Friday, August 14, 2020
Like any other term, "way forth and ad extra" over time and use their meaning can get corrupted, or lose the original thrust due to the various interpretations. We remember that Ad extra, in addition to leaving, implies "leaving", as Abraham left, the paternal house, the culture of his own. Set aside one’s own country, family, culture of origin with their assurances, in order to go into the unknown. As missionaries it is not a question of going to explore or migrate, but to acquire an attitude of movement towards the people (another meaning of Ad gentes), towards the people where God sends us.
CENACLES OF APOSTLES ON THE WAY FORTH
The title is not inspired by Pope Francis who has spoken so much about being Christians on the way forth, since he published his first Apostolic Letter a Church in "missionary attitude forward" (EG 17, 20), a church of missionary disciples (EG 24) in which pastoral workers are in "constantly ongoing (EG 27), especially towards the peripheries, sand towards the new sociocultural areas (EG 31). A church that also comes out of herself because she focuses on the Lord Jesus rather than her regulations (EG 97), and gives priority to the persons she encounters along the way and welcomes them as brothers (EG 179). A church that in addition to leaving is also welcoming those who come, since she has wide opened doors (EG 31).
This brief cast of content was already familiar to the Comboni missionaries, since the term ad extra involves leaving (RL 20, in the new correction).). Comboni did not use the term "way forth” but we well know that he was in constant motion, and that he left his family, culture, assurances in order to risk himself for the sake of the regeneration and salvation of African peoples.
Some General Chapters have mentioned the need for our communities to be welcoming, not only for the brothers whom the Lord assigns to us – as mentioned in the Rule of Life – but also of the people who visit us, especially the poor to whom we proclaim the Gospel, and to the pastoral agents with whom we collaborate in the evangelizing activity entrusted to us by the Lord himself (especially the General Chapter 2003 n. 69, 71).
Like any other term, "way forth and ad extra" over time and use their meaning can get corrupted or lose the original thrust due to the various interpretations. We remember that Ad extra, in addition to leaving, implies "leaving", as Abraham left, the paternal house, the culture of his own. Set aside one’s own country, family, culture of origin with their assurances, in order to go into the unknown. As missionaries it is not a question of going to explore or migrate, but to acquire an attitude of movement towards the people (another meaning of Ad gentes), towards the people where God sends us.
Because going out also involves "going where the Lord shows us," it's not about sightseeing, or making my own travel plan. Therefore, whoever does not "leave" their culture, cannot transform their personal history, and are complying with the Comboni Ad extra in a flawed manner. Well, no one does it properly in its entirety; but when there is no attitude of commitment, it is very difficult for God's grace to transform us, to our sorrow.
The title of this presentation appeals to Comboni's vision of "group, or institution" in his apostolic mission to the Nigrizia. Arguably, a title that reveals Comboni's dream for the community life of his disciples, something similar to Jesus himself when he calls them friends, and not simply disciples (Jn 15,13-17).
The vision that community life is inspired by "the Upper Room" is an icon that excites Comboni missionaries because we like to emphasize committed community life, teamwork, collaboration, continuity in commitments, sharing of personal gifts and material goods, etc. Sharing without waiting to receive, and receiving as anything as God’s gifts, almost unexpectedly... what Jesus explained when he says" when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,"(Mat 6:3). Or when Jesus opens our eyes to recognize the widow's total generosity, “They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on"(Mk 12:44).
All this appears implicitly in the 1988 Rule of Life; afterwards it has been explained in practice through the different General Chapters in ways that seemed necessary in order to update the community charism to the times of today and to the missionary pastoral care that these times demand.
But why make a reflection on a topic that so many others have dealt with? You could say "again with the Upper Room!!" – and by the same equation... with collaboration, with ministeriality, with the poorest and most abandoned, with prayer. Yes, we must be aware that it is a "again" for mature generations, but a new message for the new generations.
The main text Comboni used goes as follows:
This Institute, then, becomes like a little Cenacle of Apostles for Africa, a centre of light sending to the centre of Africa as many rays as are the missionaries who go out from it. These rays of light, bringing warmth as well as illumination, cannot but reveal the nature of the Centre from which they spread out. (W. 2648)
In this short paragraph we find "Cenacle of apostles, Nigrizia, missionaries" four old terms that, together with those mentioned in the previous paragraph, can be developed as wine, or as barrels (following the so often used analogy when dealing with confreres in formation). Depending on our response, the new generations will be the content or the continent. In either case, these terms cannot be thrown away because they are a constituent part of our Comboni identity.
As we are talking about generations, we are aware that the next two General Chapters will represent a very significant and crucial change in the institute founded by Comboni (today San Daniel Comboni, a nomenclature that would also give rise to stimulating interpretation). As things go, and everything is God's blessing, over the next twelve years the churches of ancient European Christianity will pass the baton of the Comboni charism to the Churches of Africa, which with more than a century of existence can no longer be called young. We all know that in a relay race the handing over of the baton is a delicate move, if dropped to the ground when you pick it up you may lift up one that is wrong, that is to say, one that does not correspond to the original charism of the institutes started by Daniel Comboni. Or it may be the case that the handing over takes long and we waste precious time in all that process.
It's quite a delicate exercise that we're all involved in. In fact, the reflection we are making on the Rule of Life is more essential than we believe, because it is about updating it to the new times, without betraying the spirit of a document that, in itself, was almost a "refoundation" back in 1979-1988, since it recovered the "catholicity" of the Comboni institute. Catholicity that has increased exponentially, as a sign of the predilection that the Spirit of God has for the institutions founded and inspired by St. Daniel Comboni. We must speak of institutions, as he did himself, which is a broader term of the Institute of African Missions, today "Comboni missionaries of the Heart of Jesus".
It is also appropriate to consider that the African collaborators Comboni wanted for the evangelization of the interior of the continent (and we all know the reasons) have little to do with the current Comboni members of African origin. We're talking about something else. However, when Comboni mentions that he wants Africa to be the black pearl on the crown of the Immaculate Mary (W. 2314) he would refer to the beauty of the Christian faith embodied in African populations and their cultures (also another topic of reflection that corresponds to Africans themselves to do). Today we would say that Daniel Comboni's dream has come true, mutatis mutandis.
A TERM THAT FASCINATED COMBONI
Cenacle of Apostles was a term that Comboni applied to his first institute in Verona and which he also applied to the foundations of Egypt over the years. Certainly, it is a term that inspired him, although he never elaborated the reasons why. He first applied it to the work of the Good Shepherd and the seminary of Verona, then extended it to all institutions under his responsibility:
The Sisters of St. Joseph of Apparition, in Cairo, Khartoum and El Obeid
The Order of Saint Camilus (4115-4119)
When he mentions those upper rooms, he does so in relation to the practical details to fulfill the plan for the regeneration of the Nigrizia." It is preferable to talk about Nigrizia rather than Africa because today its meaning would be broader and would not be limited to the African continent, nor to the dark skin populations of the world. Even more so when the cultural, social and religious situations that correspond to "nigrizia" both on Comboni’s his time and now. Of all the suffering situations of his time, whether in industrial Europe, in American plantations, in the mines, or in the rural world where peasants were still subjected to aristocracies and land lords, the Spirit of God inspired Comboni to care about the most abandoned populations among them all. And he found the height of suffering in the slave trade, in the women and mothers for which he dedicated the best of his disciples so that they might bring them the comfort of salvation, and later the closeness to God. Nigrizia is a magic word: we can limit it to the geography of the continent; limit to the color of the skin of the population; limit to the situation of abandonment... all of this may be "defining characteristics". However, at the same time become "borders” that delimit and, therefore, end up apprehending the Spirit", Hence the need to continue analyzing its meaning for the present.
The Upper Room is for Comboni a "projection" of his desires for his apostles, but it is a projection inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is part of that peculiar way that the Spirit of God has to convey its message. The Spirit of God inspired Jesus from his insistence on the Kingdom of God. He inspired Comboni "the Upper Room", although as a phrase he does not appear frequently in his writings, as much as the cross, the Sacred Heart, the Good Shepherd, Immaculate Mary… it does give rise to understand what Comboni liked his communities to be: together with the Good Shepherd, pending what happens outside that sheep enclosure, because it is not a question of staying there, but of radiating and leaving to light up the space around (Mk 4:21).
Like so many other inspirations from the Holy Spirit of God, the statement is just the tip of the iceberg of all that can mean and imply. Since it is an iceberg, here I am not trying to go through everything that could entail, but only some traits that I consider important to our situations as Comboni missionaries today.
It could said that Comboni got carried away by the "collective imaginary" of an idyllic upper room typical of Da Vinci's paintings... but unreal. That he wanted to recreate the good relations he had with D. Mazza and that he later could no longer maintain with that institute because the African mission bled too much that small institution, that could not exist only for the needs Comboni saw in Nigrizia.
On one hand, Comboni wanted the camaraderie of the paintings of the last supper, or the harmonious relations among Jesus disciples that appeared in the paintings about the waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit. In the first case, the eleven apostles around Jesus the teacher. In the second case, all of them around Mary, the mother.
On the other hand, he did not want the over-organization of religious congregations who looked for their own livelihoods first, or for their own glory rather than that of the Church. What he calls a friary like spirit. Before taking advantage of the protection of Bishop Canossa he had also sought the collaboration of Don Bosco, or the Franciscans, who had not supported him because Comboni's plan seemed very utopian to them. In fact, it was, and it is, the proof is that it was never done as he wrote it in September 1864.
This Upper Room, which is also valid for today's Comboni communities, presents all the disciples celebrating a feast and listening to the Lord who instructs them for the last time. And to the beloved disciple reclining on the chest of Jesus, where the heart of the Good Shepherd resides, that heart that is throbbing for the unhappy Nigrizia, which will then be pierced so that the salvation of mankind may flow from his blood. A salvation that Comboni wants to channel towards the most abandoned and suffering populations of Africa so that they may become soaked in it.
The disciples around the table with Jesus are the kind of committed missionaries Comboni wanted for his mission:
They form this most essential disposition in themselves by keeping their eyes fixed firmly on Jesus Christ, loving him tenderly end constantly striving to understand more clearly the meaning of a God dying on the cross for the salvation of souls; often renewing the offering of their whole selves to God, the offering of their health and even of their lives, in certain circumstances of special fervour, all together making a formal and explicit dedication of themselves to God, declaring themselves ready, with humility and trust in his grace, even for martyrdom.. (2892).).
Therefore, the beloved disciple leaning on the Lord’s shoulder, who would be Comboni himself, he looks at the cross that he had to carry, and on which he knows he will have to die - because that is the end of the cross of Christ. A death that is followed by resurrection, but without the certainty that it will be experienced immediately. In that certainty of a final triumph Comboni predicts "my work will not die" after my death (or something similar). It's like I say, I die, but my work is resurrected. And the truth is that after the Mahdia, after the transformation of the Institute into Congregation; after the division of that institute; after the reunion, etc. after all the crises that his institutes have been going through, it can be seen that it has the resilience of prophecy.
When Comboni talked about the Upper Rooms, it was before the many crosses he had to carry; but he never contradicted the project he had for them. In fact, considering the difficulties he encountered with his collaborators, he was well able to identify more with that painting: because he had his traitors, his ambitious companions, his faithful disciples, his committed disciples (resistant and capable, especially religious sisters). Of all the misunderstanding we discover in his writings, we know above all Comboni’s version, we know that there is truth also on the other side, but the fact that Propaganda Fide chose him to continue the African mission showed that there was more truth on his side.
DYAMICS OF THE UPPER ROOM
What happens in the Upper Room where Jesus is with his disciples that serve us, Comboni's disciples, in these times of "epochal" and generational change?
It has already been said that they are at the side of the teacher, in an attitude of listening and contemplation. But they are also with second intentions. The evangelists show how until the so-called day of the ascension, they expected his reign to begin, where they could have privileges. That is why the washing of the feet by Jesus depicted by the fourth Gospel would not be a gentle action as John mentions it, but rather an outburst of impatience from the Lord, similar to the expulsion of the merchants from the temple (Lk 19:46). It is as if Jesus had grown tired of the stubbornness of his disciples and was forced to show them practically what it meant to be a servant. When Christians follow Jesus as God incarnate, our closeness to him appears in prayer, a prayer that cannot be selfish, because then we become thieves, or salaried shepherds. A prayer that, if we take away the contemplative element and concentrate on the rites, becomes sort of ritual performances. A prayer that, if we take away its service, it is transformed into moments of a time of relax, as if it were one more yoga technique.
All this to say that the Upper Room next to Jesus is not the living room of our mothers’ home, but the hasty dinner the Israelites had before leaving for their deliverance. When people go on march, the road becomes tiresome, and that is why Comboni continually insisted on the arduous preparations that his missionaries should receive.
That group of Apostles of Jesus showed the range of Jewish spiritualities of the time: zealots, Pharisees, liberals, sympathizers of Qumran, followers of the Baptist. A conglomerate of partly contradictory tendencies, which with Jesus were complementary. They joined him moved by the expectation of the imminent coming of the Messiah. Disciples that Jesus was trying to prepare to send away when he had returned to the Father.
Something similar happens to Comboni with all his collaborators. It is not that he compares himself to the savior, much less, but judging by what happened to him in life he looks like him, since Comboni always wanted to motivate his collaborators to do their best for the benefit of Nigrizia. And to motivate them, he preferred to highlight their virtues rather than their flaws, both for themselves and for third parties. It was an optimistic ruse that convinced benefactors and gave encouragement to missionary workers very much exposed to severe and tense situations.
But Comboni does not put himself at the center of the cohesion of his teams, because the center is occupied by the heart of the Good Shepherd, and it is pierced. This explains the contemplative attitudes he expects from his collaborators:
They will develop in themselves this most essential disposition by keeping their eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, loving him tenderly and seeking always to understand more fully the meaning of a God who died on the cross for the salvation of souls. (W. 2721)
If they contemplate and appreciate a mystery of such great love with a living faith, they will consider themselves blessed to be able to offer themselves to lose everything and to die for him and with him. The detachment from their families and from the world which they have already accomplished is only the first step: they will seek always to make this holocaust more and more complete, giving up all human affection, accustoming themselves not to bother about their own comfort, their own little concerns, their own opinion and whatever else is theirs. Should even the finest thread remain, it could prevent a generous soul from rising up to God. They will make continuous practice of self-denial, even in small things, and they will often renew the offering of their whole selves to God, the offering of their health and even of their lives. In order to stir the spirit to assume these holy dispositions, in certain circumstances of special fervour they will all together make a formal and explicit dedication of themselves to God, declaring themselves ready, with humility and trust in his grace, even for martyrdom (W.2722)
Among Jesus' disciples there were pretentious such as Peter, ambitious as James and John, visionaries such as Andrew, pragmatists such as Philip and Thomas, traitors such as Judas. But Jesus was sympathetic to them all. And so did Comboni himself, who was looking for collaborators who would commit, even if they did not have many capabilities; but that, with the experience of abandonment, some failures and some problems, he realized that he had to demand competence and dedication from them. He knew that the mission of the interior of Africa would eliminate many; but he wanted to avoid precisely that, so he increases demands and asks his formator to make good selection.
The essential norm these Institutes have set themselves, apart from the prescribed norms for the formation of the spirit and the development of the good conduct of the male and female students, is to select good candidates and to train them in the spirit of sacrifice. For on this depends not only the success, the prosperity and the permanence of the Institutes, but also their greatest interest, combined with that of the men and women missionaries, as well as that of the souls and the missions that will be entrusted to them in Central Africa (W. 2885)
The Missionary Institute deeply inculcates and tries to imprint and plant firmly in the spirit of the candidates the true and precise nature of the missionary for Africa, who must be a constant victim of sacrifice destined to working, toiling and dying without perhaps ever seeing the fruit of his labours (W. 2886)
Selection and preparation are important, but so is the constancy in the effort to continue to improve and never to leave. For this to happen among the disciples of Christ and Comboni prayer is the key, and among all styles of prayer the "adoration of the Most Holy" occupied a preeminent place, and it should still be in the apostolic upper rooms because there, it is easier to concentrate the attention of mind and heart, and to present to the Lord our concerns in silence, so that he may transform our thinking and feellings as he would do to the disciple. In the Eucharistic worship, we do not try to prepare plans for the apostolate, nor biblical reflections, but rather we just try to experience God in our lives, and let Him appear in our future actions. In worship, the words of the master fit into our hearts, and the way the Good Shepherd gets into our being, and then we act, without realizing it, in ways similar to his. Thus, acting in the likeness of Christ the Good Shepherd, we will all show cohesion in any circumstance.
In all our communities there are chapels reserved for the Blessed Sacrament, that is where the experience of the Upper Room that Comboni intuited is felt best. There, it is easier to rest, to propose our concerns to the Lord of the harvest; feel that we are all united, that we all lean on the master's chest and ask him "Am I the one, master?" In humility, we recognize that our texture is not very different from that of Judas, Peter or the others. In contemplative prayer we are not too distracted by much talk and enjoy the teacher who is the host of our meeting and banquet; as he constantly tells us "it is not you who have chosen me, I chose you"(Jn 15:16).
The fact that the Lord has chosen us, as He also chose Comboni, cannot be taken with arrogance, but as a participation in the saving task of Jesus, which often entails difficulties and crosses. Comboni knows more about that than many: "We have our tribulations, but we have our consolations: but what crosses! and I more than anyone else, because everything rests on my shoulders. Charity is so uncommon in the world! (W. 6601)
It is a mystical experience that underpins its evangelizing mission to "announce the feats of the Lord", in such a way that he is aware that it is regenerating a new people according to God's plans in the midst of a hostile world.
This new people is characterized by service and humility. Service to those in need. Humility not to be impatient, because " 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, over the ruins of fetishism (W. 2701).
The lack of humility is that Comboni blames on the friary spirit that he saw in religious congregations and that frightened him so much that he did not want it for his institutes. Hence, it has always been a criteria of judgment about how we conduct our missionary service.
FRIARY LIKE SPIRIT
It is well known how Comboni began his institute as “The Institute, or College for the Missions of Africa, (is) a union of Clerics and Coadjutor Brothers who, while not being bound by vows or renouncing their property or being bound by special rules, (who) are nevertheless under the absolute authority of legitimate Superiors and dedicate themselves to the conversion of Africa, and especially of the poor black peoples, who still languish in darkness and the shadow of death (W. 2646)
It is known that Propaganda Fide at the time had bad experiences with religious congregations and that this influenced Comboni not to think that founding one was to be the solution when implementing his plan in favor of the Regeneration of Nigrizia. His dream of involving religious congregations of various nationalities was admired, but in turn regarded as an illusion, so no one committed himself to helping him. In the end, the Bishop of Verona offered his protection to begin his work under his patronage as a diocesan institution. The text of the first paragraph of the first chapter of the Rules of the Institute of Missions for Nigrizia under the subtitle of “Nature and object of the Institute” is equivalent to what we say today "vision and mission". From what Comboni mentions, one could say that he was a forerunner of Fidei donum priests, and by his boldness, he showed the disposition of an authentic prophet.
Back then, missionary endeavours ad gentes could have three formats:
Societies of apostolic life
Comboni was able to embark on the founding of a religious congregation (as Don Bosco had done), or a society of apostolic life such as the Daughters of Charity (as Vincent de Paul did), but he preferred to follow in the footsteps of the 19th-century missionary associations and institutes, because they were in line with what he himself had experienced in Don Mazza's own. That format offered him a wider field of action outside to get staff, in as much as to get means. Two important aspects for a company as demanding as the evangelization of the African continent, so badly stricken by diseases, difficult languages, tribalism, the slave trade, Islam and, soon after, European colonial interests. Propaganda Fide was on his side, but he asked for concrete actions, an organization within the ecclesiastical jurisprudence of the time and a diligence that Comboni had in plenty. Indeed, the Spirit of the Lord found in Comboni the ideal person to undertake such a task.
However, Comboni had to give a less clerical nuance to his Institute for African Missions, as they appear in the rules of 1871. Institute to whom the term "Cenacles" applies. A but later he specifies that but they are thre: In Verona, the Institute of the Missionaries of Nigrizia and that of the Pius Mothers of the Nigrizia; in Cairo, Khartoum and El Obeid, the congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of The Apparition; and the order of saint Camilus. Anyway, the number is not important, what counts is the charismatic intuition that we are commenting on (see W. 4115-19) (the number of upper rooms may change according to the peculiarities of Comboni's interlocutors).
Comboni was told that a religious congregation offered more guarantees of continuity and economic assurances than any other form of organization. But they also indicated to him that religious tend to focus on the interests of the congregation rather than working for the glory of God (for better explanation on these and other similar points see “Comboni in the heart of Africa”, written by Fr. Fidel Gonzalez pp-326 ff). So much so, that even the bishops belonging to congregations were heavily influenced by their major superiors, thus making it difficult the establishment of local churches. This is why missionary institutes and associations in Africa have preferred, until recently, to foster diocesan clergy above the growth of their own ranks (something that did not happen in the evangelization of the American continent). insult
What frightened Comboni of religious orders and the like was their self-centred friary spirit the moved him to utter the kind of offensive words that he wrote at the end of August 1881 in a letter addressed to Fr. Sembianti: "Cursed world! Cursed selfishness of friars and religious! Everything is lies, deceit and temptation in this world. There is nothing firm and stable in it but Christ and his Cross” (6989).
It is understood Comboni’s frustration for that outburst that comes out of his heart at the end of his life amid the slander about the honesty and competence of his administration. Also he was disturbed by the gossiping that he had put too much appreciation on Sr. Virginia. But he continues pronouncing very beautiful words about the true passion of his life in favor of Nigrizia. How this last one was a thorn that he had inside since the beginning of his work when he wrote to Msgr. Canossa:
Anyway, may you do whatever the spirit of God suggests to you is best, about which a Superior like Your Excellency is informed directly by God. At the root of all this is that cursed egoism of monks and friars which dominates nearly all religious Orders: "The Order, then Christ and the Church". It is a hard but unavoidable truth, known already in the time of the Apostles and of which St Paul speaks... The great good that is done is no great thing, says the friar, if it does not come from the Order. (W. 2387)
We cannot forget this negative experience about collaborating with religious orders because the transformation of his Institute into congregation was experienced by some of its surviving members as a betrayal to the founder. That, while it might have been the case in form, it was not in the spirit. Nonetheless, it remains a challenge for all of us that the shape of structures of consecrated and ecclesiastical life drowns out the missionary spirit that Comboni wanted for his institutions, which serve the Spirit of God better when they are malleable and flexible rather than rigid.
Comboni sought priests, lay people and religious willing to devote themselves entirely up to death in favor of the work of the regeneration of Nigrizia. It is a spiritual consecration rather than canonical, since the second without the first makes little sense; but you can live the first without the second, as the current Comboni Lay Missionaries want to do, whether they are in concrete activities of evangelization ad gentes, or are educating their children and living their Christian faith like any other professional.
Both the one in Africa - the frontier of evangelization - and the one who dedicated himself to the formation of candidates were all equally missionaries and contributed to the regeneration of Nigrizia, to the transformation of the world into the Kingdom of God, because being a missionary for Comboni was a vital constant anywhere he was, whether as bishop in Khartoum, or as a priest touring European capitals when he was younger, or as a priest trying to involve the official Church. Above places and means his greatest concern was on the abandoned people who needed the benefits of Christ's redemption, and the righteousness of the Kingdom.
Comboni's followers assumed the structure of Religious Life at the end of the 19th century to be faithful to the spirit of the founder who wanted them with total dedication in favor of nigrizia, and to ensure the continuity of the institution. Since then, there have been several reforms that had to happen: first, it was the change in congregation, then the division (as a solution for internal squabbles, even if it was a betrayal of the catholicity that Comboni wanted), the reunion the concepts of mission and methodology, the opening to America, later on to Asia, now to Europe. You could say that they are changes typical of a living being that grows and that needs to adapt. They are like the changes of a legal person led by the Spirit of God, from which Jesus himself said that you know where he comes from, but not where it takes you (Jn 3:8).
Several of the last General Chapters have denounced the danger of bourgeois spirit and the decrease in apostolic. They may be comments subjected to the perception of those who say them, or reflect the high level of search for excellence that Comboni missionaries want for their members, following that other saying of Comboni that wanted "holy and capable" missionaries.
This is not the place to judge on the objectivity of these phrases, but it is an unquestionable fact that the number candidates for consecrated Brothers in the congregation has diminished, so much so that their disappearance in our communities is almost certain. As much as we want to change number 12 of the Rule of Life so that the congregation stops being "clerical" will not change the situation. Above all, considering that the vocational quarry of the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus today is Africa, and among African candidates there does not seem to be an attractiveness to this kind of consecrated missionary life.
This is not to say that the vocation of the consecrated Brother is not up to date, but for whichever reason its version among the Comboni missionaries is not attractive to African youth. In the words of the 2009 General Chapter, clericalism affects Comboni missionaries (CA 2009, 49). To this sad situation we must add that neither do the Comboni Missionary Lays find vocations among African youth; and that the Comboni Missionary Sisters (the Pius Mothers of Nigrizia of which Comboni was so proud) are not growing in numbers that would be needed.
To the mentioning of the Comboni missionaries, the Comboni Missionary Sisters, and the Comboni lay missionaries, we must add the Comboni Secular Missionaries, and the great legion of benefactors and benefactors who have been supporting the Comboni institutions for many years. That is, a whole series of nuances of missionary commitment that would fall within that first foundation of Comboni’s "Work of the Good Shepherd and the Institute for the Missions of Nigrizia", which over the years would have been over-clericalized. Thos adaptations were necessary to respond to the challenges of those times. However, it could also be that in the middle of the 21st century it may be more convenient to assume the structure of an apostolic society that favors the dedication of the faithful to the Ad Gentes mission following a variety of possibilities of missionary commitment under the inspiration of st. Daniel Comboni's holiness and apostolic zeal for the regeneration of "Nigrizia populations", in whatever geographical place they are found, but within the possibilities of a group of disciples of Christ that is not numerous, nor has many economic means. The development of these proposals would be in tune with Comboni's daring character and give his institutes a prophetic nuance that would help fulfill their dream of having missionaries who are totally dedicated to the gospel and the poor in need of God, evangelization, freedom and justice. In this way it would be shown that the Cenacles of Comboni apostles are on the way forth, according to the terminology used by Pope Francis.
The presence of lay Christians committed to ad vitam (not so much in what the term may indicate as a temporary duration but as a mode of commitment, in which time and mode are not contradictory) will help the clerics in their religious consecration without falling into the friary like spirit that has so much jaded Comboni, or the fussing that negative propaganda makes of Catholic ecclesiastical institutions. Thank God, the media does not accuse the Comboni missionaries of these two characteristics, but on the contrary, they receive a deserved recognition, which, while true, is not as much as it seems. That is why these years of handing over the baton above mentioned are so delicate.
An important element in the 19th and 20th century Ad Gentes mission has been its liberating and human promotion dimension. Since Comboni's time, these dimensions have involved economic expenses to which divine Providence did not turn its back. There are many quotations about it in Comboni, and about how his trust in God was also proof of his holiness, just an example:
It is true that although the necessary expenses are enormous: for building, for the two Religious Congregations brought in, for travel, for the Missionaries’ maintenance and for transportation, etc., Divine Providence always comes to our aid when we are in need, so that the Vicariate is not burdened by any debts. The principal sources of income that have materially maintained the Vicariate entrusted to me, both in the beginning and during its rapid expansion and which will maintain it in the future, are not so much the specific possessions of each Institute and the abundant donations of my private Benefactors as the ordinary alms given by the Charitable Societies in Cologne (W. 4113).
The last decade has meant to the congregation of the Comboni missionaries the stable affirmation of the Total Common Fund, which would be an update on the "economic and personal sharing so frequently mentioned in the 1988 Rule of Life. The 2003 General Chapter mentions this (CA 2003 102); as in 2009 (CA 2009 150), and the last Chapter CA 2015 48.5, from which I quote the implementation guides:
In the course, decided in 2009, to extend the Total Common Fund (TCF) to all constituencies, grew the conciousness that "it is necessary to go from a provincial sharing perspective to solidarity with the whole Institute" (CA 2015 n. 75).
The second theme focused on the Chapter is sustainability. Not surely because Providence has ceased to accompany our work, but because of a sense of responsibility in the administration of resources. It has motivated the reflexion of the duty to promote ecclesial responsibility on sustainability (CA 2015 n. 78).
The Chapter says that self-sustaining can be achieved through initiatives that, in addition to pastoral and animation commitments, can be income-generating; at the same time, it warns of the risk of the worldly and speculative spirit, and of the need for strict fully transparent administrative disciplines (CA 2015 n. 79).
The Total Common Fund goes hand in hand with a simple lifestyle and sober behaviour with regard to the use of material goods that it is appropriate to share with the poorest (CA 2009 153, 154), as the vow of poverty of consecrated life wishes to fulfill.
In Comboni's time, the Work of the Good Shepherd cared for all the expenses of the missionaries, as has been suggested above in mentioning divine Providence. The practice of Eucharistic intentions and personal benefactors helped; but that is no longer happening today because of the de-Christianization of Europe and the changes in direction of solidarity channels. Nowadays ngo’s find easier access to the solidarity funds of states that are distributed according to political interests. African provinces live with some anguish the scarcity of their own economic means while the provinces of old Christianity will not provide the economic support that they used to do in the second half of the last century... and yet spending continues to grow.
It is true that African Catholics strive to maintain the local church, but they lack missionary mentality ad gentes, or missionary institutes still do not know how to motivate Catholics' generosity towards the Church's evangelizing activity, which also concerns them. There are very good campaigns for vocation promotion, in fact people are the wealth and strength that matters most; however, missionary animation campaigns do not raise funds with what to maintain the students, or the costs of sending missionaries away from their countries.
To this reduction of income, it should be added that the practical implications of the vote of poverty are not so clear to the new generations. This is not for lack of explanation, but the materialistic and consumerist pressure of the globalized world to which young people in training have access exerts a strong influence on them. Comboni asked his missionaries to live in frugality; the living and transport conditions of the late 19th century fostered a style of life from which missionaries did not want to escape because they had accepted it within a spirituality of self-denial and martyrdom, as two quotations from his letters written in 1879 show us:
I am infinitely grateful for your precious letter of last 16 January. Crosses and great tribulations are the hallmark of God’s works. Many say so with their lips and preach it from pulpits; but when crosses arrive they are disheartened, distressed and weak. The missionaries and Sisters of Central Africa must be lambs for the slaughter, people destined to great suffering for Jesus Christ. They must not be anything else, because otherwise they would not be apostles but clowns, and good for nothing. I would like this to be inculcated in our African Institutes; I shall not be satisfied until they are brought down to this point, and with God’s grace they will be. (W.5683).
The Sacred Heart of Jesus also beat for the black peoples of Central Africa and Jesus Christ also died for the Africans. Central Africa too will be welcomed into the sheepfold by Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, and the apostolic missionary cannot but take the way of the divine Teacher’s Cross, strewn with thorns and all kinds of efforts. “Non pervenitur ad magna praemia nisi per magnos labores”. Thus the true apostle cannot fear any difficulty, nor even death. The Cross and martyrdom are his triumph (W.5647).
Today's world does not admire sacrifice and it is not so clear what simplicity of life means to the new generations… if it ever was. Nonetheless, the dialectic that includes the preferential option for the poor is well mastered.
The Comboni provinces are administrative units where to show solidarity. Communities are the “cenacles of apostles" where fraternity can be experienced. For that to be possible, it takes conviction and orderly endeavour. Today, it is easy to acquire knowledge thanks to digital communication; but to make of it means to form the person, and to use it for evangelization it is necessary that, at community, level there be more communication of one’s own plans of life. And to share the spiritual experiences that underpin the vocation of missionaries close to the Pierced Heart of Christ the Good Shepherd. That heart that transforms the one of his friend, who reclines on him, and makes gives the sensitivity of the Good Shepherd and makes him feel like Comboni:
I make common cause with each one of you, and the happiest day in my life will be the one on which I will be able to give my life for you. - I am not unaware of the weight of the burden I have to carry, since as shepherd, teacher and doctor to your souls I shall have to watch over you, educate you and correct you: defend the oppressed without hurting the oppressors, reproach errors without antagonising those who err, denounce scandals and sins without ceasing to show compassion to sinners, seek out the corrupt without weakening to vice; in a word, be a father and a judge at the same time. But I am resigned to this in the hope that you will all help me to carry this burden with happiness and joy in the name of God (3159).
In this way the missionary becomes "the compassionate brother (empathetic, supportive, charitable) of the poor who need the Kingdom of God. And by the hand of Jesus he becomes a bridge to grabs them and tells them "get up and walk", "go in peace", "your sins have been forgiven", "your dignity has been restored and improved as a son of God." The friend who has experienced that same thing, and that knows that his own value is not possessions, titles, appearances, knowledge, etc. but being a child of God and a friend of Jesus.
The disciples who live in the cenacles of apostles around the teacher share the concerns, difficulties, joys and sorrows they encounter in their apostolic and consecrated life. However, it is curious how brothers who make vows of poverty, chastity and obedience tend to keeping in the sphere of privacy how they live these vows, even if they are willing to give public explanation, by way of testimony, to those who ask for an interview. Sharing these issues in community and prayer strengthens the bonds of union and reinforces defenses against external influences, once called temptations, which constantly stalk confreres to move them away from fidelity to the vows of consecrated life, because today's sensual world cannot comprehend the value of those vows professed by the Kingdom of God.
The general chapter of 2015 challenges the Comboni missionaries to recover or discover the local community as the Upper Room where there are deep relationships of friendship, which are made possible by the common relationship with the Lord that has placed them together, because it is the affections for God that make possible harmonious interpersonal relationships. Communities are not mere work teams. Missionary activity ends up wearing down bonding ties and at times frictions maked them when there is tension; but when the ties are wet, like a rope, by the grace of God, they resist any kind of difficulty:
We feel the need to recover the sense of belonging, the joy and beauty of being true “Cenacles of Apostles”, Communities characterized by profoundly human relationships. We are called to value, above all among ourselves, inter-culturality, hospitality and the ‘conviviality of differences’. The world has great need of such witness (CA 2015, 33)
CENACLES AT THE SERVICE OF EVANGELIZATION
A missionary who was so wary of the selfish friary spirit of religious orders could not conceive the cenacles to be shelters where to find refuge or enjoy cozy environment, residences to concentrate, in the style of the Benedictines, in prayer, work, study and praise. In his Upper Rooms, as already mentioned, the position of the guests was the one of the Israelites on Easter night: they are in a starting position ready to move. Or like Jesus himself in the gospel of John: they were in an attitude of active service. That is why the Spirit of God inspired dynamic verbs to Comboni in the famous quotation on the topic: send, shine, proceed, leave:
This Institute, then, becomes like a little Cenacle of Apostles for Africa, a centre of light sending to the centre of Africa as many rays as are the missionaries who go out from it. These rays of light, bringing warmth as well as illumination, cannot but reveal the nature of the Centre from which they spread out. (Es.2648)..
It is important to recognize that Comboni's upper rooms resemble army outposts, not permanent residences. Some few Comboni missionaries may flop down. This is not the place to do calculations, but it is to clarify attitudes. Activism and individualism were criticized in the past because it gave the impression that these Comboni missionaries lacked "spirituality." So much so, that some pastors of evangelical churches said: "If you want assistance for education, health or development go to the Catholic Church; but if you seek the Word of God, come and hear it in our church." Correcting activism doesn't mean moving to "comfort." Correcting individualism does not mean passing "to gregariousness".
Any living being as it grows acquires deformations; therefore, those errors are a sign that there is life; but if these imperfections are not corrected, they come to be accepted as normal. It's the old adage: Whoever doesn't intend to do what he says ends up justifying what he does.
The 2003 General Chapter set guidelines for bringing apostolic developments in order through community discernment, which in itself is also in the Rule of Life 33 and 102:
The community is where discernment is carried out, and also the options, the implementation and the evaluation of the work and of the missionary service. All this fosters the continuity of the apostolic undertaking and helps to tackle the problems caused by rotation, by sickness and by unforeseen happenings. Comboni was the first to want mission to be carried out by a cenacle of apostles (W 2648) where diverse persons would be brought together for the one common project. (CA 2003, 85).
The quality of community life is measured in interpersonal relationships, in the relationship with the Lord (prayer) and in apostolic commitment. The Rule of Life presents guidelines to follow to ensure a steady and healthy community life. The criteria include: the number of community members (RL 40.1), the apostolic communities (RL 68), provisionality (RL 71), cooperation (RL 65), ministeriality (RL 64),solidarity (RL 60), RL (58) and an evangelization that announces and releases in dialogue and respect (RL 59, 61, 57, 67).
The 2009 chapter could be called the chapter of "consistency" (CA. 2009 7.4; 8.2, 8.5; 77; 127.1), a word that applies to: 1. Be individually consistent with vocational choices; 2. Have circumscriptions with in sufficient numbers to ensure good apostolic ministry and continuity. As far as number one is concerned, there is little to object to. However, there have been different interpretations and applications on number two: who interprets it for the circumscriptions, and who applies it to local communities. It is at this last point that attention must be paid to be consistent with Comboni's vision for his Cenacles of Apostles. Because the number of members in a community is no guarantee of better apostolic service, on the contrary, it can also result in a "conventualization" of the Comboni local communities, which would amount to a "frairynation” using Comboni's terminology (both words doo not exist in English dictionary)
To provide consistent missionary service, the number of members of a community is intended to increase beyond the minimum set out in the Rule of Life of three. This is a necessary alternative wherever there is work, and where old confreres cannot guarantee constant ministry. But in turn, it can result in cheating, because by not being under pressure it is easy to relax in the ministry work, lock oneself in the private world of each person through the digital window that is at hand in the cell phones and computers, or be distracted in other activities that are not part of the evangelizing activity. Likewise, since there is no immediate need for our presence, someone else can do it, it is easy to entertain ourselves on long vacations without considering the situation of the people who fight to survive every day, the poor populations with which missionaries live. These are situations that occur, that's why I mention them.
A layman who had been a seminarian in Uganda once said he did not understand why Comboni missionaries had to live in communities of three or four people, when the Kiltigan Fathers (a missionary society of Irish priests) lived alone, so they could reach more places. The explanation that the religious community give: continuity, companionship, testimony, seemed convincing to him; but not so much given the need that he saw for more places and people to be reached. This anecdote shows how the witness of community life must also be proportional to the forces available and to the demands of the mission.
Comboni's Upper Rooms are not made up just of confreres that professed religious vows.. If the number is to be considered, to give consistency to the missionary presence, it cannot be forgotten that there are the apostolic communities mentioned in the Rule of Life. It is a little shortsighted not to consider them when thinking of appropriate means for the personal and spiritual health of Comboni missionaries, and to think that only what happens in the male community should be considered as "the cenacle of apostles". Comboni's inspiration was such that today would amount to something called "Cenacles of pastoral agents", where around the teacher Jesus, the Good Shepherd, different concentric communities are located. For the Comboni missionaries the first circle is the local community, the second the apostolic community, the third the community of pastoral agents, and so on. For the Comboni Lay Missionaries the teacher Jesus remains in the center, the next circle is their own family, the next the community, etc. And something similar can be applied to the Comboni Missionary Sisters.
The vision that all pastoral workers are part of the Comboni apostolic Upper Rooms is in line with what is now called "ministeriality and synodality". It is about accepting that there is symbiosis between them and that the Spirit of God acts in all of them. So it is up to them to listen to each one in their position and service. In other words, a mother can tell the parish priest how he should talk to young children in their homilies. A priest can explain to parents what part of the faith they should teach to their children according to age and conditions. A professional physician, who is a missionary, advises religious people on health prevention and precautions, etc. Everyone is spiritually enriched in their comments on the Scriptures and in sharing their apostolic, professional, family, prayer and service experiences.
It is not only a question of sharing as the one who listens to a radio talk, but a proposition in which opinions count when making decisions, and where everyone assumes the responsibility of deciding in their field of competence, respecting the principle of subsidiarity and specialization. Because a doctor can comment on mental health, but it is up to the priest to decide when it comes to spiritual health. A nun may comment on marital relationships, but it is up to couples to make the decisions. And so on. Without humbly accepting the limitations of professional competences and the wisdom gained by experience, it is easy to repeat the ancestral errors that appeared with Galileo Galilei. Now we laugh about that, but something similar can happen today if in the Apostolic Upper Rooms and in the organization of Comboni missions’ experts are not empowered to make decisions.
Management proposals for parishes and dioceses from the 1983 Code of Canon Law represented a breakthrough in ministeriality according to the criteria that appear in the New Testament (1Cor 12; 14; Rom 12.6; Ef 5.6ss: 1Ped 4.10s). Criteria that are in the interests of the pastoral plans of the Comboni commitments and their communities. However, it is common knowledge that the pastoral reforms of Vatican II took a break at the end of the last century and the beginning of the present, so much so that there is some confusion about what the management of missions should look like so that the processes initiated by the Comboni missionaries does not stop when parishes are handed over to diocesan clergy, or that there is continuity when there is change in the Comboni personnel in communities. The uneasiness felt in the management of ecclesial institutions also affects the new generations of Comboni missionaries since they are children of their times, and it may be the case that the sensitivity of Vatican II has been lost; a sensitivity that is very necessary for the evangelization of the world in dialogue and openness, without claudicating to the counter-values of the Kingdom of God, which also threaten evangelizing work, whether outside the Catholic Church as within; whether outside or within the Comboni apostolic cenacles. This reality is very challenging when it comes to evangelizing populations with high formal education anywhere in the world, even more so in the glazed Europe in matters of Christian faith and God centred societies and families. Also when it comes to using social media and mass media, which represent part of the new areopagi advocated in the Comboni documents of the last forty years.
The Cenacles of Comboni had in mind should continue being catholic, which today would be called "intercultural" a testimony of understanding that shows the reality of the Kingdom of God. In communities there is variety in cultural and ethnic identity, age, mentality. There are majorities and minorities. Communities and circumscriptions are human groups subjected to the kind of tugs-of-war and tensions that characterize such kind of human associations. Forty years ago, Comboni minorities were African, soon they will be majorities. Living in intercultural communities will become a special call since it implies the possibility of being a minority, of having to submit my tastes to those of others. This is one more example of what "kenosis" means, putting aside the privileges of being in my known world and where I am the one who regulates decisions, to let others decide.
That is why since the beginning of the Work of the Good Shepherd and the Seminar of African Missions on June 1, 1967 we heard Comboni in the mouth of Mons. Canossa, on whom his work depended legally:
"We believe that it is absolutely necessary for Europe, even more so to the entire Catholic world, to provide those aids that are required in order to found and maintain missionary houses for the regeneration of Africa. And in them they form men and women who come out like a new Upper Room of apostles who come to the African lands in order to undertake evangelization with the method of saving Africa with Africa" (Decree Saint Magno Perfundimur Gaudio).
It is a phrase less effusive than the classic, but which presents the feeling that the divine Spirit inspired Comboni: cooperation among churches, catholicity among the members, regeneration as a ministry, communities as cenacles, and the protagonism of the recipients in their own evangelization and management. In 1867 it was the most realistic solution one could think of; but it was also idealistic to attempt to coordinate churches, religious congregations, lay congregations, Africans, etc. as history later demonstrated. However, because God's works are miraculous, the fact that the work initiated by Comboni continues, despite the storms, shows that it was really and is still inspired by the Holy Spirit. When Comboni writes, he does it with his heart in his hand, so that within a few days of that beginning he wrote "I have the pleasure to announce to Your Most Reverend Eminence that the distinguished Mgr Canossa has opened a Seminary in Verona for our dear African missions, which in better times will be called the Institute of the Good Shepherd for the Regeneration of Africa; he also opened a female Institute to train good women missionaries, and they are given an education exclusively suited and most appropriate for the specific needs of the African apostolate. (Es. 1416).
The apostolic zeal mentioned departs from a profound experience of communion and belonging to the Lord. It because of that that all the deprivation and the continuous sacrifices, the harshest trials become for his heart a kind of paradise on earth, and death itself, even the cruelest martyrdom become the dearest and most desired reward for his sacrifices:
He is moved by the pure vision of his God, and so, in all these circumstances, he knows how to sustain and nourish his heart abundantly, whether he gathers the fruit of his apostolate either sooner or later, by his own hand or by that of another. Indeed, with his heart thus inflamed with the pure love of God and with his eyes lit by faith as he contemplates the supreme benefits, the greatness and the sublime nature of the eminently apostolic Work for which he has sacrificed his life, all his privations, his constant efforts and his hardest tasks become to his spirit like a paradise on earth, and death itself and the most painful martyrdom are the dearest and most prized reward of his sacrifice. Turning their minds perpetually to the great purpose of their apostolic vocation thus necessarily imbues the students of the Institute with a true spirit of sacrifice (2891).
The spirit of sacrifice is necessary to live with authenticity missionary consecration according to Comboni's expectations. It's not about seeking deprivations however, it isn’t either escaping from them. Not because of an austere self-denial but for the love of Christ and His sheep. Also without fear to share their conditions in order to understand their mentality and feelings. When missionaries and priests live protected in their residences, they cannot know the sufferings of the people. Siddhartha's conversion only came when the young prince came to know and experience the suffering of his subjects, hence began his journey of transformation into the Buddha. The Apostle who only works in the office, or concentrates too much on liturgies, will be unable to respond to the sensitivities of the people and to meet their needs, whether physical or spiritual.
Once again, the verb "to go forth" appears, and that implies to leave: let behind the assurances of one's cultural identity, of one’s daily routine, bodily comforts, and even one’s own experience of God. In fact, sincere interreligious dialogue needs a search-free attitude, and the humility of receiving. It is a whole new way of being that is cultivated from the initial formation, never ends nor can be abandoned. It is part of the "sharing", since the missionary shares his experience of faith, his knowledge, his possessions. Sharing is not the same as "distributing", it involves giving and receiving. To receive with dignity, one has to appreciate. To appreciate one has to feel need. Truly, we are all in need, only fool think they can be self-sufficient. And the one with materialistic mind thinks that things are enough to be content.
To share one has to be detached. The one who shares is generous, regardless of how much is distributed. The poor man who does not share is as stingy as the greedy and self-centered rich. Unfortunately, institutions tend to be self-centered in order to survive. Only our Triune-God remains always generous and does not wear out in his self-donation. That is why the Good News of the Kingdom are part of the mission and inner life of the Trinity.
When Comboni proclaims, " I make common cause with each one of you, and the happiest day in my life will be the one on which I will be able to give my life for you! " (W.3159); he is fulfilling in himself the feelings of the Triune God incarnated in the person of Christ the Good Shepherd who bleeds out on the cross so that everyone, and especially the people in "nigrizia" may recover their lives. Comboni in his generosity even drops his "regeneration plan" the way he had conceived at the beginning to bring more and more forces together for Africa. And when he finally dies in the heart of Africa, he becomes a martyr because of the Gospel, because he was killed by the inhumane conditions of the "unhappy nigrizia." for which sake he was preaching the good news..
In Comboni's letters, it is amazing how demanding Comboni was about his candidates, rather, "how demanding he became" because at first he was not so much, he was more interested in quantity than in quality (W.2337; 2894).) After all, in his own experience, missionaries di not last long on the harsh African mission. However, he understood that in order not to cause greater ills to the mission, good selection and demanding preparation had to be made, that was what he asked his formator in Italy Fr. Sembianti.
This high demand was mandatory because of climatic, health, social and social conditions; because of political pressures; because of loneliness and difficulties for communication (languages had to be known). Comboni surpassed all that thanks to his intellectual and human abilities, along with his own holiness. Of the first he could be aware, of the last not so much... because humility is a characteristic of saints.
Comboni's writings show us how much it took him to grow in holiness; in them his humanity appears clearly, that makes him an affordable model to anyone. His missionary zeal and holiness must attract the apostles of his Upper Rooms. To discover the kind of appeal that the founder provokes in his followers, it is enough to imagine the picture that attracts them most: the one of a young man with sleeves rolled up (the one who wrote, the one who mended cloths and studied), that of a mature man with his turban (the one who rode on camel loins and on them prayed and researched), that of the bishop with his solideo cap (the one who alternated with European high society to raise funds for his institutes). The image that comes to mind will reveal the Comboni missionary model of the future.
The fact that technology and medicine has improved our lifestyle around the world, especially those who have financial means to pay for technology, medicine, education, does not mean that missionary commitment has to be less demanding. Hence, Comboni's pieces of advice to Fr. Sembianti are still equally valid. At that time, new missionaries who came out of the Upper Rooms as "solicitous and virtuous rays" were immediately tested in the exacting field of the African mission, whereas today that exposure to extreme situations is much more reduced. As much as the novitiates want to stage demanding situations, they remain laudable pretend, artificial environments, which do not obtain the results that Comboni would have wanted for his fronteer missionaries and which at this crucial moment of the Institute should be put in order. It may be that Comboni missionaries will not have to be subjected to physically extreme situations -that some Comboni writers compare to those that bear the U.S. Marine Corps- but as long as impoverished populations exist in the world,, who suffer misery in their flesh, Comboni missionaries cannot take refuge in their residences and communities to enjoy privileges that do not belong to them and forget the children of God who need to be regenerated by the Gospel; also when these children do not live in materially unfavorable; but equally painful conditions.
Comboni was not very enthusiastic about structures, he had an apostolic vision quite according to the Pauline model, as the one who sows and lets the seeds grow on their own. Due to the weather conditions of the time, there was not much room for many other possibilities. In other words, real possibilities influence the mission concept we have. He spent endless nights writing and praying in order to reserve time during daylight to look after his sheep, to be with the people, and to encourage his missionaries. Comboni's disciples cannot forget this detail, because regardless of whether they have to concentrate on bureaucratic offices, or dip themselves in the digital networks, they cannot set aside direct contact with people to assimilate their sensitivity. Only in that way the news or reflections they present will show an incarnated gospel that can be understood.
Rest assured that my soul responds to this with unlimited love forever and for each one of you. I have returned among you never again to cease being yours and all consecrated for your greater good in eternity. Come day come night, come sun come rain, I shall always be equally ready to serve your spiritual needs: the rich and the poor, the healthy and the sick, the young and the old, the masters and the servants will always have equal access to my heart. Your good will be mine and your sorrows will also be mine. (W. 3158)
This is the pattern of religious consecration that the Spirit of God has given to the Comboni missionaries: consecrated to the greatest good of the poor, impoverished and suffering of their "nigrizia". As already mentioned, a consecration that arises spontaneously from the communication that missionaries have with the Pierced Heart of the Good Shepherd. Therefore, the quality of the self-giving they show in their ministry proves the quality of their prayer (whether liturgical, communitarian or personal). The new generations of Comboni missionaries have a healthy apostolic zeal, - with some exceptions. It is clear that the institution needs to find mechanisms to invigorate the weak, so that it continues to be an institution that "marches to exercise its apostolate among the abandoned" (W. 4115) and that everyone feels the pride of being selected and sent to "glow and warm" the poor of God who need it most. This is an authentic Comboni missionary pride, and it often involves putting parochial mentality and its pastoral approaches more apt for the pastoral care of established Christian communities. That is to say, whoever has in mind the model of apostolate od diocesan priests cannot be Comboni missionary, because the charism is different.
The institutionalization of charisms brings bureaucracy in the way of organizing and sedentarism among those who exercise the ministries of authority. St Daniel Comboni shows us that it does not have to be so, and that it is possible to establish his work in a dynamic way, with simple structures in which each missionary also offers his evangelizing service directly to the people of God.
Since computers became part of the office furniture, banks have reduced their bureaucratic staff to become more competitive and make more profit. These instruments have gone on to help in the administrations of every institution and also of the Comboni, but unlike banking they have not represented a reduction in bureaucracy. Since cell phones are in pockets, offices are carried in a wallet, and business travel is less necessary. But the organization of the Comboni missionaries has not changed despite using these means. Only recently have been compelled to accept virtual meetings. The visits of superiors to communities and provinces do not provide great solutions to the problems that occur there. That's why the plan to reduce circumscriptions seems like a good way to go in order to release more personnel for the direct mission. However, the main solution involves the reduction of the bureaucratic apparatus of the congregation, and the way it works. When that is achieved, there will be fewer meetings and trips, and senior superiors will also make their direct apostolate as the major superiors of the Comboni missionaries did in the generations before the 1970s in South Africa, Sudan and Uganda.
We must go out to meet God's people rather than to attend presential meetings that have little impact on apostolic work. On the other hand, it is commendable the work of the Comboni missionaries who day by day "leave" their residences to visit families and chapels. Or those who leave the mission centres to spend a few days of "apostolic safari" through the villages. An elderly father commented on his younger companions in the community of Chorrillos (Lima): "These confreres will not to be found under the walls and roofs of this house, when an earthquake shakes Lima." These priests used social media to share their theological reflections even long before the pandemic of Covid 19; but they were not content with that and went out to visit the sick, the young, the chapels because rarely does the reading of printed material reach the heart in as much as does he voice, the presence, the friendly caress, the empathetic gaze of the missionary who comforts, or of the one who encourages and takes part in a joyful celebration. That is why the practice of missionary safaris, of the walking trails, or the strolling through the streets of a township, cannot disappear from the Comboni missionaries’ methodology. Saint Daniel Comboni sailed, rode, walked; those who followed him, added the bicycle, then the motorbike, then the land rover and the planes... all that to get there, to the places where the people were, sooner and remain there. Means of transport are to get out quickly, driving cautiously, not to return soon, nor to wander off the course one is supposed to be.
Thanks to the growth in number and in quality of the Christian communities of Africa, we might forget Comboni's experience, especially among the Islamized populations that he wanted to avoid to reach the heart of Africa. Seeing these populations and their reactions, as well as the kind of assimilation of the faith of Christianized populations, even in Malbes, he had to accept that missionary work requires a patient and delicate planting attitude, which asks missionaries to be aware that they can be "hidden stones underground". that is, they will not receive public recognition of the work they are doing in the regeneration of nigrizia situations. Something that is fulfilled quite faithfully in the apostolate among the Muslim populations of Africa, or China, or even in today's Europe. Each place needs to be evangelized according to its conditions. Europe will not be evangelized in the style of other previous evangelizations on that continent. This is where the ministry of the laity, who are salt in society, is so important. Lay missionaries who evangelize in the style of the Teresian Institution of Father Poveda, rather than in the manner of the Institute of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, mentioned above.
Another circumstance, which comes handy to understand the new times, is precisely the economic constraints of the Cenacles of Comboni Missionaries. Economy made the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith have feet of lead with the impetuousness of Comboni for as long as he had not his back covered with the income of donations. To acquire those means, he relied on philanthropic missionary societies (such as the one in Cologne), benefactors and personal friends, and European governments - which helped more out of colonial interest rather than philanthropy; much in the style of rations received from official government departments, even when they result from 0.7% of the budgets that some Western governments say they want to dedicate to developing countries. Following Comboni's insistence, Cardinal Barnabó authorized him, back in 1870, that the association of the Good Shepherd could raise funds for Comboni's plans, and that in 1900 it became the Work of the Redeemer. This system of financial aid collected for the missions, thanks to prayers for the deceased, for many years was a considerable source of income for the Comboni missionaries; but today it no longer so.
The Comboni mission of the middle of the last century was very generous with the young local churches. The economic means available were for evangelization and for human promotion - which is part of the proclamation of God’s Kingdom, wherever necessary. However, everything points out that today this generosity cannot go forward in this way, it is part of the adaptation of the methods of evangelization according to the circumstances of the children of God to whom we offer the service. Comboni had to buy slaves, had to spend on travel and education. Then his missionaries had to build schools, universities, seminaries, hospitals... and worked on them. From now on we will have to see what it is appropriate to do and by what means can be supported.
When Comboni started, it does not seem that he had intentions of founding an apostolic society of communitarian life, let alone a religious congregation. He was a practical man, he wanted a series of seminaries for the secular clergy that would support him in his regeneration plan. Seminaries that would then increase to accept committed lay people; seminaries that would be located both in Europe and the African coasts (W. 1092).
He had to start his own institution because his dream, of coordinating a possible variety of religious congregations that collaborated in the evangelization of Africa, encountered many obstacles and drawbacks that he summed up in the term "self-centred friary spirit" already commented.
From the start, Comboni knew that his missionary collaborators needed to have a special component since they would have to live in situations of extreme hardship, how he himself had experienced them (W. 1096). To avoid "friary" bias, the rules of the Institute of 1871 may look over spiritualistic and the kind of nice guy approach, putting aside to be legal, precise and thorough. That is why they were never really approved by Bishop Canossa, (the ones he approved were the 1872 version). This detail that is also positive, is repeated in the 1988 Rule of Life, but with the complement of the different provincial directories (RL 131), and many other directories of secretariats at the general and provincial level, there we applied the specific peculiarities associated with the context of the presence of Comboni missionaries in different countries and cultures. This practice makes it possible for the General Rules last longer in time and space in the congregation, while remaining dynamic and regularly adapting itself to the situations of the Comboni missionaries in action.
This happens not only at the provincial levels, but also in local communities. In this way today we have Six-year plans, Community Charters, Pastoral Plans, Personal Life Projects. And in case leaks appear on the roof of our structures we have a Deontological Code. This proliferation of documents is positive; but in turn involves bureaucratic commitment to the administration of the personnel, which is caught in the organizational tangle of the congregation, the provinces, the dioceses, the ecclesial movements, the proposals of the Magisterium, the guidelines of the states, etc. All this far away from what Comboni would have wanted for his missionaries on whom he trusted quite firmly; sometimes with unusual naivety; but not because it was innocent but rather not to harm too much its African mission. Situations which are not viable in today's world where there is so much communication, and where vocational failures of religious become scandals that destroy in the blink of an eye what has taken decades to build.
Because of all that, the formation of lucid and well-convinced personal consciences is a daunting task that cannot be postponed. Hence, recourse to Comboni's counsel to Fr. Sembianti on the preparation of his missionaries remains an inspiration for initial and permanent formation. The first under the compressive observation of the formators; the second under the personal commitment of and demanding sense of fidelity.
The essential norm these Institutes have set themselves, apart from the prescribed norms for the formation of the spirit and the development of the good conduct of the male and female students, is to select good candidates and to train them in the spirit of sacrifice. For on this depends not only the success, the prosperity and the permanence of the Institutes, but also their greatest interest, combined with that of the men and women missionaries, as well as that of the souls and the missions that will be entrusted to them in Central Africa (W. 2885).
The Missionary Institute deeply inculcates and tries to imprint and plant firmly in the spirit of the candidates the true and precise nature of the missionary for Africa, who must be a constant victim of sacrifice destined to working, toiling and dying without perhaps ever seeing the fruit of his labours (2886).
The adage says that "made the law, made the trick", this saying shows that the excess of laws is not a guarantee of missionary dedication and fidelity to religious consecration. Therefore, Comboni's counsel remains valid for all Comboni missionaries, religious and lay, " Since the field in which the candidate must carry out his activity is exceedingly wide and varied, he cannot be limited to certain specific duties as is the case in the Religious Orders; rather, those general principles must so inform his mind and heart that he is able to make decisions for himself, by applying them intelligently and with discretion to the times, the places and the most varied circumstances in which his calling may place him.." (Rules 1871, W. 2641). Unfortunately, it seems that the capacity for self-regulation, of apostolic commitment, of interest in listening to the brother who encourages and corrects is not very strong because the worldly, self-centered, individualistic and consumerist spirit has influenced too much our new generations. They in turn face the challenge of learning how to use technology to transmit the gospel and to get close to God's people; but at the same time, those tools distract them so much that, instead of bringing the brothers to the people and to the Lord, it takes them away from them.
May the prayer of St. Daniel Comboni to Saint Zeno inspire our new African confreres (saint Zeno was from Africa), who are the fruit of the holiness of Comboni and other followers of him, as well as of all his efforts to carry the Gospel, in the specific fields of situation "nigrizia", where they will be able to exercise their ministry, so that the radiance, which Comboni emits at the altars, is also the one that his African sons and daughters transmit on all continents with the vigour of the rejuvenated, re-incarnated, humanized, inculturized faith experienced in the African Catholic churches on that continent:
From your glorious tomb, the witness of such great acts of mercy, stretch out, St Zeno, your kind hand over the humble Cenacle of future workers for the Gospel and consecrated virgins, who starting and preparing for the demanding African apostolate; their work has only recently had its beginnings, here in this devoted city, under the wise protection of the most worthy Prince, our Bishop, your most distinguished Successor Ah! O most glorious St Zeno, deign to awaken in this sacred land of Verona choice vocations for the arduous and holy apostolate of Africa and to ensure that from this devout city and Diocese, through the powerful help of your children’s assiduous and fervent prayers and holy and generous apostolic vocations, that the precious treasure of that Catholic faith which you previously brought to us in Verona may be transplanted to Africa; so that this most holy faith which constitutes the true greatness and glory of Verona’s people, may return to Africa and to its unhappy people as an inexhaustible source In the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen (W. 6081).
Father Tomás Herreros Baroja