For another year the Comboni Family of Spain gathered in Madrid for a weekend together. Religious, seculars and lay members together dreaming of how to be family and sharing times of prayer, food and formation.
This year we were accompanied by a team of CONFER working on the theme of Shared Mission in various charismatic families.
Through their proposed dynamics and time spent in group work they helped us to understand the challenges of shared mission, the duties we have as a family, our strengths, our weaknesses, etc.
All of this emphasizing the importance of the process and without skipping steps. The importance to understand that it is not only a matter of performing concrete actions or facing concrete challenges, but the importance that they start from a comm life sharing, entertaining common ties and relationships, loving and understanding one another. To understand the importance of complement each other, which does not consist in abandoning what each branch is, its identifying traits, but rather putting at the service of mission our particular traits as a richness that makes us complementary.
It is always good to meet, to feel how each time we recognize each other better and understand being a Comboni Family through something transversal of our being Missionaries and Comboni missionaries. It is not something extra that the group needs to take into account, but a transversal entity that makes up out being and doing as missionaries.
We also recognized that, at the ecclesial level, we live in privileged time when many other charismatic families question themselves on how to be Church, in our case this is something that Comboni himself had in mind from the beginning. It is up to us now to pick up this charismatic and ecclesial intuition he had.
The attendance at the meeting was lower for a number of circumstances, including having it while having decided last year not to. But all those present at the end were happy to be there. We are convinced that we must journey as a family. We know that we have many challenges to face, including perhaps the resistance of those ho are not yet convinced, but still convinced that this is the journey Comboni wants from us.
Now it remains to us to carry out the commitments we set for ourselves, the lines to follow in our work,… To strengthen the participation in this yearly meeting coming from all over Spain, at times trying to meet in different areas where we have various branches. All this without forgetting the history and the journeys we have had as a Comboni Family, the work of mission and vocation promotion done together, the joint meetings of prayer and formation and the joing celebration we had as a family.
May the Lord accompany us in this journey and may Christ inspire us.
Last week I was able to spend a good amount of formation time with Carolina, David and Juan Eugenio in Granada. It was a time to get to know one another better, to pray together, converse, walk, cook, eat and to celebrate life and our missionary vocation, coinciding as it was with Comboni’s birthday.
During this week we also had time to delve more deeply in our history as CLM at the international level, to go over the agreements made in the African continental meetings and how could we avoid giving sufficient time to share on the conclusions of our recent general assembly in Rome. We always gave enough time to get to know the international situation of the CLM and especially of the continent where they will be going.
We also spent part of the afternoon looking at videos and pictures from Ethiopia and Mozambique, and from them we moved to discuss and find answers to the realities to be faced.
Then we gave quite some time to work on community life. Our community is always the base of our presence as CLM in mission and the fundamental point of reference in performing our missionary ministry, in feeding and living our faith. It is like the Cenacle of Apostles Comboni wanted in order to spread what we have within us. We spent time to unravel several practical aspects such, organization, community responsibilities, projects, the economy, and other deeper aspects like how to protect our spirituality, how to be a Comboni family, keeping contacts with those who support us and others. We did it calmly in order to really converse, exchange points of view and learn from each other. We ended this part studying the Charter of the international communities approved at the recent international assembly which is and will be the foundation of our presence in international communities.
We also had time to spend with the Comboni family of Granada: one evening with the men and another with the sisters. It was a good time to pray together and talk about mission. It was a good family time dreaming together of how Comboni dreamed of us.
We did not forget to give time to conflict resolution. We know that conflict is natural in our human situation and that conflicts arise in our communities as well. That is why we must be able to face them, resolve them and grow together as persons and as a community.
During these days, we picked an entire morning to go walking, to visit the beautiful surrounding of the Cahorros, with its vertical walls and the beautiful views of the Sierra Nevada. It was also an opportunity to tests our strength and to be aware that we have to be well prepared for the pilgrimage over the Camino de Santiago. We will have to take advantage of the remaining weeks to arrive to it in good shape. It is always nice to go out into nature and have time to converse in a relaxed fashion while walking and thank God for all his gifts.
We ended dealing with the theme of interculturality. It is wonderful to travel to another continent and share other cultures, but it is necessary to be properly prepared to know the people with whom we will live in the coming years, in order to respect their worldview, in order to share our faith making sure not to over stress our own worldview and try even unconsciously to impose it, but rather in a spirit of sharing and grow in our diversities.
We closed the week by spending the weekend with the CLM of the southern region of Spain. It gave us time to share, do some formation, revision of life, to analyze this time of preparation for those who will leave, recharge our energy for the daily grind, etc.
On Sunday we did mission promotion in a parish of Granada. David was able to give a short presentation of his leaving for the mission and we took the opportunity to chat with the parishioners and sell some trinkets to finance mission work.
Their time to leave for Africa is getting nearer. Let us pray that the Lord will be with them, guide them in this time of special formation, a time also of spirituality and prayer to prepare them for departure.
How beautiful is the wood sculpture of Africa at the feet of Christ. I allow the gaze of Comboni to penetrate me, to contemplate me. And how much of me fits into that gaze. I remember someone who once told me “it is impossible that it will not penetrate you, and question you.” And I agree every time I see this image of our tireless San Daniel Comboni.
This is the image I contemplate above the altar in the chapel of the MCCJ house in Madrid, where today I will wait until 4:00 PM, when the CLM David will come to get me to go together for the weekend at Arenas de San Pedro, about 100 miles from here. I can’t resist to enter and spend a moment with the Lord. I pray to him for the mission. Not only for my own, but for everyone’s. The mission of those who are about to go. The one of those who stay. Also in separation there is love. It means to leave what we have and earn something better: the freedom of giving ourselves to Christ. Separation is not something simply physical. It means to go out of ourselves on a daily basis. At each moment. It is what I continue to look for today, but that today is becoming more “doable.”
I leave my country looking for the wisdom and the grace I need so that, in the future, I will deposit my gifts in total surrender. So during the next few months I will be in Madrid, with the family I chose, the Comboni Family, for a missiology course. From the beginning, this program inflamed my heart and brightened my eyes, I must confess, just like it is with the anxious waiting of children the day before returning to school. This is what I am grateful for even today before this Africa at the feet of Christ: the opportunity to grow in wisdom and grace.
I know that I am fragile, but in a community that lives of and for love, I feel strong. Because “all I can in Him who comforts me” (Phil 4:13). “All I can in Him who comforts me,” I repeat. It resonates in me. Only in Him and through Him I could be able to go beyond myself, to go to meet love, to be free inasmuch as I trust in Him and in his hands, loving without measure. “God does not choose the able ones, but enables those he chooses.” Today I am understanding this quite well… and I pray to God that he may make me capable in the mission to which I have been assigned. This is for me and for those who are with me. Family. Boyfriend. Friends. People in general. Each in their own right, are part of this mission and I feel the need to bring them along.
“You become responsible forever, for those you have tamed.”
(Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
And so it is… I pray for each of them, and for their mission. Pray for me as well, please. From the bottom of my heart, thanks for your trust… Not so much in me, but in God. Everything, including me, we are only possible in Him.
How’s the heat wave going? Here we had some very sunny days when you just wore short sleeves and the sun was still scorching you a bit. But when it’s cloudy or there is no sun, it gets cooler. We also had a couple of windy days that, with the dust we have around here, were unbearable. They say that, in this respect, this is the worst month…
Two more weeks have gone by and, even though everything is more or less the same, there have been surprises…
A 10 year old neighbor child died of brain cancer… She died a day before her birthday… The girls did not know her or her family, but another neighbor asked us if we would go to pray, so we showed up. We prayed the rosary with them and decided to stay until they were ready to go to the cemetery. But, as they were leaving, an elegant woman appeared. She had been a volunteer in the hospital in Lima where they had attempted to cure the child. The father asked us to accompany her. A little doubtful, at the end we boarded the bus they had rented. The woman sat with us and told us more. Her name is Jessica and was the “Lady in Pink” of Miriam (this is for those who have read Oscar and the Lady in Pink or seen the movie Letters to God).When the Mom and the child were stranded alone in Lima, she had been their angel…
The cemeteries over here (for those who can pay up to going into debt to do it) are very beautiful. Everyone is buried in the ground and something like a flower or a little item is placed in before they are covered with dirt. On her coffin they placed the birthday cake…
Afterwards before we left the brought some drinks and then at the gate we were all invited over. Back home they had food for all. It struck me how Mom and Dad were going through all this separately… They did not get together even to say goodbye to the coffin and returned home in different cars… It might have been for personal reasons of their own, but we thought of it as an example of the distance they keep in their behavior at times. There is also the aspect of how concerns are always left to the women and she had been the one who, more than anyone, lived through this illness. In the end, while he was sharing a drink with other relatives, she was sitting on a bench chatting with Jessica, and for sure these were intimate and special conversations that she could not share with other friends and relatives.
It was a very sad day, even though we did not know them… On the other hand, it was nice to have met a Lady in Pink in the flesh. As for me, too, it made me relive and remember many goodbyes and losses and have lots of people present to me… To join again in the sorrows of these families and in the prayer for those who left…
“To be with the people.” That’s why we are here, but one never knows what it entails and the shape it takes…
The week continued with a lot of comings and goings because it was the formation week for the laity in Good Shepherd parish (in Independencia, the nearby neighborhood) and there was no stopping, ending up late every day. On top of that, elections are coming up and, as it happens the world over, that’s when things get fixed. In this case, they are paving part of the road, which will be fine when it will be done, but right now we have to face a detour and there is more chaos than usual. I also noticed that this little routine of being ready to leave an hour early and be in my PJs and have a moment of prayer together, I could do without. Getting back to the course given by the Comboni Missionaries, with talks one better than others, but generally good. On the last day they had the Lectio Divina while a meeting was going on in the public square, which caused a big mess… For this reason, it costs me to get into it, also because I still do not go for the religiosity of some people around here… I feel far away from them. At times I feel like judging while at other times I envy their faith… But in both cases I feel like I’m living on a different planet…
On July 28 we celebrated the Fiestas Patrias (National Holidays) as I already told you, and on Friday morning there was a parade of the neighborhood schools and some authorities. It was nice to go see it, but it strikes you to see the importance they give to marching… From pre-school to college, children to professors… All without exception and with pride. Fr. Conrado was commenting on the amount of class time wasted in rehearsals… It looks to me as a type of rather odd militarization. The messages delivered are all about country in a rather exaggerated manner without any room for criticism or nuances, according to me. But the preschoolers were great and their principal’s speech was beautiful, when they won.
In conjunction with the Holidays, the mothers of the women group decided to have a picnic to share some time together. When we reached the place, we found also some young people with a group from the Holy Childhood. Usually, there is music to attract people, but on that day a neighbor appeared who was furious and almost attacked a young woman, because the music bothered him. He also threw a stone that, fortunately, did not hit her. When we arrived, the girl was crying and was very scared, while the man was still complaining in a very rude way and threatening the group. When he left, we called the police. Hours later, when they arrived, we were able to talk the girl into going and file a complaint because she was not too sure about doing it, and her mother even worse. They are very afraid of revenge… Paula accompanied them in the police car and we said that she could go only if they were going to bring her back, but later they played dumb and left them there. A Comboni brother arrived and started some serious talk about the fact that there had been children present and this man had posed a risk, but the policeman became confrontational and asked him if he wanted to have them arrested for contempt… No comment…
The finishing touch was a woman who, telling the story to others, said “he talked to him as if it were his wife!” The moral being that, if it’s your wife, then you may use that tone, but if not, you are being impolite… What’s “normal” for her is clear, no?
In spite of it all, life goes on with a mix of things: pre-school, visits… We went to visit the sick person who had been in the hospital, but is now at home, but we got there in the middle of a crisis and we had to turn into instant nurses… The next day, when we returned to see him, he was a little better and by the end we were chatting about some of these thoughts that inevitably come up, such as “why me?” or what is there to learn from what happens in life. Visiting some other families we have also seen grave examples of domestic violence… Lots of things that stir you up and make you question your faith, the faith of the people…
On Thursday, after praying and having breakfast with the Comboni Missionaries, we did not have a meeting because several of them were on retreat. We took advantage of that to go with Fr. Conrado to pay a visit to the tomb of Danielito, the child of Carmen and José, two CLM from Spain who worked here, who died just a few hours after birth. The girls had already been here on his birthday, because here it is customary to come to “celebrate the birthday” with the dead, especially if they are children. It was very nice and it is also very special for José and Carmen to know that we go visit their child from Arequipa. There is a very deep history, both personal for their work and as a journey of faith, with him. The cemetery is also very precious with all the details we find on the children’s tombs. It made quite an impression to see how many babies die at birth or soon after.
And this last weekend turned out to be both tiring and intense, but greatly enjoyable.
On Saturday we went to a wedding! Soledad and Alex are a wonderful couple who, having been confirmed recently, decided to get married and “straighten out their relation with God.” Our daughter is going to make her First Communion this year and how can she receive communion without us? They kept on telling us. Because over here, it is rather common that couples live together, start building a house and improve it, have children… And in the end, the wedding remains a bit in the background. Naturally, if they aren’t married, they can’t receive communion. Paula and Neuza were invited with great enthusiasm and I by my connection to them. When we arrived they asked us to sing and read, so that we started looking for songs and, even though we sang a cappella, it turned out decent enough. I noticed that, after the rings and the coins, they added a third symbol that was like a large chain that bound the two together. I believe it is the same idea of the cape or mantle, which is currently beginning to get lost back home.
For the reception they had rented a place near their home. I thought it strange that the toast, the speeches, the throwing of the bouquet and the cutting of the cake took place at the very beginning. Then the orchestra took over and everybody danced. We were a little lost and downright famished, but we were well positioned and warm and even though we were trying to disengage ourselves and leave discretely, the couple themselves came over to invite us to dance and to be at the tossing of the bouquet (how embarrassing!). Finally, consistent food arrived, even though by then we almost were no longer hungry, and then came the gifts. The money, instead of being given in an envelope, was being pinned to the flaps of the couple’s clothing (then we understood why the bride had even put on a jacket). At this point it’s when they uncorked the wine and brought out cases of beer… Just the opposite of what we are used to! We left soon after and they insisted briefly that we stayed, but understood that it was time for us to go (here begins the separation and we are “the sisters”). It was very nice, because all through it they were very grateful for our presence and attentive to make us happy.
A few hours later, the alarm clock called us to go to the super feast at Good Shepherd parish. We had been asked to help sell tamales and the door of the church after the 7:00 AM Mass. Incredible as it may sound, the church was packed to overflowing and we sold them in no time flat. Then we helped set up tents, make posters, help with logistics, selling food and giving a hand here and there… In the end, we spent most of the day selling the Villa baked noodles, lollipops (poloflash) and helping out at the grill… There were many spots with music, volleyball games, and soccer for the younger set, and bingo which was well attended. Naturally, we didn’t win anything… We got back after 7:00 by bus, because the cars had all gone, since we stayed behind to clean up.
In truth, at these events, you see all kinds of similarities. Some few people are very involved and others, who at a meeting promised to give a hand, never even showed up. The woman at the grill was left alone with just another woman and Neuza provided most of the help with Paula and I pitching in… We were a little bit like “jack of all trades” and did it with enthusiasm, but this is not the point. Anyway, I said it! Nothing new.
With Paula and Neuza all is well. Some days we are a little apart but only for a short while and of no consequence. There are many hours every day when we do not see one another, we do things in different ways, at time weariness and other stories add up… nothing out of the ordinary as we live so close together. For sure, the good times and mutual banter win by a mile. There have also been really cool days when we talked and reflected together in depth. It amazes me that they are five years younger and have already experienced so much… Our lives are so different, but we also have this treasure of being able to look at others and understand them for who they are.
Finally… Lots of little things that move you and upset you… But also cool times with the girls and with the people. And now a whole week of vacation in Puno and La Paz, disconnecting and re-energizing. This will be my next chapter.
We leave you here the extracts where the CLM appear in yesterday’s program “Church in mission” that the CALM (Coordinator of Associations of Lay Missionaries of Spain) has organized in Radio Maria.
In it, we have an interview with our colleague Xoancar who is in Piquiá (Brazil):
News about our next international assembly, that we will celebrate in Rome in December:
And the testimony of Carmen Aranda about her time in Gulu (Uganda):
Hope you enjoy it
Many thanks to the CALM and Radio Maria for carrying out this beautiful work of raising awareness about the missionary laity.
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