Comboni Missionary Fr. John Baptist Opargiw
addresses confreres in Rome.
Young Comboni confreres working in the Province of South Africa gathered for their annual meeting in February at Mooi Nooi in Rustenburg Diocese. Pictured, from left to right: Fr. Charlemagne Sitou Mawoulomi Dossavi, Manuel Quembo, Br. Francesco Padovan, Fr. John Baptist Keraryo Opargiw, Fr. Ronald Alionzi, Fr. Kifle Kirba, Fr. Robert Ndungu, and Fr. Prosper Tehou.
By: Fr. John Baptist Keraryo Opargiw, mccj
The missionary mandate accompanies us into the Third Millennium and urges us to share the enthusiasm of the very first Christians. (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 58)
As Comboni Missionaries and heirs to the charism of St. Daniel Comboni, we strive to faithfully live out and share this gift with our brothers and sisters in the diverse contexts of politics, society, and the Church in our world today. The Vatican document Mutuae Relationis outlines this for all of us in very inspiring terms:
The charism of the founders is revealed as an experience of the Spirit, transmitted to his disciples to be lived, kept, deepened and constantly developed in harmony with the Body of Christ in perpetual growth. (Mutuae Relationis, 11).
As followers of Christ in the Comboni way, we are called to share the faith in a living and dynamic way, with creative fidelity, and with the capacity to adapt to new situations. The mission belongs first and foremost to God and its source is the very heart of Jesus. This is where we find the real impetus and motivation for our missionary outreach today.
God the Missionary
I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard them crying out because of their oppressors. I know what they are suffering and have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out from that country into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey….” (Exodus 3:7)
In Scripture, we see a God who cares. He cannot live comfortably in paradise while his people suffer. He gets involved with the real problems of the people; he commits to do something in their favor.
Three missionary actions are noticeable in this passage:
- To see, to witness, to be aware of
- To listen, to hear, to feel compassion
- To act, to do something in response to the cry of others
Christ, the Missionary of the Father
As Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved to compassion for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. (Mark 6:34–42)
Jesus shows his compassion and concern for the spiritual and material needs of the people who are like sheep without a shepherd, a really scattered people. They are hungry, in a deserted place where the disorienting and dangerous night is falling. At first, the apostles shun their responsibility. They do not want to get involved because they feel overwhelmed and powerless in front of the hungry crowd. But Jesus, missionary of the Father, is moved by compassion and gets involved with the people by teaching them, thus illuminating and giving meaning to their lives. Then, using the meager resources the people already had, Jesus seeks the collaboration of the apostles to nourish the needy crowd. This shows us that mission is, above all:
- becoming aware of the situation of the people and doing something to respond to their needs in a holistic manner
- believing in people’s resources and promoting them
- co-responsibility and collaboration with others to transmit the love and compassion of the Father
Comboni, the Missionary of Christ
St. Daniel Comboni saw the misery of the African people and listened to their cries. Just as Jesus sacrificed his life to save us from sin, Comboni committed himself to freeing the people by giving his life. He followed the same attitude as Christ, who is actively involved in the affairs of a needy humanity and does something in their favor.
Mission means engaging with the fate of the people, feeling part of it, and approaching them not as outsiders or strangers, not looking at them from a distance or from above, but as friends.
Comboni’s homily in Khartoum on May 11, 1873, demonstrates this attitude his passion for Christ and for the Africans:
I am truly happy, dearest friends, to be back with you again after so many sad events and so many sighs and afflictions. The first love of my youth was for unhappy Africa and, leaving behind all that was dearest to me in the world, I came, sixteen years ago, to these lands to offer my work for the relief of their age-old sufferings.
Yes, I am your father, and you are my children, and as such, I embrace you and press you to my heart. Be assured that in my soul there is a boundless love for all time and for every one of you. I return among you to be always yours, as I am consecrated for your highest good . . . I intend to make common cause with each one of you, and the happiest of my days will be when I may give my life for you. . . .” (Writings, 3156, 3159).
This homily is Comboni’s project of life which does not finish with his own short life but continues as a project for the Comboni missionaries for all time.
Comboni Missionaries Today
In his address to the participants at the XIX General Chapter in Rome in June, Pope Francis said:
The essential trait of the Heart of Christ is mercy, compassion, tenderness. I think that you are called to bring this witness of God’s style — closeness, compassion, and tenderness — in your mission there where you are and where the Spirit will guide you.”
With these inspiring words, Pope Francis captured the essence of our charism as Comboni Missionaries.
Global Reality Check
The reality of our world shows that the beauty, goodness, and development of human life have been tarnished by a lot of challenges such as poverty, inequality, injustice, social and environmental violence, corruption, indifference, intolerance, dictatorships, poor governance, xenophobia, and sad situations of mass migration and refugees. In Africa, the situation is aggravated further by the lingering effects of Afro-pessimism and the marginalization of the continent.
Mission Priorities Today
Helped by a good analysis, reading the signs of the times and places, and assuming the missionary attitudes of God the Father, of Jesus Christ, and of Comboni, we can highlight the following key endeavors of our mission, especially in Africa:
- first evangelization among those who have not yet had first contact with the Gospel (significant ethnic groups, the peripheries of big cities, “frontier” situations), in order to build adult Christian communities.
- inculturation remains an area of fundamental priority so that evangelization may put down roots and bear abundant fruit. Our duty here is to be qualified and respectful collaborators with the local Church, having a profound esteem for the local people, their language, and their culture.
- formation of pastoral agents (lay, religious, and clergy) at all levels, promoting their ministerial roles in view of their active participation in the mission of the Church.
- social commitment and human development are to be undertaken everywhere as part and parcel of the proclamation of the Gospel and of every missionary activity. Commitment in the field of justice, peace, and integrity of creation to ensure a relevant presence of the faithful in the political and economic decision-making processes.
- commitment to mass media and social communications to enable the voice of the poor to be heard at all levels of society.
- ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, especially with Islam and the African traditional religions.
- pastoral attention to the crisis of mass migrations and refugees offers us a privileged opportunity to serve the poorest and most abandoned of our contemporary society.
An Effective Missionary Service Today
The missionary mandate is indeed as old as Christianity, but at the same time, it is still a fresh clarion call to us to “cast out the net into the deep for a catch,” because worldwide mission is still at the threshold. With the numerical decline of Christianity in Europe and the overall shift of Christianity’s center of gravity to the global south of the world, mass migrations, and the phenomenon of globalization, a new era of mission has begun.
New challenges and new contexts appear as we try to remain faithful to the Gospel. Mission is still an urgent work in progress. The role of the Comboni Missionaries in this is to be even more in touch with the local people, especially the poor and marginalized of our society.
Mission at the Service of Life
The concept of life is central to the African worldview and is at the heart of the Christian mission. Jesus Christ came so that we might have life in all its fullness (John 10:10). Mission is, therefore, participation in God’s life-giving activities in favor of humanity and the world. This perspective invites us to promote and cultivate all that leads to life and to shun all that diminishes it in any form.
Therefore, it is especially important to heal memories, particularly emotions of anxiety, fear, anger, and guilt. Humanity is being hurt badly and people are very angry. We must urgently and holistically address healing in our mission work today.
Attitudes of Missionary Disciples
Constantly, we experience that we evangelize and are evangelized by the people. This implies the need for openness, listening, and learning from others. Local people love and respect the missionaries. They have a sense of faith, and they follow us closely, encouraging and accompanying us.
Often, the problems and challenges we encounter in our missionary service are due to a certain deafness or indifference on our part to what people are saying and feeling toward us. The fruitful collaboration in mission involves mutual responsibility and accountability. The local people are not mere objects of evangelization, but subjects and stakeholders of this important enterprise.
All the baptized are invited to participate in mission, each according to their God-given talents. The Comboni charism is alive and attractive to be embraced by people from all walks of life to contribute to the global mission today. We are all responsible to play our roles in this missionary work.