GOD’S GIFT

 

“I am from God”, said six-year-old Happiness, when I asked her: “Where are you from”?

 

It happened at Mercy House, in Johannesburg, on Easter Sunday, where I went to share lunch with the refugees. There, they find a place of welcome and warmth to soothe their daily suffering from being in a foreign country without any back-up, except at Mercy House where the motto is: “Love changes everything”. It was originally a dumping site and it is now a place of love.

 

The tiny girl showed me what Easter means: “We are from God”. It was a happy conclusion to the Easter celebration that I had shared with many people, especially during the Paschal Triduum. Easter is to acknowledge that whatever happens in life, the end is always a victorious one, because God is our origin and our end!

 

We often say that South Africa needs healing, needs to hear the good news that counteracts the sad and unpleasant news of abuse, crime and corruption. However, it is not only SA that is in need of healing, all peoples need this atmosphere where they are affirmed, nourished and cared for.

 

The vocation and mission of the Comboni Missionaries is to bring the Good News to people, especially those who are far from Christ and who struggle to have a dignified life. The Comboni Friends are part of this endeavour and share the same mission. Through prayer, friendship and sharing of material goods you partake in this mission, which is ‘the reason of our being’. Let us join hands so that the Paschal message may reach as many as possible.

 

In the first weeks of his pontificate, Pope Francis has shown us the way to a more human life. He indicates the path to become a Church that is closer to people. We do not need to make big gestures of solidarity and love to the downtrodden. We only need to be attentive to the small signs of the Risen Christ which are happening around us and get involved in the transformation of the Body of Christ. Easter is not an isolated, on-off event. It is like a ‘stream that runs underground’, that accompanies us throughout life. We are the Easter People. The presence of the Risen Lord is at hand always. In order to make our life meaningful, we need to open our ears and our eyes to say like Mary Magdalene: “I have seen the Lord”.

 

I wish you, all our Comboni friends, an Easter that lasts, until the day we are called to see the Risen Lord face to face.

 

Fr Jeremias Martins

Superior of the Comboni Missionaries in RSA

 

 

Rediscovering the heart of faith—service

 

Fr Shay Cullen, Columban Missionary in the Philippines

 

When he bent down on his knees in the youth detention jail in Rome last Holy Thursday, washed and kissed the feet of the juvenile prisoners and also a mother and child and a Muslim, Pope Francis sent a message to Catholic Church leaders and to the world. It seems to say, change is here, we have to leave behind the pomposity, clerical child abuse and domination wherever it may be, and be humble servants of the poor and the wretched and give them dignity, justice and hope.

 

“To wash your feet, this is a symbol, a sign that I am at your service. But it also means that we have to help each other.”

 

He then showed understanding of youthful impetuosity and their quickness to anger: “It is normal to get mad at others, but let it be, let it be. If that person asks you a favour, do it. Let’s help each other. I do it with my heart because it is my duty as priest and as Bishop; I have to be at your service. It’s a duty that comes from my heart because I love doing this, because this is what the Lord taught me”.

 

He was of course imitating Jesus of Nazareth who washed the feet of his disciples as would a humble servant. Jesus was a charismatic leader with a passion for justice, equality and sought a spiritual and social revolution. How could the future leaders of the Church be credible and teach, guide and expect others to follow moral principles and behaviour, if they themselves did not teach by example. That is what Jesus was saying by his actions. Pope Francis seems to be repeating that message.

 

“Blessed are the poor”, Jesus said, “theirs is the kingdom of God”. This is what Pope Francis was saying also in a symbolic way. He sees a Church where humility has been replaced with arrogance and pomp, and privilege has replaced compassion and justice. He knows that abusive priests were allowed by some irresponsible bishops to continue to abuse children with impunity. He knows that despite past apologies to victims by the previous popes, Church structures have not changed sufficiently to restore the trust and confidence of Catholics in the Church as a reliable, open, transparent, credible institution. Mitred heads may soon roll. Since his installation several years ago, my Bishop has never visited the homes for the juveniles in conflict with the law or the homes for the sexually abused victims. It’s time to change.

 

Jesus challenged the religious authorities and infuriated them. Then they plotted his downfall and had him convicted as a political rebel and given the death penalty. They accused him of trying to be a king when in fact that was what he totally repudiated. That is the cruel drama that we re-enacted last Holy week. Pope Francis will be walking on a few precious toes before long.

 

Jesus gave us the example of that special challenging love that drives a person to care for the stranger, and to help the poorest and most exploited and abused of society.

 

We can clearly see the message of Pope Francis when he was on his knees before the prisoners. He established by his words and action the rights, dignity and the fact that they should have a place in the world. He seems to be signaling to all Catholics to be a servant, a helper and to realize that being a follower of Jesus of Nazareth has duties and obligations that go far beyond attending Mass and church ceremonies. This is what Pope Francis said of his mission today.

 

“I would like it to go out to every house and every family, especially where the suffering is greatest, in hospitals, in prisons. Most of all, I would like to enter every heart, for it is there that God wants to sow this Good News: Jesus is risen, there is hope for you, you are no longer in the power of sin, of evil! Love has triumphed, mercy has been victorious!”

 

Well, it’s going to be a troubling future for many a traditional conservative cleric if the Pope expects the clergy to do as he does and skip the scarlet robes, gold braided vestments and privileges, and live outside the gilded palaces in small apartments like the Pope himself. Next, he might expect them to take public transport like he did as Bishop and Cardinal in Buenos Aires or even more challenging, to imitate Jesus of Nazareth.

 

 

Risking their lives to be with their people

 

In the Central African Republic, missionaries have been risking their lives in solidarity with people as the Chadian and Sudanese rebels of the Séleka coalition conquered the country and sowed violence, terror and death

 

The Central African Republic (CAR) has been on the news headlines since 13 South African soldiers were killed and 27 injured there on 23 March. The victims belonged to the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission. The perpetrators are the rebels of the Séleka coalition. They came from the North and took over Bangui, the CAR capital, on the 24 March, causing President François Bozizé to flee. Michel Djotodia, leader of one of the groups of Séleka (Alliance, in the local Sango language), proclaimed himself president of the Republic.

 

They started their incursion in the North—many of them are from Chad and Sudan—in mid-December and as they made their way towards the capital, they looted, terrorised and killed people. They occupied one mission after another, camping in the house of the missionaries and stealing all they could. The regular army soldiers were easily defeated and fled with the people.

 

Here is the testimony of Msgr Juan José Aguirre Muñoz, the Comboni Bishop of Bangassou, about the conquest of the city on 11 March: “They stole a dozen mission cars of the minor seminary and of the second parish in Bangassou. They destroyed the home of the Holy Spirit Fathers and of the Franciscan Sisters; they stole and destroyed the rector’s house in the diocesan minor seminary, the carpenter’s shop, the internet centre and the Catholic college, the pharmacy and the new surgery block in the hospital”. He concludes recalling how he was one of those in danger: “They brutalised the people, fathers and nuns. They have a list of people to hit: I am the first, followed by my vicar, then the prosecutor and others”.

 

He sought protection in Bangui but wants to go back: “I wish I could be there with my people, but planes cannot land in Bangassou because the airport has no fuel. The road has been closed since December. As a result, food or medicines do not arrive in the territory of the diocese, officials have not been paid because they would have to collect their salaries in Bangui, and they cannot pay school fees for their children”. The country is in chaos and people are living in fear.

 

The Comboni Missionaries have been working in the Central African Republic since 1975. There are 28 (two bishops, 25 priests and one brother) and have 12 students in formation. With all the other missionaries, they have been putting their lives on the line in order to be with the people. Two of the communities (Grimari and Dékoa) are still isolated and there’s no communication with them.

 

 

 

 

Towards personal responsibility in a world of injustice

 

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of freedom and liberation. The liberation is primarily a release from all kinds of personal, economic, political, social or cultural bondage. These forms of slavery are obstacles that prevent men and women from living with dignity and from making decisions as full human beings. When men and women choose their own ways freely, their decisions are unfortunately often influenced by the unfair circumstances and structures that prevail.

 

When we encounter situations in which poverty and social injustice are part of the people’s daily life, when social inequalities are due to unfair economic arrangements, when people are displaced by conflict, when men, women and children are exploited at work or suffer the disastrous consequences of the forces of nature caused by global warming, it may be difficult to know whether responsibility lies with unjust structures or at a personal level.

 

The liberation of the human being is therefore not only a personal responsibility. Liberation from the injustices of this world is a relational dynamic among individuals, people and human structures. In the task of transforming this world, our commitment to Christ requires a personal commitment to social and economic justice that works for human liberation. Our Christian commitment to economic justice must focus on changing those structures that perpetuate injustices among the poorest and do not help the integral development of the human being. Therefore, part of our role as Christians is to denounce the many abuses that the neoliberal economy, forgetful of the purpose of the creation, inflicts on the poor.

 

Our commitment to Africa begins with listening to the Word of God throughout Scripture and to God’s concern for the poor and the oppressed. This inspiration of our faith becomes a commitment to personal, economic and political justice. The salvation offered by Jesus in the Gospel is, first of all, a community salvation; men and women living in community who try to incarnate the Trinitarian relationship. Salvation is God’s will for humankind to live the fullness of creation. But for this salvation to become a feasible reality, a change of society is required, solidarity among peoples, political commitment of public institutions and the transformation of the neoliberal economy into a liberating one.

 

Our commitment to the poor is a realistic look at suffering people and an opportunity to work with them to improve the living conditions of the oppressed who lack the basics for life, as well as a way to restore strength to those who have lost their dignity under work exploitation, wars, violence, abuse or discrimination. Moreover, the democratic aspirations of the people and the desire for economic and social justice are necessary so that people may own their destiny and be true protagonists of the kingdom of God.

 

José Luis Gutiérrez Aranda

Africa-Europe Faith and Justice Network Policy Officer

 

 

Walking together

 

These days, I came across a book with the title, “Walking beside your friend, no path will be long!” It reminds me of a Mozambican proverb that says: “Walking together is a remedy”.

 

Thinking of you, Comboni friends, I feel that we Comboni Missionaries are not alone. Unaccompanied, the way will certainly be too long and boring. Daniel Comboni understood this and he recommended that under no circumstances should a missionary be alone. And not only that, he involved in his missionary work as many people as he could. He wrote, spoke, and travelled, inviting people to enter the path of the mission. Missionary work, he said, is not Italian, French, Spanish, but catholic, universal. (In fact, only in South Africa, the small group of 38 Comboni missionaries consists of 17 nationalities.)

 

In the Gospel, Jesus speaks of friendship: “I have called you friends...” (Jn 15: 15). He created around Himself, not only a group of apostles or disciples, but also friends. Some of them were not as He would have liked them to be. But He became their friend, He called them, He included them in His circle of friendship and they answered His call. Some changed their lives and became His followers. Others welcomed Him in their houses and gave Him a place to rest. Still others shared with Him their riches. On His side, Jesus shared with them His secrets, His love for them, His compassion and support. Many were healed and restored to life. They felt dignified by His call and by the place He granted them in His heart.

 

I believe that the way Jesus lived and related with others is the same that He wants us to follow today. He wants us to walk together, to support each other, to share sorrows, worries, hopes and dreams: to be friends. Walking with others, the way won’t be long. With you, Comboni friends, although we miss our families and close relatives, the journey will never be long!

 

Fr Jeremias dos Santos Martins

 

 

 

Pope Francis on care for Creation

 

The Pope invites us to be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment

 

Fr Seán McDonagh, Columban Missionary

 

Even though the concerns about what was happening to our environment began to appear in Church documents as early as 1971, I have argued that the Catholic Church’s teaching on ecology was certainly not a central element in its preaching of the Gospel of Jesus. This might be about to change during the Petrine ministry of Pope Francis.

 

During the Mass, to mark his inauguration as Bishop of Rome on 19 March 2013, Pope Francis focused on the role of Joseph as “protector of Jesus and his mother”. But he expanded the notion of ‘protector’ to include concern for creation. “The vocation of being a ‘protector’, however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply a human task, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!”

 

He went on to make a direct appeal to “all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of this world! But to be ‘protectors’, we also have to keep watch over ourselves! Let us not forget that hatred, envy and pride defile our lives.”

He made it clear that protecting creation was an integral part of his service as Bishop of Rome. “To protect Jesus and Mary, to protect the whole of creation, to protect each person, especially the poorest, to protect ourselves: this is a service that the Bishop of Rome is called to carry out, yet one to which all of us are called, so that the star of hope will shine brightly.”

 

On 16 March 2013, Pope Francis addressed around 6 000 journalists who were in Rome to cover the Conclave. He told them that he chose the name of Francis of Assisi, because “Francis was a man of poverty, who loved and protected creation”.

 

On 22 March 2013, in his address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, he said: “Fighting poverty, both material and spiritual, building peace and constructing bridges: these, as it were, are the reference points for a journey that I want to invite each of the countries here represented to take up. But it is a difficult journey, if we do not learn to grow in love for this world of ours. Here too, it helps me to think of the name of Francis, who teaches us profound respect for the whole of creation and the protection of our environment, which all too often, instead of using it for the good, we exploit greedily, to one another’s detriment.”

 

On Palm Sunday (24 March 2013), he mentioned some human vices which destroy individuals, communities and the natural world. “Love of power, corruption, divisions, crimes against human life and against creation, and—as each one of us knows and is aware—our personal sins: our failures in love and respect towards God, towards our neighbour and towards the whole of creation.”

 

Protecting creation was also part of this Urbi et Orbi (To the City and the World) message on Easter Sunday morning: “Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish….May the risen Jesus bring comfort to the victims of natural disasters and make us responsible guardians of creation.”

 

Pope Francis’ concern for the endangered earth is rooted in his experience in Latin America. He chaired the committee which drew up the final recommendations from the Fifth General Conference of the Council of Latin American Bishops at Aparecida, Brazil in 2007. That document speaks of the pain of Pachamama, Mother Earth and criticizes extractive industries (mining and logging), and agribusiness corporations for failing to respect the economic, social and environmental rights of local people, especially the indigenous people.

 

 

The symbol of self-giving love

 

The spirituality of the Heart of the Good Shepherd is the foundation and the driving force of our outreach to our brothers and sisters living on the margins of today’s global village

 

Fr John Maneschg

Comboni Missionary

 

Many of you, Comboni Friends, have come across the four letters MCCJ, attached to the names of our Missionaries. Decoded and rendered into English they mean Missionaries of Comboni of the Heart (Latin Cor) of Jesus. These names stand for an indivisible connection. In 1849, as a 17-year-old student of philosophy, Comboni consecrated his life to the apostolate in Central Africa, with the desire to embrace a way of life similar to that of Christ and his apostles and in response to the sufferings and needs of the exploited people of those regions he had heard about from missionaries.

 

However, it was on the 15 September 1864, while praying at the tomb of St Peter in Rome during the triduum for the beatification of Margaret Mary Alacoque, the mystical visionary of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, that Comboni, a young missionary of 33 years of age, was graced with the in-depth experience of the pierced Heart of Jesus. It was this mystical vision that inspired him to write down a few days later the famous Plan for the regeneration of Africa “that flashed like lightning” through his mind (Writings, 4799). In a poetic flow, Comboni speaks of that love that urged him to move to those far-off regions where numberless people suffered as they were deprived of their human dignity. These are his words: “The Catholic… carried away under the impetus of that love set alight by the divine flame on Calvary hill, when it came forth from the side of the Crucified One to embrace the whole human family; he felt his heart beat faster, and a divine power seemed to drive him towards these unknown lands. There, he would enclose in his arms in an embrace of peace and love those unfortunate brothers of his…” (Writings, 2742).

 

Rendering the biblical text (John 19: 34–37), Comboni speaks of the divine pierced Heart. For him, the piercing by the soldier’s lance denotes violence suffered by a wounded heart that “has never ceased to love people” (Writings, 3324). Comboni saw the day of the consecration of the Vicariate to the Heart of Jesus (14 September 1873) as the beginning of “a new age of mercy and peace”. He was convinced that the ‘regeneration’ of Africa, the blessings of its spiritual, social, and integral humanitarian coming to life were flowing from this mysterious centre which was the Pierced Heart.

 

Comboni’s vision is akin to the vision of John. The Fourth Evangelist sees in the events following upon the death of Jesus on the Cross, prophecy and God’s plan fulfilled: “They will look to the one whom they have pierced” (19: 37). The quotation is from Zechariah 12: 10. The prophetic passage reads: “And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look at the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” Zechariah may refer to a prophet, a suffering servant of God (see Isaiah 52: 13–53: 12) who through his suffering fulfils his mission on behalf of the community. Salvation, this passage shows, comes at the costly price of unselfish commitment and the willingness to die for others so that new life may emerge from there. From the scars of the Crucified Lord, healing and reconciliation are flowing like a river of divine blessing.

 

Not without connection with John’s vision, Comboni links the symbol of the Heart with the image of the Shepherd. Jesus is the Good Shepherd with the Pierced Heart, symbol of self-giving love that goes to the bitter end (Jn 13: 1). In John’s vision, the One Exalted on the Cross was to draw the scattered humanity into one as a shepherd gathers his flock. Comboni shared this vision as he writes: “The time has come for humanity as a whole, who are God’s people and yours [referring to Mary] to form but a single flock under the care of the Good Shepherd” (Writings, 1643).

 

As for Comboni, this spirituality of the Heart of the Good Shepherd remains for us, his family, the foundation and the driving force of the outreach to our brothers and sisters living on the margins of today’s global village.

 

 

 

100 thousand Christians killed each year

 

The Catholic Church renders an impressive service to the human family, especially in the fields of education and healthcare, even though many Christians are discriminated upon and killed because of their faith

 

The Holy See has expressed “deep concern” for violations of religious freedom and systematic attacks on Christian communities in regions of the world such as Africa,

Asia and the Middle East, said Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, addressing the United Nations in Geneva. The prelate remarked: “Credible research has reached the shocking conclusion that an estimate of more than 100 000 Christians are violently killed because of some relation to their faith every year. Other Christians and other believers are subjected to forced displacement, to the destruction of their places of worship, to rape and to the abduction of their leaders—as it recently happened in the case of Bishops Yohanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yaziji, in Aleppo, Syria. Several of these acts are the fruit of bigotry, intolerance, terrorism and some exclusionary laws. In addition, in some Western countries where historically the Christian presence has been an integral part of society, a trend emerges that tends to marginalise Christianity in public life, ignore historic and social contributions and even restrict the ability of faith communities to carry out social charitable services.”

 

The Archbishop added: “The Human Rights Council has recognised that religion, spirituality and belief may and can contribute to the promotion of the inherent dignity and worth of the human person”. The Christian religion, as in other faith-communities, is “at the service of the true good of humanity”. In fact, “Christian communities, with their patrimony of values and principles, have contributed much to making individuals and peoples aware of their identity and their dignity. In this connection, it may be useful that the Delegation of the Holy See should recall some pertinent data on the current services to the human family carried out in the world by the Catholic Church without any distinction of religion or race. In the field of education, it runs 70 544 kindergartens with 6 478 627 pupils; 92 847 primary schools with 31 51 170 pupils; 43 591 secondary schools with 17 793 559 pupils. The Church also educates 2 304 171 high school pupils, and 3 33 455 university students. The Church’s world-wide charity and healthcare centres include: 5 305 hospitals; 18 179 dispensaries; 547 care homes for people with leprosy; 17 223 homes for the elderly, or the chronically ill or people with a disability; 9 882 orphanages; 11 379 crèches; 15 327 marriage counselling centres; 34 331 social rehabilitation centres and 9 391 other kinds of charitable institutions. To such data about social action activity, there should be added the assistance carried out in refugee camps and to internally displaced people and the accompaniment of these uprooted persons. This service certainly doesn’t warrant discrimination against Christians.” (Vatican Radio Newsletter)

 

 

 

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