Letter sent by the administrator of this blog to his friends, relatives and acquaintances on the occasion of 2022 Christmas Day.
May the peace and blessings Christ's birth brought to the world be upon you and your loved ones.
I would like to share with you two events that have enriched my life and one of our concerns.
During July and August, I led two weeks of spiritual exercises for the Butembo-Beni diocesan priests: they were 84 in the first group, 110 in the second. During two afternoons we had also a synodal experience of mutual listening and dialogue to grasp what the Spirit is asking to this Church in the midst of violence and internal and international conflicts.
I was thus able to deepen my knowledge of the ecclesial reality. The diocesan clergy live in priestly communities: one house, one table, one account. Common fund also for illnesses, clergy subsistence, the new parishes’ development and the 'Common House' within the diocese.
Faithful People, in spite of their poverty and the social insecurity, they cooperate generously in the running of the church community. Insecurity is the great obstacle to any initiative, progress and synodal journey. The armed gangs that infest our territory are infiltrated by Ugandan and especially Rwandan elements who seek profit from the gold, precious minerals, and coltan artisanal mines. This is why I decided to join the diocesan project 'Peace and Security for Butembo-Beni'.
The diocese is bubbling over with religious and priestly vocations, but suffers from the return of pagan and traditional practices – witchcraft, fetishism, magic - and from anti-values such as: lies, irresponsibility, violence, banditry: phenomena that were almost unknown twenty years ago. There is a certain infatuation for everything that is 'new': songs, fashion, mobile phones in the hand even though unable to work. Youth and women have a prominent place in community life, but both in the society and in the Church the sacral and patriarchal mentality still dominates. The result is a mixture of formalism and ritualism that pass to religious ceremonies and to the faithful and the clergy’s relations. It then becomes difficult to deal with the imported social phenomena of the new world ethos, such as prostitution, the trafficking of girls lured from the countryside with the illusion of work and schooling and then introduced into 'tora', the places where alcohol and sex are peddled. Right next to the cathedral stands the 'HQ' where policemen organise young boys’ gangs for robberies on command, rewarding them with a few pennies. A society and a Church alive, but also in need of a moral and social revolution to cope with the reality, the effects of globalisation present everywhere, and the conflicts destabilizing the society and generating poverty, hatred and revenge.
Towards the end of the year, I participated in a course called of Seniority. There were about ten of us. Together we gathered almost 500 years of experience and missionary life, each one with his own personality beautifully manifested and solidly defended as did Comboni, our founder. There was the refined and playful missionary who came from the Peruvian Andes, and the scruffy-looking globetrotter; the peaceful one who speaks softly but has a go at everyone, and the one who pretends to be respectful while spiteful at the same time; the handyman incapable of preparing a sandwich, and the one who drags his feet worn-out on the muddy African paths; finally the one who continually crosses the ‘t’s & dots the 'i's. A human variety, serious and playful all together, which must have inspired the encyclical Evangelii Gaudium.
All of us had passed the threshold of 70 and most that of 80. In the course of our get together, some were seeking serenity to take stock of their spiritual journey, others to re-read their lives. Some were preparing to pull the oars in the boat and others in want of reviewing the past to reconcile with the many reasons for satisfaction or frustration. There were the eternal 'young people': happy, carefree octogenarians, full of plans for whom 'spiritual rest' is still the search for experiences able to nourish their Bible reading and the Church's guidelines understanding. Also present were the perennially satisfied: the world seems to be made for them and them for the world, with the spirit, even the one with a capital letter, inflating their sails. A tonic for the mental hygiene of all our group.
A joyful experience steeped in sadness, refreshing and admonishing at the same time, was visiting Castel d'Azzano, the retire-home of the no longer autonomous missionaries. Old friends since youth, former provincial and general superiors, founders and directors of magazines, social activity leaders of boys' towns and parishes, in the twilight of life. Sad and consoling it was meeting these missionaries who had respond to go and announce, who were salt and light of the world with good works living now the when you have done it all, say 'we are useless servants'.
Useless in a profound sense: mission and God's Kingdom were there before us and proceed after and without us. Useless, but free from the doubt that we are sometimes used by political power for the good we do, or by the Church for ideas that smack of ideology. Useless, of not any use, discarded the Pope would say. Yet a sign of the essential: loving and be loved for what one is and not because one is useful.
Every life has its meaning. Even when it is about to extinguish. In Fellini's film 'La strada', the Fool says to Gelsomina: "Take that stone there.... This too is good for something'. "What for?" And the Fool: "How should I know? If I knew, do you know who I would be?" Gelsomina: "Who?" "The Heavenly Father who knows everything... when you are born, when you die? No. I do not know what but it must serve a purpose: if this is useless, then everything is useless”. Missionaries, 'useless servants' and yet... with 'a meaning' in the human universe, especially in God’s universe. So, what sense is there in what is happing among us?
I arrive in Goma -back to Congo-, when the rebel M23 movement, sponsored by Rwanda, is 20 km away and threatens to retake the city as it did ten years ago. On the Salesian compound, 6,000 families fleeing the war are amassed, not far from where the Italian ambassador was killed. In Butembo, the day after my arrival, at a crossroads, the head of a decapitated man appears. The third in a week, an image of how difficult, bloody and incomprehensible is the political and military situation dominating here in Ituri, in the east part of the country. We seem to be experiencing what the liturgy has been telling us in the last weeks: Nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom will rise up; there will be earthquakes, famine and pestilence. Neighbours against friends as in a Walmart in Virginia (USA) where an employee kills before committing suicide; as in Ukraine where a bomb kills an infant still on maternity leave; as in Jerusalem where bomb attacks are answered with vengeance. They will lay hands on you and persecute you. Yes, even this there is in our diocese of Butembo-Beni. Violence continues against priests - 3 kidnapped 10 years ago of whom nothing is known, others killed during or at the end of the Eucharist -, against men and women religious, against lay people, catechists, pastoral agents, community leaders.
At the beginning of 2022, Pope Francis addressed a prayer and an invitation for brotherhood. Today, however, we find ourselves talking about wars, watching shocking images, witnessing scenes that we struggle to recognise as our own. "We are aware that war, any war, is always and everywhere a defeat for the whole of humanity," Pope Francis told the World Jewish Congress. Peace cannot be "a promise for the other world, but a reality in this one". "The wrath of God will be kindled against those responsible for countries that speak of peace and sell weapons to make war." War is "a failure of politics and humanity, a shameful surrender, a defeat in the face of evil forces": "every war leaves the world worse off than it found it", victims, refugees, mothers who lose their children, children mutilated and deprived of childhood, people who fight and tear each other apart, young people who know nothing but violence (Fratelli tutti).
All signs of an increasing misery of humanity pleading more than ever for brotherhood and compassion to take over the economic interest and ambition of the few. What can be done?
The mind and heart get lost in this question. Everything seems meaningless. And yet it does not. There is an answer and it comes to us from Christmas, from this Christmas, because "Where God is born, hope is born: He brings hope. Where God is born, peace is born. And where peace is born, there is no longer room for hatred and war” (Pope Francis).
Merry Christmas to all, especially to those who seek and build peace.
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