Missionary Experiences

First Christmas in Mozambique

LMC MozambiqueIt 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 LMC MozambiqueHoping you had a good Christmas,

Best wishes for a Happy New Year

Marisa Almeida, CLM in Mozambique.

With Mary and Joseph on the way to the Nativity

LMC PeruTrue joy is born out of love. Only when we dare to live by love we allow God to be born in us turning our heart into his crib. Only when we believe in the mystery of Jesus we are truly happy. Happiness comes out of a heart that, a little at the time, has gone and has been falling in love with God. To acknowledge that God exists is to be certain that we never walk alone and the joy to know that he walks with us and daily transforms our lives. The journey is not as simple as the words we use, it is demanding. It demands an effort on our part, that we start walking, that we move out of ourselves and, like Mary and Joseph, we walk to the Galilee of our hearts looking for the best place to be reborn with Jesus. Because Jesus is alive and comes to us.

Like Mary, we harbor many fears, anxieties and uncertainties but, inspired by her example we repeat our Yes each day. Accepting to be a mother, Mary gave up all her plans in order to do the will of God. Even though it was not part of her plan to be the one chosen by God, she accepted. Like Mary, let us entrust our lives to God’s hands.

St. Joseph inspires us to accept God’s project for us despite the difficulties and challenges. It was not easy for Joseph to understand that Mary was pregnant with the Son of God. He reached the point of wanting to leave her secretly, but after hearing the angel he gave himself completely. The family of Nazareth teaches us to live in community. Mary and Joseph, as community, knew how to live the incarnation in their own lives. It is not easy to follow God’s will in community, but they understood that, when God calls, touching our hearts, our life will never be the same. Our Yes opens the door to many more marvels, not only in our own lives but also in the lives of others. In prayer they found the courage they needed to accomplish their mission joyfully and confidently. In moments of prayer we open the doors of our hearts and homes so that God may come and daily he may tell us which path we must follow. Prayer is the basis of community and through it we consecrate our lives to the Lord. Let us live this Christmas, remembering what José Tolentino Mendonça said: “We are the crib, it is within us that Jesus is born.” Let us prepare our hearts and lives to be the home where Jesus will be born.

Paula and Neuza, CLM in Peru.

Mission News from the Central African Republic

LMC Portugal

I hope all is well with all the people I know. All the members of our apostolic community, including myself, are doing well, thanks be to God.

I am here in Mbaiki to attend the retreat of the Comboni Missionaries, which is turning out well. I hope it will produce good fruits! May the Lord help us to follow him ever better, with the heart, and not only with the head, to be faithful, and never lose our trust in him, because He is always faithful and always stands by our side. In sickness and difficulties we must never doubt about His presence, because there He holds our hand and often carries us, when we feel discouraged.

These beginnings have been difficult with the registration of students, and the selection of teachers which is always complicated, because the level of education is very low. They are parent-teachers who went as far as the 9th or 10th level of education… none of the teachers have diplomas. We gave them admission tests, but the results were very weak and so we cannot put them in front of a class: you have to know a minimum at least. Furthermore, classes have about 50 students, and this further complicates the teaching. I am grateful to God that all the courses are already working. May the Lord help teachers and students to make good progress. He is the one who makes the work of the mission progress and move forward. We are simply servants.

On Sunday there will be the episcopal ordination of Fr. Jesús in Bangui. Do not forget to pray for us and to pray a lot for him. May peace return very quickly in Bangassou, the diocese entrusted to him. I never forget to pray for you, daily. Fast recovery to all who are sick, may the Lord give you strength and serenity.

Here it has rained a lot. The roads are deadly, with many potholes, and make for exhausting journeys. Since arriving, my only long trip was to Mongoumba, while the others were only trips of a few miles. I hope that you already had rain and that the fires have died down. On Tuesday I will return to Mongoumba, God willing.

Let us keep united in prayer.

A missionary embrace as big as the world!

Maria Augusta. CLM Mongoumba

To be here. With them and among them!

Arequipa

We live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Only add that in this place, lost in between the volcanoes Chachani and Misti, there live a humble people with whom now we share our lives.

Along our still early journey, many are the faces that are already imprinted in us. At times it is because the lack of humanity is so evident that, taken to the extreme, it leads to death. We have already heard many stories of violence not only in words, but also through the living witness of those who daily fight for change. Why is it that in this country, Peru, there are some of the highest levels of machismo in the world. In this essay by Manu Tessinari we can come to know this reality more deeply:

“Peru is a country of machismo, a lot of machismo.

In Peru, an adolescent girl may be beaten by her father if she is caught having sexual relations with her boyfriend. Here, an incarcerated woman does not have a right to conjugal visits. In the public health system, it is forbidden to give the “day after” pills to patients who were victims of rape.

Something more absurd? In Peru, if a woman is abandoned by her husband and does not accept divorce, the man can start a new life and register all the children from his new partner. The woman cannot. The law stipulates that the child of this woman legally belongs to the former husband (protected by the bonds of marriage) and a biological father needs to go through a lengthy and complicated legal process to register him.

Out of every 10 Peruvian women, six are victims of psychological violence and two of physical violence at the hands of their partners. About 16% of the people (men and women) believe that the fault is always with the woman, including 3.7% who believe that women DESERVE to be beaten and 3.8% DO NOT see a problem if the man forces relations on his partner.

People are great workers. According to the National Institute of Statistics and Information (INEI), 95.4% of Peruvian women have a job, mostly in the servant sector. On the average, a Peruvian female earns ONE THIRD less than a male doing the same work. Unfortunately, only 36% of females go to school to the end and only a little more than 16% end up concluding university studies. And all this in a country with 15,800,000 women, namely, 49.9% of the population.”

The lives of people going by our door do not leave us indifferent, and even though this is the reality, we bring them the joy of a Gospel which is not only ours, but a Gospel that fiercely demands to be taken into the world, taken to the extreme peripheries of it.

Do not be afraid to go meet these people, these situations. Do not be blocked by prejudice, by habits, by inflexible mental and pastoral attitudes, by the infamous “it has always been done this way.” But we can only go to the peripheries if we hold the Word of God in our hearts and walk with the Church, like St. Francis did. Otherwise, we are just proclaiming ourselves, and not the Word of God, and this is not good and does not benefit anyone. We are not the saviors of the world: The Lord saves it! (Pope Francis)

And here is where we feel called to live with them and among them. Here is where we cease to be ourselves in order to become living instruments at the service of Jesus Christ in Peru.

ArequipaThe Community of Ayilu,

Neuza and Paula, CLM in Peru

Witness – Faith and Mission by Inés Gonçalinho

LMC Portugal

Well, how should I start this witness? Words fail me to describe the whirlwind of emotions I felt, and the homesickness that is already pervading my heart. I waited days and even weeks to start writing this witness, at times out of fear, at times out of nostalgia. Each day I spend away from that land, I feel pain, but above all I feel homesick. It is something that come over me without asking to be allowed in, and determines how I feel, up to the point of dictating my dreams when I go to bed. I can’t describe what I lived, shared, loved, and above all what I have received. I loved and still love these folks as if they were family. Sincerely, how could I not? I was adopted and cuddled by all those who crossed my path, even though we were not speaking the same language, but this did not stand in the way of constant signs of love. In one of the visits to the barrio near the mission house I met a woman who immediately invited me to “mata-bichar” (have breakfast with them. When I realized it, I was surrounded by people who were watching me with great kindness trying to teach me their customs. My heart was shaken daily by the hospitality and love I felt, and by how we looked at one another and embraced with passion. I was at home.

I feel and think as I did when I stepped on that land for the first time and I cannot hold back my tears. The excitement to start, to know, to be, to help was such that the following Monday, two days after our arrival, I showed up to work at the ITIC. The night before I had hardly slept because of fear. I was wondering whether I would be able to deal with the kids who would show up in the infirmary to ask for help, whether all that I learned at the university would actually work, and whether I could adapt to the means at hand. There were many “Ifs,” insecurities, but of one thing I was sure, that I would give the best of myself from morning to evening.

I organized papers, reorganized the prescriptions shelves, but above all I dealt with the students in all their needs. I gave myself without fear, I remained after hours in that cubicle within those four walls, and filled my heart. I was always surprised when the students would look for me just to say Hi, to “give me a happy day,” as they would say.

LMC Portugal

The way I connected with those boys was indescribable, as if with a simple gaze we had established a pact of mutual protection. I felt intensely the illnesses and worries of each one, and dealt with each one as if they were the only ones, with all the love I could hold in my breast. Many times, when some of them were sick and had to sleep in the infirmary, it cost me to go home. I couldn’t think of anything else except of ways to make them get better rapidly. Very often I spent afternoons with them, playing games on the cold floor of the infirmary, taking their temperature every 30 minutes, or simply watching them sleep.

Some days were easier than others, but all of them were a constant challenge. Each day He helped me survive and realize that our obstacles only exist in our head. Very often I felt disoriented and knelt before Him, and He spoke to my heart showing me how he would overcome my difficulties.

One of the many situations I lived was the first time I saw the faces of those girls I was going to help in their studies. Each gaze entered my heart so intensely that I will never forget them. They were trying to learn by themselves, without books or anyone explaining things. They were motivated by an indescribable interior strength for wanting to be more, to reach a better future. Each one carried in her eyes stories and experiences that I will never forget, but always with a contagious joy and love.

I had the opportunity to help in the community clinic and there I understood that I belong to those people. I went for too much time avoiding to confront the health situation of the Makua and the pain it would give me. But in the end I rolled up my sleeves and went. I simply went. I covered all the branches, from the HIV patients, to the women patients with still undisclosed diseases, the maternity, the pediatric ward, ending with the TB department. I knew I was placing my health at risk, but I was sure of one thing, He was watching over me, and so I would not let this fear interfere with my helping people.

Endless lines would form at the entrance of the center, the screams of the children filled the corridors, and everyone awaited their turn. At times, language was a barrier in explaining how to take a prescription and the care that was needed, but I always made an effort to convey the message. I thank God who gave me strength daily in order to be able to help those people in need, and because a feeling of powerlessness never took over me.

With each passing day, the ties were growing stronger and my anxiety about returning home was constant. I knew that my place was there, that I belonged to them. This is the family God chose for my mission. And I loved them more every day, so that it was impossible to say good-bye without promising that I would return. With all my heart I am grateful for how they received me and for the love they gave me.

The best of this mission was not only the people I met, the smiles I saw, and the tears I shed, but also how God took over my heart daily without my knowing it. The need to talk daily with Him, was an intrinsic part of my routine, and the kind way He answered me was beyond description. I am sure that, without Him, I could not put up with my weaknesses or avoid my anxieties. How beautiful it was to discover God in this way!

Thank you, Carapira, simply thank you!

LMC PortugalInés Gonçalinho, Faith and Mission

Jesús Ruiz Molina, Auxiliary Bishop of Bangassou

Jesus Ruiz The Comboni Missionary from Burgos, Jesús Ruiz Molina, was ordained on November 12, 2017 auxiliary bishop of Bangassou in the Central African Republic (CAR). The celebration took place in Bngui, because his own place can only be reached by helicopter. In fact, the political authorities and other guests did not want to be taken to Bangassou, due to the state of insecurity prevailing in the region. After passing through Chad and for the CAR’s city of Mongoumba, Jesús Molina has accepted to be assigned to a place which is afflicted by an endless guerrilla in order to work with Bishop Juan José Aguirre Muñoz, another Spanish Comboni Missionary, in trying to find ways to peace and reconciliation and to serve the poor.

After 25 years in Africa, they make you a bishop…

Jesus Ruiz

It was a cold shower, practical icy, because I neither feel worthy nor find it humanly attractive. By the end of this year I was planning to return to Spain and work in vocation promotion and in Justice & Peace while, at the same time, be with my aging parents and rejuvenate myself in all fields. Trusting in God I said yes and this has completely changed my life, which is already tied to this people to the end in a sacramental way.

Is Bangassou the most complicated place in which you have been?

I spent 15 years in the savannah of Chad in a difficult environment with famines and wars. I spent my last nine years in the forest with the pygmies and with extremely poor people. Currently, Bangassou is one of the most conflicted areas of Africa. You can only get there by air. The 12 parishes we have there have been looted by the 14 armed groups who are fighting to dominate the country. Violence and massacres are a daily affair. The majority of the population is displaced. The majority of the priests and of the sisters have fled. In the cathedral we haven’t said Mass for four months because we have been housing 2,100 Muslim refugees that the anti-balaka want to kill. No State employee wants to come here. This is why we decided to celebrate my ordination in Bangui. My people of Bangassou will not be able to attend, but on December 8 we will celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving to celebrate the fact that God does not abandon us in our sorrow.

What do you think the mission of a bishop must be in a place like Bangassou and yours in particular?

I have no preconceived plans. I am going in order to stand with people who suffer. For me, to be a bishop is not a promotion, but rather trust in the One I love who is inviting me to follow him on the journey to Jerusalem: “Come, follow me.” I never studied to become bishop, so people will have to teach me. The bishop is the shepherd who, when the wolf comes, does not abandon his flock, but watches over all, both those who are outside and those who are inside, who denounces the death brought by injustice and proclaims salvation which is life in Jesus Christ. Today in Bangassou we need peace, a lot of peace in order to heal the many bodily wounds and, above all, those of the spirit. We need reconciliation and forgiveness. We need to build together a future for this traumatized population. We will keep it up for them making an effort to keep the schools going, to cure the sick, to care for the poorest and most abandoned, standing by the weakest, working for justice, the only way to true peace, and through it all we will continue to proclaim the Good News of Jesus, who came that we may have life and have it in abundance. Today, this life has been snatched from my people.

You have Juanjo Aguirre and Card. Nzapalainga as points of reference…

There is no doubt that we keep Aguirre and Card. Nzapalainga as points of reference who daily give flesh to the Gospel, they give me breath and stimulation, the novice that I am. But there are many other teachers as well who stimulate me, from the sisters working from morning to dusk surrounded by enormous amounts of violence, to the priests who risk their lives to save a few. The Christians who live by mercy on a daily basis… The people of God is the greatest source of stimulation for a shepherd, they teach us to be shepherds.

You have always been with the poor. Is this your preferential option?

Jesus Ruiz

This preferential option for the last, those who do not count, the discarded as the Pope says, comes from Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus showed us and impartial God who leans freely and lovingly towards those whom the world despises. Being the unsatisfied searcher that I am, curiously I discovered that it is in those who are despised by the world that we find the true face of God. The poor, the humble, the hungry, those who cry, the persecuted, those who cry for justice… they are the Bible in the flesh. I was given this great treasure of being able to serve them a little, and I am happy to be the one who greatly benefits from it, because it is the poor who give me God.

As a Comboni Missionary your ties to Africa are very strong. Is it still the forgotten continent in our time?

In the economic organism of the world Africa does not count. The terrible attack in Barcelona was world news, while the hundreds of people murdered in my diocese on that same day did not deserve one line in the press. An underhanded neocolonialism is taking over Africa today. The world’s powers unscrupulously fight over its riches causing wars, destroying cultures, exterminating entire populations… But Africa is life with capital L. The origin of humankind is in Africa and I dare to say that its future passes through Africa.

Jesus Ruiz Bishops of the Central African Republic.