Comboni Lay Missionaries

Rural Family House of Açailândia: a history of struggles

CFR Brasil

By Zé Luís Costa. From the MST website. (Edited by Fernanda Alcântara)

CFR Brasil

The Rural Family House [Casa Familiar Rural (CFR)] of Açailândia, in the state of Maranhão, was constituted as an association in 2001 after a small group of social activists met and began to discuss ways to improve the issue of rural education for the local reality.

From the beginning, the entities that started the proposal of the family house entered the debate of this political and social project, such as the MST, which had just settled in the city, the institute of the Comboni Missionaries, the Center for the Defense of Life and Human Rights and the Union of Workers and Rural Workers of the city.

The experience of this type of school is already old in the world and in the state of Maranhão they are present in several different cities. In other parts of the world this type of school is known as “Family Agricultural School”.

From the first discussions, the interested organizations held several meetings, even in cities on the outskirts, as Xoan Carlos (CLM) reminds us. “We held a series of meetings in the communities. There were another 60 meetings in the municipalities of Açailândia, São Francisco do Brejão, Itinga, Bom Jesus das Selvas. And finally the association was formed”.

He continues: “From there we obtained a piece of land, given by the Catholic Church. But we could not afford to build the building or pay the employees. So it was a few more years of struggle and articulation in the search for projects, and where we got some international support”.

CFR Brasil

Later, in 2003, the organizations involved in the idea managed to start what they dreamed of for the city and its surroundings, in view of the large number of settlements and rural communities they had in the vicinity of the city, now with 110,000 inhabitants. It was a dream for the distant future.

The pioneers of the idea achieved, with much struggle, agreements with the city council, as Xoan Carlos states. “In 2005 we started the first activities of the CFR. We started with an elementary school course, we had managed to structure several productive units in agriculture, beekeeping, cattle raising, pigs… Governor Jackson Lago had the intention of doing a high school course integrated to professional education, and a new moment started for the CFR”, he concludes.

With these articulations, in 2006 the high school course started, which was better adapted to the needs of the youth in the countryside. Mainly because, in 2001, many communities only had young people with the fourth grade at most. This was the need they have: a school with different characteristics from the conventional ones, for the countryside.

Jarbe Firmino was a student in the first class of the Açailândia Rural Family House, and later entered the Federal University of Maranhão (UFMA). He graduated in Education in countryside and returned to CFR, now as a monitor/teacher, and then took a position in the institution as general coordinator.

He tells about his experience criticizing the position of the public power: “This experience, to which I refer, of coordinator, as well as in other moments, was of great difficulty in terms of support from the public power. These were periods in which contracts were not honored by the State, which weakened the movement of which the CFR is a part,” he concludes.

After all this struggle, came the recognition and the conquests. The main one was the training of young people as agricultural technicians to work in the settlements with their families and in some state agencies. The Regional Council of Engineering and Agronomy, CREA, recognized them so that they could work officially providing technical assistance to the projects.

However, the desire of the coordination and the group that organizes the association and the CFR is that the students, trained, work with their families developing what they have learned, in family farms, as most of the settlements of the agrarian reform.

CFR Brasil

The CFR is managed by an association, and the president is currently Xoan Carlos. The coordination is chosen by the association and has ten teachers who are hired by the Maranhão State Education Secretariat.

History of the rural family houses

The Rural Family Houses originated in France in 1935, in a situation of strong rural exodus, when a group of families, with the support of the Catholic Church, met to rethink this situation. They called it “House” to differentiate it from the conventional school and because it began in the home of a family; “Family” because it was an organization of families and not of the government; and “Rural” because the object of the experience was in the rural environment as a whole: technical, human, cultural, etc.

Today, in France, there are 450 CFRs. Since the 1960s, the experience has spread to Spain and Italy under the name “Family Farm School”. There are about 1,000 CFRs in the five continents, in thirty countries.

In Brazil, the CFRs began to appear at the end of the 1960s, and today there are about 150 rural educational centers that operate with the “Pedagogy of Alternance”. In Maranhão there are approximately 27 schools with these formative principles. The pedagogy of alternation developed within the methods of Paulo Freire, in a construction of technical training, is united with training for life, in the case of Açailândia, expanded with the commitment to the struggles for a differentiated model of agriculture.

CFR Brasil

Book: We are mission


“Creation itself awaits with eager expectation the Revelation of the Children of God” (Rom 8, 19).


Dear members of the comboni family in the name of our Lord Jesus, we greet you warmly!

As you remember well, about two years ago, the first volume was published, entitled: “Be the change you want to see in the world“, where were collected the ideas which animate us and guide us in a particular way within the paths inherent to JPIC. These paths, in turn, were also made possible by the meetings of the World Social Forums (FSM) and the Forums organized as Comboni Family in conjunction with the FSM. In 150 years of History and Life, our Institutes have been enriched by a great ministerial experience thanks mainly to the dedication of many missionaries of our comboni family who have interpreted with creativity and apostolic passion the specificity of our Charism.

This second volume entitled: “We are mission: witnesses of social ministry in the Comboni family“, presents a significant range of concrete ministerial experiences, chosen among many others. Our desire is that sharing them will help us to value what we already do, thanks to the Gift of the Holy Spirit and our personal and community responses. In addition, this plurality of shared experiences helps us to appreciate the different Comboni ministerial actions that complement and enrich each other, revealing the richness of the Charism in a growing dynamism.

We ask our Provincial Superiors to take care in distributing printed copies to all communities and also the digital copy translated in four languages, so that all and everyone can enjoy the work done together and in collaboration with more than 40 Comboni missionaries.

We thank the members of the Commission on Social Ministry of the Comboni Family who worked with passion and expertise for the publication of this second volume and also facilitated the work of mapping of our Comboni initiatives on social ministry around the world. In December 2020, Covid-19 permitting, will be held the Forum on Social Ministeriality in Rome.

These initiatives and activities are part of a great journey of synergy and collaboration of the members of the Commission and of many confreres and sisters, who will surely bring enthusiasm and openness to newness to which the Lord is guiding us. All this requires, however, on the part of the whole Comboni Family a great opening of heart, mind, creativity, and commitment that we entrust to the intercession of our great founder San Daniele Comboni.

Mary, Woman of the Gospel teach us to announce your Son Jesus in our ministerial commitment!

Sr. Luigia Coccia, smc                        Fr. Tesfaye Tadesse, mccj

You can download the book following this link

Meeting amid an ongoing pandemic

LMC Kenia
CLM Kenya

When we last met in March this year, none of us thought we would not be in a position to meet over the next six months. We had made plans to meet again within the same month, and induct some potential new members from Kariobangi in Nairobi and Nyeri. As CLM-Kenya, we were excited to go over possible charity activities that we would be a part of. However, not only were our plans derailed with the onset of the corona virus pandemic in Kenya, so was our formation. We also knew we were not the only ones, so many more countries had been affected, some more than others. Still, we tried conducting our meetings online hoping for a day that we would finally meet again.

The departure of Fr. Claudio, MCCJ from Kenya back to Italy came as bitter sweet news to us. He has been very instrumental in our formation from the very beginning of the group’s formation. How could he leave without us celebrating him and bidding him farewell with our physical presence? We therefore decided to meet on the 29th August not only to wish him well as he prepared to leave our beloved country after serving for many years, but to also meet as a group to plan out our future.

CLM Kenya

During the meeting, we strived to adhere to the safety guidelines issued by our government as we shared our experiences over the last six months. The pandemic had certainly affected each and every one of us. But all in all, we were grateful that by the grace of God we had been able to move forward. What a joy it was to see each other again face to face. For a moment, we all forgot the fears and challenges brought about by the pandemic.

In the short amount of time we had, we were able to discuss matters pertaining to the group such as financial aspects, our honey project, online presence and future plans on how our formation would progress. The missionary zeal within the group has not faded in the least. In fact, the challenges faced seem to ignite a deeper desire to serve the Lord as missionaries in our country and beyond. We plan on continuing our formation classes, albeit for a single day in a month, so as to try and make up for the time lost. We keep hoping for a time when we can resume our usual lengthened formation. In the meantime, we will try to make the best of the chances we get. As Fr. Claudio embarks on another phase of his missionary life, we pray that the Lord blesses and stays with him always.

CLM Kenya

CLM group in Kenya

The missionary and ministerial parish

P Fernando MCCJ

“The pilgrim Church is by its nature missionary” (AG 2; cf. Mt 28, 16-20; Mc 16, 15-20), but by its nature, it is also ministerial (cf. Rom 12, 4-8). Ministeriality and mission are closely linked since the mission becomes concrete and is realised through different ministries. A ministry is a service for the common good and for the development of the mission of the Church. Therefore, we may say that the Church is missionary in that it is substantially ministerial and a servant. In the context of the year of ministeriality which we are living in the Institute, in this article, we will dwell especially on the ministerial and charismatic aspects of the evangelising mission of the Church in the parish.

P Fernando MCCJ

In light of the Second Vatican Council, we know that all baptised persons are called to be evangelisers since they participate in the three ministerial functions of Christ who is Priest, Prophet and King, and share in the mission (cf. LG 30-38). First of all, ministries may be classified as two main groups: Lay Ministries and Ministries of the Order of Priesthood. If we start from a hierarchical view of the Church and a clerical view of pastoral, lay ministries become suffocated or reduced to supporting the priest and his mission. Consequently, pastoral agents become mere collaborators, assistants, “altar boys” or, as happened in many missions, “mission boys”, even though they were adults. There are also some priests who dedicate much of their time to activities proper to the Brothers or other lay ministries, leaving little time for the ministries proper to their priesthood.

Another widespread practice is that of dividing parishes into pastoral zones, each of which is entrusted to a priest. Each one organises and administers his own zone, his own pastoral, his own team, projects, people, mission and money. The zone becomes his property where other missionaries may not intervene and concerning which, at times, they may not even express an opinion. Each one has to respect the territory of the others. The XVIII General Chapter and Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium appeal to us to begin a process of conversion, to pass from clerical and hierarchical models of mission and pastoral to models based upon ministries raised up by the Holy Spirit, to live the spirit of Vatican II. In virtue of our baptism, we are all equal: disciples of Jesus but with different vocations and gifts (cf. LG 30). Using the expression created by the Latin American bishops in Aparecida and adopted by Pope Francis, we affirm that we are all missionary disciples of Jesus Christ (cf. EG 119-121.130-131, Aparecida 184-224).

It is important that we emphasise that the baptised are, first of all, disciples of Jesus Christ and that the encounter with Christ transforms them into missionaries. Jesus, who has fascinated them, sends them out to evangelise. “Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel” (EG 20). Each missionary disciple ought to make their own the passion of Paul for the mission and exclaim: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 9,16). Evangelisation is not only the duty but also the right of every missionary disciple of Jesus Christ.

Today it is fundamentally necessary to grow in ministerial plurality. Priestly and lay ministries are gifts of the Holy Spirit, given so that they may complement a common goal: “

There is a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done but always to the same Lord, working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same Spirit working in all of them. The particular way in which the Spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose” (1 Cor 12, 4-7). The mission today demands ministerial pastoral models. A ministerial missionary parish is dynamic because, through listening to the Spirit and interpreting the signs of the times, it discovers, conceives, creates and develops new ministries and pastoral strategies.

I now propose two pastoral plans based upon ministries that are already functioning in different parts of the world.

I will not refer to ordained ministries since they are part of the priestly vocation, but I will emphasise lay ministries.

  • In some Small Christian Communities. 1. Regarding the Word of God: a Biblical animator who coordinates Biblical reflection in the small communities. 2. Regarding community formation: catechists for preparation for the sacraments and accompaniment afterwards. 3. Regarding liturgical celebrations: welcoming ministers, cantors, readers, acolytes, extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. 4. Regarding social solidarity: formators of political and human rights awareness, the ministry of charity and solidarity with the poor, a ministry for community organisation and mobilisation.
  • Pastoral organisation. Some parishes integrate the different ministries in three pastorals: Prophetic, Liturgical and Social. 1. Prophetic pastoral: catechists for initial formation in the sacraments, teachers to provide ongoing formation for all those who exercise a ministry, coordinators to accompany the various parish groups, a school for pastoral and a periodical publication for the formation of all leaders and parish communities. 2. Liturgical pastoral: welcoming ministers, choirs, cantors, people who proclaim the Word, acolytes, extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, coordinators of liturgy groups, actors for dramatizing the Gospel in children’s Masses. 3. Social pastoral: ministers of solidarity and charity, visitors of the sick, social conscience formators in human rights and the social doctrine of the Church, hospitality.

In order for a ministerially organised parish to function well, it is fundamentally necessary to be able to count on a parish council that includes those responsible both for ordained and lay ministries, so that, in communion, they may accompany the evangelising process, discern the signs of the times so as to understand which pastoral options are suitable for the present context and time and which ministries are necessary to carry out the missionary work. It is equally important to rely on a spirituality that may help the evangelisers to know and love more their vocation as missionary disciples of Jesus Christ.
Fr. Fernando Mal GatKuoth