Monday, November 27, 2023
Evangelisation is the fundamental dynamic, from our point of view, of ecological conversion, a response to the epochal challenges we experience today. A Trinitarian initiative, evangelisation also calls us to constant conversion and to proceed with the Church on a path of ecological conversion. That requires an integral approach to evangelization, namely, one that integrates social realities and challenges into the faith journey of Christian communities. [Bro. Alberto Parise and Bro. Jonas Dzinekou]
A Thrust from the General Chapter
The 19th General Chapter took stock that the world is undergoing a systemic change, which affects also the Church and her mission. In some places it is more evident than in others, but the signs of the times clearly tell us that we are not experiencing just a time of changes, rather a change of times. Since the publication of Evangelii gaudium, pope Francis has been insisting that the Church has to undergo a radical conversion and a renewed missionary commitment. In other words, we should not look sadly at the coming to an end of once flourishing ecclesial and even missionary structures; rather, the joy of the Gospel is what has to take us forth, with insight into the new reality and creativity.
The Chapter captured this message and expressed a missionary dream, outlining the vision of a horizon towards which the Comboni Missionaries are called to land (CA '22, 28):
We dream of a missionary style more inserted into the reality of the peoples we accompany towards the Kingdom, capable of responding to the cry of the Earth and of the impoverished. A missionary style that is also characterized by simpler lifestyles and structures within intercultural communities where we witness fraternity, communion, social friendship and service to local Churches through specific pastoral care, ministerial collaboration and shared pathways.
From the point of view of the Comboni charism, this dream reflects making common cause with excluded and marginalised peoples and, in today's awareness - in which we perceive that everything is connected - with the suffering Earth. Although in today's world the geographical criterion of mission is no longer as decisive as in the past, the ad gentes dimension remains central to the mission of the Institute, taking on a more markedly anthropological emphasis. Here comes the invitation to an ever greater insertion in the life and reality of peoples, animated by a profound sense of compassion that manifests the heart of Jesus.
It is precisely the Comboni charism, therefore, that calls us to respond to the cry of peoples and of the Earth, along paths of ecological conversion. In particular, the Chapter has given a guideline (CA '22, 30) for the next six years, which points us towards the path of Integral Ecology:
In response to the challenges of the epochal change we are experiencing, in the light of the Word of God, we take Integral Ecology as a fundamental axis of our mission that connects the pastoral, liturgical, formative, social, economic, political and environmental dimensions.
Integral ecology is based on an integral view of life, starting with the conviction that everything is connected, that we are all interdependent, and that we depend on our common home. It also advocates the need for new forms of thought and practice in order to pursue "God's dream for all of us who are his children" (Pope Francis).
Integral ecology suggests a renewed understanding of human relationships and with nature. This should leads to a new economy, in which the production of wealth is directed towards the integral well-being of human beings and the improvement - not the destruction - of eco-social systems. This also entails a renewed politics, conceived as one of the highest forms of charity (Paul VI), involving both all peoples and nature itself.
Integral ecology is a multifaceted approach to the ecological crisis, because it simultaneously addresses the economic, social and environmental crises we are experiencing, and considers it essential to seek integral solutions, that is, solutions that consider the interactions of natural systems with each other and with social systems, including the cultural and spiritual dimensions.
The Comboni Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship
For instance, evangelizing the youth in Africa requires to proclaim the Gospel in connection with their existential experience, which is often one of social injustice, unemployment, cultural alienation and environmental degradation. All that has a profound impact on their spiritual experience and faith journey and evangelization would not be complete if it does not take into account the connection between the Gospel and people’s concrete life experience (Evangelii Nuntiandi 29).
In this line, the experience of the Comboni Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship (CASE) is quite interesting and promising. Established in the year 2018 in Kenya, CASE is a project of the Comboni Missionaries in Africa aiming to promote new social enterprises that respond to local social issues and challenges, through initiatives that bear economic, social and environmental benefits. In line with the Continental priorities of the Comboni Missionaries in Africa, CASE focuses on social businesses conceived, created, and run but young people, organizing and training them from both Christian communities and the wider society.
CASE has developed an approach that unlocks the potential of young people to develop their human innovative potential that tap into the opportunities that exist in their environment. By focusing on socioeconomic gaps, CASE helps young people to develop innovative and sustainable solutions to transform their communities, inspired by the Gospel and the values of the Kingdom of God. As in the Comboni tradition, the local youth are the main agents of their own transformation, and CASE plays the role of building their capacity and empowering the communities for social transformation.
For example, CASE has conducted training and social business development within Kariobangi Holy Trinity Parish (Nairobi) run by the Comboni Missionaries, supporting micro and small business entrepreneurs in Huruma informal settlements. CASE equipped entrepreneurs with business management and financial skills, developed an entrepreneurial mind-set aiming at social transformation and provided access to a voluntary loans scheme for business growth.
In a different instance, CASE conducted a boot camp organized by the Comboni Missionaries in Palorinya (Uganda), aimed at empowering Sudanese refugees and the host community’s youth by equipping them with an entrepreneurial mind-set and skills, identifying community problems and developing innovative solutions.
However, CASE has also the capacity to enter into partnerships and develop pilot experiences that then can be replicated and scaled up, like for example CASE Smart Farm, initiated in October 2022 at the periphery of Nairobi, focusing on growing nutritious vegetables in view of creating a replicable model for food production in both rural and urban settings. It employs sustainable farming techniques to produce healthy and affordable food for urban and suburban residents. Indeed, sustainable agriculture in Africa plays a critical role in addressing poverty and unemployment, caring for the environment and ensuring food security and healthy nutrition.
Another interesting initiative is in relation to the Laudato Si’ Movement, with the development of Laudato Si’ programmes in various ecclesial contexts. These can start with a conscientization programme on integral ecology in the Christian communities and especially youth groups, as part of the pastoral work of the parish. Following the pastoral cycle methodology, these clubs will eventually choose how to respond to their local situation.
Among the possible outcomes, which obviously depend on the discernment of the local group, there is the emergence of the "3Zero Clubs." Inspired by the visionary ideas of Nobel peace prize laureate Muhammad Yunus, these clubs strive for ambitious goals: zero carbon emissions, zero wealth concentration for ending poverty, and zero unemployment by unleashing entrepreneurship in all. 3Zero clubs are made of 5 young persons between the age of 12 and 35, but the age difference of the members of a club cannot exceed 7 years. They partake in the three zeros vision and, to make it manageable, the club has to find a narrow area on which members want to focus and ideate, create and lead with entrepreneurial spirit to solve the most pressing social and environmental issues of our time.
A club may reach out to another club or a group of clubs having the same focus area or some common denominator. Five or more clubs with some common characteristics may form a cluster to be known as a circle. In addition to circles, clubs can form a network. Unlike the circle, the network doesn’t need any common denominator.
This initiative of setting up a global network of 3Zero clubs is undertaken to make young people familiar with the goal of a “three zero world” and with ways to achieve this goal through the creative initiatives of young people. Each club empowers itself by connecting with other such Clubs, having a larger range of common features. The clubs become exponentially powerful as they link themselves up with each other. This networking expedites, in a systematic way, the process of reaching the three zero goal faster.
In other words, there is a wide array of creative possibilities to harness social entrepreneurship to further the social mission of the Church and social transformation, giving hope and enhancing the generativity of young people and local communities. This is also a means to evangelize the economy, by creating sustainable economic ecosystems that affirm and promote alternative economic organization and non exploitative practices. In fact, there is need to create a critical mass of social entrepreneurs to initiate a systemic transformation of the world, and Christian communities can live up to their vocation to go forward together with humanity, experiencing the same earthly lot which the world does and serving as “a leaven and as a kind of soul for human society as it is to be renewed in Christ and transformed into God's family” (GS 40).
In a scenario in which the communities of Comboni Missionaries in Africa commit to engage in an all-round evangelization ministry, especially when they focus on young people, CASE is committed to play various supporting roles, namely:
1. Empowerment through Training and Capacity Building
Generally, this is an area where missionary communities do not have expertise and need to partner with other collaborators. CASE can develop comprehensive training programs on social entrepreneurship, organization transformation, financial literacy and impact assessment. It can also offer mentorship and guidance to Comboni missionaries, connecting them with experienced social entrepreneurs or professionals; or to youth entrepreneurs, equipping them with practical skills, foster an entrepreneurial mindset and prepare them for success in a rapidly changing world.
At times, however, missionaries in Africa are already running income generating or development projects and may feel need for some assistance. CASE can provide customized support to help confreres overcome challenges, identify growth opportunities and make informed decisions in running their projects or to empower vulnerable communities through capacity building initiatives, enabling them to contribute effectively and drive sustainable development.
2. Sustainable Development through Social Entrepreneurship
Often the problem with projects is that they constantly require funding. CASE can promote the transformation of projects into self-sustaining social enterprises, guiding missionaries in developing sustainable revenue models, by providing guidance on strategic planning, resource management and financial sustainability, and may facilitate access to funding opportunities for start-ups and resources to boost social enterprises.
In responding to the challenge of our time, CASE also supports initiatives that address environmental challenges, promote sustainable agricultural practices and generate positive social impact.
3. Sharing the Stories of Successful Grassroots Innovation
One of the most powerful catalysers of hope and responsible action is the sharing of the journeys, challenges and successes of social entrepreneurs, showcasing the transformative power of grassroots innovations; and the sharing of experiences to inspire others and foster a belief in the capacity of individuals and communities to create positive change. Besides, it is crucial to share the practical lessons and insights from successful social entrepreneurs to enhance the understanding of how to succeed and what it takes to bring about transformation.
4. Collaboration and Networking
Among the major challenges missionaries experience, there is the isolation and fragmentation of experiences. It is important to facilitate collaboration among Comboni missionaries, encourage coordination and sharing of resources and collaboration between Laudato Si’ groups within the Comboni family.
CASE can provide platforms for networking, such as conferences and forums, to establish connections various social initiatives of Comboni missionaries and foster collaboration among like-minded individuals and organizations, and amplify the impact of grassroots innovations.
The ecological crisis, as a matter of fact, is the external manifestation of the ethical, cultural and spiritual crisis of modernity (LS 119). Integral ecology invites us to look at today's situation in a different way, in the understanding that the socio-environmental crisis derives from a distorted anthropology, which, while reducing the human person to an isolated individual – understood mostly as homo oeconomicus – considers nature exclusively as a resource to be exploited, thus leading us away from the vital relationship we should have with the Creator.
Evangelisation is the fundamental dynamic, from our point of view, of ecological conversion, a response to the epochal challenges we experience today. A Trinitarian initiative, evangelisation also calls us to constant conversion and to proceed with the Church on a path of ecological conversion. That requires an integral approach to evangelization, namely, one that integrates social realities and challenges into the faith journey of Christian communities.
Bro. Alberto Parise and Bro. Jonas Yawovi Dzinekou