A Comboni missionary describes how his life has become more meaningful when he was assigned as parish priest at the outskirts of a town in Peru, at the foot of an active volcano. He recountes how the Comboni charism has touched the lives of people and how collaboration in facing challenges to spread the Gospel has made it a grace-filled adventure.
Mission work has filled my life with meaning so much so that today I feel fulfilled as a person and as a Christian. The Comboni mission always involves living at the outskirts with marginalized groups with whom we have a lot to do and more often than not, there is the need of starting from scratch.
The happiest moments of my missionary life have been when I was able to share closely the life of the simplest people who are left at the margin of progress and welfare, but are still full of human and spiritual values, are more open and available to accept the message of the Gospel. The names and faces of these men, women and children fill my heart today.
Since the first moment, I have always felt that Peru was the place the Lord wanted for me and where I had to stay. God has made me experience that it is in the geographical and existential peripheries where the Comboni charism demands that we share our life and our faith, where the heart of humanity beats much stronger and, therefore, where we feel the presence of God with greater intensity.
Collaboration of lay people
The welcoming attitude of the people who always wait for the “padrecitos” (the priests) with open arms because they have a great sense of God has helped me very much. It has also been important for me to see the collaboration of many lay people, the meaningful and effective presence of the Christian communities in the different villages, the social works of the parish, and the seeds sown by the previous Comboni missionaries.
It has been three years since I settled at Arequipa as parish priest of the Good Shepherd Parish. I feel that this is a Comboni land. The first Comboni missionary, Msgr. Lorenzo Unfried, arrived here 47 years ago. Since then our presence has been uninterrupted with the creation of four parishes in the Alto Selva Alegre district.
Our parish is in the outskirts, in the highest part of the city, about 2500 meters above sea level. It extends to the Misti volcano’s western slope with 35 thousand inhabitants. The parish community has eleven chapels, where the Eucharist is celebrated regularly.
The large amount of missionary work; the evangelization of a majority that up to now has not had much contact with the church; the creation and organization of material, pastoral and human structures in the new sectors of the parish which is in a continuous state of growth; the close accompaniment of the aspirations and struggles of the people in their pursuit of a more dignified life; the formation and orientation of a great number of youth; the support for the more vulnerable groups of the population –children, elderly, women victims of violence; and the formation and promotion of lay collaborators; are the challenges facing us in our mission work.
One of the most important aspects of doing mission work is our presence – showing itself in social works, accompanying, sharing, animating, bringing the Gospel to the lives of the people in their different realities.
Our parish has two nurseries with 240 children and a soup kitchen for the 100 little ones. Parish volunteers bring together, twice a week, a group of senior citizens in order to take them away from their loneliness, and in some instances even from being forsaken, so they may share their faith, receive spiritual and medical attention and also support their feeding.
We are also present in the field of health with two dispensaries which offer medical assistance to the sick with the help of the Daughters of Saint Camillus. The miracle of the solidarity of the Catholic faithful within and outside Peru and the collaboration of many volunteers make it possible to keep up these services that have become a support for many people in need.
It would not have been possible to develop so many evangelizing, pastoral and social activities without the collaboration of many persons who have become aware of the life of the community and have committed themselves through their lay ministries.
Pope Francis urges the Church to go out in order to reach all, and this is impossible without the committed work of hundreds of lay people who give life to their Christian communities, reach the families, shape the faith of the children and youth, direct and animate the social enterprises of the parish.
However, I can see that the number of committed lay people is not enough and less still is the quality of the commitment of some of them. They need true faith motivations and a deep encounter with Jesus Christ in order to feel that they are sent to share their mission and overcome the mentality that the Church is just the priests’ affair.
Still, I must distinguish and be grateful for the presence in our parish of lay missionaries who are living out the Comboni charism. For many years we have relied on the witness of their life and the help of their professional work. At present, we have two Comboni lay persons from Peru, a north-American family of doctors with two daughters, and a German young woman.
I know that I have consecrated my life to God, with all its values and capabilities, in order to serve the mission, and I haven’t the slightest doubt that it has been worth the cost. I think that in no other vocational or professional path would I have given so much scope for myself and for the others. If you, my reader, feel the missionary vocation, don’t doubt that this is the great opportunity of your life. Take the risk by committing your whole life to Jesus and His missionary dream.
Conrado Franco, Comboni Missionary