In preparation for this advent season, I have been reflecting on the anticipated birth of Jesus and his eventual place within the Holy Family. Through our baptism, we all belong in spirit to the Holy Family.
I have also come to realize that I belong to another family, the Comboni Family. I have been associated with the Comboni Missionaries since 1995; first as a lay missionary in Kenya, then working part-time for the lay missionary program in Chicago while studying at the Catholic Theological Union, and now more recently with Mission News, the quarterly newsletter published by the missionaries in Kitchener, Ontario.
Over these past years I have noticed more and more references to the “Comboni Family” being used to describe the collective range of vocations, both religious and lay, that are within the Comboni Missionary movement. The concept of a Comboni Family is really not new. Daniel Comboni called on all people of good will, regardless of vocation, to contribute to the missionary efforts in Africa, not to mention the mission awareness work that Comboni spearheaded in Europe.
That collaboration between the different members of the Comboni Missionaries has continued through the decades on every continent where the missionaries work. One can pick up any Comboni magazine or view any website and read about the various ways the Comboni Missionaries collaborate with each other around the world.
At the same time there has been an expansion and formalizing of the various Comboni lay missionary programs in Mexico, Brazil, Uganda, Spain, Germany, and North America, just to name a few. Most of these programs have their roots in provinces where Comboni Missionary religious have inspired laity with the charism. While each of these lay missionary programs is unique in their origins and mandates, they share a common theme of ministering collaboratively with Comboni Missionaries.
The reality on the ground is that any given mission location may have a variety of Comboni missionaries assigned to it. When I was working at Kariobangi Mission in Kenya back in the 1990s, there were priests, sisters and lay missionaries collaborating in ministry. We would also get together on other occasions for prayer and meals. It was a Comboni Family in action.
However it is not a given. For the Comboni Family concept to work well, vocations need to be respected and each member needs to be valued as a contributor to mission. I believe it is a model for the future with its emphasis on collaboration and the value of each vocational choice.