By Jacob Solomon Shole – The Comboni Missionaries have been celebrating 150 years of foundation of their Institute, which was founded in Verona, Italy, on 1 June 1867 by Daniel Comboni. In South Sudan a whole range of activities has been organised to mark this occasion. Among them was the annual spiritual retreat that took place at Good Shepherd Peace Centre in Kit, Juba’s outskirt, from 30 July to 5 August 2017.

Fr Peter Ciuciulla, an Assistant General in the Congregation, led the group in prayer and reflection over the seven days of spiritual exercises. The theme for reflections and prayers was related to the mercy of God and his call to evangelize in the midst of many contradictions. This topic was also connected with the 150th anniversary of the Comboni Institute.

In his meditations, the retreat preacher put a particular emphasis on the action of the Spirit of God that inspired and initiated the Comboni charisma in the heart of the Founder, St. Daniel Comboni. It is the same Spirit that has guided the Institute over the past 150 years. The Spirit of the Lord never left the members of this Institute. Those who have received the handing over of the mission from the Founder, guided by the Spirit, have passed it onto the next generation.

The Spirit of God continues working in this missionary family not because its members are faithful to God, but because God is faithful to them. Repeated vicissitudes have been endured by some members of this missionary family who have been an outstanding model to those who are called by God to join and continue the journey of witnessing the loving presence of God in all the corners of the world.

Looking back at the journey of 150 years of this missionary family we can see the guidance of God and his presence in moments of joys and suffering, a presence of love and mercy shared to all humanity. Despite our unfaithfulness, the faithful God never gets tired of us and his love and mercy is manifested even through unworthy servants like us.

There have been moments of temptations, such as the temptation of losing the loving companionship of God. When we lose that, we become unfaithful to God. God, however, keeps on calling us back to his companionship. When we are willing to renew our companionship with him and listen to his call, God welcomes us back, heals our wounds and embraces us with the loving care of a Father. With the same tender love, God teaches us how to be compassionate and how to forgive.

As Jesus called his disciples one by one to be with him and to form a community, we are also called individually to come and form this missionary family to witness his love and mercy. We are apostles of Jesus with our brothers and sisters who are called for the same mission. Apostolic life is a call for companionship with Jesus and for true communion with one another.

Our companionship has been made of our imperfections, which calls us to learn from Jesus to be merciful and forgiving. We receive from Jesus the grace of mercy when we are able to renew our companionship with him and live in true communion with our brothers and sisters. When we are able to remain in companionship with Jesus, those who are around us learn to come closer to Jesus. This becomes an important apostolic tool in the proclamation of the Good News.

God has entrusted his own mission to us, which his only Son Jesus Christ has started. God trusts us. It is a trust not based on our worthiness, but on his mercy and love. We are called to bear witnesses of his presence among us and make true community that works and walks together. An old proverb says: “if you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, walk with others”. So, we learn that togetherness is very important.

Our Comboni mission has been on for 150 years because of constant renewal of bond with Jesus and the companionship with each other. Our mission goes on as long as we cultivate and keep our companionship with Jesus and accept each other as brothers and sisters and learn to love and forgive each other.

God calls us out of his gratuitous love and all we have and are is his. By recognizing this, we know we belong to him and we are able to experience his companionship that comes with the gift of love and life. This companionship is to be built and renewed daily in our apostolic life. Out of this renewed communities we attain energy to have a passion of life that leads us to stand as a church to witness the loving presence of God.

This witness takes us sometimes on a path of risk. We learn from Jesus, who first took the risk of coming to the unknown and living like us. He faced opposition and persecutions. Adversities may come even in the form of death. This is not new in this missionary family. Opposition, persecution and death have come the way of many missionaries of our Institute. Many of them have gone ahead of us and some are still alive standing as living witness and inspiration that awakes our hearts and of those who are coming after us.

So, let us open our hearts to the action of the Holy Spirit, like Mary, so that God’s mercy and mission may continue in us and through us.

Jacob Solomon Shole, mccj