LIVING COMBONI INSTITUTE’S 150TH ANNIVERSARY: AN OPPORTUNITY TO LIVE THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL IN SOUTH SUDAN
16 February 2017 – Fr. Louis Okot Tony, the Provincial Superior of the Comboni Missionaries in South Sudan, writes to his fellow missionaries as he begins his three years term as Provincial, to express his gratitude, to encourage them in the making of a six year plan for the mission and to live the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of foundation of the Comboni Institute as “an opportunity to live the joy of the Gospel anew and make it evident to young people that a life given to Jesus and his people is a beautiful life”.
“There are many well-identified Comboni Missionaries, generous and ready to give up their lives for Christ and the Mission; they spend their lives quietly, day after day, in the various services entrusted to them (…). They are ‘existential parables’, reference points in the various services that we render” (CA ’15 No. 14).
Fr. Louis Okot, Provincial Superior – South Sudan
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At the beginning of my term of office as Provincial, through this first issue of our Newsletter of the year 2017, I would like before anything else, to thank God for the gift of our Founder St. Daniel Comboni and the Institute he founded. God has left his indelible footmarks in the lives of many people through our Institute. In the same line, I also thank Fr. Daniele Moschetti and his Councillors for their dedication and commitment in animating the Province in the past six years. We wish and pray that they will continue to spend their lives with passion for Christ and the mission.
Likewise, I would like to thank all the confreres for their trust on me and the new Councillors. This sign of trust unfolds the readiness and openness which they embody in their missionary spirit. It is this trust that will accompany us to work tirelessly and unconditionally together in the spirit of co-responsibility for Christ and the mission. We will continue to learn to be disciples and missionaries together in this crucified nation; a nation in which, day after day, we are sharing people’s moments of joy and suffering.
And by entrusting to us this responsibility of animating the Province, all together, we are renewing our “Yes” of being at the service of the Gospel and to remain faithful to our Comboni Charism.
Moreover, this year is also marked by the preparation of the Six Year Plan and the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the foundation of our Institute. We started the year with our Annual Provincial Assembly at which positively and enthusiastically we spent time together to draw collectively a compass for the coming six years.
Comboni Institute: 150 years for the mission
This plan of six years is drawn in a moment when the country continues to be in turmoil. The conflict has spread all over the country and many more people have left their homes to look for safety in foreign lands. Families are again violently dispersed. In this way, we are witnessing again the failure of good management of authority and leadership, the kind of authority and leadership which is supposed to serve and bring development to the nation. Nevertheless, we have not allowed ourselves to be succumbed by the uncertainty and the vague future of the country.
This shows our deep trust that the one that controls the time and history is God. And, on the other hand, it shows our total dedication and passion for Christ and the mission and the people we serve. Hence, we will commit ourselves all together to make and implement this Six Year Plan. This plan is not just ink on the paper but the way we would like to live our lives as disciples and Comboni missionaries. It is the expression of our deep desire to live the joy of the Gospel in South Sudan (Chapter Acts of 2015). This then leads us to make common cause with the people of South Sudan whom we loved and serve.
Furthermore, the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the Institute yet gives more flavour and sharpen more our being disciples and missionaries in South Sudan. It gives new purpose and understanding to our being Comboni missionaries – which we express through this six year plan. Our Institute has walked a long distance in spite of the hardship it encounters. We recognised that our Founder was not the first Missionary to step his feet in Central Africa, but there were already missionaries who came before him. Nevertheless, as Comboni never bowed down his head when many people doubted and were threatened by the hardships in the mission of Central Africa he came up instead with a new “vision” and the drawing up of the Plan for the Regeneration of Africa.
His missionary work continued after his death through the audacity of his missionaries and above all because it was God’s work. They did not abandon the mission and eventually some were humiliated and imprisoned during the violent outbreak of Mahdi movement. It is in this context of suffering and imprisonment that a new dawn for the evangelisation of Central Africa emerged. Many women and men, till our time, rose up ready to offer “thousands of lives” for the mission and this fulfilled the cry of Comboni: “I am dying but my work will never die”.
Daniel Comboni: founder of the Comboni Missionaries
As we remember Comboni with grateful hearts, we his heirs acknowledge and recognise that his vocation was for the mission and so is ours. The Chapter Acts No. 14 states it clearly when it says: “There are many well-identified Comboni Missionaries, generous and ready to give up their lives for Christ and the Mission; they spend their lives quietly, day after day, in the various services entrusted to them (…). They are ‘existential parables’, reference points in the various services that we render”. This is our experience in South Sudan.
Finally, this is an opportunity for us to revive our missionary vocation and fidelity to Christ and the mission. It is an opportunity for us to go back to the source of our being Comboni missionaries – a living encounter with Jesus Christ (RL 21.1). May we not allow ourselves to be taken up by activism which will gradually kill our identification with the Master who knew to take care of his intimacy with the Father. It is an opportunity for us to live in the spirit of “Cenacle of Apostle” and fight against the virus of individualism, protagonism and being self-reverential. To grow in the spirit of join responsibility in all the service we offer in our different mission. That is to evangelise as community and empowering communities. Hence, we are invited to live a collaborative ministry as our founder did when he open the mission to all those who were ready to offer their lives for the mission. This will help us go forth towards others and hence be the source of joy to many who are victims of the failed leadership we are witnessing in the country.
Fr. Victor Kouande: a Comboni Missionary
It is an opportunity to live the joy of the Gospel anew and make it evident to young people that a life given to Jesus and his people is a beautiful life; it is a life that gives joy (EG, No. 268). We are witnessing the gradual growth of the numbers of young people who knock our doors to join the Institute and we feel grateful to God for them. But we need to care for them and show them with our lives that it is worth to be a consecrated person. The preparatory document of the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops 2018 states as follows “Accompanying young people requires going beyond a preconceived framework, encountering young people where they are, adapting to their times and pace of life and taking them seriously”.
All these demand from us a revolutionary conversion and in other words radical conversion. This conversion is an interior revolution in the personal life. We must radically shake up our lives because genuine conversion and real change will come when we have the nerve to risk a dramatic change. St. Paul and St. Francis are good examples of this radical change. They never ran away from the risk to dramatic upheaval.
May St. D. Comboni and St. J. Bakhita guide us in our missionary vocation. Let us live this 150th anniversary as an opportunity of casting the net to the starboard for better catch (Jn 21:6).
Fr. Louis Okot Tony
Provincial Superior of the Comboni Missionaries in South Sudan