Always we have sharing after that it’s so enriching to see how the people are disciples in different realities – muslims dominated Asian countries, western secularized countries, post-colonial countries… which kind of challenges they encounter and think together how can they be overcome.
The other main part are speeches and workshops – everyday on different topic. One day we focus on the Evangelism, hearing people from all different continents. It was many times mentioned that mission is not only saving the souls, but changing the world – starting from ourselves and then going to the world, bringing there hope.
The other day – mission from the margins. There were testimonies of people who are descendants of slaves or Africans who lived under colonization. They shared how the Gospel was brought to those people in very humiliating way – the value of Christian slaves was higher on the slave market… Also on the Africans Christian faith was imposed from European who felt much superior to them. So we were discussing later how to not repeat those mistakes in mission these days. And one more thought I liked in that topic – “Evangelism from the margins begins by looking to marginalized communities as the places where Jesus lives and speaks”. As many times they can much more to offer to us than we to them, they can show us Jesus and what the faith really means.
At four in the morning I am already on my way to the airport with Cristian, as his brother and nephew are taking us. I keep meeting hospitality and availability wherever I go.
Cristina has decided to accompany us for a few days to Ipê Amarelo, Belo Horizonte, Besides the years in the Amazons area among the indigenous people, she was also in mission with this community as formator and coordinator of the group. So I have the good fortune of her company and teaching and with Lourdes, we will be able to talk during these days.
Fr. Joaquín, a Comboni Missionary of the community of Contagem, where Ipê Amarelo is located, and Lourdes came to meet us and we ate at the Comboni community.
In Ipê Amarelo we have a house for formation and mission. They are connected with the Comboni house, a point of reference for various social programs involved in the community such as psychological care, health care and alternative medicine, women’s groups, children programs, cultural activities, handicrafts and recycling…
Besides this more formal part of the activity, a lot more is given by the community in accompanying and visiting families in the community, going house to house greeting one by one. I had the good fortune to spend these days visiting together with Cristina and Lourdes, sometime together and sometime separately. It was a precious time. To see how people appreciate them, know their lives, their history, their worries and how in conversation the normal every day worries surface and they, always attentive, take mental notes, advise, help and/or take notes in order to return home to think how they could help.
We had Mass with the community, where I was introduced and welcome together with Cristina. Then Lourdes organized a meal with lots of people who are close to the CLM. Among others there were Tere and Alejo and their daughters, who cooperate a lot in the formation of the CLM and lead a beautifully committed life, Vanesa who was in Mozambique with the CLM, with her husband and her little daughter, Adelia who is a CLM very involved in social issues such as APAC and others, all told about 30 people.
We were also able to visit the mother and the sister of Marcelo, a CLM whom I will meet later in Balsas. I am enchanted by this family spirit that embraces the CLM.
The next day we found the time to go with Adelia, another CLM from Petrolândia which is about a half hour away, to visit Ouro Preto. It is a colonial town from where the Portuguese were excavating the gold mines with the work of Black slaves from Africa.
Later in Mariana we ate with Paulinha, the CLM’s lawyer. She tells us about the struggle facing them, starting with the break of the dam and the responsibilities of the mining companies that keep on exploiting the area. It is an ecological disaster to which one must add the destruction of humble villages with loss of human lives for not having foreseen the events and let people know. Naturally, they try to wash their hands of it, taking no responsibility and persecute those who fight for the people by accusing them of providing bad coverage that chases away tourists from the area.
The next day we went to Itauna to visit an APAC. Can you imagine a prison where the prisoners have the keys to everything? Our visit to the prison was guided by two “recovering” [the prisoners are so called in general because they are all undergoing recovery. They are all called by name and wear a tag with the name on it.] They showed us both the semi-open system and the enclosed system. The only thing, in order to pass from one side to the other there was an agent present while the “recoverings” were opening the door.
It is a prison system that costs 1/3 of the normal one, has lots of volunteers and a community that is involved. Recidivism is 28%, compared with 85% in the rest of the country and 75% globally.
We ate with the prisoners of the locked up part: salad, mashed pumpkin, rice, beans and chicken lasagna. In the afternoon we spent time talking with Valdeci [the CLM who is the coordinator of the various APAC, more than 60 in Brazil and with others being opened in other countries]
I do not want to linger any further but I am giving you a link to our blog where recently we published an issue on the prize he recently received as an executive (there you will also find more about APAC)
As many of you know, I am in Brazil and I will try (with a little delay) to jot down some of my experiences in this marvelous country as I go about learning first-hand the commitment of our CLM in Brazil.
When I arrived in São Paulo, Lourdes (the CLM coordinator for Brazil) was waiting for me. We spent the afternoon visiting the Avenida Paulista, the cathedral, and the surrounding areas with brother João Paulo, whom I had met in Mozambique.
The following day we went to the home of Flavio’s parents, another CLM whom I will visit in the Nordeste.
We stopped briefly for lunch on a plate of “beef, rice and black beans” at Flavio’s parents’ house before continuing our journey. The father took us to visit the shrine of the Virgin Aparecida. It was an obligatory stop in Brazil so that she will be with us on this journey. Without any doubt, she is a strong spiritual presence for and the protector of the people of Brazil. And all this with the good fortune of living it through the eyes of Lourdes and Carlos, Flavio’s dad.
After having spent several hours visiting and attending Mass at the shrine, we left Lourdes at the bus station because she was going back to Ipê Amarelo, where I will see her again later, and we rested briefly before boarding the night bus for Curitiba.
The work we are doing as Comboni Missionaries and Comboni Lay Missionaries in the concrete situation of migration is essentially accomplished by networking with associations, organizations and movements, both ecclesial and social, involved in this area in recognizing and defending the rights of immigrants and refugees.
Since September 2013, the port of Palermo, Sicily, has become part of the line of Mediterranean landing spots where migrants from Africa and other parts arrive. At their arrival we are present to give out kits of clothing, shoes, a bag with a sandwich, an apple and a bottle of water, trying to establish a contact with the new arrivals. We don’t want to be simply a material presence, but we also try to collect information on how people arriving are treated, since they are already burdened by indescribable experiences suffered before or during the journey, and they are totally clueless about what expects them in Italy.
Together with the living, unfortunately, on many occasions, the bodies of those who died at sea have also arrived. From the very beginning, our concern has been to follow these bodies up to a dignified burial in the cemetery of Palermo.
Every year in November, on All Souls Day, civil society joins the representatives of various religions for an interreligious service in their memory. It is an act of solidarity with the victims to denounce the causes of their death, among them the disgusting agreements of Italy, and behind Italy, of Europe with Libya, and other third parties that work to block or reject migrants.
We recognize the spreading of a culture of exclusion. Today, people feel free of any social responsibility, any tie with others, any common objective. It is urgent to focus again on the stories and the lives of migrants in order to stand up to racism and xenophobia, that are based on false assumptions and on information controlled and manipulated by the media. Through activities we promote in schools and in parishes, we present the stories of migrants by retracing the various phases of their journeys: the reasons why they left, their stay in Libya which upends their lives forever, crossing the Mediterranean and their arrival in Italy, where they end up being mere numbers. To go beyond the lies, to recognize and defend the rights of migrants as persons, are all very important steps in the building of an inter-cultural and multi-cultural society.
In cooperation with civic and church organizations we share lodging spaces for the migrants, and welcoming projects with the idea to produce grassroots meetings and a relation with the territory. In the accepting process there are critical stages tied above all to the excessive time they remain in centers of first acceptance and to the small number of special structures or places in the SPRAR. In many cases, the insertions of migrants turns into a veritable “lottery.” To reflect on the migrants means to rethink our social, political and ecclesial structures. It means to have the courage to change the current order of things.
Finally, the constant element of our presence is the prophetic denunciation of people and institutions who speculate on the hopelessness of the migrants, exploiting their labor, or of those, in the political underbrush, who end up grabbing funds destined for the arrival process.
Calvin wrote, “Any time you build a wall, think of what you leave outside.” What today looks like a protective structure, tomorrow could become a prison. Life develops and grows beyond the wall. But, if fear is contagious, so are courage and hope.
Fr. Domenico Guarino
The Christmas meeting of the Comboni Lay Missionaries took place on December 16 and 17 in Viseu, at the Comboni Missionaries’ house. The theme was “From the Family of Nazareth to the Family of the CLM.” Several CLM attended together with those in formation. It was a meeting marked by joy and by a family atmosphere, a Comboni family and a CLM family. It was a family gathered around a single ideal – namely, Christ – and the same Comboni charism.
On Saturday morning, the CLM Sandra Fagundez gave a presentation on San Daniel Comboni and the movement. Following that, we played a game that gave us the opportunity to discover more about the Comboni Family, the meaning of Christmas, Christmas in mission… as we continued reflecting and praying on the different meditation points. It was an experience of dialogue, of sharing that enriched us and brought into focus in prayer realities distant from our eyes and the entire Comboni family.
The afternoon brought us another surprise. By groups, we had the opportunity to: talk about Christmas in mission and their life experience with the elderly Comboni Missionaries who live in the house of Viseu; converse with the Comboni Missionary Sisters at their home on what characterize the various Christmas celebrations they spent in mission; and, at the family home of the CLM Marisa Almeida, to talk and share with a family which is also part of the CLM family, because with us it shares and lives the dedication and affection to mission. It was an afternoon when we were questioned and challenged by the many witnesses of lives fully lived and dedicated to mission.
After prayer and supper, we had a party where, once more, we shared fun, laughter, jokes and music (and where Fr. Felix delighted us with his accordion). We also exchanged gifts! Once again, it was a time of unity, during this happy and genuine time together, with the CLM family and the Comboni family at large.
On Sunday, The CLM Susana Vilas Boas gave a presentation on the theme of “From the Family of Nazareth to the CLM family” starting with a reflection and ending with a sharing. From the morning session I remember the idea of journey. The CLM is on a journey, as Comboni would say, with their eyes fixed on Christ – because only this way does the journey have meaning. This is in order to follow the example of the family of Nazareth: the unity of Mary and Joseph, its humble service to Jesus, its desire to fulfill the will of God and the total dedication to his will must be the example for the CLM family, so that it may fulfill the dream that God has for it, and continue on a journey of growth in order to serve in mission according to the style of St. Daniel Comboni.
The Christmas meeting ended with the Eucharist with Fr. Francisco Medeiros as the main celebrant and with the joy of having with us at lunch the family of the CLM Neuza Francisco.
This is the word I was looking for to sum up the Christmas meeting of the CLM: family. In prayer, sharing, being together, listening, this meeting has awakened in each one of us the notion that we belong to something bigger than ourselves, a spiritual family that accepts us and challenges to improve, to do and live our mission in the style of Comboni, with our eyes fixed on Christ, passionate about Him and about people.
It was almost Christmas Eve when I realized how close it was, while I was about to start praying on my own and I was going through the liturgies of Advent. I know that, if I weren’t here, everything around me would remind me of Christmas. The proliferation of Christmas advertising would have pointed me in the direction of these celebrations practically starting from the year’s third quarter in an astute and gradual game.
Between the lighting, the external and internal decorations, suggestions for the menus always more exquisite and the dress code for the Holy Night and the Christmas dinner, the magic aura one feels in the city streets, the typical Christmas carols (…) between one dinner or another with friends and groups from here and there, nothing would distract us, not even the most absent minded, from “what is about to happen…”
Here there is absolutely nothing of the sort. In the city one may see some “imported” signs of Christmas. But not here. The senses are not overwhelmed by this avalanche of stimulations. There is no cold weather and fogged up windows showing flickering lights. One does not hear seasonal songs. One does not feel, or want to join, the frenetic glut of shopping and gifts – and even less the last minute shopping and needs. You do not watch things alone at home on TV. The heat is too intense to even think of changing from your slippers, skirts, shorts and light shirt into heavier clothing. There is no yearning for salted cod and extra-virgin oil. There is no king cake, French toast, walnut cookies or sweets of this or that kind. There are no dreams of toys or promises of instant and quickly passing paradises.
I must confess that, on Christmas week, I was a little apprehensive for being my first Christmas in mission, for missing my family, for everything being so different from what I was used to, and even for not having had electricity or water, making communications difficult and stunting my creativity…
But, this year the Baby Jesus has taught me this much: Christmas is not an ornament. It may look like Christmas all around us, but it will not be if it does not exist within our own self. Christmas is also movement, journeying. We must constantly be moving in order to find it. If we want to see the ‘great light,’ we must get up and go out; we must go meet the mangers where there is human suffering; we must return to the stable of simplicity; we must return to the manger where God’s hope and human hope meet – but always trusting that, between the silence and the word we are looking for, a star will always guide us.
Christmas, I believe, wakes us up to bring us back to our roots, up to the original dream that God has for each one of us. The childhood of God is also our childhood. That is why, after a long wait, we find peace when, finally, we rest in God.
An interesting fact…
After independence, Mozambique became a lay state. However, December 25 was preserved as a feast day, not because it was Christmas, but as the Day of the Family. Thus, on this day, independently of one’s religion, families get together to celebrate the gift of Family (naturally, for the Christian community, this day means much more, because it is the day of Jesus’ birth, when Salvation and true Peace descended on earth). This way, quite deservedly, they get together to celebrate and gain energy for the year that is about to come – but, after all, is not Christmas also this? On Christmas, each time we celebrate hope we end up saying in our hearts that “there is a future for Humankind.”
I will leave you with part of a poem by José Tolentino Mendonça (“We are the manger”) that has resonated with me over the last few weeks:
We are the manger
It is within us that Jesus is born
Within each age and status
Within each discovery and each loss
Within what grown and what falls apart
Within stone and flight
Within whatever in us puts us through water or fire
Within the journey and the path that seem without an escape Hoping you had a good Christmas,
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