On June 13, at 8:30 in the evening, the diocese of Bologna, with a Mission-sending Mass celebrated by Bishop Zuppi, sent me off as a Fidei Donum missionary.
This second tour Ad Gentes was born within the diocesan mission center, to which I belong, that decided to start a partnership with the diocese of Salvador, opening new ways of cooperation between the two dioceses.
This pleased me immensely because it would make it possible to open a new window on the Latin American reality, in this case on Brazil, for the missionary center that is currently only involved with the diocese of Mapanda, Tanzania.
It is also an “unusual” sending for the CLM, because this is not a commitment of the CLM or of the Comboni Missionaries, but rather the result of an external cooperation which could produce new openings in the future.
I will continue to belong to the Comboni Family as a CLM, keeping my contacts and ties with its organization, with the various groups and the central committee that approved my choice by stating that “mission belongs to God and not to human beings.”
I will be part of the Community of Trindade, that welcomes street people, and I will be involved in welcoming and listening to the people who are welcomed, besides taking part in workshops and services, including a street newspaper published by the Community.
It will be a totally new, hard, concrete and authentic experience, including sleeping on the floor, sharing common street problems arising from marginalization, dependence and resurrection but, as Comboni says, lived with daring and perseverance in the journey. And I add: with feet firmly on the ground and eyes gazing up to heaven.
“I wish you to wear a dress that will never be fashionable;
I wish you strong hope in your feet,
Pants of commitment and two-color sweaters:
The color of freedom and the color of co-responsibility.
And wear a beautiful hat, the one of knowledge and of a critical sense.
We must dress up this way all the time.”
(Fr. Luigi Ciotti)
Between the weekend meeting of the General Councils of the Comboni Family and the next weekend, when we will meet as Central Committee in Venegono, north of Milan, I had a few days left to move around in Italy.
I asked Mark to contact the groups in the North to see if some could receive me and so spend some time together.
The answer was very positive and we were able to organize a good week visiting various CLM groups in northern Italy.
The program was pretty much the same for all. In the morning I traveled from one city to the next and in the afternoon, we shared a time for prayer, supper and a chat together. It was all done in a pleasant familiar style.
I am grateful to all for the effort it required in getting together on a week night with work, children and everything else. This includes each one of the MCCJ I met who welcomed us in their houses as a family and those who follow our groups, plus those who approached us to talk about our reality as CLM both locally and at the international level.
The first group I visited was in Padua, a group with many years of experience. They told me how the group started, their activities and what they organized in the course of many years, including many activities that later branched out in different directions.
I already knew some of them for having met them at international gatherings. They were very interested in knowing how other groups got organized and the type of activities and meetings they have. We also had the opportunity to talk a bit about the recent assembly in Rome.
I see that there is a growing interest in mutual cooperation, in order to go beyond what each one does locally and cooperate with others, learn from the experiences of others, share concerns and other things. May this move them to read the conclusions, that they seem to be too many, but if we take the time we will see their richness and the many ideas they generate for concrete activities for each one of our communities and in order to accomplish the common goal that we chose together.
The following day I went to Verona. They met me at the station and they took me to the Comboni community to greet Fr. Tacchella and then to the Sisters’ house to see Sr. Esperanza, who also deals with our group.
Afterwards, we had a wonderful meal together, meeting again those we had known in 2012 during our European meeting in Verona, and others.
We talked a bit about Spain and Italy, the beautiful places, and during supper we started our conversation to know what the group is doing, the challenges it faces and more.
We also gave a good amount of time to talk about the situation of other groups. We covered the challenges that the past assembly has given us, recognizing that often we concentrate ourselves in what is going on in our own local CLM group, the concreteness of our community. It is normal that our daily fare be our vital reference, as we pray and work together, but keeping in mind what other CLM communities are doing gives us new ideas and helps us grow. I also saw the challenge of reading all that we share, but at times the interest in wanting to understand the content and what we are requesting…
The next day I was able to take a short bicycle tour of Comboni’s city, to remember the most important spots, and then board another train, this time for Milan.
Again, I was met at the station and we met as a group. But not before taking a quick tour of the main attractions including the museum of the Risorgimento.
We had time for supper, meet again a few people, know some new ones and have a conversation. There is always time to get to know what has been done and a time for questions. Among them the topic of formation came up again: A formation that will help us grow in our vocation; the importance of prayer and of growth in our spiritual life as support and foundation of our missionary activity, together with the challenge of opening the groups for new people to join; the importance of knowing well our identity in order to present it and to help us discern our vocation and its consequences.
Then, the moment comes to ask for paths to help us move forward and my answer is always the same, that it is easy to read the agreements we reached in Rome. Our famous 96 conclusions have a lot to tell us, both in what to do, but above all in what to Be. They are the fruit of all these years of work and the contribution of the many countries and continents where we are present.
The following morning, again by train, we reached Venegono. Once again, we met at the station and then we talked about many important things.
The day just flew by and, at the end, we shared our supper and a good time of conversation, more informal this time and in small groups, but always interesting.
The concern for new vocations and the arrival of new people in the groups. The difficulties of the generation gap or how to render the groups appealing to the young when we are made up of families with children and with different rhythms.
We must continue to think and keep alive, believing in what we do and ask for help from others. We are not in a store window so that other may see us, but we are in the street, with people, and we need new hands that with clasp together in order to act, protect, caress, lead whomever is in need. We need new heads to give new ideas and solutions to the difficulties of daily life. We need new hearts that will give hope in difficult times.
We share a wonderful vocation, a gift of God that we must share with our neighbor. This is part of our responsibility.
Italy is getting ready for its national assembly in August. May it be an important moment of meeting again personally, but above all in order to continue to dream together, to turn into reality the common dream we shared in Rome, as the point where we place ourselves into service, to open our groups to new people who feel this missionary vocation and offer them a place where to grow, be formed, feed spiritually, prepare themselves to go forth, turn into reality the missionary dream of Comboni wherever we may be, aiming always at the “poorest and most abandoned,” as Comboni used to say.
Thanks for having me feel at home!
Alberto de la Portilla (CLM Central Committee Coordinator)
My decision comes from a personal journey that started with the various experiences of volunteer service I had in Tanzania and in Ethiopia with the Comboni Lay Missionaries group, of which I am a member.
This journey through time ripened in me the idea of embarking in a long-term missionary commitment, so in December 2013 I left for Brazil, headed for Minas Gerais where I remained until December 2016, three years! Those three years literally changed my life, because mission changes you, if you allow it. What you see, what you touch, what you feel, what you live through, transforms you and leads you to discover a God who wanks through your steps, a God who has the face of the people and the histories you meet, an extraordinarily beautiful God in the defense of Life and for Life and in a commitment to serve and share so concrete and strong, that you fall in love with it, I did!
I lived for three years in a violent and poor neighborhood, in the periphery of an existential and structural world, but full of humanity and strength. Besides the various pastoral activities connected with the parish, carried out by the Comboni Missionaries, I got involved specifically in the prison ministry of the diocese of Belo Horizonte. I had never been in a prison and Brazil was my first time, a place where the prison situation is one of the worst in the world, made worse by violence and criminality, abuses of power and violations of human rights. Our job was to follow the inmates both spiritually and humanly and often to denounce situations where human dignity was not respected. Most of the Brazilian prisons’ population comes from situations of life where the family and the social structure are fragile and vulnerable.
They all come from favelas or other very difficult environments. The inmates and the families I met, all of them carried the deep wounds of violence, lack of opportunities and poverty. This pastoral work taught me that no one is beyond redemption, because only Love heals, only those who are accepted and loved can be reborn, because no one can escape Love, I am convinced of it!
Mission for me was above all sharing, walking together with others and share problems and hopes. It is not in doing great things, but above all, in Being present with the heart, the head and the hands!
Needed are a heart for loving, a head for understanding and interpreting without prejudice, hands to lead and build together. Today, my missionary commitment makes me leave for a second time, again for three years and again in Brazil, in a new experience, in a new city, Salvador Bahia, where I will live in a community that gives shelter to moradores de rua, street people. Last year, with our mission center, we went to visit this community and the project was born to share experiences with them, helping those who take care of the re-insertion of the street people who decide to get hold of their own life and start from scratch. I am ready to start again and to live the joy of meeting and discovering, but above all the joy of sharing and walking together.
I am André, a pygmy youngster, and I don’t know my age, perhaps between 7 and 9 years old, and I live in Ndobo, a camp in the forest of the Republic of Central Africa, near Mongoumba. My house, if you want to call it that, is like an igloo made of branches and dry leaves, with some boards as a bed. It has no bathroom, no kitchen, no TV or electricity, but fortunately it is close to a well a missionary dug some time ago, so I can drink and wash without having to walk for an hour through the forest.
Monday through Friday, together with my friends in the camp, I get up and go to school, walking about 4 km without shoes. Some days we get there a little late but, not having a watch, we do not know when it’s time to get up. Everything becomes more difficult during the rainy season, because the road turns into a swamp.
When we reach the parish of Mongoumba, we enter a room Cristina has prepared for us, where we all have a place with our name on it to wash up, put on our school uniform and, after having greeted Anna, Maria Augusta, Cristina and Simone, off we run to school. Often Maria Augusta comes to our class to help the teacher to “keep us under control,” since there are more than 50 of us, and to teach us French, even though we like to speak Sango, our language.
School ends around 12:30 noon, and we return to the St. Daniel Comboni room to change back into our tattered clothes and go to eat at the “DA TI NDOYE” (House of Charity/Love), where on any given day they give us rice and beans, manioc mush and fish, or Makongo (worms) and ngungia! We eat fast, then we go wait for Simone and Cristina at the payotte near the church to return together to the camp where we play ball, we color or watch movies until almost dark. Then Simone and Cristina say good-bye and remind us that tomorrow we need to be on time!
My day ends in the darkness of the camp, without lights and perhaps with some strange little creature trying to get inside, lulled to sleep by the Central African sky, with its tapestry of stars looking like precious jewels. Oh, I almost forgot… I do not exist! I am in the world… made of flesh and blood, I can run, jump, play… but I am not of the world!
In the CAR there are many other children like me! We are not only exploited, because the resources found in our land are exported to places we do not even know to produce, TV sets, phones, computers, weapons, bombs… but we are out of the world… I am excluded, without documents, without a birth certificate, without a public record… that is…
…IN THE WORLD but NOT OF THE WORLD! (John 17:15)
A warm good-bye
Kisses all around
A large hug
A small prayer
Paul, Pierre, Marie, Albert Dimanche, Pierre, François Albert, Philippe, Guy, Marie, Terese, Marcel, Gabriel…
(with Anna, Maria Augusta, Cristina e Simone)
Hi to everyone. How are you? I have not written in 6 months and it is six months that I have not moved from Mongoumba. What can I tell you? I am well, as the Italian song says, it is difficult to find very serious words to pass on the emotion lived with the suffering humanity of the Central African Republic. I will try to reach your hearts on the strength of images from our pigmy children of Mongoumba…
Looking without speaking… to remain in your thoughts and prayers in this time of Advent.
Light blue like you, like the sky and like the sea
Golden like the light of the sun,
Red like the way you make me feel.
…I draw grass, green like HOPE… like unripen fruit
…and now some blue, like the night
…white like its stars, with shades of yellow
…the air of MONGOUMBA can only be breathed…
…I do not have a color for storms
and with what is left I draw a flower non that it is CHRISTMAS, now that it a time of love…
Paul, Pierre, Marie, Albert
Dimanche, Pierre, François
Albert, Andre, Philippe, Guy
Marie, Terese, Marcel, Gabriel
Simone Anna Cristina Augusta…
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