Wednesday, April 2, 2014
An up-to-date reading of the Plan of Comboni – based upon the missionary challenges of today – reveals two prophetic intuitions whose value, with the passing of time, has only grown:
1.“The regeneration of Africa with Africa” (Writings 2753).
Daniel Comboni, due to his experience and that of other great apostles, is convinced that to achieve this “regeneration” there is no other way but to involve the African people as authentic protagonist of their history and builder of their liberation.
2. “... It will find an approving echo, support, favour and help in the hearts of the Catholics of the entire world, clothed and filled as they are by the spirit of that superhuman charity which embraces the immense vastness of the universe and which our divine Saviour came to bring to the earth” (W 2790).
With even greater audacity, Daniel Comboni declares that the realisation of this Plan for the regeneration of Africa requires the unconditional collaboration of all the forces of the Church and civil society, conquering all boundaries, prejudices or mean-spirited arguments.
These pages will be concerned with the latter aspect, the urgency, that is, to unify the commitment of all “Catholics” in favour of a single mission. The term “ministry” (ministerium = diakonía = service) helps us to better render the thought and the praxis of Daniel Comboni. We are aware that, in the Plan, he never uses such a word and that it is a term which is not found in the baroque language nor in the Tridentine theology of his time. By “ministry” we mean the missionary responsibility of all the baptised, without exception, to cause to emerge the Kingdom of love and justice (universal brotherhood) inaugurated by the person and the event of Jesus Christ among us. Daniel Comboni did not simply propose an organisational strategy but a manner of being a mature Church.
Let us go directly to the text of the Plan so as to achieve an understanding of the breadth of its horizons (cf. The final edition dated Verona 1871, S E2741-2791):
A) What theological foundation does Comboni place as the basis for his Plan?
It is a Christological foundation and a martyrial response:
B) What vision has Daniel Comboni of the Church that enables him to require such a great commitment from all Catholics without distinction?
It is a challenge which, then as now, seemed almost impossible, especially if one takes into account the discouragement and frustration embedded in many ecclesiastical leaders.
The love which Comboni has for Nigrizia leads him to ask, concretely, for:
The goal which Daniel Comboni wants to reach is that of giving dignity to the entire African population:
To sum up, we find in this proposal of Daniel Comboni an ecclesiological vision that is extremely open and inclusive, which comprehends all the ministries (from that of the Pope to that of the most humble catechist or artisan) while seeking to carry on the mission in favour of the most needy. And this is not derived from mere philanthropy or a romantic sense of ingenuous heroism but from the sound motivation that flows from the baptismal event which existentially reveals to us the love of God and makes us brothers and sisters in the same vocation to sanctity and ability. This practical way of creating ministry will find a response only a century later in the post-conciliar theology of the Second Vatican Council.
Even if the aspects which we have indicated deserve more thorough study, available space allows us just to present, in the form of a Decalogue, a series of teachings we may draw from the Plan of Comboni:
1) Daniel Comboni recognises the importance of the ministry of the Pope (with whom he dialogued on various occasions) and of Propaganda Fide. To them he addresses his Plan, showing ecclesial communion.
2) The audacity of his “dreams” derives from his facing up to the situation of suffering and oppression in which his brothers and sisters live. His Plan is the fruit of solidarity within a missionary method of incarnation.
3) Supporting his position there is his capacity to interact with all sorts of people with human and spiritual maturity. Ministry in the Plan presupposes people who are integrated and capable of authentic relationships.
4) We find in the Plan a sort of anthropology that goes beyond its epoch and recognises the full dignity of people.
5) In the Plan there emerges a model of a Church in communion and participation, born of baptismal consecration and of the common vocation to full life in God.
6) In it the laypeople find their full ministerial expression. Not in a pyramid-shaped visualisation but as co-responsible people of God.
7) Women find the space where they can be valued for what they are and as consecrated people. Comboni is a true pioneer in this.
8) The work of evangelisation envisioned by the Plan is inclusive; no human dimension is excluded as all the human dimensions find space in God’s project.
9) The strategic plan of insertion that is proposed in order to render the work possible, without further tragedies, presupposes a praiseworthy concern for planning and evaluation.
10) All of this is included in the mystery of the Cross, aware that it is a matter of knowingly giving one’s life but, above all, of trusting that the works of God are born and grow at the foot of Calvary. And that it is the Holy Spirit who – today, as in the past – guides the mission.
Fr. Rafael González Ponce, mccj