The trip to Curitiba became a little heavy, traveling at night with your knees wedged into the seat in front of you is not really comfortable. But, as Cristina says, it is one of disadvantages we tall people have.
Cristina, a Brazilian CLM and member of the central committee, andAlex, a Comboni postulant, took me to the postulancy where I will stay these days.
Since Cristina was busy, I went with the Comboni community to a lecture on a thesis about the decree ad gentes and an experience with the Pokot of Uganda. As you can see, in this mission trip there is a little bit of everything.
Later in the afternoon I was able to go see Guilherma, a Brazilian CLM who did a lot of work in Mozambique. She is in poor health. We hope she will recover her strength. We spent a good afternoon together, conversing and snacking.
In the evening we attended a formation program on global violence as part of the fraternity campaign of this year in Brazil. It is part of the formation given in the Comboni parish of Curitiba. These were three days of evening formation sessions and they were attended by 110 people. I thought it was marvelous to see this expression of a Church being formed and attempting to be involved in the reality in which it lives, looking for answers. This sort of thing is not easily seen elsewhere.
But not everything is meetings and gatherings. The following morning they took me to visit the botanical gardens of Curitiba. There was time to share with the community of the postulancy and to visit the city.
In the afternoon I met with part of the CLM group of Curitiba. They took me to see the places where they want to get involved as a group. We spent time with the “catadores.” These are people who gather non-organic garbage, organize it, select it and sell it to make a living. This way they take charge of recycling for the city. They have formed an association to which they want to give a legal form in order to improve their living standards and here is where the local CLM group cooperates.
Later we also visited a community bakery, organized as a cooperative, both as work and as earnings. All this happens in a neighborhood at the periphery of the city (a rather violent one, to be sure). This is another area where our CLM are working and cooperating.
In the evening I was able to get together with the CLM group of Curitiba, and we had time to share about our CLM at the international level, to tell them about what other groups and communities are doing and to answer their questions. It was a good time where we could share the life of our CLM around the world. Let us hope that some will also feel inspired to leave for other places as the Brazilian group has been doing since forever.
When we speak of what fills the heart, we are able to touch the heart of others with such an intensity that is beyond imagination. In fact, besides giving great formation on volunteerism and cooperation in development, La Salete, lecturer at the formation meeting, told us fantastic stories about her life in mission, leaving us, in my opinion, with a great message: it is extremely important to place ourselves in other people’s shoes, to try to understand certain situations so that we may be able to relate to them with greater openness, respect and love for the people we meet in mission.
The second formation meeting of FEC took place in Fátima on February 17 and 18 and was quite intense. During this time we had the chance to discuss inequality in the world; how wealth and development are limited to a few countries; the concepts of cooperation and development; the paradigms of development; education to development and global citizenship and, even more, we had the opportunity of undergoing intense formation on the methodology and analysis of projects.
I will share with you some points that I found interesting: the concept of Gross Internal Happiness, a concept created by the king of Butan in contraposition to the Gross Domestic Product and with good results; the Fairphone, a cell phone put together without damaging or enslaving the workers who produce it. The sale of this phone does not aim at benefitting from the exploitation of many workers, but makes sure that work receives proper pay, as it happens in the fair trade stores.
At the end of Saturday afternoon we saw the movie “Shooting Dogs” which was followed by a discussion where we analyzed the conduct and attitudes of the various characters, which in turn resulted in a very good sharing of ideas and feelings. In the evening we had the missionary witness of a couple belonging to the Lay People of the Good News, who spent a year in the diocese of Pemba, Mozambique.
It is always a great joy to take part in these formation meetings, to share our missionary charism with great people and to experience the diversity within the Church. The fact that the meeting was held in Fátima and of having the opportunity to pray in the chapel of the apparitions, made this meeting very special. How good it is to be able to journey and grow in these formation processes that expand our horizons and help us to keep on learning more about the missionary journeys.
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 coming of the Pope to Peru did not leave the Peruvians indifferent. His closeness to the people touched their hearts. Many were the reports of those who accompanied him personally and on TV. Joy reigned in Peru just as we still live it in these days under the banner of hope left to us by the Pope of the people. It was a Pope who embraced the great open wounds of Peru by asking for a change that can only happen if we know to hold hands like brothers as we search for a truly common home.
In this journey of preparation for the Youth Synod, the Pope did not depart without leaving a challenging message of love and joy. With his words he reminded us that young people are not the future, as it is often said, but rather the present in a world to which they must not and cannot remain indifferent.
“Dear young people, I am pleased to be here with you. These meetings are very important for me, especially in this year of preparation for the Synod on young people. Your faces, your questions and your lives are important for the Church and we need to give them the importance they deserve. We must also have the courage of the many young people of this land who were not afraid to love and risk everything for Jesus.
Dear friends, how many examples you have! I think of Saint Martin de Porres. Nothing prevented that young man from achieving his dreams, nothing prevented him from spending his life for others, nothing prevented him from loving, and he did so because he had realized that the Lord loved him first. Just as he was: a mulato. He had to face many hardships. In the eyes of others, even his friends, it seemed that he had everything to lose, but he knew how to do one thing that would be the secret of his life: he knew how to trust. He trusted in the Lord who loved him. Do you know why? Because the Lord had trusted him first; just as he trusts each of you and will never tire of trusting you.
You may say that sometimes this is very difficult. I understand that. In those moments, we can think negative thoughts, we can feel overwhelmed by different situations, and it can seem that we are left on the sidelines, while they have the upper hand. But it’s not like that, is it?
There are moments when you can feel powerless to achieve your desires and dreams. We have all experienced situations like that. Dear friends, in those moments when our faith seems to fade, remember that Jesus is by your side. Do not give up! Do not lose hope! Remember the saints who accompany us from heaven. Go to them, pray and never tire of asking for their intercession. Not only the saints of the past, but also those of the present: this land has many of them, because it is a land of saints. Ask for help and advice from people you know can give good advice because their faces radiate joy and peace. Let them accompany you as you journey along the path of life.
Jesus wants to see you on the move. He wants to see you achieve your ideals and to be enthusiastic in following his instructions. He will take you along the path of the beatitudes, a path that is not easy but exciting, a path that cannot be traveled alone, but only as a team, where each member offers the best of his or her self. Jesus is counting on you as he counted long ago on Saint Rose of Lima, Saint Turibius, Saint Juan Macías, Saint Francisco Solano and so many others. Today he asks if, like them, you are ready to follow him. Are you willing to follow him? To be guided by his Spirit in making present his Kingdom of justice and love?
Dear friends, the Lord looks on you with hope. He never grows discouraged with us. Perhaps we are the ones who grow discouraged, about ourselves or about others.
I know that we all like to see digitally enhanced photographs, but that only works for pictures; we cannot “photoshop” others, the world, or ourselves. Color filtering and high definition only function well in video; we can never apply them to our friends. There are pictures that are very nice, but completely fake. Let me assure you that the heart can’t be “photoshopped,” because that’s where authentic love and genuine happiness have to be found.
Jesus does not want you to have a “cosmetic” heart. He loves you as you are, and he has a dream for every one of you. Do not forget, he does not get discouraged with us. But if you get discouraged, I invite you to take a look at the Bible and remember the kind of friends God chose.
Moses, he was not articulate; Abraham, an old man; Jeremiah, very young; Zacchaeus, small of stature; the disciples, who fell asleep when Jesus told them they should pray; Paul, a persecutor of Christians; Peter, who denied him… and we could go on with this list. So what excuse can we offer?
When Jesus looks at us, he does not think about how perfect we are, but about all the love we have in our hearts to give in serving others. That is the important thing for him, and he will always be concerned about that. He does not worry about your height, or whether you speak well or badly, whether you fall asleep when you pray, or whether you are very young or very old. His only question is this: Do you want to follow me and be my disciple? Don’t waste time disguising your heart, but instead fill your life with the Spirit!
Jesus is constantly waiting to give us his Spirit, who is the Love that God wants to pour into our hearts, to make us his missionary disciples.
In following Jesus, we never, ever, remain shut out. Even if we make mistakes, the Lord always gives us a new opportunity to keep walking with him.
Dear young people, in my prayers, I entrust you to the care of the Virgin Mary. Be assured that she will accompany you at every moment of your life, at all the crossroads of your journey, especially at those times when you have to make important decisions. She will always be there, like a good Mother, encouraging and supporting you, lest you grow discouraged. And if you get discouraged by anything, do not worry, for she will tell Jesus. Just don’t stop praying, don’t stop asking, don’t stop trusting in her maternal protection.
Pope Francis to the young people in Peru
On Sunday, as we usually do it, we gathered with the youth group after the Eucharist. We had all experienced this grace of knowing we were far away, but at the same time so close to the representative of God on earth. We had nothing planned, actually we gathered at our house with the idea of having a short prayer and share what each one of us felt about the presence of the Pope. However, we were surprised when on getting the TV connection, we listened to one of the most challenges talks of the Pope to young people. We were silent. We listened to each word pronounced by such a wise person. Almost by surprise we prayed together. We experienced a piece of heaven on Peruvian soil.
Imagine a colorful procession. Crowds of people clothed in different kind of cultural dresses and uniforms are dancing and clapping, singing and making the characteristic African noise “lililili”. They are different ages, young and old, babies and the elders. In the center of the crowd, there are carried big colorful tents, and under them a few men are moving slowly with something on their heads. All the people are coming closer to see them well, at least for a moment. All of them are so happy, because they are celebrating one of the most important feasts in Ethiopia, the Timket.
It is related to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church tradition. Timket means “baptism”, so it is the Lord’s Baptism Feast. This year we participated in the tradition in Awassa.
The day before the feast priests took the replicas of the Ark of Covenant from the church. According to many Ethiopian people, the real Ark of Covenant is placed in Axum (historical place in Ethiopia). However, in all the Orthodox churches there are replicas of the Ark of Covenant and it’s a sign of the presence of God. During the Timket the priests put the arks on their heads and bring them to the nearest water in memory of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. They are tided in colorful clothes so we nobody can see them. In case of Awassa all the Arks of Covenant were brought to the lake side. The feast is the only occasion during the year while they leave the churches. The processions were started in different places (in different churches), but they met on the way creating really huge crowd of people. In the destination, some of the people stayed for the whole night, but we went home. In the morning of the following day after the Mass the processions brought the Arks of Covenant back to the churches, but the people still were celebrating whole day. It is good occasion to visit families or friends, to make nice coffee ceremony, prepare ‘dorowot’ (chicken), or drink ‘tela’ (local beer).
And when you experience it, you may fall in love with Ethiopia…
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