Juba: Workshop on Interculturality

From October 25th to the 27th 2018, the Local Superiors of the Comboni Missionaries of the South Sudan Province and some confreres between the ages of 45-60 were invitedto attend a three-day-workshop on the theme of Interculturality, keeping in mind that the whole Institute will be dedicating 2019 to reflect on this topic.The facilitator was Fr. Edward Kanyike, Provincial of Malawi-Zambia and the current Coordinator of the APDESAM group.

After some introductory work regarding the terminology which is being used on the subject matter of culture,multiculturality, cross-cultural and the newly coined term of Interculturality;the workshop proper started on dealing with the “Letter of the Superior General Manuel Augusto Lopes Ferreira on Interculturality.”

Most of the participants agreed that the Chapter 1997 was right at looking at the theme of Interculturality as a burning issue for our Institute and at the right timing as well. Specially because it opened the doors for further reflection and freedom of expression. Up to that moment the issue of Interculturality was looked upon as a kind of Taboo, of which, it was better not to talk about. Among other things, the members, working in two groups, did a kind of historical revision, recalling the years when over 73% of the confreres were Italians and then, the Institute was somehow divided into blocks of Europeans, Africans and Latin Americans (during the early 80’s). So, to say: the problems of multiculturality were there, but they were not tackled before 1997. And in that sense, the 1997 Chapter was full of insight, because it paid attention to the challenges posed by the Interculturality of the Institute as a part and parcel of the God given signs of the times.

The group attending the workshop was invited to contemplate and reflect upon the 3 biblical icons proposed by Manuel Augusto’s letter: Exodus, Babel-Pentecost and the Magi. The group acknowledged their richness, applying them to our Intercultural situation: firstly, looking at Interculturality as an Exodus,and how this icon reproduces the journey our Institute has made, through a process of adjustments and sometimes missing metaphorically the onions and the meat of Egypt, that is former times. But also, our Congregation’s Exodus has already left in Egypt the reality of being many tribes and peoples, and how it has taken the commitment to start walking on the road to become united in the single People of God.

Secondly,the icon that represents the movement from Babel to Pentecost was thought resembling our Congregation’s stages of growth which was first overwhelmed by confusion, division, and cultural disagreements and now, through the power of the Holy Spirit is, little by little, it is arriving to a common understanding at Pentecost, in the unity of the diversity of all its members. That is, despite the different languages we speak, we have entered into a process of acceptance of the different, keeping our own identity and in so doing, the Holy Spirit is bringing us together.

Thirdly,the icon of the Magi shows how we who come together from different places and walks of life are joined by a common call and are attracted by the beauty of Christ. He was the centre that united the Magi and He is the one that unites us as well. And in doing so, everyone carries within adiversity of gifts to offer to the community which is the Body of Christ and goes forth enriched by the person of Jesus Christ.

As a result of this whole reflection on Interculturality, the members of the Institute are invited to humbly accept and understand our cultural limitations and to avoid being judgemental of other ways of looking at life. From this perspective, we need to acknowledge the enrichment the experience of Interculturality brings to our lives:

  • It helps us to value the strengths and to understand the limitations of our own culture.
  • Interculturality is a healthy way of getting rid of cultural fundamentalism.
  • Interculturality enriches our way of thinking, helps us to relativize our own culture and therefore gives us more freedom.
  • It is a way of experiencing concretely the catholicity of the Church.
  • Living Interculturality gives people happiness, because it changes our life and makes us instrumental for changing other people’s lives.

But not everything we saw in this subject matter was positive, we also heard of very difficult and painful experiences of living in cross-cultural communities. But even there, it was underlined that the challenge was how to learn from those distressful experiences: the way of working together, cooperating for the coming of God’s Kingdom. Others felt that confrontation in our missionary work was inevitable,especially when we have got different ways of dealing with the local Christian communities.

We agreed that though we are certainly all very different from each other, still we share many things in common as well: our love for Jesus Christ and his saving message and the richness of our charism, expressed in our “Comboni culture”.

At the end of the workshop, we drew some practical conclusions:

  • The fact that we are culturally different is not so important as much as how do we confront the differences: as a threat or as a blessing.
  • We need to be aware of our prejudices and even when it seems that our confreres fit perfectly in them. We should avoid easy generalisations.
  • Misunderstandings among confreres are more a question of personality, and character, rather than a cultural feature.
  • The main preparation to live on Intercultural communities are to be given during the formation periods and specially in the experience each candidate has at the International Scholasticate or Brother Centres.
  • A danger ahead of us are the mono cultural provinces: that is those provinces in which internationality is not common,because most confreres are from the same nationality.

Another challenge might be now the reversing of the mission centres, that is Europe in some years will be in urgent need of younger confreres to take up the challenges of caring for the ailing and aging confreres.

By Fr. Roy Zúñiga, mccj