The weekend of the 5th and 6th of April, was held in Madrid the first meeting of all the Comboni Family in Spain: male and female Religious, Secular and Lay people all united around a single Charisma and the figure of S. Daniel Comboni as part of the 150th anniversary of the Plan for the regeneration of Africa written by Comboni in 1864.
Comboni says in his Writings: In 1864, on 18th September, I was in Rome and while I was attending the beatification of St Marguerite Mary Alacoque in St Peter’s Basilica, the thought of suggesting a new Plan for converting the poor African peoples to Christianity flashed like lightning through my mind. Its individual points came to me from on high as an inspiration. It later obtained the approval of His Holiness Pius IX, who had it submitted to the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda Fide. It was translated into various languages and came out in various editions. On the basis of this Plan, my intention was to organise the Mission among the poor black peoples of Central Africa with greater vitality and coherence. I therefore resolved to found two Institutes in a suitable place in Europe, one for each of the sexes, for the purpose of forming personnel, both male and female missionaries, to run these missions in Central Africa… (E4799)
No doubt, it has been an opportunity to reflect together on the intuitions, ways of been present and living the mission today as Comboni family in the light of the Plan of Comboni; at the same time it has given us the opportunity to strengthen ties among us and grow as a family.
As Comboni Family we are heirs of the great “dream of Comboni” who spared no effort in his work of evangelization of Central Africa. We thank God for the opportunity we had of sharing experiences and for having all being called to the missionary vocation.
Thanks to all those who have made this meeting possible.
An up-to-date reading of the Plan of Comboni – based upon the missionary challenges of today – reveals two prophetic intuitions whose value, with the passing of time, has only grown:
1.“The regeneration of Africa with Africa” (Writings 2753).
Daniel Comboni, due to his experience and that of other great apostles, is convinced that to achieve this “regeneration” there is no other way but to involve the African people as authentic protagonist of their history and builder of their liberation.
2. “… It will find an approving echo, support, favour and help in the hearts of the Catholics of the entire world, clothed and filled as they are by the spirit of that superhuman charity which embraces the immense vastness of the universe and which our divine Saviour came to bring to the earth” (W 2790).
With even greater audacity, Daniel Comboni declares that the realisation of this Plan for the regeneration of Africa requires the unconditional collaboration of all the forces of the Church and civil society, conquering all boundaries, prejudices or mean-spirited arguments.
These pages will be concerned with the latter aspect, the urgency, that is, to unify the commitment of all “Catholics” in favour of a single mission. The term “ministry” (ministerium = diakonía = service) helps us to better render the thought and the praxis of Daniel Comboni. We are aware that, in the Plan, he never uses such a word and that it is a term which is not found in the baroque language nor in the Tridentine theology of his time. By “ministry” we mean the missionary responsibility of all the baptised, without exception, to cause to emerge the Kingdom of love and justice (universal brotherhood) inaugurated by the person and the event of Jesus Christ among us. Daniel Comboni did not simply propose an organisational strategy but a manner of being a mature Church.
Let us go directly to the text of the Plan so as to achieve an understanding of the breadth of its horizons (cf. The final edition dated Verona 1871, S E2741-2791):
A) What theological foundation does Comboni place as the basis for his Plan?
It is a Christological foundation and a martyrial response:
The Catholic looks at Africa “not through the pitiable lens of human interest, but in the pure light of faith,” and there he discovers “an infinite multitude of brothers and sisters who belong to the same family as himself, having one common Father in Heaven…” Then “carried away under the impetus of that love set alight by the divine flame on Calvary hill, which came forth from the side of the Crucified One to embrace the whole human family …” he feels his heart beat faster and “a divine power seems to drive him towards those unknown lands to enclose in his arms and in an embrace of peace and love those unfortunate brothers and sisters of his…” (W 2742).
It is precisely due to the power of this charity welling up from the side of Christ that Daniel Comboni is prepared to “pour out the last drop of our blood” (W 2753) for his poorest and most abandoned brothers and sisters. We may, therefore, say that the motivation behind the entire life of Comboni is the response of a sound faith in the redemption which the Paschal mystery of Christ merited for us and which constitutes the principle of all missionary action. In other words, the “ministry” (missionary service) that Comboni asks for in his Plan is connected to Jesus Christ, the servant par excellence of the Father to carry out his plan of salvation, and to the Church, which is sent to serve humanity so as to continue the merciful mission of her Lord.
B) What vision has Daniel Comboni of the Church that enables him to require such a great commitment from all Catholics without distinction?
It is a challenge which, then as now, seemed almost impossible, especially if one takes into account the discouragement and frustration embedded in many ecclesiastical leaders.
The love which Comboni has for Nigrizia leads him to ask, concretely, for:
The help and cooperation of the Vicariates, Prefectures and Dioceses already established around Africa (W 2763);
The creation of Institutes for African boys and girls in strategic locations around the whole of Africa (S 2764-65);
The religious Orders and the male and female Catholic institutions, approved by the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda Fide, to run these Institutes (W 2767);
The establishment in Europe of small colleges for the African missions to open the way to the apostolate of Africa to all secular (diocesan) clergy of Catholic countries who might be called by God to such a sublime and important mission (W 2769);
The possibility of establishing European women’s religious Institutes in the less unhealthy countries in the interior of Africa, seeing that European women showed greater resistance than missionary men, due to their ability to adapt physically, their temperament and their family and social way of life (W 2780);
To set up for the coordination of this whole project a society composed of intelligent, generous and very active persons, capable of dealing with all the Associations that may provide economic and material means (W 2785) and unite all the forces of Catholicism in favour of Africa (W 2784-88).
The goal which Daniel Comboni wants to reach is that of giving dignity to the entire African population:
Not only to the inhabitants of the African interior, but also to those people who live along the coast and in all the other parts of the great Continent… to the whole African race (W 2755-56);
The young men will be trained as Catechists, Teachers and Artisans – virtuous and capable farmers, doctors, phlebotomists, nurses, pharmacists, carpenters, tailors, bricklayers, cobblers, etc. (W 2773);
The young African women, in turn, will be educated as instructresses, teachers and housewives who must promote the education of women … (W 2774);
From among the catechists, will be chosen a group of individuals distinguished for their holiness and knowledge and who are found to be predisposed to enter the clerical state (local clergy), and these will be directed towards the priesthood (W 2776);
From among the young African women not inclined to the married state, a group will be formed of Virgins of Charity made up of those distinguished for their holiness and the practical knowledge of the catechism, languages and feminine skills (W 2777);
In order to develop the gifts of the most able members of the indigenous clergy and to train them as able and enlightened leaders of the Missions and Christian communities of the interior of Africa, small theological and scientific universities may be established at the most important points around the periphery of the great African Continent (Algeria, Cairo, St. Denis on the island of Reunion, and facing the Atlantic Ocean). With the passing of time, small higher-level training workshops may be founded for the more capable artisans. (W 2782-83).
To sum up, we find in this proposal of Daniel Comboni an ecclesiological vision that is extremely open and inclusive, which comprehends all the ministries (from that of the Pope to that of the most humble catechist or artisan) while seeking to carry on the mission in favour of the most needy. And this is not derived from mere philanthropy or a romantic sense of ingenuous heroism but from the sound motivation that flows from the baptismal event which existentially reveals to us the love of God and makes us brothers and sisters in the same vocation to sanctity and ability. This practical way of creating ministry will find a response only a century later in the post-conciliar theology of the Second Vatican Council.
Even if the aspects which we have indicated deserve more thorough study, available space allows us just to present, in the form of a Decalogue, a series of teachings we may draw from the Plan of Comboni:
1) Daniel Comboni recognises the importance of the ministry of the Pope (with whom he dialogued on various occasions) and of Propaganda Fide. To them he addresses his Plan, showing ecclesial communion.
2) The audacity of his “dreams” derives from his facing up to the situation of suffering and oppression in which his brothers and sisters live. His Plan is the fruit of solidarity within a missionary method of incarnation.
3) Supporting his position there is his capacity to interact with all sorts of people with human and spiritual maturity. Ministry in the Plan presupposes people who are integrated and capable of authentic relationships.
4) We find in the Plan a sort of anthropology that goes beyond its epoch and recognises the full dignity of people.
5) In the Plan there emerges a model of a Church in communion and participation, born of baptismal consecration and of the common vocation to full life in God.
6) In it the laypeople find their full ministerial expression. Not in a pyramid-shaped visualisation but as co-responsible people of God.
7) Women find the space where they can be valued for what they are and as consecrated people. Comboni is a true pioneer in this.
8) The work of evangelisation envisioned by the Plan is inclusive; no human dimension is excluded as all the human dimensions find space in God’s project.
9) The strategic plan of insertion that is proposed in order to render the work possible, without further tragedies, presupposes a praiseworthy concern for planning and evaluation.
10) All of this is included in the mystery of the Cross, aware that it is a matter of knowingly giving one’s life but, above all, of trusting that the works of God are born and grow at the foot of Calvary. And that it is the Holy Spirit who – today, as in the past – guides the mission.
Here, in the Parish of Carapira every Wednesday we celebrate the Mass with the Catholic students of the Industrial School of Carapira and the girls of the female home of the Comboni Sisters, who are students of the elementary school in the neighborhood. This week, on February 19, the celebration took a special issue as a whole, with the opening of the year of reflection of the 150th anniversary of the Plan of Comboni. Anticipating tomorrow’s official opening suggested by the Institute of the Comboni Missionaries, this celebration was marked by the presentation of the memorial cross for this milestone, given to each community in the MCCJ Province of Mozambique, explaining to the present its meaning and motivation . Father Gino Pastore, who presided the Mass, highlighted the strength and courage of Comboni and his inspiration in developing the Plan, under the slogan “Save Africa with Africa”, thereby motivating the students to become protagonists of their own history, building a better social reality. He launched the Industrial School students who complete 50 years of its foundation, the challenge, inspired by the example of St. Daniel Comboni, that also write the Industrial School of Carapira Plan to comply with this slogan.
On Thursday, the 20th, in the celebration of the Mass with the missionary team, Father Paulo Emanuel stressed that date by reading excerpts from the letter from the MCCJ General and reflecting on the Gospel in the sense of not having the same temptation of Peter of being, even unconsciously, impediment to the realization of God’s plan in our lives and in the lives of people.
After dinner, the team met at the home of the CLM in a tone of celebration to mark the day by sharing food and conversation. As a symbol of this meeting to encourage personal and community reflection, each missionary received a message containing one of the questions that were posted on the general’s letter of the MCCJ on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Plan, in the part that invites us to write our own plan.
May the example of Saint Daniel Comboni follow drawing inspiration for the missionary vocation and that the Spirit of God, the same one that guided Comboni in preparing the plan, enlighten and guide us on the paths of building up the Kingdom!
“During the first days of 2014 we began the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the “Plan of Comboni for the Regeneration of Africa” with suggestions for reflection that the General Council sent to all the confreres and there are other initiatives in the pipeline intended to help us to live this moment as an opportunity to come closer to, and make our own, the great missionary intuitions of St. Daniel Comboni.
In Rome, as in the Provinces and Delegations of the entire Institute, there will be celebrations, meetings for reflection and work and moments of mission promotion in order to come to know better, not just the text of the Plan, but above all the spirit to be found in those pages, written in a short burst by Comboni, with great missionary passion and enthusiasm.
With the passage of time, those pages were rewritten no longer with pen and ink but with the lives of the many men and women missionaries who, with great generosity, accepted the legacy of the mission as conceived by our Father and Founder. Consequently, the Plan is not just something that belongs only to the past but is like the blood in our veins, always with us in the present.
The celebration of the anniversary gives us an opportunity to understand better how up-to-date the missionary content of the Plan is, and how important it is to translate into the language of our day the intuitions discovered in the past 150 years.
It is a question of keeping alive the memory of a gift received a long time ago, to discover the relevance today of a missionary spirit and strategy that are valid in our time and for our humanity, forever needful of the encounter with the Lord.
During discussions on the proposals for the celebration of this anniversary, there emerged a desire to foster a journey that may help us to avoid the temptation to perform a simple act of remembering a moment in our history and seek, above all else, that which enables us to make our own what the Holy Spirit made Daniel Comboni understand, as the way towards a new mission, capable of responding to the urgent needs and challenges of his time.
To us is given the challenge to find a way to make relevant today the life proposal contained in the Plan that the Lord has today for us and for the brothers and sisters entrusted to us in service to the mission.
This year we have a special occasion to discover, not only the Plan of Comboni, but to write our own plan, the plan that the Lord inspires in us in so far as of the urgent needs, the challenges, the dramatic character of our time and the unceasing concern of God for his children.
Not long ago, during the last General Chapter, we took on ourselves the task of making the journey that leads from the Plan of Comboni to the plan of the Comboni Missionaries. Now, in 2014, is, perhaps, the time to ask ourselves what point we have reached, at the personal, provincial and Institute levels.
What is the Plan?
There are different ways to approach the Plan and I want to share with you just a brief reflection that may help us to try and draw up our personal plan, or at least to begin what may be a first draft.
We all know that, when we take the text of the Plan in our hands, we are faced with a work that lasted for years and that in the end was captured in just a few pages, insufficient to express the strength, sentiments, courage, hope, joys and difficulties which, though enclosed between those apparently cold and unfeeling lines, contain a spirit which reveals the greatness of what was written therein.
The Plan is not a textbook; it is life hidden within the words, thoughts, intuitions, dreams and the desires that were the motive power able to move the hands of Comboni to leave traces of the Spirit he tried to express, which goes far beyond the ideas and strategies that will somehow become the response to the cry that assails the ears of God to stir up his mercy.
I like to describe the Plan as the mediation offered by Comboni which, pervaded by the Spirit, helps God to carry out his missionary project; it is an open door that allows God to enter the history of his children who are in need of Him and thus realises his missionary dream.
Before ever becoming a written document, the Plan was a dream and a passion, an uncontainable power in the heart of Comboni.
It is the expression of love – source of the mission – for the poorest and the most abandoned, that becomes real and achievable. It is the concrete response to a reality that can neither be ignored nor forgotten since it is comprised of people with names and surnames, of tragedies and urgent needs, of promises and gifts that did not allow any delay in Comboni’s involvement – in his days – and that do not allow any of us, today, to postpone our response to a tomorrow that may never come.
Seen through the person of Comboni, the Plan is the complete availability to pay the price personally and never withdraw, even if this may continually turn our lives upside down, and to give our lives inch by inch, since making common cause with the poor never brings profits or earnings to be amassed.
The Plan is the missionary passion that cannot be contained by borders or diminished or discouraged by problems or difficulties, because it is a matter of the power of God who avails of human fragility to manifest his great love.
In the pages of the Plan we find ourselves faced with the desire of God and the dream of Comboni which intertwine and merge to become a single passion, quenched only on the wood of the Cross and the cry: “Africa or Death”.
It is an experience of encounter, profound communion of such powerful intimacy that the words may vanish and the text disappear, but the total self-giving remains as witness to a covenant whose only passion is the mission and the poor.
In the depths of the Plan there is the dream of Comboni of Africa open to God and his redeeming plan. The dream of seeing the African peoples respected as to their rights and dignity. The wish to see a continent illuminated by the light of the Gospel which does not tolerate deceit or injustice, or rejoices in violence or death.
What is required of us today?
As we approach the legacy of the Plan, none of us can ignore certain questions that seem to spring up before our eyes when we try to take seriously our being missionaries and Combonians. Can they be of help in visualising our plan? We could not wish for better.
What are our passions? What stirs our hearts as we contemplate the missionary situation of our time? On what is our enthusiasm centred and what absorbs all our energy today? Where is the encounter between the desires of God for humanity and our availability to live solely for the mission? To what degree does the love for the poorest and most abandoned provide us with the energy that makes us ready for anything for the sake of the Kingdom of God? Where are the dreams that may help us to create that plan that God expects from us for humanity within which the mission continues to be the great challenge for those who call themselves disciples of Christ and a fortiori for us who have received the missionary vocation?
It would be wonderful if, at the end of this year, we were able to formulate a new plan, albeit modest, for the mission that challenges us as Comboni missionaries. A plan that would show how the charism of Comboni is still relevant, alive and fruitful.
A plan that would help us to grow in the confidence and certainty that the Lord continues to work together with us to bring about new times that will make us once again experience the joy of the mission, despite our poverty and fragility.
How do we dream of the mission in our times and what are we prepared to do to collaborate with the Lord in carrying out his plan for those he loves with all his heart? Surely the cries and sufferings of the many brothers and sisters in all corners of the world will be of great help in our efforts to give our response, even if a modest one.
May St. Daniel Comboni accompany us in this dream. Fr. Enrique Sánchez G., mccj Superior General
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