The CLM María Augusta writes from Mongoumba, CAR, for her parish paper – The Astrolabio.
Dear Fr. Orlando,
How are you? I hope the new year started very well and so it will be to the end. A happy 2019 to all the parishioners and to your family.
Last week I had malaria, but, by God’s help, I already recovered. The rest of the community is well.
Fr. Samuel left today for his vacation. We ask God that it be a good one and that he may return full of pep and courage to continue the mission entrusted to him.
On December 17 and 18 the Cardinal came to visit. The people of the parish were delighted! A large crowd gathered when he arrived… many people of other denominations also came. For the Eucharist the church was full, and lots of people were gathered outside as well. It lasted five hours! He spoke very eloquently on the problem of likundu* (witchcraft) and other problems.
Ana and Cristina were in Bangui and Simone was in Italy, and I was with the priests to receive him. With God’s help all went well! I hope people will put into practice what they heard. He visited the 10 parishes of the diocese. Ours was the one before the last. He ended his visitation in the cathedral of St. Jeanne of Arc, in Mbaiki. I know that he ended up being very tired, but happy with the participation he saw.
Last time we were in Bangui, at the supermarket we met a policeman from Janeiro da Cima (a place in Portugal). He said that he had already heard that there was around a missionary woman from Janeiro de Baixo (a neighboring place). It was great! He told us that there were soldiers stationed around the airport and yesterday we went to visit. They gave us a great and happy reception! They also gave us medical supplies and invited us to lunch. God willing, we will go tomorrow.
The results of our students are not encouraging and we hope they will improve during this quarter.
I know that you have seen and listened to many reports, none of them pleasant, about our poor country. By God’s grace, here we are at peace, but we mourn with our brothers who are being massacred!
We don’t know yet when we will return to Mongoumba…
Let us continue united in prayer.
A great missionary hug from all of us, to you and to all the readers of Astrolabio.
CLM Maria Augusta in Astrolabio
Year 5 – #139 – February 3, 2019
Parishes of Cabril, Dornelas do Zêzere, Fajão, Janeiro de Baixo, Machio, Pampilhosa da Serra, Portela do Fôjo, Unhais-o-Velho e Vidual
* The problem of likundu is that people are falsely accused of witchcraft and then they are brutally murdered.
The 5th formation meeting of this year took place in Viseu on January 18-20. Comboni Sr. Carmo Ribeiro directed this weekend so full, so rich, so intense, on the theme “Comboni: God, the Cross and the Mission.”
We started with something that I considered very relevant and that made me understand immediately that it was going to be a good weekend. Sr. Carmo started by giving us a slightly different and more complete title: “Comboni: God, the Heart of the Crucified Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, and the mission”. And from that we began to see the true greatness of Comboni and of his charism.
On Saturday we explored those that are and that have turned out to be the supporting pillars of God’s living presence in Comboni. First of all, Trust in God and the deep conviction that his life is from God. Comboni always made time for prayer, silence and, even in times of tribulation, he trusts completely and surrenders his life to the hands of God. Comboni’s vocation comes from there and he always makes recourse to him, he always lives in him and finds light for his path. This deep relationship fascinates me and shows me how far I still am from this commitment of life and this trust.
Secondly, the love of the Pierced Heart of the Good Shepherd gave identity to the Comboni charism. From this mystic experience of prayer rises this strong connection with the pierced heart of the Good Shepherd, and from this heart Comboni drank and drew strength and from here his vocation and his commitment to mission grew. This is the heart that shaped the life of Comboni and that should always shape ours. May we be capable of this trust and surrender.
Thirdly, the Love of the Cross, the cross that saves us. This conviction that the cross, suffering, difficulties, when embraced, are life-giving! Comboni experienced being insignificant, embraced the cross as his bride, and was saved by God, because of his Love.
Then comes the Cenacle of Apostles, namely, the community as the center where mission becomes reality in the context of its richness, fragility and difficulties, with what each member is and is capable of giving of oneself. It means to know that community begins with me and that our vulnerabilities cement our community more than our talents.
In the fifth place, Mary, as Mother of the Church and Mother of Africa, who prepared and then always followed her son Jesus, is also part of the cenacle. In Mary Comboni sees the mother of the Black race and the support of his missionaries. And it is in her that we, too, must look for our inspiration, help in our doubts, and place our lives in her hands.
Then comes St. Joseph, another pillar of the Comboni charism, he who protected the great treasure, the best God had: Jesus and Mary. St. Joseph always protected and administered his God given goods who were never his own, in silence, right intention and care that they lack nothing.
It is also in prayer and zeal that we find the other pillar of Comboni’s life in God, the conviction of the importance and strength of constant prayer and the determination to always watch over and protect the mission.
Finally, and not less important is the feeling of being Church, of belonging, of being one with the others. Above all, was the obedience and respect for the decisions of the Church, without ever forgetting the mission God had given him in order to achieve the Plan for the Regeneration of Africa.
Well, above all I treasure in my heart all these pillars of Comboni, and I feel that I must have them in my life as well. It was a very intense day, filled with things shared and a lot of learning. We need to lift all of this in prayer so that the journey will shine with the life of Comboni.
We closed the afternoon with a prayer, a sign over joys and crosses, a community prayer, where I felt this cenacle described by Comboni, where our frailness, joys, crosses and fears were shared with Jesus and one another. It was an incisive prayer, intense where I was able to see the reflection of the face of Jesus.
In the evening we saw “Of God and Men,” About a community of monks in Algeria, who lived through the difficult decision of leaving or of staying with the people and the mission to which they had been assigned. It is a very harsh movie, full of life, about faith, community, dedication, mission… It deals with how the love of God becomes present in each one of them and with total donation within each one’s frailty. The film, in a way, helped us to visualize the Comboni style of life we had discussed during the day.
On Sunday we heard the witness of Sr. Conceição. I treasure in my heart her intensity in speaking about mission, the marvels worked by God in her mission place and the feeling of risking it all in the name of mission. This risking at times looks like pure madness, but always with that trust in Jesus and in Comboni.
Besides all this, that was a lot and very good, we enjoyed a very fortunate weekend, when we shared coffee at the Comboni Sisters’ house where we were so kind to us. We enjoyed the presence of Fr. Luís Filipe, who stayed with us the entire weekend sharing his witness and of Sr. Conceição who shared so much about herself with us.
We also had the joy of sharing the Eucharist with Artur Valente, Fr. Luís Filipe and Sr. Conceição and so, in a way, to commemorate the beginnings of the CLM.
I could continue to write about what I experienced, felt and learned during this weekend but above all there is the certainty that Comboni’s life was intense, impacting, and that his faith led him along the most beautiful paths of life and of mission.
May I assimilate all this learning and pray to God to guide my way.
Perhaps the perception we have of ourselves down here has lessened due to the greatness of the world to which we feel we are called. Perhaps, a little at the time, we have let go off things to hold on to the world, the people, and love. Already we have nothing. Nothing is ours. There is nothing that cannot be given, shared with all those who walk side by side with us. It is a lot that we are not alone, and that all that we have is shared not only among ourselves, but with the world. We are part of a whole that only has meaning in the daily sharing and the life we have and we know is joined to others.
The scenery reflects the grandiosity of our interior, the grandiosity of the little miracles of which we are only spectators, as being the grain planted in fertile soil, we are channels of meaningful life. It is not just us, but we are more than the sum of the parts. We are from God. We are his instruments, his hands, his feet, and his embrace. We are imperfect and wounded, in a world full of sorrow and suffering where in love we dare to sow the paradise of God’s love.
Each morning we go out to meet the others, out of the comforts we have, of what is ours, we go to meet love. We go, hoping that on every street and at every corner we will always have two arms to help people grow with us. We are nothing, but in our humble state we are what is truly existing within ourselves. We cannot even count the lives that have already crossed ours, nor the number of smiles, tears and hugs we have shared in the simplicity of a home’s front steps. This is how it is, love deprived of superficiality, integral without color or race, simply being. And we are called daily to let it be and grow.
Each day we give our life without plans nor schedule. We offer ourselves. Many are the times when we feel that it is God himself who calls us at the door through many faces, many personal histories and people. We are available to the love aimed at us, which calls us at each moment. We are open to the call of Jesus who calls us daily.
We are soil open to care for others and to the possibility of growing hand in hand in Jesus’ journey. We are the cross carried on the shoulder and arms of others who are lost and cannot walk. It is not easy. We know by our own lives that it is not easy. But this is the only way it has a meaning for us.
Mission is life, our life, their life and the life we accept and give by proclaiming a Gospel living in each one of us. With each step we are witnesses of a Jesus who wants to live in the simplicity of our hearts. It is in recognizing ourselves as family that, in each day, in each visit we offer ourselves and grow.
The soil is barren and the mountains around us are often the way home for many. Protected by the imposing presence of the Misti and the Chachani, holding to our walking sticks, we cross the limits of what we can see and off we go looking for the face of God among those farthest away. We climb and descend mountains, following contorted paths. We go beyond the physical limitations of our bodies that often demand rest. We have gone beyond our limits, in the certainty that He is our strength and our life. With the certainty that ours is the mission of carrying him and of announcing him where He already is, where His seed is already there, where God already exists, where the only thing missing is that he be remembered, named and proclaimed. We go beyond our peripheries to the peripheries of the world to be the symbol of life, of love, of Him.
We do not have much. We live simply and humbly among the people of God. In the simplicity and poverty of the life we lead is the treasure in vessels of clay of our hearts: the love of God.
It is good, very good, to allow ourselves to be moved by all who have become part of our history. It is good to be a shoulder of support, to be a place of refuge, to be Neuza and Paula just as we are, and share in simplicity this gift of our life. And to help others to discover the gift of their own. We belong to what is brought to us, to those who go off, and to those who come and to all those we leave along the way. Step by step we discover mission, we are mission. We belong to a mission which is not ours, but belongs to the One who daily sends us to love more.
We are part of the Comboni’s thousand lives for the mission. Together, we rediscover new Africas, new peripheries. Ours is not a little bit, the flatlands of comfort. We go. Together we go beyond the mountains, beyond even ourselves. Together we go to meet new peripheries, where we have not yet been and have not yet reached. If you only knew, if we knew how many Africas are left to discover, how many peripheries are there thirsting for God, for his love and for the miracle of love, which is the Eucharist. This is why we are here. For this we go to this meeting of love turning our lives into mission.
In our daily prayer we discover the path to be followed, the beauty of an unending mission, without borders, without limits. He is the limit. Actually, he does not have any. We move forward in the certitude that we are not alone because we find his arms at every dawn and at the end of day. We walk knowing that we always arrive where he is waiting for us. No matter how long the day will be and the life histories we meet and involve us, often including the tears we share. Yes, Lord, here we are, takes us where you want us to be. And even if life takes us far from here, we are Peru in the same love that brought us here and binds us as sisters and brothers to the end.
This is the day to thank the Lord for what we have accomplished as Comboni Lay Missionaries. Today we celebrate 21 years of history and mission, 21 years from that January 25, 1998 when we started this journey of discernment and formation for lay people in Maia, animated by the Holy Spirit and by St. Daniel Comboni.
It has been a very beautiful journey done at the foot of the Cross, before the Lord. And it is from this journey that mission is born – the one made of God’s works that “are born and grow at the foot of the Cross.” It consists in walking as a family, inspired by St. Daniel Comboni who leads us to “Save Africa with Africa” – this marvelous Africa that today no longer has borders and stands at our peripheries.
Many journeyed with us. Some left, others continue their commitment as CLM, but all, one way or the other, left swirls and drops that today make up this ocean of love we have become and binds continents together. We are grateful from the bottom of our hearts to all those who accompanied us and who keep on doing it.
During these 21 years, many were the CLM who lived their missionary vocation in places beyond our borders: in Mozambique, Brazil, the Central African Republic and Peru. Today, we continue to share our missionary spirit in these same countries: Marisa in Mozambique; Liliana in Brazil; Maria Augusta and Cristina in the Central African Republic; Paula y Neuza in Peru. Not to mention all those who remain committed in Portugal, in the peripheries, in their families, in daily life, attempting to live the mission God has given them, plus all the candidates trying to discern God’s call for them in Comboni’s charism.
Missionaries in Christ and through our baptism, we move forward as St. Daniel Comboni inspired us: “Keep your eyes always fixed in Christ, loving him tenderly and trying to understand always better what it means to have a God dead on the cross for the salvation of souls.” (Writings 2721)
And this saving of souls in Comboni was going well beyond simple evangelization: the salvation of humankind through the passion and death of Christ, which is born and lives through the identification of the missionary with this paschal mystery, in this dying in order to be born and live. “If the grain of wheat falling in the ground does not die, it remains alone, but if it dies, it produces abundant fruit.” (John 12:24)
With great enthusiasm let us continue our journey, following the footsteps of St. Daniel Comboni, hand in hand so that his work will not die, a journey of a difficult and enthusing mission among the people and the countries thirsting for Christ.
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