What happened in the past left its traces, sure signs of a presence that is gone, but that has been there. Something as the footprints on the sand of those who passed by when the waves retreat. To celebrate, to make memorial of an experience, to revisit the history that began with that event is to contemplate the traces maybe left apart (disregarded) but always present.
Well, for me, from this Easter onwards, it will be a celebration after another.
Actually it was on June 1st , 1867 when Daniele Comboni founded in Verona the Institute for the Missions of Africa so in this 2017 it celebrates its 150 years of life, of a history full of ups and downs that led it to be become today Comboni Missionaries. I definitely joined this Institute with perpetual vows 50 years ago, exactly on September 9th , 1967. Three months later I was ordained deacon, and a few weeks after I celebrated the first of thousands of baptisms.
On December 7th , I'll be 75 years old, the retired age although for us missionaries this term does not exist; on April 19th , above all, it will be 49 years that I have been a priest and my group (we were 42) will start the journey towards the 50 years jubilee in 2018. These dates bring forth again on the sands of time the traces of events, satisfactions, failures, mistakes, joys which lack just the latest chapter.
One certainty encourages me: I learned to pray knowing that I was listened to without my prayers being answered in the way I wanted. I like how a mother tells it. Her little child every Advent night was praying to Jesus to bring him a nice bike with multicolored taillights. The mother was weeping silently, because she knew she hadn't the means to make her child happy. Christmas came, the boy ran excitedly toward the tree that presented him only few sweets and a pair of shoes. He stood frozen staring steadily at the Christmas star. Are you sorry that Jesus did not listen to you? asked the mother. But no, Jesus heard me, replied the boy. What do you mean? reacted the mother with surprise. Yes, retorted the boy, he listened to me and to me he said "No!".
Starting my life as a priest in the Easter week was a blessing and a travel guide. Easter is not only a Christian feast, but also a paradigmatic event for the whole human society. "Death with Life contended: combat strangely ended. Life’s own Champion, slain, yet lives to reign", sing the Catholic liturgy. In his resurrection, Jesus is the firstborn –the one who causes the vaginal opening, according to the biblical expression-; He removed the stone from the tomb and opened from earth’s womb a path of unity for humanity: unity of purpose, of hearts, and of physical and psychological relationships that make us one in the unity of one God. A heart opened to the universal communion, does not exclude anything or anyone. The believer in Easter celebrates a historic event, those who do not believe celebrate what Easter means as a living parable.
One wonders: at Easter old traditions reappear - cleaning the house, cooking traditional dishes, coloring eggs, in red perhaps because this brings health, exchanging greetings and gifts -; but the world, especially those who call themselves Christian, have at least understood what announces a risen "body"? How is it then that there is trafficking in human beings and the absurd trafficking of organs? Wars, displaced, death by hunger in the South Sudan desert?
"For 150 years, our Institute of the Comboni Missionaries has proclaimed the victory of Life over death - writes our General Council in its Easter wishes -. This Life, sold at a cheap price, betrayed, condemned, nailed to a cross and locked in the dark of a tomb, found the power to rise again and give himself to every person who lets himself be engulfed by the unconditional love of God. Like then, even now life is betrayed and sold. We live in a world where radicalism is likely to take over, where there is no place for the impoverished and the crucified of history, where walls are built and bridges torn down. A world where the economy of selfishness and death creates scraps of humanity and the search of welfare but just for personal benefit and where we become increasingly unable to open up to the gift that becomes a blessing and is fragmented so that it may be shared."
Pope Benedict in his Urbi and Orbi 2010 message asked to overcome the multiple tragic expressions of a death culture and build a future of love and truth. The Resurrection is to bring light and strength to the leaders, so that economic and financial activity can be centered on truth, justice and fraternal aid criteria. "Almost without realizing it, we have become unable to feel compassion to the others' sufferings, we neither cry before the others' drama nor are we interested in taking care of them, as if it was a responsibility alien to us, somewhat we are not involved in," repeats Pope Francis.
Here lies the crux of the Church’s mission, of my institute, of my life, whose traces need to be rediscovered starting from the initial event: Jesus. Jesus was imbued with the desire that God would transform the world, with a fixed idea and a clear hope at the epicenter of his struggle: society needs to set off on a new course and people to rebuild their lives from the base upwards. To this end he was busy, moving his listeners hearts, calling them to change even when it meant being in conflict with the rich, the satisfied, the unrighteous, so as to break the privileged people's power and give priority to mercy.
Easter such as an historic event for the believers, Easter such as a parable of life is essential for a journey towards justice. Easter 2017 announces that another world is possible, a world where life triumphs and where we all have life in abundance. Easter, even for the unbelievers announces the victory of Life over death, calls us to make common cause with those who are discarded and rejected, a means to let ourselves be overcome by the Life of God so that we may share it with the neglected of history.
Let us celebrate Easter as resurrection!