Comboni Lay Missionaries

Comboni Social Forum March 2021


On March 5-6 we held the second meeting of the Comboni Social Forum 2021. If in previous editions this event coincided with the Global Social Forums, this time we chose to hold it online, which allowed us to enrich the participation, exceeding 200 participants. This meeting is a continuation of last December’s meeting, which reflected on Comboni ministerialities.

This edition of the CSF was based on the challenges of the significance of the Comboni mission, synodality within the Comboni Family and the style of life. In order to advance answers, it was designed the Mapping of Social Ministry in the Comboni Family, that it was presented at this meeting. A total of 205 Comboni presences were collected over several months and are now presented on a dedicated website which can also be accessed from the website of the General Secretariat for the Mission of the MCCJ.


In a formidable task, the various presences have been classified according to the institute that coordinates them, the geographical region, the sector [Health, Education, Development and Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC)] and the priority area, among which we can find Afro descent people, human trafficking, missionary animation, migrants…. Each sector is further subdivided into more specific sectors, in order to give as much detail as possible to each presence.

By entering in each continent, you can access the concrete presences that are present in it, each one presented through a complete card that includes a brief summary, the Comboni charism to which it is linked, the Sustainable Development Goals involved or the human groups that are mainly involved. Among the charisms, we can highlight Making Common Cause, Regenerating Africa with Africa, Cenacle of Apostles or At the Foot of the Cross.

It also includes a very interesting element of analysis, the Social Ministry Rhombus, which allows us to quickly visualize this concrete presence according to 2 dimensions: direct service and Justice and Peace:


This rhombus can be used to visualize the complete set of all the presences, but also by continents or according to which institute is leading it:


A first impression shows that the dimension most present is that of human promotion, while that of denunciation is in the minority. In Africa, this approach is even clearer, and with regard to CLM-led presences, the weight of the vertical axis of JPIC is greater than the average.

Other very relevant aspects of the mapping is the articulation of each presence with civil or ecclesial entities and the joint participation of various branches of the Comboni Family in the mapping.


It is not possible to summarize all the information presented in this mapping but rather to invite each one to explore it according to his own concerns. On the other hand, the conclusions of the mapping presented during the CSF insist on the need to grow in the dimension of prophetic denunciation. In these conclusions we also highlight the challenge of synodality, since this first picture that we have drawn invites us to share among similar projects in terms of geography, sector, field… for shared reflection-action. And the powerful systemic approach that allows us to seek new answers to the enormous missionary challenges we face. It is an injection of enthusiasm to know all the Comboni presences documented and all that this mapping invites us to grow in the service of the Kingdom.

Gonzalo Violero, CLM Spain

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

Manos Unidas’ 2021 Campaign

Manos Unidas LMC Sevilla

During this weekend, Manos Unidas (NGO of the Spanish Church) celebrates one more year the Campaign against Hunger. And despite the difficulties they do not back down and reinvent themselves so that Solidarity is contagious and spreads to all of us.

Manos Unidas LMC Sevilla

This Saturday morning we were fortunate to participate in a round table in Seville, the starting signal for the campaign in our province. We are always excited to hear the testimony of missionaries who have spent more than 30 years on the front line, sharing their lives with the most forgotten peoples, and how, thanks to the generosity of so many anonymous people, the construction of so many dreams, so many schools, health centers… can become a reality.

In addition to our missionary experience, we were asked to present experiences of collaboration with Manos Unidas. In this sense we talked about a small project where we collaborated during our time in Mozambique and also the project that currently support in Brazil to our community in Piquiá. It was also an opportunity to raise awareness about a current reality of the mission.

Manos Unidas LMC Sevilla

During the weekend of the campaign we also shared our experience in Mozambique with the parish of San José Obrero, in San Juan de Aznalfarache (a small town near Seville), we told them about a very small project with which Manos Unidas had collaborated with the parish of Our Lady of Peace in Namapa, where we CLM worked for four years.

It was the construction of a multipurpose room, four walls very well used, full of life and hope. And we told them how that space served as a library, where they could sit at a table and chair to write, versus the option of doing it on the floor, on a mat, inside a small hut by candlelight. Where secondary school students could find a few books where they could consult chemistry, mathematics, … in a region where not even the teachers had textbooks, and all their support material were the notebooks that they kept as a treasure from when they had done their training and that they tried to transmit to their students by slate and learn by heart.

And we would talk to them about the work of promoting women that was done there. Thanks also to anonymous generosity, sewing machines had arrived (yes, those pedal ones, to be used where there is no light), and they were taught a trade, giving them the opportunity to earn a living, in addition to creating circles of support, in which to work with them on self-esteem and empowerment in a society where equality between men and women is a utopia.

And we told them about the joy and life that was transmitted in the rehearsals of the parish choir, in that group of young people with whom we worked those values of fellowship, listening, teamwork, trying to accompany them in their growth processes as active members of their society, in their specific historical moment.

And we explained to them how once every two months, the catechists of the 86 communities that made up the parish, came for a weekend to receive Christian formation to take and share with their communities. Many came walking from long distances, eager to meet and deepen their knowledge and experience of this Jesus of Nazareth who was changing their lives. And during those days the hall became the place of meeting and welcome, dormitory and dining room. Shared bread and shared life.

And I remember those quiet afternoons, sitting on those stone benches at the entrance of the hall, from where you could see the simple people passing by, on their way to the market, on their way home, …. enjoying those beautiful African sunsets, and thanking the Father for all that shared LIFE.

Maricarmen Tomás and Alberto de la Portilla, CLM Spain

“Conversations with Ethiopia”: a missionary testimony


Last January 31 we transmitted live from the Facebook page of the Comboni Lay Missionaries of Portugal: “Missionary Conversations with Ethiopia”. In this conversation between the three CLM, David Aguilera – CLM from Spain – and Pedro Nascimento – CLM from Portugal – shared about the life that sprouts in the mission where they live as a community since 2019 in Ethiopia. They answered questions regarding the response to the call to the missionary vocation, the preparation for their departure to the mission and the experiences and difficulties in the mission.

“For me it was a very nice and intense exchange, also with a special meaning for me, since I also lived that mission for some time and I follow it with my heart and with all the people I met in Ethiopia and in all the way that led me to this mission as a CLM. It is very good to feel that my fellow missionary mates make a beautiful and difficult path, but with the willingness to serve and to let themselves be led by the hands of God”, says Carolina Fiúza, Portuguese CLM who interviews the two CLM, and who was also with them on mission in 2019.

Thus, in the midst of the time of confinement that we live today, to stimulate the ritual of staying at home but with love, we share a missionary testimony that certainly touched many.

CLM Portugal.

Rural Family House of Açailândia: a history of struggles

CFR Brasil

By Zé Luís Costa. From the MST website. (Edited by Fernanda Alcântara)

CFR Brasil

The Rural Family House [Casa Familiar Rural (CFR)] of Açailândia, in the state of Maranhão, was constituted as an association in 2001 after a small group of social activists met and began to discuss ways to improve the issue of rural education for the local reality.

From the beginning, the entities that started the proposal of the family house entered the debate of this political and social project, such as the MST, which had just settled in the city, the institute of the Comboni Missionaries, the Center for the Defense of Life and Human Rights and the Union of Workers and Rural Workers of the city.

The experience of this type of school is already old in the world and in the state of Maranhão they are present in several different cities. In other parts of the world this type of school is known as “Family Agricultural School”.

From the first discussions, the interested organizations held several meetings, even in cities on the outskirts, as Xoan Carlos (CLM) reminds us. “We held a series of meetings in the communities. There were another 60 meetings in the municipalities of Açailândia, São Francisco do Brejão, Itinga, Bom Jesus das Selvas. And finally the association was formed”.

He continues: “From there we obtained a piece of land, given by the Catholic Church. But we could not afford to build the building or pay the employees. So it was a few more years of struggle and articulation in the search for projects, and where we got some international support”.

CFR Brasil

Later, in 2003, the organizations involved in the idea managed to start what they dreamed of for the city and its surroundings, in view of the large number of settlements and rural communities they had in the vicinity of the city, now with 110,000 inhabitants. It was a dream for the distant future.

The pioneers of the idea achieved, with much struggle, agreements with the city council, as Xoan Carlos states. “In 2005 we started the first activities of the CFR. We started with an elementary school course, we had managed to structure several productive units in agriculture, beekeeping, cattle raising, pigs… Governor Jackson Lago had the intention of doing a high school course integrated to professional education, and a new moment started for the CFR”, he concludes.

With these articulations, in 2006 the high school course started, which was better adapted to the needs of the youth in the countryside. Mainly because, in 2001, many communities only had young people with the fourth grade at most. This was the need they have: a school with different characteristics from the conventional ones, for the countryside.

Jarbe Firmino was a student in the first class of the Açailândia Rural Family House, and later entered the Federal University of Maranhão (UFMA). He graduated in Education in countryside and returned to CFR, now as a monitor/teacher, and then took a position in the institution as general coordinator.

He tells about his experience criticizing the position of the public power: “This experience, to which I refer, of coordinator, as well as in other moments, was of great difficulty in terms of support from the public power. These were periods in which contracts were not honored by the State, which weakened the movement of which the CFR is a part,” he concludes.

After all this struggle, came the recognition and the conquests. The main one was the training of young people as agricultural technicians to work in the settlements with their families and in some state agencies. The Regional Council of Engineering and Agronomy, CREA, recognized them so that they could work officially providing technical assistance to the projects.

However, the desire of the coordination and the group that organizes the association and the CFR is that the students, trained, work with their families developing what they have learned, in family farms, as most of the settlements of the agrarian reform.

CFR Brasil

The CFR is managed by an association, and the president is currently Xoan Carlos. The coordination is chosen by the association and has ten teachers who are hired by the Maranhão State Education Secretariat.

History of the rural family houses

The Rural Family Houses originated in France in 1935, in a situation of strong rural exodus, when a group of families, with the support of the Catholic Church, met to rethink this situation. They called it “House” to differentiate it from the conventional school and because it began in the home of a family; “Family” because it was an organization of families and not of the government; and “Rural” because the object of the experience was in the rural environment as a whole: technical, human, cultural, etc.

Today, in France, there are 450 CFRs. Since the 1960s, the experience has spread to Spain and Italy under the name “Family Farm School”. There are about 1,000 CFRs in the five continents, in thirty countries.

In Brazil, the CFRs began to appear at the end of the 1960s, and today there are about 150 rural educational centers that operate with the “Pedagogy of Alternance”. In Maranhão there are approximately 27 schools with these formative principles. The pedagogy of alternation developed within the methods of Paulo Freire, in a construction of technical training, is united with training for life, in the case of Açailândia, expanded with the commitment to the struggles for a differentiated model of agriculture.

CFR Brasil