intend to contribute in finding an answer to this twofold question.

1.2: The first two symposia, 2006 e 2007: A panoramic view

The first symposium, held from 10th to 13th July 2006, had an introductive and explorative character: a kind of “brain storm”, different and somehow disparate “in-puts” directed to stir up interest and create the conditions for a laboratory of further research. Consequently, it was also a symposium with a limited number of participants. And yet themes and indications of great interest and significance emerged, capable of giving an orientation to the way we should go in our reflection. Here are four main ones:

* The significance even today of Comboni’s perception that it is the hour of Africa.
The option for Africa in today’s sub-human condition of poverty and militarization could become a performative sign of mission as an option for the last and excluded ones and as a process of liberation from the demons of our society, of healing and humanization. Moreover, the hour of Africa, that Comboni saw as an actualization of the hour of the mystery of Christ that found its completion on the cross – namely, a salvific immersion of God into the dramas of human history, could point to a renewed theology of Kairós as the hermeneutical key for mission in dialogue with today’s reality.

* The need of more historical and critical reading of both Comboni and of the African world, beyond idealizing and mystifying approaches.
This change of method is required if we want the hour of Africa to turn into a rebirth of Africa as the “nigrans margarita” of Comboni’s dream. A less apologetic reading of our Founder would also make us rediscover a not yet fully realized aspect of Comboni’s missionary inheritance, that mission belongs to the Church and not to missionary Institutes.

* A first attempt at depicting a new missionary imagery: mission as God’s com-passion for the world.
Today’s situation in the world, characterized on the one hand by an ever more self-conscious cultural and religious plurality and on the other by a condition of “concentration camp” where many are deprived of their juridical and cultural identity and dealt with as “superfluous human beings”, challenges the traditional paradigm of mission. A shift seems necessary from an “ad gentes” model to one focused instead on “others”, specifically those others who are the “victims” in our world, by considering them moreover not simply as the “addressees” and “hearers” of mission but rather as its “interlocutors”. This shift requires that the event of the Crucified regains its central place in the understanding and praxis of mission. Mission appears, then, as the explication of the event of the hidden God who in his/her passion-love for the world becomes ‘other’ from whom he/she is as God and enters into the passion-suffering of the victims. An event that is both religious and public and political: within the “concentration camp” itself the divine difference of self-gift grows as the unspeakable and yet liberating force of a “hope against hope”. The “embrace of the other”, even in its more disturbing difference and strangeness, becomes the ultimate expression of mission as God’s compassion. Such reconfiguration of missionary imagery in terms of God’s compassion for the world highlights the “global” as well as “lay” character of Christian mission: mission is everywhere though differently, preparing the way to the advent of a free fraternity in a freed creation, – the realization of God’s dream.

* The decisiveness of a dissemination of “small Christian communities/Basic ecclesial communities” for the new mission.
The new missionary praxis needs to be based on a network of small Christian communities, disseminated within the various socio-cultural and religious contexts that surround us, as dialoguing and witnessing subjects: communities built up as a “plurality of ministries” that moving out from the purely religious ambit of life enervate the whole social space of human living together. In particular, such ministerial plurality would pick up and reinterpret in the context of the Africa of the third millennium the intuition which lies at the heart of Comboni’s Piano. To be translated into concrete action, Comboni’s vision of the “regeneration of Africa with Africa” requires a plurality of ministries, engaging men as well as women: the ministerial question is at the centre of Comboni’s missionary vision and praxis.

With the second symposium, held from 9th to 12th July 2007, our journey of missionary reflection found, so to say, its way: a journey in stages, in which contemporary reality and the Comboni spiritual heritage are made to react on each other through specific missionary themes.
Specifically, the 2007 symposium focused on today’s Europe as missionary space: Comboni and Europe. Yesterday’s routes and today’s perspectives. The reflection developed along two related lines: an in-depth analysis of today’s Europe and a historical-critical study of the relationship between Comboni and the Europe of his own time.
As expected, more space was given to the first aspect and was dealt with in three major contributions: 1. “50 years after the birth of EU. Europe of the markets or of the peoples? Which mission today in the countries of EU?”; 2. “The social, political and economic reality of Europe: Internal problems. World ‘Scacchiere’? 3. “An ecumenical and religious reading of today’s Europe”.
The second aspect was treated, instead, by just one albeit long and substantial report, “Comboni and the Europe of his time”, which ended with an important question for us today: “Which ‘Comboni heart’ for the mission in Europe?”.
The various provocations that these contributions provided were, then, picked up and further elaborated in what could be considered a twofold attempt at a missionary response. First of all, there were two personal contributions, 1. “Which mission for Europe? Nodal points and changes of perspectives”, 2. “Hypothesis for a Comboni configuration in Europe”, the latter being somehow a specification of the former. In groups, then, the discussion developed around “the idea of mission, the elements of a re-interpretation of the Comboni charism, the new ministries for Europe today and the consequences for the structures and the required changes”(From the presentation to Quaderno1).

* The study of the relationship between Comboni and the Europe of his time highlighted interesting elements: first, how Comboni was able to internalize his own culture of origin, thus acquiring such a steady personal identity that assured him a coherent and positive growth even in moments of collision and allowed him an openness to others which was neither a mere projection nor simply a loss of himself; secondly, how he was attentive to the social, political and ecclesial reality of his time, which he read in the light of the faith experienced of the Pierced One on the cross; thirdly, Comboni’s capacity for interpersonal dialogue with the most disparate people; fourthly, a dialectic of dialogue and prophecy in his way of dealing with the European reality, the dominant ecclesial models of his time and the question of the relations of the European States with Africa.

* The analysis of today’s European situation was focused on “Europe Project and the related journey of the EU, and thus privileged the economic-financial and socio-political aspects by underlining eventual consequences for mission. Though acknowledging the significance of the present process towards European union as an experiment of trans-national governance within a context of globalization and as an adventure of solidarity and peace, the various contributions underlined the growing dominance of its economic matrix over against the political dimension and of market interests at the expense of social and environmental politics and raised the question as to whether the “Europe project” is actually becoming a hostage of the various ‘lobbies’ connected to economic oligarchies and turning into a ‘benevolent dictatorship’ that reduces always more the space of democratic participation. This tendency towards the constitution of Europe as a market power according to the neo-liberalist model would have devastating consequences on the poor of the world, in particular for those African countries of the Mediterranean area which would be absorbed into one economic, commercial and cultural space without however enjoying the related right to democratic participation. It was also stressed that, if on the one hand the new Europe has lowered its internal walls though not quite eliminating them, the immigration politics of the member States, based as they are more on their economic advantages than on the principles of solidarity and hospitality, have built up new defensive walls towards the outside world, by presenting an image of “fortress Europe”. This situation calls Christian communities to missionary engagement, “ in order to build up a humane and socially conscious Europe, in which human rights and the fundamental values of peace, justice, freedom, tolerance, participation and solidarity might prevail” (Charta Oecumenica, Graz 2001, art. 7), and to create a world without discriminating borders – God’s family in which all are among themselves brothers and sisters. “To dare mission in Europe”, within the global mission: “mission in the heart of Europe is as much mission as the proclamation of the Good News to the poor of the South of the world”; neither can the latter be accomplished without the former.

* This picture of today’s situation in Europe was then further defined by those contributions that tried to deepen the specific identity of mission in Europe and by the subsequent discussion in groups. Other important traits were thus highlighted with regard to the vision (or visions) of the world and life that characterize the present European reality: “a) The affirmation of the “subject” as decisive referent …; b) the preferential option of democracy as style of social organization…; c) the discovery of otherness…, d) the presence of a technocratic logic as a strategy for the transformation of reality and the optimization of life; e) the appearance of a religiosity attentive to the human need of wellbeing and tranquillity” (from the report of Prof. Carmelo Dotolo). The cultural climate of today’s Europe is marked on the one hand by the post modern fragmentariness that suffers the incomplete realization of the values-promises of Christian tradition as well as modernity and puts into crisis interpretative models and options of life, and on the other hand by the new experience of multiculturalism as something that will remain. Today’s Europe lives a paradoxical condition: a tension between the vindication of lay character and the religious demand: to a world that explains itself without the need of a ‘God hypothesis’ and without suffering such disappearance of God (post-atheistic indifference / agnosi) responds the coming up of a new religiosity characterized by the need of spiritual gratification in the midst of contradictions and disintegration.

2. A fundamental problematic: the hermeneutical-methodological question

As already recalled at the start of the experience of the Limone symposia, there is a convergence of two urgencies: the need to re-think the concept and praxis of mission within the context of today’s reality and the need to re-qualify the Comboni House of Limone within the context of a return to the source experience of the Founder - two needs differently felt and not necessarily homogeneous. While the first refers to the preoccupation of understanding and carrying out mission in relation to today’s world, moving from a critical interpretation of it, the second need corresponds to that rediscovery and sublimation of the founder that has found its peak in his canonization and sees mission and its eventual renewal by moving from Comboni himself. This second trend has been the perspective of the more recent Comboni General Chapters, in which the question of mission today was asked but in which the answer did not go much further than re-telling Comboni’s way.

Such coefficient of heterogeneity has emerged again and again throughout the first two Symposia of Limone in the form of a recurring question: “To renew mission – by re-visiting Comboni”, but from where should we start? Which method, more specifically which “hermeneutics” to follow, in order to re-define mission both in our understanding of it and in its praxis?

Should we give priority to a critical reading of the world in which we live, even if such a reading will always be an interpretation conditioned by whom and what we are, including our ‘Comboni’ presence and the Comboni heritage that we embody, in order to rediscover from within this very reading the Gospel of Jesus that we proclaim and to test the up-to-datedness of the Comboni charism and eventually to re-create it? Or should we start from the study of Comboni in order to draw from there some consequences for today? In other words, to use the language of Francesco Pierli, should we decide for a “dynamic-inductive” approach according to which today’s events challenge the text of the tradition by freeing its missionary potential, or rather should we opt for a “static-deductive” approach in which the text ‘puts order’ in the events? What do we really mean when we say that we have to “look at the reality with the eyes of Comboni”?

This first series of questions is followed by a second one. What is an ecclesial “charism”? What does “Comboni charism” mean? Simply the personal charism of Daniel Comboni or rather that movement of the Spirit that passing through the personal experience of Comboni manifested and articulated itself differently in the life and action of the Comboni missionaries – men and women alike – within a variety of historical, geographical and cultural contexts? In which way does the Comboni missionary charism relate to the charism of other missionary movements born perhaps out of a similar matrix and bearing a similar spiritual DNA or called anyway to operate today within the same global context? Would an exaggerated focalization on the Comboni identity be a fidelity to Comboni or rather a falling back into those “fraterie” that he so deplored as a handicap for the “catholic” mission of the Church ?

There is a third series of questions concerning the way in which Comboni himself is studied: an apologetic or historical-critical approach? In the first symposium Gianpaolo Pezzi was saying that is necessary “to distinguish the Comboni of our tradition from the historical Comboni …and to purify the image that we make and project of Comboni from cliché and the tone of an apocryphal gospel”. On the other hand, returning to what has been already said when quoting Francesco Pierli, is the historical approach to Comboni’s writings sufficient in itself or do other points of view such as the theological, anthropological, spiritual and pastoral need to be taken into consideration?

3. Some results already obtained

Our journey is still on-going and our research continues. We are only at the opening of the third Limone symposium and yet some points of reference have already been identified, even if in a partial and provisional way, in the sense that they need further reflection and specification.
These positive outcomes of the two previous symposia are hinted at both in the report of the so called “aerials” (antenne) and the final synthesis at the end of last year’s symposium.

3.1: Clarification of the goal of our journey

We have been able to identify the goal of our journey: to re-think and re-shape our being missionaries in the global and yet plural context of today, to elaborate a new missionary imagery which might be at the same time a new missionary way of acting.
We matured a clear consciousness that it is no more possible to continue to be missionaries according to yesterday’s model of spreading Christianity and planting the Church. This change also implies a new “language”, starting with that of “ad gentes”, as if there were people in the world “who are without God”, and with the language that distinguishes between “missionary animation” and “evangelization”.

3.2: The beginning of a hermeneutical-methodological clarification

We have started to give an articulated answer to the questions previously asked with regard to the hermeneutics to be followed. The first two symposia have helped us to identify the way in which to procede. Certainly, some knots still need to be solved, but the basic orientation is already quite clear as expressed in the following three moments:

* First, an “engaged”, critical and prophetico-sapiential reading of today’s reality: the point of departure cannot be other than an in-depth knowledge of the world in which we live, gained through an empathic active engagement with it, by avoiding a fall into ‘demonizing’ temptations and by privileging a language of historical and socio-cultural (phenomenological) analysis rather than that of apocalyptic evaluation: a participatory listening to the world in its dramas and hopes – in a life dialogue.

* Secondly, a reading of the Gospel from within this critical and participatory immersion in the world by re-appropriating God’s mission as lived by Jesus.

* Thirdly, a pluralistic reading of the Comboni heritage – namely, of Comboni and of the Comboni family as a whole – from today’s missionary situations.

3.3: A first identification of the new missionary imagery and praxis.

Throughout the reflection in the first two symposia some fundamental contents for a renewed understanding and praxis have been highlighted.

* Mission has to be seen in relation to God’s dream and passion in Jesus Christ for the world., “there where each man and woman wrestles for the meaning of life”: that all may have life in fullness. According to the messianic dynamic of Jesus, humanization and liberation, justice and peace constitute the inspirational horizons of mission.

* At the heart itself of this vision of mission lies God’s kenosis in the Crucified, through which God makes a gift of him/herself. The divine gift of the self for a new world founded on gratuity is the response to the will of power and the logic of profit that dominate today’s world.

* This type of mission cannot be but “global”, and not only beacuse we live in a globalized world, even if this fact does determine interdependence at the world level in mission.

* The “lay” character of society, so much vindicated by today’s world, needs to be recovered for mission itself. Mission is called to let emerge the values of God’s kingdom present in the historical processes, by actively dialoguing with the various components of our pluralistic societies.

* The missionary praxis has to privilege the hospitality of the other, attention to intercultural and interreligious dialogue and ministry “advocacy” in favour of the victims, the most vulnerable and of the last in the society.

* The service of God’s word still remains a decisive component of mission as the proclamation of the mystery of God’s compassion and as a hermeneutical factor in the historical processes.

3.4: Mission in Europe

The question of ‘mission in Europe’ has been somehow the focus around which the reflection developed in the first two symposia. The following are the main points of agreement:

* “To dare mission in Europe”: within global and holistic mission, Europe itself constitutes a true missionary space. The myth of Europe as a ‘societas christiana’ has fallen to pieces. The mission among the poor of the South of the world demands that mission be done also in the rich North, where actually so many evils of today’s world have their roots.

* Europe represents a complex reality that requires an accurate analysis and discernment. In particular, both secularization and post-modernity are ambivalent phenomena, with also their positive meaning, some specific values and signs of hope.

* Europe, which also in the past has been a crucible of different cultures and religions, lives today a new season of cultural and religious pluralism and faces the dramatic problem of the encounter with the “other”. In this regard it is important to recognize the sense of fear and anxiety in which both people and institutions in Europe are caught and which could close them in themselves in a desperate search for security. This urges the mission in Europe to pay particular attention to the “Europe project” and the way it develops. Mission in Europe needs to become “life at/of the borders” as a prophecy and prolepsis of Europe as a “shared house of the differences”.

3.5: Missionary and Comboni strategies

In an attempt to re-design missionary praxis, discussion also touched on the question of specific strategies:

* Mission from being a specific activity of some groups and institutions in the Church needs to become again a “movement” across both Church and society. To do mission in a form of network is today an imperative.

* The new mission finds its concrete form in basic Christian communities as centres of evangelical witness and missionary openness...communities structured through a plurality and reciprocity of ministries. The discovery and promotion of new ministries according to a threefold reference of religious, social and cultural service is thus a second imperative. This affects Comboni communities themselves: it is necessary to act as “Comboni family”, made up of fathers, brothers, sisters and lay volunteers that in concentric circles and in expanding waves eventually engage with Christian people, to the point that Comboni communities might come to programme themselves anew as “mixed communities”.

* It is urgent that the missionary praxis might be based on essential, agile and open structures. From a Comboni point of view, this demands that the physical and juridical structures of our Congregation be changed. As far as the Comboni presence in Europe is concerned, “transversal initiatives” among the various Provinces could represent a “prelude to a change in the structure of governance and of a decrease in the number of organs and Provinces”.

4. Themes to be deepened

Finally, the missionary discourse as it developed in the first two symposia referred more or less directly to a number of problematic missionary issues in need of further study. I just point to few of them.

* It is a time of global mission and Europe constitutes a missionary space, and yet it is the hour of Africa: how can we articulate these three imperatives together? Which missionary reciprocity exists or can be established today between Europe and Africa? How should we interpret the Piano of Comboni in the particular context of the third millennium? This is precisely the theme of this third symposium.

* “How to free the charism”: as mentioned above, the clarification of the hermeneutical question in the missionary discourse has already been started. But the question will not be fully resolved till the knot of the charism of a missionary institute has been untied so that it does not remain focused on the past and become an impediment to the renewal of mission.

* In a global mission that belongs first of all to the Church, what is the collocation and role of traditional missionary Institutes? Which reciprocity in mission is there between the local Churches and missionary Institutes? Which re-conversion is required from the latter and in which measure is it possible?

* Mission and the “others”, within the new context of global mobility and migration, cultural and religious pluralism and of the new sensitivity towards “difference”.

* Mission, cultural identity, security, respect of human rights and multiculturalism.

* Mission, the public and political dimension of faith and the lay character of society.

These and other questions are connected with the missionary discourse as it has been developed throughout the last couple of years: all questions that need to be picked up and deepened for a new missionary praxis to become really viable.
The Road already Travelled