Comboni Lay Missionaries

25 years of presence of Comboni Lay Missionaries in Central Africa


“To be with the people and for the people”.

1 June 2023. Mongoumba Mission, Central Africa

On June 1, 1998, Teresa Monzon and Montserrat Benajes, CLM Lay Comboni Missionaries (CLM) from Spain, arrived at the mission of Mongoumba, Central Africa. They came to replace Italian laywomen Marisa Caira, who gave 21 years of generous service, and Lucia Belloti. Since then, more lay men and women, including a married couple, from Spain, Portugal, Italy and Poland have passed through this mission. And very soon a laywoman from Brazil will arrive.

At present there are three CLM who carry out their missionary work in Mongoumba: Marcelina (Poland), Cristina (Portugal) and Teresa (Spain). The latter is the same laywoman who started the CLM mission here 25 years ago, and this time she came to serve for a season.

The CLM group, who together with the Comboni Fathers make up the apostolic community of the mission, have been in charge of various tasks during this time, such as health care, physical rehabilitation, school education and the Aka (pygmy) people. They have also been accompanying pastoral groups of the parish. Their presence and missionary performance are intended to be a witness so that the faithful of the parish will be motivated to live their faith with greater enthusiasm and dedication.

The CLM have not lacked moments of trial, as when in the year 2000 they had to assist, together with Doctors Without Borders, numerous refugees coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a village neighboring the mission of Mongoumba was suffering from bombings. Also when they had to take on pastoral work, since for two years they were left without a priest in the mission. And when, on the eve of the coup d’état of 2003, they had to live through the looting of the mission by Congolese soldiers who supported the president who was deposed. Not forgetting the following coup in 2013, where they witnessed the insecurity and desolation in which the population found itself.

However, these same trials, like so many other challenges, far from weakening their missionary spirit, have given them the courage and courage to resist and face a mission that is still in its infancy, with the firm hope that the Lord will make the seed they are now sowing bear fruit. A mission that the laywoman Cristina summarizes in these words: “Beyond the activities, the most important thing is to be with the people and to be for the people”.

Congratulations to CLM for its 25 years of presence in Central Africa.

Fr. Fernando Cortés Barbosa, Comboni Missionary

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The Pygmy people, guardians of the Common Home

Laudato Si

Jesús Ruíz, Bishop of Mbaïki (Central African Republic) tells us how his communities of the Aka (Pygmies) people celebrated Laudato Si’ Week. Jesus, who inspired the CLM movement in Spain, is visiting Spain these days and we had the joy of sharing an afternoon with him, in which his love for his communities shines through.

The Congo Basin is the second lung of the planet, and sadly the scene of similar environmental crimes to those we usually hear about in the Amazon. Only fewer voices tell us about this scenario of massive destruction of the equatorial rainforest. Jesús Ruíz promotes the integral evangelization of the peoples, in which the Easter of the Lord translates into the Aka people standing up against centuries of discrimination not only from the colonizers but also from the rest of the majority peoples of Central Africa.

The Aka are used to taking blows and bowing their heads. That is why leading a march with the slogan We are the guardians of the forest is of great value. It is a clear sign of the Comboni charisma. Like the rest of the native peoples in America, Asia, Oceania… the Aka are aware that they have guarded the Common House for centuries, in invisibility, and now their testimony shines because their environment is at serious risk of disappearing. We are indebted to all these communities.

Comboni Sisters Lucia Font (Spanish) and Lucia Premoli (Brazilian) are currently working with Bishop Ruiz and the Aka peoples, the latter as the Episcopal leader of the Laudato Si’ Commission. The experience in Amazonia has prompted the latter to concretize in Africa all the work that has been developed in Latin America. In nearby Mongoumba, the CLM community has been accompanying this people for more than 20 years. Our CLM Tere Monzón, who participated in this mission for 10 years, returns to Spain on the 9th.

Laudato SI

The momentum of the encyclical Laudato Si’ is mobilizing around the world for a change of system, because the current development model respects neither people nor the rest of Creation. “We need organizations to help us document everything that is happening in our territory, so that it becomes known.” The level of mercury pollution in the rivers, the loss of native species, the savage enrichment of a few minorities thanks to the national resources of this “poor country”. This is the direct request that Monsignor Ruiz makes to us.

CLM Spain

Forum on Integral Ecology of the Comboni Family in America

Foro ecología

On 22 May, the Forum of the Integral Ecology of the Comboni Family in America was held online on the theme “Towards a missionary ecological conversion”. More than 75 Comboni missionaries (brothers, priests, sisters and lay people) shared, for four hours, their pastoral activities in this field of integral ecology as part of the missionary call.

It was a day of sensitization and exchange of work, challenges, proposals and strategies to raise awareness of the planetary emergency and urgency of serious environmental degradation, as well as the great inequalities that affect the whole of humanity.

Encouraged by the Pact for the Common House made during the Synod of the Amazon 2019, the Comboni Family promotes the Comboni Pact for the Common House Común, which Father Dario Bossi (Comboni Missionary participant in the Amazon Synod) puts in context in this article. This pact invites us as missionaries to cultivate two complementary dimensions: reflection (study, prayer…) and concrete attitudes and gestures, and received a strong impetus during the Comboni Social Forum in Belém (Brazil) in 2022, which highlighted the resistance of indigenous people, women and youth to the harassment of the Common House in various forms.

During the meeting, Fr. Juan Armando Goicochea Calderón presented the work of the Laudato Si’ Center of Lima, as a center for formation, research and projects. A School of Formation in Integral Ecology is being organized for Comboni and diocesan pastoral workers. The publication of the book “This earth is in your hands” was an excellent initiative that has helped a lot, especially in the formation of young people. Two other sustainable production projects are underway: beekeeping (which protects biodiversity from industrial monoculture) and the export of organic coffee to Europe.

Mrs. Odile presented the Laudato Si’ Missionary Center of Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which seeks to internalize the approaches of Laudato Si’ and to share initiatives to promote the Care of the Common Home. Among its activities are the annual meetings, which involve an exchange between civil institutions and the administration. Its members were present at the X Fospa (Pan-Amazonian Social Forum). In Brazil. Odile emphasized that this center is an opportunity to question the ecclesial pastoral and promote joint work between laity and religious, promoting critical ecological citizenship in defense of the common home. The Center is responsible for disseminating the contents of the encyclical in simple language, and for bringing ecological education to public and private educational centers.

Flávio Schmidt, a Brazilian Comboni layman who has worked in recent years in Piquiá de Baixo (Maranhão) together with the Spanish layman Xoan Carlos Sánchez, participated in the organizing committee of this event. This community of Piquiá continues to suffer from mining contamination and is a symbol of resistance and defense of the Common Home and Human Rights. .
CLM Spain

Here comes the Missionary…!

LMC Centroamérica

I begin these humble lines first of all thanking God for having fixed his gaze on this servant.

The previous January, the Assembly of the CLM of the Province of Central America was held, where Brother Jesús Pérez, Advisor for Costa Rica of the CLM, talked with the Parish Priest of San Luis Petén, Father Aubert Gamende, about the possibility of receiving some members of our group for the Major Week in the Parish, and it was there where all this dream and illusion began.

For different circumstances, I left for Guatemala on March 29, with a suitcase full of fear, illusion, hope, but above all with the desire to be able to offer a little of all the love that God has had for me, the same love with which I was received in Casa Comboni.

I had the opportunity to share with the CLM of Guatemala, accompanying them in their project Chispuditos, knowing some Departments of the country, eating the delicious gastronomy (beef soup, plantain rellenitos, atoles, etc, etc, etc and etc ha ha ha ha), living the spectacular experience of their culture and great Faith, Palm Sunday in Antigua with the emblematic Processions, Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

On Holy Monday I start my trip to San Luis Petén, it is worth mentioning that the Parish is administered by the MCCJ, is made up of more than 140 villages (populations), some of them speak Spanish, others only speak the Q’eqchi dialect and others are mixed, all this territory comprises approx. 3000 square km and is served by 4 priests, that after 8 hours of travel, Father Fabrice receives me to take me to Casa Parroquial where as in Casa Comboni, I was received as another member of the house.

After resting for a while, Billy came to pick me up; to take me to know the Parish Clinic, where primary care services are provided to the parish population, not only of the Center, but also through the Health Campaigns they go to more distant populations, where the group of the CLM of Petén sometimes participate, we also visited the Nursing Home with many needs and that the Brothers of CLM Petén carry out a work of accompaniment and assistance, and have several projects to do in this house of permanent residence.

On Holy Wednesday, I was able to meet and share with the CLM of Petén, who were born on the same day and date as us here in Costa Rica, we shared, hesitated, talked about the realities of our group, they are a very dynamic group, and eager to do things well, as I mentioned to them I congratulate them and they know that humbly in what we can help there we will be there …..

On behalf of the Fathers, I was assigned and given the opportunity to collaborate in one of the villages, La Tortuga, who for this purpose came for me Alma, a woman dedicated in soul, life and heart to the service of her community, she is the Coordinator of the Village, together with her we organized the different celebrations for the days to come, Starting on Holy Thursday with the celebration of the Washing of the feet and the prayer in the Garden, on Friday morning all the Spanish-speaking villages were summoned to the Parish Center to live as a community the Way of the Cross and the Adoration of the Cross, we gathered almost 1500 people to the same prayer and feeling. Then in La Tortuga we had our celebration for those people who were unable to go to the parish in the morning because of their duties.

On Saturday morning we visited with community servants several families, some because they are just arriving to live in La Tortuga, others already had their time, and we took the opportunity to invite them to come at night to the Great Feast of the Easter Vigil, to the joy of most of them accepted the invitation, we also visited some sick people including Don Diego, I ask you to raise a prayer for him, he has cancer in his bones and suffers a lot of pain, Don Juan, we took communion to them, to see the joy they expressed to receive Jesus the Eucharist in their home and become one with Him, personally it was one of the many things that helped me to make the decision that I will tell you below.

In the night with great hope we celebrated the Great Easter Vigil, where children, acolytes, readers, choir and all of us as a community lived the great joy of the resurrection, the same joy that personally overwhelms me to this day.

On Sunday morning we were summoned again to the Parish Center to live the feast of the Resurrection, we started with a beautiful procession through different roads of the community and arrived at a space in front of the church where more than 150 children made their first communion, a way to end our Holy Week full of great joy.

Truly, from the moment I was received by Brother Humberto at the airport until my return to Costa Rica, I was welcomed as one more, the words are too short to thank everyone and all the people who showed me their affection and empathy, for letting me see their culture and although we are from different countries, customs and culture, we have the same love that unites us and is greater than any ethnic difference.

Hearing …Here comes the missionary… echoes in my head with much humility, but constantly….

For some time now I have been praying to God to show me the way, I say to Him like Samuel “Speak, your servant listens…”, this trip was very useful to reaffirm the desire of my heart, to serve Him, as and where it is His will, so I entrust myself to your prayers, this coming June 16, the day we celebrate the Sacred Heart of Jesus, by the grace of God I will be assuming my commitment as a Comboni Lay Missionary, with the hope of being able to put myself at the service of the Comboni family.

Thank you Guatemala, thank you San Luis, THANK YOU LA TORTUGA, CLM Guatemala, CLM San Luis Petén, MCCJ, I do not name them because I am afraid that I am leaving someone out, but I carry them all in my heart….

God bless you abundantly…

José David Rojas Q

CLM Costa Rica