Comboni Lay Missionaries

Bro. Alberto Parise: “Finding a methodology for a ministerial Church”

Alberto Parise
Alberto Parise

Among all the sharing and reflection we propose for ourselves during this year dedicated to ministeriality, we cannot overlook a discussion on the question of methodology. In Evangelii Gaudium (EG 24), Pope Francis illustrates with five verbs the main elements of ministerial action: take the initiative, become involved, accompany, bring to fruition and celebrate. But from the practical point of view, how can we implement all this in an organic systematic way? In this reflection we suggest that the methodology of the pastoral cycle may be an ecclesial patrimony with much to offer in this regard.

The Pastoral Cycle

The pastoral cycle is an evolution of the method of “revision of life” highlighted by Joseph Cardijn in the 1920s, also known as “seeing – judging – acting”. The Belgian priest, with his socio-political formation, had developed this approach in the context of his ministry to the Young Christian Workers Movement which sought to accompany the youth in an environment in which a socialist and communist orientation, with its anti-clerical prejudices, was widespread. He had understood the need for a method that was suitable for the pastoral of an out-going Church.

Cardijn’s great intuition brought together the social sciences and pastoral ministry in an integrated process. With time, this methodology spread throughout the Catholic world to the point where it was officially recognised in the Encyclical Mater et Magistra (1961) as the methodology of social pastoral ministry (n. 217 in the Italian version – oddly found in n 236 of the English version of the text of the Encyclical). It was later to flourish in Latin America due to the movement of liberation theology and continues to spread in various contexts, adapting itself to each particular time and place. Thus, today this methodology is known by different names (pastoral circle, cycle or spiral, etc.) and is divided into four, five or even six phases while remaining basically the same method. The basic plan is that of seeing – judging – acting. Then there is the first moment of insertion, a fundamental stage in the ministerial approach. This is followed by a socio-cultural analysis (seeing), which uses the human and social sciences and theological reflection (judging), in which a comparison is made with the Gospel and the social tradition of the Church. The phase of acting may be formally carried out in various stages to underline the importance of some aspects which are often forgotten or overlooked, such as evaluation and celebration.

The actuality of the pastoral cycle: the power of insertion

It is clear today that this methodology is most valuable not only for social pastoral but also for all sorts of ministerial initiatives. First of all, because pastoral accompaniment demands the development of relations that generate life, to see human experience and the situation and problems of people from their point of view, with empathy. Above all else, it is fundamental to know how to find the starting point for an accompaniment that leads to the regeneration of people and communities, which is usually connected to their daily life, to the motivation and emotive energy it can generate and to the extent that the situation is critical. It is from insertion that a pastoral agent is able to understand all this, take the initiative, go out towards the human and existential peripheries and become involved. From the Comboni point of view, insertion is a charismatic characteristic (cf. Ratio Missionis), in which making common cause is expressed and where the hour of God is seized in the context in which ministry is carried out, especially in situations of crisis.

A socio-cultural analysis that reawakens hope

This is the point of grafting on pastoral accompaniment, understood as making the people the protagonists of their own journey, overcoming paternalism and situations of dependency (cf. the Regeneration of Africa with Africa). It means walking with the people towards a regeneration of the Risen One, a journey of transformation that derives from the particular situations in which people find themselves. These situations are to be understood not only as to their symptoms but in the deep causes of problems. Whenever a community or a human group fails to understand clearly the causes of its condition of discomfort or poverty, it will not be able to influence it significantly and will tend to become discouraged, to accept the situation or to turn in upon itself to appropriate some space where it can control its own life. Furthermore, this renders attractive broad simplifications and unrealistic interpretations of the situation which is a widely used tool used to manipulate people in a system of domination. However, when it understands critically its own situation and the global context, hope is reborn and people reclaim their power to change things.

Theological reflection: the key to transformation

The analytical phase also helps to bring out innate contradictions and dilemmas which provide an optimal starting-point for a reflection on hope, in the line of faith, which completes the discernment. This is the theological reflection that characterises the pastoral cycle and brings about a decision to undertake a course of action. It is indeed the turning point in the journey of the regeneration of the Risen One, a gift of grace. It is also the place where there is dialogue between experience, the daily life of the people and the relevant viewpoints that guide them and by which they interpret events and situations: dialogue between cultural values, a cosmic vision and the Gospel, or a process that creates the conditions necessary for the incarnation of the Gospel. It is a propitious moment for the conversion of the heart, for awareness of an authentic encounter with the Risen One, thus also revealing a vocation to respond to the situation reflected upon.

Just as in the Plan of Comboni (WR 2742), this reflection leads us to look upon the situation with the eyes of faith and to respond with determination, concreteness and prophecy to the urgings of the Spirit.

The collaborative style of action

The acting phase, finally, is quite articulated. It usually requires planning and at times may require time and energy to equip oneself and develop the necessary skills. Ministerial accompaniment, in fact, requires facilitating the continual formation and organisation of groups and communities with which the journey is shared, something that is all the more effective when it is shared, starting with the planning itself. It is best to have this include the monitoring and verification mechanisms which might otherwise be forgotten or overlooked.

The ministerial approach is based upon collaboration between pastoral teams, on synodality, on networking and on a style of service, all in the perspective of a shared process. Clearly, all this cannot be improvised; it demands organisation and attitudes of openness, humility and trust. It is not enough just to act; it is also necessary to reflect upon what one does and how one does it, on the results of the action, on what is being learned and especially on the presence and action of God all along the way. It is at the time of celebration that all of this emerges, is deepened and enriched with a new awareness, new gifts, renewed inspiration, as well as the possibility of regenerating relation and building communion. In this way is celebrated the life that is given and received along the way, which does not mean so much “celebrating our achievements” as acknowledging that “The works of God are born at the foot of the Cross”. It is this that gives the impulse to inaugurate a further ministerial cycle.

In conclusion, we are obliged to make two considerations: first of all there is the fact that the pastoral cycle, as a ministerial cycle, requires skills that have to be acquired and developed. It is not that everyone must know everything but that, in the context of a ministerial team, it will be good to succeed in commanding a systematic group of instruments, a sort of “toolbox”. We must then ask ourselves how we can facilitate the acquisition of these skills both in initial formation and in the mission, in a context of ongoing formation that takes into account the specific nature of situations and needs.

Bro. Alberto Parise mccj

Guatemala in time´s of COVID

Chispuditos Guatemala

The Comboni Lay Missionaries of Guatemala are concerned with the proclamation of the Kingdom in an integral way: being there, teaching, evangelizing with doctrine and witness, sharing some bread, some refreshments, giving a little monthly help, both in Santa Cruz Chinautla and in the Chispuditos programme. Our material resources are few, however, God has allowed us to remain in his works, our greatest resource is the desire to proclaim God’s love.

Chispuditos Guatemala

Love, the driving force, the charism of Comboni, the way:

We will have to work hard, sweat, die; but thinking that one sweats and dies is for the love of Jesus Christ and the salvation of the most abandoned souls in this world, I find the necessary consolation not to give up in this great undertaking“.

(St. Daniel Comboni)

These times of COVID, in which it is forbidden to “be” with people, to “tire and sweat”, literally, is not possible. This has been a time for reflection, for reorganization of the mission, it has been necessary to make an effort to discover, with God’s help, how it is possible to announce Jesus from the “passivity” of our house. At the beginning of the pandemic, uncertainty, some optimism as well, we thought it would be a matter of only a couple of months, we have been here for three months already, and the health crisis currently being experienced in our country is going through the most critical days.

It has become necessary to find a way to at least take something… however little it may be… Fr. Roberto, parish priest of Santa Cruz Chinautla, told us. This suddenly makes us feel as if we were some kind of philanthropists, and not missionaries announcing Jesus. It was time to be on the social networks to raise funds, and to bring only things, not presence, not sharing time, not “be”. It seems that we are carrying out the mission in the style of Comboni, half way.

The Catechism of the Church says: “With the help of the Holy Spirit, Christians must distinguish between the growth of the Kingdom of God and the progress of the culture and promotion of society in which they are involved. This distinction is not a separation. Man’s vocation to eternal life does not suppress but rather reinforces his duty to put into practice the energy and means received from the Creator to serve justice and peace in this world”. (CEC 2820)

Chispuditos Guatemala

In other words, the Church shows that we are on the right path. And I offer, together with the present missionary action, the following prayer:

Lord, more than the material, make people receive hope, and believe in your love and in your presence always, especially in the most difficult moments“.

Holy and capable. The one without the other is worth little to the one who follows the apostolic career. …The missionary must go to heaven accompanied by saved souls. And although they must first of all be holy, that is, completely free from sin and offense against God, and humble, this is not enough: they need to have charity, which is what makes them capable. (St. Daniel Comboni)

Chispuditos Guatemala

Lily Portillo

CLM-PCA, Guatemala

Message on the Occasion of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

SC

To be formed is to be configured to the Heart of Jesus the Good Shepherd

SC

“What is your name?… Go to your home and family and announce to them what the Lord has done for you and the mercy he has shown you”.  (Mark 5,9 ff)

“In the mystery of the Heart of Christ, the missionary contemplates, in their fullest expression, Christ’s innermost attitudes and makes them his own: his unconditional giving of himself to the Father, his all-embracing love for the world and his involvement in human suffering and poverty” (RV 3.2)

“Formation must, as a priority, concern itself with interior motivations and educate towards facing, with creativity, competence and flexibility, the challenges emerging from new situations” (Ratio Fundamentalis 113)

Dear Confreres,

In communion with all humanity, this year we are celebrating the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the extraordinary context of the COVID-19 pandemic that is still causing so much that is tragic and sorrowful all over the world. With confidence in God, we address an invitation to the whole Institute to contemplate the Heart of Jesus while opening our hearts to the mystery of his love so that this mystery may touch us deeply, free us from all the forces that keep us imprisoned and isolated and may help us to be faithful to our consecration and our mission.

As missionary disciples we enter the school of the Heart of Jesus who, in his humanity, reveals to us the Heart of God – the Heart of the Good Shepherd who goes out, approaches the poor, the suffering and the marginalised, inviting them to emerge from their isolation and their incommunicability, prepared for communication and a quality encounter with God, with others and creation. It is about participating in that love that always communicates itself, and that, if it is received by the beloved, always gives life, brings about growth and educates in the sense of the Latin word educere, which means bringing out what is best in the human being.

It’s important to remember that this encounter with Christ sets in motion a process of conversion, of formation and transformation, or better still, of “Christification” that lasts a lifetime and must touch the heart. The content of our initial and ongoing formation consists of the holiness and transformation of the person into Jesus Christ according to the dual complementary orientation of the sequela and imitatio Christi. Therefore, to be converted into another Christ is for us a privilege granted us by God’s mercy and grace and, at the same time, a responsibility that commits us to the coherence of life with the pressing and incessant question: “What would Christ and Comboni have done in this same historical situation of mine?“.

It is Christ who, with his merciful heart, takes the initiative of asking each one of us What is your name?”,as he did of the possessed man referred to in the passage above.Toknow a person’s name, according to the Hebrew mind, means entering into the depths of his personal life. This question shows his interest in us as people loved by God and helps us, on the one hand, to reinterpret what is within and around us so as to discover where our hearts lie, who we really are and, on the other, shows us the Heart of Christ full of love, compassion acceptance and tenderness.

As Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus, both in our initial and ongoing formation, it remains the commitment of the person and of the Institute to cultivate, deepen and contextualise our spirituality of the Heart of Jesus so that our whole life may increasingly adhere to the “programme” contained in our name.

It is Christ who, with his welcoming heart, shows his full trust in others, no matter what their situation, values them and restores them to their communities, to their homes, symbols of places of hope, of cordiality and human warmth. Life is made up of quality communications and relations. Saint Daniel Comboni speaks of the Institute “as a Cenacle of Apostles, a centre of light sending out so many rays that shine, giving warmth and revealing together the nature of the Centre from whom they emanate” (cf. Writings: 2648). Our hope is that the Heart of Jesus may truly be a Centre of communication among all the confreres and that we may make of fraternal communication an instrument for building bridges, to unite us and share the beauty of being brothers in mission, in an epoch marked by contrasts, division and indifference.

Lastly, as we reflect this year on the theme of ministeriality in the Institute, let us pray that the contemplation of the Heart of Christ may help us to live the mission, not superficially as a role to be filled but as a service to the Kingdom of God and an expression of a process of kenosis and decentralization. We wish you all a Happy Feast of the Sacred Heart!

The General Secretary of Formation and the MCCJ General Council.

Two young lay missionaries at the time of coronavirus

Etiopia
Etiopia

Among the novelties brought about by this sadly famous Covid-19 pandemic is that it does not give much room for charitable action or heroism in favour of others. In old times of plague, whoever chose to do so could dedicate himself totally to the plague-stricken even at the risk of his life. This was done by people who were later declared saints, such as Louis Gonzaga, King Louis of France or Daniel Comboni. But that’s now forbidden. We are in a super-organized society that acts according to scientific hygiene criteria, and what we are told is that the best way to help others is to stay at home to reduce the risks of contagion. However, there is always room for generosity, even in times of coronavirus.

I say all this from a corner of Africa where, thank God, the coronavirus has not “yet” arrived and where government measures of isolation are not as draconian as they have been in Europe. But we are still conditioned in many ways by the virus, which is like a sword of Damocles that hangs menacingly over our heads.

I live in the mission of Gilgel Beles, in Ethiopia, with two young Comboni lay missionaries, one Spanish and the other Portuguese, who arrived here a year ago. Nothing was known about the coronavirus at that time, and they came full of enthusiasm to do many things for others. They gave themselves without measure in services such as teaching everything they were capable of teaching, visiting the villages, taking the sick who fell in their path to the health center… They worked hard to make the most of the brief two-year period of their stay.

Then, unexpectedly, in the middle of the work, so to speak, came the coronavirus. Many organizations called on their members to return to the nation of origin. They too were called. If they stayed, it was their responsibility. And they did not hesitate in their choice: they remained “on their own responsibility”, even when the mother of one of them is awaiting a delicate cancer operation and even when they themselves are afflicted by continuous attacks of typhus and typhoid fever, which weaken both of them…

And here they are. As I said, it’s not that the containment measures are particularly harsh. The range of movement is still quite wide, at least as long as the first contagions don’t show up in our area.

However, the whole rhyme of the activities has suffered. With academic life totally paralyzed and meetings banned, they can no longer teach groups and the library that they had opened no longer has any customers.

Despite all these limitations, they try to resist to the limit. They have become attached to these people and, although they cannot do many things “for them”, they can be “with them”. And they feel that the simple presence in these moments of tribulation is a value that in itself justifies both coming and staying as long as possible.

LMC Etiopia

Fr. Juan González Núñez

From Gumuz, Ethiopia