For years, this has been an appointment that brings together different friends around a message in the desire to create between us a spiritual communion and an ever-deeper friendship. This time I decided to leave aside the news about my activities and the problems that surround us, to share the deep reasons for my return to Africa, precisely in Congo, perhaps near Goma, where the Italian ambassador was killed. Easter letter 2021
May this Easter’s peace and joy fill your heart.
At the end of my service in the United States, I wrote a farewell letter to the Council of Comboni Missionaries, which I rewrite here and adapt it a little.
As the date of my departure approaches, two feelings dwell in my heart.
As the date of leaving the NAP is approaching, two feelings dwell in my heart.
A feeling of satisfaction that I have served the NAP with all my capability, maybe not perfectly – but is there something perfect in this life? I accepted to move back and forth from Chicago, when the community there was facing difficulties, I did all the Mission Appeals I was asked, I served all parishes where the community sent me to, and I supported almost all the Spanish ministry during Fr. Luigi’s illness, when present. I also feel great satisfaction to see that my ministry was truly appreciated by every community, French, Italian, above all Spanish, and even English despite my accent!
The only regret I have is of having hardly visited this interesting country.
I say this just to assert that I never intended to leave the United States. Some of my expressions might have seemed like it; but in fact, they aimed at pushing the General and Local Superiors to find a replacement for the important position I hold with VIVAT International at the United Nations.
The Justice and Peace commitment and all of the activities I was responsible for, including the blog and the pastoral obligations in different languages, kept me attached to the Country. Thus, I wrote explicitly to the General Father, “I have never said that I ‘want’ or ‘wish’ to go to the Congo or Ecuador or Colombia”, or to leave the US.
After accepting the decision of the General Direction, I can now express my second feeling, namely a deep gratitude for two gifts received while I was in the United States.
First gift. From the Burundi Civil War of 1972, through the experience of the refugee camps of Rwanda before the 1994 tragedy, I have been trying to understand the source of so many conflicts in the world. The contacts I had during the 2ndSpecial Synod of the Bishops for Africa in Rome, and writing on its final petitions to the Pope led me to a conclusion: land is the background of any conflict, especially the ambiguous phenomenon of Land Grabbing.
However, the UN refuses to recognize Land Grabbing as the basis of many violated human rights. Even the letter we sent to the Pope during the workshop in Peru remained unanswered. What made the President of Justice and Peace, and Caritas National Commission of Liberia say, “The church refuses to recognize its responsibilities in this issue? It will find itself involved in many conflicts in the future.”
Well, the two opportunities I had in the USA, working with VIVAT International at the UN and the training on the subject I have given in a dozen countries - had confirmed thus conviction that land grabbing is at the core of many conflicts. I am grateful for both these opportunities because they empowered my work in the field of Justice and Peace.
The second gift is the re-acquired ‘taste’ for mission. A taste coming not from exotic food or fruits, small or splendid funded projects – Comboni asks us to be hidden stone gems in the building of God’s Kingdom -, the discovery of different countries and cultures, which are good but the side dish. The taste of mission is elsewhere.
All started during the summer of 2000, when many letters from the Congo were requesting my aid to find financial support for a “Province’s project”. The wording was confusing and required a substantial exchange of messages to understand the issue. Actually two projects were at stake there, but only one was approved; the CeRFA Center project, but not the other one.
Just as a way of apologizing for so much asking for clarification, I expressed my enthusiastic and even ‘direct’ support to the project of CeRFA, a Formation Center of Justice and Peace based Spirituality. I was thinking of some occasional collaboration through workshops that were the same as the ones I was doing in other countries. The DR-Congo’s Provincial, surprisingly, went further suggesting that I should return to the Congo. I was taken by surprise, given my age and the first reaction was, “I will certainly not go to ask to change the place of my missionary work” - which I never did in almost 60 years of religious life.
Then, in October 2020, during the annual spiritual exercises while reading Teresa of Avila’s The Book of my life I was questioned by some of her expressions such as, “This is how we deceive ourselves, we do not surrender entirely to God's will." I realized that in the US actually I had “my comfort zone”: friendships, the most suitable tools for my work, my freedom, extra income for good deeds, accommodation and food, an ‘almost’ personal car, and many other comfortable things. Not all was going smoothly, but suitably for a decent old age while it would last.
Having been already in the Congo, I knew the price to pay: climate, food, environment, risks, cultural, political and economic environment are not always easy. Mindful of the war of 2000. My position, "I won't ask", was hiding something that would cost me.
Then, Teresa’s word came: “We are so slow and so stingy about giving ourselves completely to God. We need to pay the price of rigorous self-separation." A word empowered in The Gospel of Gabriel, the following spiritual reading, saying the center call for the disciple is, ‘be stripped naked’. As the letter of St. Peter recalls, “Be solicitous to make your call and election permanent.” Which pretext would I advance to refuse the call? The proposal of the CeRFA Center was removing even the last valid reason, offering me to continue the work of JPIC "in mission".
During this dialogue with our Superiors in December 2020, I had clear in my memory the smile of a good friend, Fr. Pino Giannini. We had some time together in Rome. I met him again when he was leaving his position of the superior in Comboni Missionaries General House. He told me, “The best gift I received here was recovering the real taste for mission, leaving everything and going back to Africa.” He did. He died a few weeks ago in Malawi.
In our dialogue, the General Father remarked, "The idea of assigning you outside the US to Congo does not start with us. It starts from the dialogues that you and the Superior of Congo had.” He was right.
I accepted the call as a challenge of faith to live in African land again as I had rediscovered that the real taste of mission is the ability to welcome the path of evangelical radicalism.
At leaving the US, something happened that confirmed this attitude to me. Trusting in providence is a somewhat stereotyped expression, but I call to live in faith when we are committed to get involved with all our intelligence and experience.
I had a Covid test on Monday 15th of March in order to get the result by Wednesday 17thmorning and to be able to travel in the evening of the same day. During the Morning Prayer a word came to me, My heart is ready, Lord. Ready for what? I found myself thinking, surely, the test result will be positive. If this means, I am sick, it is an invitation to suffering. If, on the other hand, it is just a warning to welcome what is left of my life as a challenge to make decisions in faith, I know how I must face it.
At 10 o’ clock on Wednesday, the result arrives, positive. In line with my prayer, I went to the laboratory, I insisted that a new test should be taken; I rushed to the airport and rescheduled my trip from Wednesday to Friday. On Thursday morning the test result arrived, negative and on Friday, I took the flight. I had read correctly the message, now I'll have to live it to the fullest.
I assure you of my prayer, and I wish you, as I do it to myself, that your life would be a journey of resurrection and your heart will always be as joyful as ... Easter.