Revista Digital de los Misioneros Combonianos
en América y Asia

Fraternity, Ecology and the Gospel: Axes of Mission in our time
The three stonecutters of Chartres and the meaning of the Mission in the new world that is being born

El magisterio del Papa Francisco nos da elementos muy valiosos que nos orientan hacia una nueva síntesis, un nuevo horizonte misionero, una nueva “catedral” que, en este momento, constaría de dos grandes “naves” y una maravillosa “cúpula”: El sueño de una fraternidad universal (Fratelli tutti), en comunión con toda la creación (Laudato sì) y el Evangelio como alegría liberadora e iluminadora de todo el edificio (Evangelii gaudium).

Antonio Villarino Rodríguez - Bogotá

Many of us have heard the famous story of the three stonemasons and the cathedral. I remember it briefly in one of the many versions that circulate through social networks. It happened in Chartres, where a considerable number of workers were busy working on what would end up being the beautiful cathedral of that French city.
The story goes that a curious passerby approached one of the stonemasons and asked him what he was doing, to which he replied curtly: "Can't you see? I'm chipping away at a stone. The passer-by went on and asked a second stonecutter, who was also busy with a stone, and repeated the same question to him as to the first; but the second worker replied proudly, "I am carving a stone to build an elegant wall with it." In the same area, but a little further on, the walker asked the same question to a third worker, who, raising his shining eyes, told him with excitement and enthusiasm: "I am carving a stone that will make part of the most beautiful cathedral in the world".
As I said, many of us have heard this story several times, which helps us to reflect on the important difference between working on something concrete, but without a sense of the whole, and doing the same work, but with a global sense of the goal and the horizon in which our small or great actions are framed. Certainly it is important to work on each stone in itself; with the architect's plans nothing can be built if one stone after another is not taken care of. But neither can a cathedral be built if there is no overall plan and, moreover, the work on each stone has more human value and gives more happiness when we are aware of the why and what for of our effort.
Moving from the comic strip to our missionary life, if, today, a journalist approached us, missionaries of the 21st century, to ask us what we dedicate our lives to, what would we answer?
A first group would probably say: "I work in a popular school"; "I organize and run a parish"; "I edit a magazine", and so on and so forth until naming the many and multiple activities that we carry out in different parts of the world, with greater or lesser success, with better or worse results, always with dedication and generosity. But perhaps some would hesitate to describe in which "wall", that is, in which ministerial option that "stone" they are carving would be integrated.
A second group would perhaps say: "I am dedicated to promote justice, peace, respect for Creation"; "I work in the Afro or indigenous pastoral"; "I work with the nomads of Africa"; "I am dedicated to the urban peripheries"... These missionaries are clear that they work in the construction of a "wall", that is to say, a determined pastoral option or, as we say now, a specific ministeriality. And within this "wall" they joyfully include so many "stones" or activities that they and other missionaries carry out.
But perhaps a seasoned journalist could go on to ask a little more in depth: But don't these missionaries, who work in so many precious "stones", who build interesting "walls", sometimes solid and beautiful, have a global project in their heads, a project that integrates all the stones and all the walls into a beautiful cathedral, harmonious and full of life, that welcomes many people and rises to heaven as a monument of renewed and integrated humanity?
In that case, the journalist would be asking about the overall meaning of all that these missionaries do, the deep motivation of what they build and for what they toil. He would be asking about the motivation and the horizon of the mission.

The horizon in a new landscape
What is the global horizon of mission today? In every epoch of history the Church has asked itself this question, frequently renewing the answer or, at least, the verbalization of it, according to cultural changes and the same progress of mission and theology. It seems to me that today we are quite clear about the "stones", that is, the concrete activities of the mission, and we could even say that the "walls" or ministerial options are also clear. But it can happen to us as with that tree whose root dried up; for some time it continued having leaves and giving good fruits, but little by little it dried up, its fruits became exhausted and it died. No tree can bear fruit for long if its root dries up; in the same way, the mission will cease to bear fruit if the root dries up, that is, the deep motivation: the why and wherefore of the mission. Or, to use another metaphor, if the horizon towards which it is directed is not in sight.
Throughout history, this horizon has been defined by some theological principles that were evident in themselves (for that time) and reflected at a certain stage of history the depth of the motivations and purposes that moved missionaries to abandon family and homeland and to cross without fear or laziness mountains and rivers, cultures and languages. Some of these axioms crystallized in brief and forceful expressions: the missionary mandate of Jesus ("Go into the world, proclaim, baptize"); "Save souls from eternal damnation"; "Establish the Church"; "Make Jesus Christ known"; "Proclaim the Gospel"; "Promote justice"; "Free the poorest and most abandoned"; "Mission ad gentes"; "Mission inter-gentes"; "Mission to the peripheries"; "Church on the move".
All this variety of expressions, which have been used in missiology and have motivated thousands and thousands of people, gathers and expresses different dimensions of mission, some of which were emphasized more in a certain epoch than in another, according to changing sensibilities. But it must be recognized that most of them have become fragile or too partial in recent years, taking away forcefulness and strength from the overall missionary motivation, in such a way that we prefer to take refuge in the concrete fruits of the mission, the services we can render, valuable in themselves (like a well-cut stone), but without knowing very well what "wall" they will contribute to build or if some "cathedral" will emerge from there, one that will last in time. The opposite of what St. Daniel Comboni experienced, who, although his work was small and fragile, worked for a strong, grandiose and clear project. That is why he was not afraid of being only the foundation buried underground; it did not matter, because he was sure that behind him would come others who would build the "cathedral" he had dreamed of. That is why he believed that, even if he died, his work would go on.
It is true that establishing today this global horizon, the plan of the new "cathedral" of mission, is not easy, because we are in a period of transition in all dimensions of human history, including missiology. We Comboni Missionaries - and other institutes - have been trying for years to define this global horizon and, if anything, we have come to program the "walls", that is, the ministerial options. But it is difficult for us to dream of a "cathedral", a new dream of humanity, which gives meaning and is a horizon, which, although distant, gives meaning to our efforts and dedication, even when we do not see the immediate results.

Enlightening a New World (Pope Francis' Proposal)
When we were in the midst of the worst of the Covid 19 pandemic, many voices were saying: Let us hope that we will come out of this better than we went in. It will not be easy, because, once the fear is overcome, we will return to the usual: distrust, pride, selfishness, exclusion, indifference, lack of faith.... But the Gospel is precisely the proclamation that something new has been born in the world ("the Kingdom is among you") and that something new can be born in every epoch of history, as in a painful but hope-filled birth.
In this sense, it seems to me that the magisterium of Pope Francis gives us very valuable elements that guide us towards a new synthesis, a new missionary horizon, a new "cathedral" that, at this moment, would consist of two great "naves" and a wonderful "dome": The dream of a universal fraternity (Fratelli tutti), in communion with all creation (Laudato sì) and the Gospel as the liberating and illuminating joy of the whole building (Evangelii gaudium).
1.- The dream of a fraternal humanity (Fratelli tutti)
The Comboni Missionary Ezekiel Ramin, whose life was cut short in Brazil at the age of 32 by violent land hunters, is remembered by the peasants of Cacoal above all for an expression he repeated to them like a mantra: "Have a dream in your life". Having a dream is very important to be somebody. Without a dream, life becomes routine, anodyne and meaningless. That is why the Pope's encyclical that challenges us to embrace the dream of a fraternal humanity, a universal fraternity, is so significant.
Pope Francis himself declared in this regard:
"This is the time to dream big, to rethink our priorities - what we want, what we seek - and to commit ourselves to the small and act on what we have dreamed. What I hear at this moment is similar to what Isaiah heard God say through him, "Come, let us talk about this. Let us dare to dream.
Today, more than ever, the fallacy of making individualism the guiding principle of our society has been exposed. What will be our new principle? We need a people's movement that knows that we need each other, that has a sense of responsibility for each other and for the world. We need to proclaim that being compassionate, having faith and working for the common good are great goals of life that require courage and steadfastness; whereas vanity, superficiality and mockery of ethics have done us no good. The modern era - which so much developed and projected equality and freedom - now needs to add, with the same drive and tenacity, fraternity to face the challenges ahead of us. Fraternity will give freedom and equality their just symphony".
(Francis, Let Us Dream Together, Conversations with Austen Ivereigh, ed. Plaza y Janés, 2020, p. 6).
In the world of globalization, super-interconnected, in which I can participate in meetings in five continents without leaving my home, the possibilities of increasing knowledge, cultivating affections, improving relationships, growing as human beings... are almost infinite. But there are also many traps and self-destructive temptations. While there are those who dream of a new era of unsuspected progress and even of reaching a kind of "transhumanism", some take advantage of it to increase their economic, political and cultural power with total indifference towards the most vulnerable; others, moved by the fear of losing their roots and their identity, lock themselves up in a supposedly idyllic past, entrenching themselves in themselves and in their homelands or religious traditions. In biblical terms, we can recall Adam, who fell into the temptation to be like God, Cain, who eliminated his brother competitor, or the builders of Babel, who transformed their dream of "trans-humanism" before its time into a great fiasco of confusion, division and dispersion.
For some, as the novel by a Nigerian writer said a long time ago, referring to the Africa of colonization, "the world is collapsing". For others, the temptation of self-divinization persists.
Faced with the temptation of this double polarization (self-divinization or self-destruction), humanity needs the dream that we have inherited from Jesus, the dream of a fraternal humanity, the dream of real people, concrete and limited, but with great aspirations, who do not feel themselves to be gods or slaves, but children and, therefore, brothers and sisters, who pay special attention to the most vulnerable.
From this perspective, the missionary perspective changes quite a bit. The icon corresponding to this stage of the mission would not be so much the "Good Shepherd", who, although smelling like a sheep, puts himself at the head of the flock and guides it with authority and greater knowledge, attitudes that are difficult to accept today. The appropriate model for today would be the "Good Samaritan", who, as a fellow traveler, exposed to the same risks and frailties, knows how to get off his horse and help a "brother in humanity", lying on the road.
From this perspective of the Good Samaritan and with this horizon of a humanity without frontiers, as a "cathedral" to be built in our time, many "stones" (missionary actions) can be carved and many "walls" (ministerial options) can be designed. But they will no longer be isolated actions or efforts closed in on themselves without a global sense, but fruitful works, directed towards a great objective, which all workers can share, whatever our specialty and whatever the limited time that each one dedicates to a task that surpasses us all.
In the encyclical, the Pope reminds us of some of these "stones" and "walls". I will not dwell on them so as not to make this reflection too long. But we all have some of them in mind: immigration, inter-religious dialogue, justice and peace, the peripheries, the value of work, the tension between the local and the universal, the valuing of cultures, education, etc.
The cornerstone of this new construction is, on the one hand, love and, on the other, the awareness of the inalienable dignity of every human being. All this has to do with a "holistic" vision, which refers us to creation as a great project of life, in which the human being is harmoniously integrated with all other beings. The era of a consumerist, anthropocentric and materialistic vision of creation has passed. The time has come to rediscover the spirituality of Creation. This is the second "nave" of our "cathedral".

2.-In tune with the whole of creation (Laudato sì)
The problems related to climate change, water scarcity, the race to accumulate land, global pollution caused, above all, by fossil fuels, urban overpopulation and other ecological problems are today a topic of transversal conversation in all corners of our humanity, a sign that the concern is universal. Many scientists, politicians and entrepreneurs are already looking for technical solutions to these problems. But we would be mistaken if we thought that this was only a technical matter. It is also, and above all, about our lifestyle.
After an era in which almost infinite progress was a kind of "scientific" and liberal axiom, we have finally rediscovered that the earth is not limitless and that we are part of an immense and fragile cosmos, without which we cannot live and in which we must integrate harmoniously, with respect and care.
In this sense, the Pope was able to grasp the cultural moment we are living and, in fraternity with many other people and institutions, offer, from our human and religious experience, a concrete response, which implies a return to the theological and human sense of Creation, recovering the extraordinary educational value of the biblical narratives.
"These narratives suggest that human existence is based on three closely connected fundamental relationships: the relationship with God, with the neighbor and with the earth. According to the Bible, all three vital relationships have been broken, not only externally, but also within us. This rupture is sin" (LS 66).
The core of the Encyclical's proposal - in its fourth chapter - is an integral ecology as a new paradigm of justice, an ecology that "incorporates the peculiar place of human beings in this world and their relations with the reality that surrounds them."
"The analysis of environmental problems is inseparable from the analysis of human, family, work and urban contexts, and of the relationship of each person with himself" (141), because "there are not two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but a single and complex socio-environmental crisis" (139).
In this encyclical, too, the Pope offers us many concrete "stones" to be hewn and many "walls" to be built so that the new "cathedral", the dream of a new humanity, can become a reality. But the most important thing is this global vision of the world, which allows us to recover respect for ourselves and for the world, in a context of freedom, creativity, responsibility and a sense of limits.

The Gospel as witness of a Presence (Evangelii gaudium)
The "dome" that illuminates this new "cathedral", this new missionary era, can be none other than the Good News of a transcendent but incarnate Presence, experienced in one's own life, beyond the cultures, philosophies and religious or moral structures of each time or place; not always easy to explain in words, but very real in the most authentic experiences of believers. The dream of fraternity and of a harmonious Creation can come to nothing if this light that illuminates everything is missing, that supreme reference that is Logos (Word-Reason-Sense), Shekkinah (divine shadow, Spirit), Abba (Father-Mother), always present as Origin and Goal of all that we are.
It is not a matter of "non-negotiable values", nor of a supposed moral superiority, nor of a highly perfected religious structure... It is a matter of a light received gratuitously, which is transmitted honestly, humbly and sincerely, in spite of our own darkness; it is a matter of a hope experienced in our own flesh, even amidst failures and falls; it is a matter of witnessing the grace received, the transformation that takes place in us, even in the experience of sin overcome in mercy. As St. Paul would say, "The Father has revealed his Son in me, transformed me and sent me.
Maria Fianu: "I want to live under the light of the great God".
Allow me at this point to recall a personal experience from my time in the African mission. It happened in Abor, a village in southern Ghana, not far from the border with Togo. One day I was sent a message from a lady who lived in a village near the parish center. I was told that this lady, who was a priestess of one of the many Vodus in the area, wanted to be baptized.
I, a young priest recently arrived in the country, had heard that it was very difficult for vodou people to convert and I thought that the lady was rather looking for some material benefit: clothes, medicine, money... That is why I did not hurry to visit her; I hoped that she, in view of my indifference, would forget the matter. But she insisted several times and in the end I decided to visit her.
I met a woman of about 60 years of age, ill but lucid. I rather arrogantly told her that I had no clothes, no medicine and no money, so not to expect any benefit. She looked at me with infinite wisdom and said:
-Only a white man can be as proud and stupid as you are.What do I want your things for? I'm old and I don't need anything. What I need is something you have, but it doesn't belong to you. I gave me be mano Mawu ga fe kekeli me (What I want is to live under the light of the Great God).
And the lady continued:
-Until now I have lived in lies, what I want now is to live in God's truth. Everything else is of no importance to me.
I baptized that lady whose name was Adjoa Fianu. I gave her the name of Mary. In front of her family, she renounced lies, revenge, the desire to possess things, hatred, vodou... We all gave her peace and wished her happiness.
Two days later I went back to visit her, a little worried because no one in her family was Christian and I thought she might face opposition. I was afraid for her. But what I found was not fear, nor anguish, nor tension ..... What I found was peace, serenity, joy... the fruits of the Holy Spirit. I had the feeling that the Spirit of God had descended upon that house, as the Acts of the Apostles tells us.
Her four "pagan" daughters were bursting with thanksgiving on behalf of their mother, liberated and introduced into an environment where "the light of the great God" reigned. I invite you to compare this story with that of the jailer who "rejoices with all his household because they have believed in God" (Acts 16:25-34).
In that village I realized that I myself was not aware of the gift I had been given to live "in the light of the great God". How much I owe to that lady and others like her, who made me aware of the treasure I had without appreciating it or enjoying it properly!
After a spiritualistic period of the mission (with the declared objective of "saving souls for heaven"), in the last decades a time has opened up in which concrete and tangible actions (health, education, human rights, etc.) are especially valued. Jesus also carried out a mission of very concrete "messianic signs" (healings, resurrections, deliverances from the evil one). Certainly the mission involves many liberating initiatives in the field of health, education, justice, etc., like those of the Good Samaritan. These "messianic signs" have enormous value insofar as they are signs of a reality that transcends them, a love that gives meaning to life.
But the emphasis on concrete actions can make us forget that "man does not live by bread alone"; also important are the words that help to give meaning to our life, the human closeness that is the transparency of a presence that surpasses us, a Love that goes far beyond our very limited love.
The joy of Evangelii Gaudium (EG) and missionary motivations
The publication of the EG ratified the atmosphere of surprise, novelty and change of paradigm represented by the arrival of Pope Francis, with an accent placed not so much on doctrine as on life, on the experience of faith as an experience of joy and the mission of the Church as an attitude of going out to meet others from one's own experience of joy.
There are no longer "non-negotiable points" of doctrine, but a message of mercy and the good news of a liberating experience.
The Pope does not forget the traditional motivations (the missionary mandate), but emphasizes experiential motivations, basically two:
1. The joy of the Gospel fills the heart and the whole life of those who encounter Jesus. Those who allow themselves to be saved by Him are freed from sin, from sadness, from inner emptiness, from isolation. With Jesus Christ, joy is always born and reborn....
1. The good always tends to communicate itself. Every authentic experience of truth and beauty seeks its own expansion, and any person who lives a profound liberation acquires greater sensitivity to the needs of others. By communicating it, the good takes root and develops. For this reason, whoever wishes to live with dignity and fulfillment has no other way than to recognize others and seek their good. We should not be surprised, then, by some of St. Paul's expressions: "The love of Christ urges us on" (2 Cor 5:14); "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel" (1 Cor 9:16).
The EG also adduces a series of missionary motivations linked to the reality of the neighbor, which would be the reasons of the Good Samaritan:
1. The right of everyone to receive the Gospel and the duty of Christians: "Everyone has the right to receive the Gospel and Christians have the duty to proclaim it without excluding anyone".
2. The importance of contagion: "Good attracts and is contagious, light illuminates and salt gives flavor: "The Church does not grow by proselytizing but by attraction".
3. The Kingdom is for all: "To evangelize is to make present in the world the Kingdom of God".
This "experiential" missiology, both in terms of the subject sent and the subject that receives, is more in line with that of Paul, expressed in Gal. 1, "The Father was pleased to reveal his Son in me, to transform me and to send me".
It is no longer a juridical mandate, indifferent to my life experience, but a personal experience that transforms me and makes me a witness. Revelation (calling), conversion (transformation) and Mission (sending) are three dimensions of the same and unique experience of faith and of a way of understanding life.
The Kingdom: Social consequences of the proclamation
Reading the Scriptures makes it abundantly clear that the proposal of the Gospel is not only that of a personal relationship with God. Nor should our response of love be understood as a mere sum of small personal gestures directed to a few needy individuals, which could constitute an "à la carte charity," a series of actions aimed only at soothing one's own conscience. The proposal is the Kingdom of God (cf. Lk 4:43); it is a matter of loving God who reigns in the world. To the extent that he succeeds in reigning among us, social life will be an environment of fraternity, justice, peace, respect for creation and dignity for all. Therefore, both the proclamation and the Christian experience tend to provoke social consequences. In other words, the Gospel is a proposal for social transformation.

Thus this "luminous dome", the Gospel, illuminates, gives harmony and meaning to all the efforts to "build" our "cathedral" with its marvelous "stones" of goodness (hospitals, schools, communities, peace, justice, care for water...) that are organized in "naves" of fraternity and communion with all creation.
The Father of Jesus is the same of all human beings (whatever religious structure they have given themselves in the concrete history of each portion of humanity) and the origin and goal of all the energy that gives form to Creation. That is why nothing human -and nothing of creation- is alien to us. In all this we find the traces and voices that resound in the luminous word and action of Jesus of Nazareth, "whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit and power, he went about doing good and healing the oppressed, for God was with him. We are witnesses" (Acts 10:38). We missionaries are not alien to anything nor superior to anyone, only companions on the journey of a humanity in search of fraternity and harmony, of fullness of life, often wounded and stunned, like ourselves, but always illuminated by the light of the Word, impelled by the Spirit, loved by a Father-Mother who always waits for us, welcomes us and launches us into life.