Comboni Lay Missionaries

Light and darkness

Etiopia

Sharing God’s love with others, receiving and giving, have determined our missionary vocation (Vicenta Llorca, Comboni Missionary Sister in Ethiopia for more than 40 years and Pedro Nascimento, Comboni Lay Missionary, two years in Ethiopia). As he did with Abraham, also to us, through prayer and personal discernment, God said: “Leave your country and go to the land that I will show you” (Gn 12:1). Our destination was Ethiopia, a country full of sunshine and hospitality. Ethiopia is a beautiful country, rich in history and culture, full of traditions and many peoples, with great linguistic diversity.

Ethiopia

Benishangul-Gumuz is part of one of the regions of Ethiopia and one of the tribes present here is the Gumuz, a people of strong character, ready to fight to defend themselves in many ways. Our missionary work is especially among the Gumuz.

Our first impression was very good, as we always wanted to share our life with such a simple people. The community of the Comboni Sisters, located in Mandura, offers education, health care and catechetical pastoral care. The community of Comboni Lay Missionaries (David Aguilera and Pedro Nascimento) lives with the Comboni religious in Guilguel Beles, ten kilometers from Mandura, and tries to help both communities in the areas of education and catechetical ministry, as well as in the care of some of the sick.

Ethiopia

Vicenta and Pedro work in pastoral and social service, since the person is complete with the development of the soul and body. One of the activities we carry out together is the accompaniment of the catechesis of women in their spiritual, human and material development. We know that women have an important role in the transformation of society and here they need to be aware of this. Gumuz women work very hard and are often left behind in opportunities such as education, where educational attainment is not a priority, especially for women and girls. Above all, they have to work in the fields, collect firewood for cooking, carry water from the spring or river, carry heavy sacks of cereals (the fruit of their work in the fields), take care of their children, cook…. The life of the Gumuz woman is difficult and full of sacrifices and hard work.

We meet every week with a group of women who have chosen a name for the group: “Peace Builders”, a name due to the war situation that we have been living for more than two years in our area. In this group we share the Word of God, pray for peace and have coffee together with the economic collaboration of all, and we become close in our experiences of pain and suffering, strengthen our friendship, share dreams and aspirations for the future. These meetings give us the possibility to get to know each other and to be closer to each other. It is our desire, according to our possibilities, to develop activities that can help women in the economic part, since they have an important role in the maintenance of the family.

All this is very beautiful and attractive, but human life is made of happy moments and painful moments, days of light and days of darkness.

Due to ethnic clashes, especially over land ownership, social stability has worsened, many have been killed, villages have been burned, some crops have been stolen by opportunists, many innocent people have been imprisoned without knowing the reasons, schools and medical posts have been closed due to insecurity, for fear of students being attacked by rebels and teachers and nurses attacked and kidnapped, as most of them belong to another ethnic group. Unfortunately, this has been our reality for the past two years, with times of peace and times of conflict and insecurity. However, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord (Rom 14:8) and He is always with us and accompanies us.

Ethiopia

In the Sisters’ mission, some women asked for protection for few weeks, staying there to sleep. The situation worsened and they decided to escape to the forest, where they were able to hide. When the situation calmed down, little by little, the families returned to their huts. As we have already said, this situation has been repeated for two years and together we have experienced pain, insecurity, but also God’s protection. The works of God are born and grow at the foot of the Cross, as St. Daniel Comboni used to say.

None of this was foreseen when, full of illusions, we came to this mission, but we decided to make common cause with this people, to share the good and the bad moments, we decided to stay here and abandon ourselves in God’s hands. We have lived through many difficult moments and our presence here, in the midst of difficulties, is intended to be a testimony of fidelity to God manifested in fidelity to the people with whom we share our lives. It was Jesus who told us: “Behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20).

In the midst of pain, of seeing the suffering of those who escape, of those who mourn for their loved ones, either because they have died or because they are deprived of their freedom, all this has become a time of grace that helps us to strengthen our faith and fidelity to a people who live in times of suffering. Making the pain of others my own shows us how important they are to us, how much we love them. St. Daniel Comboni taught us: I make common cause with you and the happiest day of my life will be the one when I give my life for you.

Right now peace talks are taking place between the government and rebel groups, schools and medical posts (some) are beginning to open. We are hopeful for times of peace, happiness and prosperity.

Pray for us and for the people of Ethiopia, because we cannot lose hope; pray that we will find support to develop economic activities with women and help families in need; pray for peace and fraternal communion.

Ethiopia

Vicenta Llorca, Comboni Missionary Sister and Pedro Nascimento, Comboni Lay Missionary.

Hope School

Colegio Gumuz
Gumuz school

Our school time, especially infant and primary school, usually marks our lives in one way or another. Great memories pile up: friends who are a big part of who we were, teachers who touched our hearts and opened paths we had not even imagined until then… In general, a shared life that filled us with passion and joy and that we will almost always consider as the best stage.

However, in Ethiopia, school can have a more complete meaning.

In the region where I live, Gumuz, the Comboni family has 5 kindergartens (3 run by the Comboni Fathers, 2 by the Comboni Sisters) and an elementary school (run by the Comboni Sisters). All these centers were requested by the local government itself, more than 20 years ago, which understood that this underdeveloped region needed educational spaces that would fulfill two objectives: on the one hand, to promote education in order to be able to guarantee an autonomous and dignified future; on the other hand, to create spaces where boys and girls of all the ethnic groups present in the area could coexist, in equality and friendship, so that the division (so present and so deep in the region) would disappear from the pillars of life (childhood and adolescence) and the idea of complete fraternity would be fostered.

Gumuz school

This has been the objective of the Comboni Family all these years, from the general educational plans to the daily work: to create a place where living together is as important as the acquisition of knowledge and skills.

However, the social reality has changed a lot in the last two years. When I arrived in Ethiopia, this region was in the midst of an ethnic conflict between ethnic groups (with killings, displaced people, burning of houses, etc.). When the situation was normalizing, Covid-19 appeared to break the normality, close everything and spread panic (which had already become a regular “visitor” in this area). And, without having managed to stop this problem, a new ethnic conflict, even more serious than the previous one, struck the life of the inhabitants of the region. The problems that we found in the first conflict multiplied, expanded and knew no religion, age or sex to have a little mercy. The day to day life was dominated by a panic already known, but that reached unsuspected limits. EVERYTHING was locked again with the key of fear, violence and discouragement.

The situation demanded a response, and the school of the Comboni Sisters, which is the one I am writing about, became more than a center for living together, it became the ” Hope School”.

Gumuz school

Facing the reality of violence, many people, mainly women, children and the elderly, chose to leave their homes. Many went to hide in the forest, but the vast majority of those who lived around the school, almost instinctively, and out of enormous trust in the sisters, chose to take refuge in masse in the school. It was amazing to see how they entered by dozens, or hundreds, with the few things they could grab before escaping, in an improvised diaspora, carrying belongings, children, babies, grain, animals, etc. The school opened its doors, and became, more than their home, their refuge, since, more than comfort, they sought security. The classrooms were emptied and transformed into places to sleep, cook, eat and receive care; as well as other spaces and common areas, even the courtyards and fountains.

As the weeks passed, the situation gave some respite; people returned to their homes, but not to normality. Fearing that their belongings might be looted, they feared mainly for the grain they had collected throughout the year. They again placed their hope in the school, which once again opened its doors so that they could take the grain, in hundred-kilo sacks, to be stored in the only place they trusted at the time.

This situation was especially serious for the boys and girls, who were living in fear and feeling unprotected. The sisters, aware of this, put the school back at the service of the children, creating a space of trust. Despite the fact that officially all the schools in the area were closed, the doors of our center were opened almost daily to give tutoring and review classes, to welcome anyone who came and allow them to paint, draw, read or write; and, what was most successful, to organize (or rather, to improvise) games and sports activities. At that time, the most important thing was not that the children and young people learned or were evaluated, but that they could arrive to a place where they felt safe, excited, with the joy that should reign at this stage of life. That they could play, interact in peace and tranquility and feel embraced and comforted was the priority; in short, that they could be what they are, boys and girls, forced to grow up by a harsher reality than they should have known.

Gumuz school

Throughout this process, my missionary mate (Pedro) and I wanted to be involved to the maximum (even though sometimes it was impossible for us to move because of the danger of the ten kilometers of road that separated our house from the school, due to attacks, raids, shootings, etc.). Our daily work, our illusion and our strength were mainly focused on accompanying and helping to carry out the daily activities for boys and girls; as improvised teachers, sports coaches, monitors, chaperones, and everything else we could imagine, we tried to offer a space of welcome and hope to everyone who crossed the doors of the street.

Gumuz school

Tomorrow, February 23rd, and after having stabilized the situation, the school officially opens its doors for the new school year (having lost almost half a year). The students, from 3 years old to the end of primary school, will return to their classes. In this return, the nightmare will be behind them; and I doubt that any of them will cry at the doors of the school. On the contrary, they will be eager to return to the place from which they never felt apart; the place that was for them the only space of tranquility and carefree. Parents, for their part, will feel more relieved than ever, since, if in the moments of greatest torment they trusted blindly to protect their sons and daughters (the most precious gift they have), the return to teaching will fill them with renewed enthusiasm.

That is why, although it has another name, I have preferred to baptize it as “Hope School”.

Gumuz school

David Aguilera Perez, Comboni Lay Missionary in Ethiopia

Message of his holiness pope Francis for lent 2021

Papa Francisco

“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem” (Mt 20:18)
Lent: a Time for Renewing Faith, Hope and Love

Papa Francisco

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Jesus revealed to his disciples the deepest meaning of his mission when he told them of his passion, death and resurrection, in fulfilment of the Father’s will. He then called the disciples to share in this mission for the salvation of the world.

In our Lenten journey towards Easter, let us remember the One who “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). During this season of conversion, let us renew our faith, draw from the “living water” of hope, and receive with open hearts the love of God, who makes us brothers and sisters in Christ. At the Easter vigil, we will renew our baptismal promises and experience rebirth as new men and women by the working of the Holy Spirit. This Lenten journey, like the entire pilgrimage of the Christian life, is even now illumined by the light of the resurrection, which inspires the thoughts, attitudes and decisions of the followers of Christ.

Fasting, prayer and almsgiving, as preached by Jesus (cf. Mt 6:1-18), enable and express our conversion. The path of poverty and self-denial (fasting), concern and loving care for the poor (almsgiving), and childlike dialogue with the Father (prayer) make it possible for us to live lives of sincere faith, living hope and effective charity.

1. Faith calls us to accept the truth and testify to it before God and all our brothers and sisters.

In this Lenten season, accepting and living the truth revealed in Christ means, first of all, opening our hearts to God’s word, which the Church passes on from generation to generation. This truth is not an abstract concept reserved for a chosen intelligent few. Instead, it is a message that all of us can receive and understand thanks to the wisdom of a heart open to the grandeur of God, who loves us even before we are aware of it. Christ himself is this truth. By taking on our humanity, even to its very limits, he has made himself the way – demanding, yet open to all – that leads to the fullness of life.

Fasting, experienced as a form of self-denial, helps those who undertake it in simplicity of heart to rediscover God’s gift and to recognize that, created in his image and likeness, we find our fulfilment in him. In embracing the experience of poverty, those who fast make themselves poor with the poor and accumulate the treasure of a love both received and shared. In this way, fasting helps us to love God and our neighbour, inasmuch as love, as Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches, is a movement outwards that focuses our attention on others and considers them as one with ourselves (cf. Fratelli Tutti, 93).

Lent is a time for believing, for welcoming God into our lives and allowing him to “make his dwelling” among us (cf. Jn 14:23). Fasting involves being freed from all that weighs us down – like consumerism or an excess of information, whether true or false – in order to open the doors of our hearts to the One who comes to us, poor in all things, yet “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14): the Son of God our Saviour.

2. Hope as “living water” enabling us to continue our journey.

The Samaritan woman at the well, whom Jesus asks for a drink, does not understand what he means when he says that he can offer her “living water” (Jn 4:10). Naturally, she thinks that he is referring to material water, but Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit whom he will give in abundance through the paschal mystery, bestowing a hope that does not disappoint. Jesus had already spoken of this hope when, in telling of his passion and death, he said that he would “be raised on the third day” (Mt 20:19). Jesus was speaking of the future opened up by the Father’s mercy. Hoping with him and because of him means believing that history does not end with our mistakes, our violence and injustice, or the sin that crucifies Love. It means receiving from his open heart the Father’s forgiveness.

In these times of trouble, when everything seems fragile and uncertain, it may appear challenging to speak of hope. Yet Lent is precisely the season of hope, when we turn back to God who patiently continues to care for his creation which we have often mistreated (cf. Laudato Si’, 32-33; 43-44). Saint Paul urges us to place our hope in reconciliation: “Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). By receiving forgiveness in the sacrament that lies at the heart of our process of conversion, we in turn can spread forgiveness to others. Having received forgiveness ourselves, we can offer it through our willingness to enter into attentive dialogue with others and to give comfort to those experiencing sorrow and pain. God’s forgiveness, offered also through our words and actions, enables us to experience an Easter of fraternity.

In Lent, may we be increasingly concerned with “speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation and encouragement, and not words that demean, sadden, anger or show scorn” (Fratelli Tutti, 223). In order to give hope to others, it is sometimes enough simply to be kind, to be “willing to set everything else aside in order to show interest, to give the gift of a smile, to speak a word of encouragement, to listen amid general indifference” (ibid., 224).

Through recollection and silent prayer, hope is given to us as inspiration and interior light, illuminating the challenges and choices we face in our mission. Hence the need to pray (cf. Mt 6:6) and, in secret, to encounter the Father of tender love.

To experience Lent in hope entails growing in the realization that, in Jesus Christ, we are witnesses of new times, in which God is “making all things new” (cf. Rev 21:1-6). It means receiving the hope of Christ, who gave his life on the cross and was raised by God on the third day, and always being “prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls [us] to account for the hope that is in [us]” (1 Pet 3:15).

3. Love, following in the footsteps of Christ, in concern and compassion for all, is the highest expression of our faith and hope.

Love rejoices in seeing others grow. Hence it suffers when others are anguished, lonely, sick, homeless, despised or in need. Love is a leap of the heart; it brings us out of ourselves and creates bonds of sharing and communion.

“‘Social love’ makes it possible to advance towards a civilization of love, to which all of us can feel called. With its impulse to universality, love is capable of building a new world. No mere sentiment, it is the best means of discovering effective paths of development for everyone” (Fratelli Tutti, 183).

Love is a gift that gives meaning to our lives. It enables us to view those in need as members of our own family, as friends, brothers or sisters. A small amount, if given with love, never ends, but becomes a source of life and happiness. Such was the case with the jar of meal and jug of oil of the widow of Zarephath, who offered a cake of bread to the prophet Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 17:7-16); it was also the case with the loaves blessed, broken and given by Jesus to the disciples to distribute to the crowd (cf. Mk 6:30-44). Such is the case too with our almsgiving, whether small or large, when offered with joy and simplicity.

To experience Lent with love means caring for those who suffer or feel abandoned and fearful because of the Covid-19 pandemic. In these days of deep uncertainty about the future, let us keep in mind the Lord’s word to his Servant, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you” (Is 43:1). In our charity, may we speak words of reassurance and help others to realize that God loves them as sons and daughters.

“Only a gaze transformed by charity can enable the dignity of others to be recognized and, as a consequence, the poor to be acknowledged and valued in their dignity, respected in their identity and culture, and thus truly integrated into society” (Fratelli Tutti, 187).

Dear brothers and sisters, every moment of our lives is a time for believing, hoping and loving. The call to experience Lent as a journey of conversion, prayer and sharing of our goods, helps us – as communities and as individuals – to revive the faith that comes from the living Christ, the hope inspired by the breath of the Holy Spirit and the love flowing from the merciful heart of the Father.

May Mary, Mother of the Saviour, ever faithful at the foot of the cross and in the heart of the Church, sustain us with her loving presence. May the blessing of the risen Lord accompany all of us on our journey towards the light of Easter.

Rome, Saint John Lateran, 11 November 2020, the Memorial of Saint Martin of Tours

FRANCISCUS

Meeting of the German CLM by videoconference

LMC Alemania
CLM, Germany

We continue our work of creating posters on the different ways to resolve conflicts peacefully. The posters will be used for the mission animation of the CLM and the MCCJ. We were able to finish one more step and plan the next steps. For the celebration of 100 years of “Comboni presence in Ellwangen” we intend to use the posters for the first time.

Furthermore, we prayed together and exchanged our missionary and personal experiences during the last weeks.

Barbara Ludewig, CLM Germany