Comboni Missions Magazine Fall 2021

Comboni Missions 2021 Fa l l

The Mission in Asia Fr. David Domingues shares his experience

On the Border A Comboni Sister shares her story of ministry on the U.S.-Mexico boundary

Little Changes Some of the biggest impacts come from small projects

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Editor’s Desk

From the Editor’s Desk


The Comboni Missionaries have celebrated more than 150 years of service to the poorest and most abandoned people of the world. St. Daniel Comboni had a dream for Africa, for the Gospel, and for the future of the Church that would lead him far from his home in Italy and the culture and comforts he cherished. He knew that the scourges of slavery, exploitation, and colonialism failed to respect the human dignity of the peoples of Africa, and of the poor and marginalized in every corner of the world.

Crafting this issue of Comboni Missions was especially inspiring for me. Joe Foley’s article about some of our “small” mission projects illustrates how a modest contribution can have life-changing effects in the missions. Many of these mission projects are practical. They readily show the corporal works of mercy in action. The story of Comboni Missionary Sister Mercedes Castillo straddles the concrete and the ethereal. She helps migrants stranded near the U.S. border. Sometimes that means making popcorn or helping at a child’s birthday celebration. At other times, she provides a listening ear to survivors of trauma or helps to educate future lay leaders of the Church. And Fr. David Domingues shares a stunning perspective of the Comboni Missionary presence in Asia. All told, these stories give a sense of the breadth and depth of the mission all around the world. I hope you’ll find inspiration in these pages as well. After all, this magazine showcases not just the work of the missionaries, but the result of all the contributions we receive from our supporters — material and spiritual. Your prayers and donations make all our work possible.

He founded two Institutes of religious life, for men and women, and today inspires lay missionaries and people around the globe to share in the noble mission of

bringing the Gospel—and the peace and justice of the kingdom of God—to all who have never heard it, and to those who need to hear it again. Today, the Comboni Missionaries serve in more than forty countries in Africa, America, Europe, and Asia. True to St. Daniel’s vision “to save Africa with Africa,” the missionaries themselves come from all reaches of the earth, working together in a common cause. They have been working in North America for eighty years, focusing on pastoral work among African- Americans, Appalachians, Native Americans, and Hispanics, seeking always to adapt their ministries and their methods to the people they serve.

We are grateful for all of you.

PUBLISHER Comboni Missionaries EDITORIAL OFFICE Comboni Mission Center 1318 Nagel Road Cincinnati, OH 45255 (513) 474-4997

EDITOR Kathleen M. Carroll Send Letters to the Editor: Volume 59, No. 3 A $15 annual donation is greatly appreciated. Comboni Missions (ISSN 0279-3652) is an award-winning publication of the Comboni Missionaries and a member of the Catholic Press Association. Published quarterly.

E-mail: Web:

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8 Embracing the Mission in Asia Comboni Fr. David Domingues shares his experience.

Building Bridges At the mission in Old Fangak, it’s all hands on deck.


Trouble at St. Lucy A fire at the rectory in Newark gives Fr. Chris a new perspective on IDPs.


11 A Little Change

5 Meditation

6 Around the World

Can Make a Big Difference Some of our smallest mission projects have immense value for those in need.

22 Supporting the Mission

23 Vocations

14 On the Border Comboni Missionary Sister Mercedes Castillo takes experience from around the globe to the U.S.-Mexico boundary.


Cover - Comboni Missionary Sisters in Eritrea. 4 - photo of pope, CNA; refugees, UNHCR. 5 - CLM archives. 6 - photo of Haiti, UN/Marco Dormino; Taliban, Flickr; DRC, UN; Ida,Tommy Gao. 8-10 - story and photos CM General Secretariat. 11-12 - photos CM mission office. 13 - Photos via Jorge Fayad, CM Old Fangak.14-18 - Story and photo courtesy of Global Sisters Report . 19-21 - photos Fr. Chris Aleti. Back cover - photo New Media.

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Prayer for Afghanistan The only Catholic church in Afghanistan — a chapel in the Italian Embassy — closed in March 2020 as a result of the COVID crisis. In August 2021, the last remaining priest in the country, Barnabite Fr. Giovanni Scalese, was evacuated. In early September, Pope Francis asked all Catholics to include the people of Afghanistan, especially refugees, in prayer. “In these moments of upheaval,” he said, “in which Afghans are seeking refuge, I pray for the must vulnerable among them. I pray many countries welcome them and protect those who are seeking a new life.” Noting the casualties of the suicide bombing at the Kabul airport, he said, “In historical moments like this, we cannot remain indifferent; the history of the Church teaches us this. For this reason I address an

appeal to everyone, intensify your prayer and practice fasting... I am speaking seriously: Intensify your prayer and practice fasting, asking the Lord for mercy and forgiveness.” In a hopeful note, the Holy Father said, “I believe that in this global world, every man and woman can do something. If small groups can sow terror, small groups can sow peace.” ∎

The Pope’s Prayer Intentions

October Missionary Disciples

We pray that every baptized person may be engaged in evangelization, available to the mission, by being witnesses of a life that has the flavor of the Gospel. November People Who Suffer from Depression We pray that people who suffer from depression or burnout will find support and a light that opens them up to life.

December Catechists

Let us pray for the catechists, summoned to announce the Word of God: may they be its witnesses, with courage and creativity and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

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“We Christians often take for granted this reality of being God’s children. Instead, it is good to remember with gratitude the moment in which we became such, the moment of our baptism, so as to live the great gift we received with greater awareness.” —Pope Francis

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Around the World

AFGHANISTAN Taliban reasserts control after US withdrawal

HAITI Another earthquake devastates the island

A 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on August 14 causing large-scale damage across the country’s southern peninsula. By the current count, more than 2,000 people have died and over 12,000 have been injured. The quake was immediately followed by Tropical Depression Grace, which flooded the most criti- cally damaged zone and impeded rescue and recovery work. The quake also interrupted Haiti’s COVID-19 vaccination program, which launched in mid-July. The island nation, among the poorest countries in the world, has still not recovered from a massive earthquake which hit in 2010. International support is arriving more slowly this time, due to the inter- ruptions in the global supply chain, the strain the pandemic has put on the resources of wealthier nations, and the political instability in the nation following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July.

In August, Taliban forces rapidly took control of virtually all of Afghanistan following the United States military withdrawal. Chaos and violence impeded the evacuation of at-risk Afghans at Kabul’s airport. Advancing Taliban forces in several provinces summarily executed some offi- cials and security force personnel. After the take- over, the Taliban conducted raids on the homes of former government officials, along with journal- ists and civil society members. Taliban authori- ties increasingly restricted women’s rights and media freedoms, as they have in areas previously controlled. The past year’s fighting resulted in a record number of civilian casualties, including from targeted Taliban and Islamic State attacks and government airstrikes. Conflict and drought have caused the number of internally displaced people to soar, over- whelming Afghanistan’s fragile humanitarian aid system. The healthcare system is unable to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Around the World

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO Meningitis outbreak declared

UNITED STATES Hurricane Ida sweeps through the East

A deadly outbreak of meningitis has been declared in a northeastern province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the World Health Organization (WHO) has been supporting health authorities to deploy an initial emergency response team. More than 260 suspected cases and 129 deaths have been reported in Tshopo Province; a high case fatality ratio of nearly 50 percent, the UN health agency reported. Tests carried out by the Institut Pasteur in Paris, detected Neisseria meningitis, one of the most frequent strains of the bacterial form of the disease. It has the potential to cause large epidemics. The UN agency reported that more than 100 patients are receiving treatment at home and in health centers in Banalia, the community affected by the outbreak.

Sixteen years to the day after Katrina reshaped the landscape of Louisiana, Hurricane Ida made landfall as a Category 4 storm. At least 77 Americans were killed as a result of the storm, which was even more deadly in the Northeast (New York and New Jersey accounted for more than half the fatalities) than in the Gulf region. The storm caused power outages for more than a million residents in Louisiana; some are expected to be without electricity for weeks at the height of the summer heat. At least four residents of a nursing home were found deceased after they were evacuated to a warehouse with no climate control. Ida shut down oil production throughout the Gulf states and transportation in the Northeast, with New York City’s subways experiencing catastrophic flooding. Damages are estimated to exceed $50 billion.

Photo: A health worker crosses a stream with his bike on his way to vac- cinate children in Tanganyika Province in the Democratic Republic of the

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Mission in Asia

Fr. David Domingues, mccj Embracing the Mission in Asia Establishing a Comboni presence in Macau (China) on January 6, 1992, and ten years later, in 2002, in Vietnam on July 26, 2015,—just six years ago.

on first evangelization, Gospel proclamation, faith formation, and accompaniment of those in the catechumenate, while carrying on some pastoral works. Overall, we prioritize a spirit of close collaboration with the local church. While we’re still a small group of missionaries dispersed across different fronts of our mission, we share a great commitment and enthusiasm to carry out our various

Taipei, Taiwan, was audacious. This established two strategic positions from which to open horizons toward mainland China. We developed a special outreach inside China in 1999 under the name of Fen Xiang (“sharing,” in Chinese). And, with the inspiration of the Spirit, the Comboni Missionaries set foot in

As disciples of the Lord, under the inspiration of St. Daniel Comboni, we focus our missionary service in two main areas: In the Philippines and Vietnam, we have been working on missionary animation, vocation promotion and basic formation, while in the “China mission” (Macau and Taiwan), we focus

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Mission in Asia

taken in Asia, we know that our contribution, though small, has an important part to play. The richness of our Comboni charism focuses on evangelization and mission animation of the existing Church forces. We firmly believe that our mission begins with a sincere love for Asia and its peoples in their vast array of cultures and languages. With the desire to take the Asian reality to heart, we feel that mission in these lands call us to be open, attentive, and responsive, by being close to the people, engaging with them with deep appreciation and respect, looking at the Asian people’s history and culture as a fertile ground where God calls us to be sowers more by personal witness than by words. We know that God has preceded all missionaries, and it helps us to think of the Risen Christ who goes ahead of the apostles to Galilee (Mark 16:7) fully knowing that we are merely his instruments. Christ continues to be active in many ways, leading and guiding his people in varied manners. We are not just doers. Asia calls us to embrace solidarity with its poor, and actively participate in movements to alleviate their struggle for food, work, freedom, Comboni’s love for the poor and his relentless efforts to reach out to them inspire us not to give up in the face of so many destructive forces, such as massive corruption, active persecution of the Church, abuse and exploitation of workers, and oppression of the poor — just and basic human dignity. Here the echo of St. Daniel

works. We hope to give visibility to the passion of St. Daniel Comboni for spreading the faith and to serve the poorest, both materially and spiritually speaking. Asia and its people, as the setting of our missionary endeavor, present multiple challenges at all levels — social, political, and religious. But there are three fundamental truths that we must have present as missionaries in this continent. First of all, we should never forget that Asia is people! It comprises over 60% of the human race; nearly two-thirds of the world population and 15% of the planet’s land surface. Second, Asia is religion! We know it is the birthplace and home of nearly all the scriptural religions of the world (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam originated in West Asia; Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism came to birth in South Asia; Confucianism, Taoism, and

Shintoism belong to East Asia. This not to mention the primal religions of indigenous groups which abound. Christians comprise only about two percent of Asia’s population — and half of the Christians are in the Philippines. This variety holds a great spiritual richness, but also holds a challenge for interreligious dialogue, peaceful coexistence, and collaboration. Often, conflicts occur; these are a damaging scandal. But we are called us to be courageous witnesses to the faith we profess, believe, and live in our day-to-day lives. Lastly, Asia contains a vast mass of people who are also economically poor. The great divide between the poor and the rich is a permanent scandal and the rift seems to be widening at a fast pace. Taking Asian Culture to Heart Conscious and grateful for the missionary paths the Church in its varied groups have already

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Mission in Asia

Look at the rose. It, too, has a Gospel to spread. It does it silently, but effectively, and people come to it with joy. Imitate the rose!

to mention a few. No, in our passion for mission, we refuse to give up. We will continue to stand by those who suffer, even if, at times, we can do so only by simply by surrendering all to the Lord in prayer. Yes, here, the mission of contemplation and prayer is crucial to cope with the demands of the journey. Learning from the Rose Though we find many obstacles due to abusive political regimes, corrupt economic powers, and even our own failings, we do not shy away from the main focus of presenting the Gospel embodied in the witness of our lives. Here the very Gospel symbols help us to understand ourselves in this concrete context of Asia: We are called to be “light, salt, yeast, fragrance” (Matthew 5:13-16; 13:33; 2 Corinthians 2:14-16). The well-known Indian guru Mahatma Gandhi, to whom many look to him for wisdom and guidance, is reported to have advised a group of Christian missionaries saying: “You talk too much. Look at the rose. It, too, has a Gospel to spread. It does it silently, but effectively, and people come to it with joy. Imitate the rose!”

What a powerful and useful recommendation for missionaries everywhere! It is certainly most appropriate in this Asian milieu where our mission is about patient sowing without pretensions of quick results. The mission truly calls for a conversion of minds and hearts, fully believing that God, our missionary God, is in control — we are not! Though challenging, such an approach is also liberating, giving us the freedom to find great joy in simply being sowers, simply “giving for free what we have received for free” (Matthew 10:8). Mission in these lands is far from finished. The laborers are still few but we trust the Lord to stir up in younger Asians the desire and generosity to serve in this great continent — and across continents in our “ad gentes” mission, inspired by the same passion and zeal of St. Comboni whose heart was once, at a very young age, captured by the martyrs of Japan. ∎

FR. DAVID DOMINGUES, MCCJ, is a Comboni Missionary serving in the Philippines.

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Mission Projects

A Little Change Can Make a Big Difference Joe Foley

Daniel spent the first fourteen years of his life on a mattress. His father left. He has no brothers or sisters, only his mother is there to help him. There are several pictures of Daniel. Some on the mattress, one in a wheelchair. In the wheelchair, he’s smiling. In fourteen years, no one had before seen that. In fourteen years, Daniel had never sat in a wheelchair. The Comboni Missionaries Mission Office is involved in projects around the world. Some big, some small. Some we sponsor directly, some indirectly. We have assisted Mercy House in Johannesburg for many years. It was Mercy House that secured Daniel’s wheelchair. We fund all manner of water projects from Ethiopia to Malawi. We fund projects for schools, projects for nutrition, projects for evangelization. We build shelters to house livestock in Zambia, erect radio towers in Uganda, and supply emergency oxygen to Peru. Each and every one of these projects is essential, and each and

Daniel’s first time in a wheelchair.

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Mission Projects

every one in service to people who are marginalized or working on their behalf. And yet, even when surrounded by all these needs, a picture can stop us. Or a story such as Daniel’s. Or a situation we could not have imagined. Consider Mama Agatha. She lives in Uganda. In earlier times she and her husband were teachers. Civil war broke out. Mama Agatha fled to the desert south, where nomads roam. Once there, she and her husband grazed goats, sheep and a few cows. They fought off the lethal tsetse flies, and opened a primary school. Because there was no church in 1,500 square miles, they started a home-based church. A few families attended, then more. Mama Agatha requested a formal Church presence, and the Church complied. A catechist began to visit. Later, Mama Agatha’s husband died. He suffered sleeping sickness caused by the bite of the tsetse fly. The school and church became Mama Agatha’s life. The number of Catholics grew from dozens to thousands. Mama Agatha sold her animals and cashed out her savings for three acres of land — to build a church. Brick by brick, despite funds running low, despite sleeping sickness, despite the pandemic, the walls have slowly risen. Now, each morning, at 91 years of age, Mama Agatha asks to be rolled through the desert in her wheelchair, where alone before the church she prays for its completion. And there is Comboni Brother Gregoire in South Sudan who cares for people with leprosy. Some come to him but many he seeks out. Many have lost fingers and toes. Many have been ostracized. Many live lives not so different from lepers of the Bible. Same affliction, same clothes, same hovels, same loneliness. And there is Sister Abrehet in Eritrea. She provides food and shelter to elderly men and women cast out from their villages simply because they are old. We are doing our best to help her. There is a place for thinking big, and doing big. New

Mama Agatha’s church is growing brick by brick.

JOE FOLEY works in the mission office of the Comboni Missionaries, North American Province. Please know your contributions support these projects and that, one by one, contributions wend their way to individual people in need. They are doing it even as you read this. They will not on their own bring worldwide change, but they will change the worlds of people waiting on a wheelchair, or waiting for a church to be built, or waiting in old age for someone simply to reach out in love. To contribute to one of our “Small Mission” projects, please visit www. ∎ rooftop water collection systems. New boreholes. New schools. But it’s the small things, the individual- level things, that grip our hearts and tell us we are on the right path. We sometimes call our efforts “Small Projects.” But they are not small. Far from it.

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Dispatches from the Field Building Bridges Martin Kueth Bol Gatdor is the headmaster of the Comboni school in Old Fangak, South Sudan. He wanted a way to help his students cross a washed-out road on their way to class. He took the project on alone, and began by building supports for a handmade bridge. Soon, his students rallied to the cause, gathering material and helping with construction. Now the whole school is enjoying the benefits of this ingenious effort.

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Comboni Missionary Sisters

Interfaith Welcome Coalition volunteer Graciela Morgan, from left, El Buen Samaritano shelter coordinator Micaela Ortiz, and Sister Mercedes Castillo make their way through a busy intersection after crossing into Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

On the Borde r n the Border An Interview with Comboni Missionary Sister Mercedes Castillo

As COVID-19 raged around the globe keeping most people home in 2020, Sr. Mercedes Castillo, 59, left the safety of her Baltimore community and relocated to Texas. The Comboni Missionary Sister and her congregation had discussed establishing a ministry there for several years, but the pandemic made them hesitate. There are “people who are waiting for us,” Castillo said. Accompanied by her provincial, Sr. Olga Sanchez Caro, Castillo moved to San Antonio that summer. In November, they were joined by another Comboni Sister who remained after Sanchez Caro returned to Baltimore two months later. When Castillo arrived, many immigrants were stuck along the U.S. southern border under the Migrant

Nuri Vallbona

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Comboni Missionary Sisters

Protection Protocols, or MPP, that forced asylum seekers to remain in Mexico until their cases could be heard. At first, Castillo volunteered at the Interfaith Welcome Coalition’s bus station ministry in San Antonio. When Sr. Denise LaRock, a regular visitor to Mexican immigration shelters, in June returned to serve as councillor for the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in St. Louis, Castillo took on some of her responsibilities. Despite the risks of catching COVID-19 or being kidnapped by cartel members, Castillo then began visiting the Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, shelters run by Baptist Rev. Lorenzo Ortiz, and his sister, Micaela. During a visit in March, Global Sisters Report accompanied Castillo to two locations where she brought supplies, sang songs, and popped popcorn for a children’s birthday party. At times she sat with mothers who shared the traumas they experienced while waiting to cross. When they wept, Castillo held their hands and prayed. She said her work is done in the name of San Antonio sisters who can’t make the journey themselves. Organized as the Inter-Congregational Leadership

Maria Piñeda Serrano of Honduras shows the file that holds her Migrant Protection Protocols paperwork at the El Buen Samaritano shelter in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. Under the protocols, immigrants like Piñeda Serrano must wait their turn in Mexico before they are allowed to cross and plead asylum in the US. She has been in Mexico since August 2019.

Group of Women Religious in San Antonio or ILGSA, these sisters provide her ministry with clothes, supplies, and moral support. Her focus, she said, is to accompany immigrants and connect with those who can help her understand the complexities of the immigration issues she encounters. Castillo has extensive global migration experience. From 1991 to 1999, she worked with Jesuit Immigration Services to open a training and assistance center in Lukasa, Zambia. She described how survivors of the Rwandan genocide sought refuge there,

as did Ugandans, Kenyans, and Angolans. The next seven years she spent in Murcia, Spain, serving those coming from eastern Europe, Ecuador, and Morocco. In 2006, she got the call to return to the U.S. where, she was told, the needs of immigrants were great. In spite of taking safety precautions and wearing a mask, Castillo said she eventually tested positive for COVID-19 in late April. But that didn’t deter her. Still recuperating during this interview, she talked about plans for her mission and the

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Comboni Missionary Sisters

Birthday girl Ximena Lino Romero, 3, second from left, laughs with friends during a party for her and a friend at the El Buen Samaritano immigrant shelter.

“homework” she would soon tackle. Her responses have been translated from Spanish and edited for brevity and clarity. You just returned from your visit to the shelter in Nuevo Laredo. What is the situation there? Sad and desperate because I had the hope that with Biden — he promised to welcome those with MPP — I thought that the shelters were going to be empty, and it is the opposite, they are full. Right

now, in the three shelters, there are a total of 240 people because every day they deport people [from the U.S. back to Mexico]. The violence there, as you know, is constant. For example, yesterday they seized a man and his son — again, the cartels — but, thank God, they released them because they [the father and son] said they had no family here. But every day it’s like that. How do you stay safe and not get kidnapped?

By working with Pastor Lorenzo, because [the cartels] already know him. In the beginning, they entered the shelter and threatened him. But Pastor Lorenzo explained that he was not their competition, that he was there to help the people. When I go with his sister to where immigrants are deported [back to Mexico], that gives me security. I am not afraid because they identify me as someone who works with the shelters.

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Comboni Missionary Sisters

Sr. Mercedes Castillo, second from left, comforts Noelia Marlene Vásquez of Honduras while her daughter, Lindsey Gimena Rodas, 2, sits nearby at the El Buen Samaritano shelter. Vásquez had just learned that her daughter, who has a damaged lung, was back in a Honduran hospital. She had hopes to get asylum and a job in the US and send back money for her daughter’s medical treatment.

What is your mission for this ministry? When we got to San Antonio, Sister Denise was already doing this work (visiting Mexican shelters, greeting immigrants at the bus station and shuttling supplies to the border). The sisters here are organized as a group called ILGSA. They asked me if I could continue doing part of it because Sister Denise did much more. I told them that yes, with great joy because it was our goal, and that is one of the ministries we are doing.

But as Comboni Missionaries, part of our charism is the formation of leaders in evangelization, so I am helping part time in the Oblate Theology School in the master of arts program for pastoral ministry in order to prepare Hispanics to serve the Church. It seems that you put a lot of emphasis on accompanying immigrants. Can you tell me about that? Since I came to the United States, I have always seen immigrants arrive, but not in the conditions

and numbers I’ve seen in recent years. I believe as a Church we have to respond to this cry of humanity. I ask myself, what will happen to our humanity in the future with the scar of trauma that remains in their lives, especially children and young people? That work is huge and can only be done by joining hands with more organizations. We need changes in structures, and with government leaders, because the causes of immigration are many, not just violence, poverty, but climate change that pushes people to immigrate.

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Comboni Missionary Sisters

What is your goal in the future? What do you want to do with this ministry? The truth is that it is so big that sometimes you see the huge mountain and you don’t see how to manage it. But I think that small projects are emerging, which I believe have to unite us as religious women to create small oases of security for these people because many of them will not be able to reach the United States and will remain in limbo at the border. I think we have to start thinking about what we can do to create stable places for these families, especially mothers and children. How do you plan to do all of this? We are collaborating with groups and I think that as religious women we have to sit down to talk, and involve other organizations. For example, I participate monthly and weekly in the meetings of many associations that come together on the Texas border. We have to involve them, too. We have to respond immediately to those coming with MPP. They have to look for legal help right now, find a safe place, work and they aren’t familiar [with these things]. Above all, they need us to listen so they do not feel alone here. They imagine that the American dream exists and in my fifteen years of working with immigrants, many times it turns into a nightmare for them. What do you think is your biggest challenge as you try to achieve all of these goals? I believe that the challenge has been COVID because many things could be done a little faster. But, thank God, now there is the vaccine. Even before when I went to the border, it was a challenge going alone, but I was strengthened by the

presence of God. But now, after the vaccinations, it is nice to see that several volunteers come with me. In terms of your faith, what has this ministry meant to you? It has made me strengthen and grow in my faith because as a witness to the suffering of the people, I see how the hand of God gives us grace and the Holy Spirit accompanies these people. My hope also grows and does not let me lose trust in a God who walks close to the people. In my missionary vocation, he says that it is worth continuing to give one’s life for the kingdom and it is worth continuing to say yes to God because he is the God of promises. So what I see is that for you it is important not only to accompany others but to accompany them in the way that God accompanies you. Yes, because there is a great desire that is born in my heart and has been reinforced by the invitation that Pope Francis made since the beginning of his papacy to grow a culture of gathering together. It’s only by gathering and going to the peripheries that you can live that experience — to feel accompanied by God and to accompany. Sometimes we think that helping people is only giving them things because the needs are many, but I think the greatest gift is to give them our presence, to let them know that they are not alone, that there is someone who listens, that there is someone who knows their stories, that what they have experienced is not silent, that there is a God who listens. ∎

NURI VALLBONA is a freelance documentary photojournalist who has focused most of her career on social justice projects such as modern-day slavery, inner-city poverty, and crime.

Reprinted with permission of Global Sisters Report.

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Trouble at St. Lucy

Emergency crews respond to the rectory fire at St. Lucy’s on Memorial Day.

I came to work in the North American Province in 2014. I first worked for six years in Chicago (from November 2014 to January 2021) in the mission animation office. On January 9 of this year, I was transferred to join Fr. Paul Donohue in St. Lucy Parish in Newark, New Jersey. It is a parish I always referred to as a “United Nation” parish, because it has so many different nationalities from different continents serving there. On Sundays we have Masses in four different languages — Italian, Spanish, English, and French. On May 31, 2021, Memorial Day, the rectory of the parish caught fire. At around 1:30 p.m., we were celebrating Memorial Day with some families of the parish in the dining room of the rectory. It was a surprise to all of us when one of the family members detected smoke coming from one of the rooms. He immediately alerted us to evacuate the building. The Trouble at St. Lucy Fr. Chris Aleti, mccj

police and fire department arrived within five minutes to help us put out the fire. This was my first experience of its kind, and I was completely scared. I tried to rush to my room to collect my documents, but the police stopped me. I watched our rectory burn and it was painful for me to see. What touched me most was the solidarity shown to us by the community of Newark. People who watched the burning of the rectory on television or Facebook could not believe it and drove directly to the parish to be with us. The people — parishioners, strangers, and even non- Catholics — started immediately asking for a way of contributing for the rebuilding of the rectory. St. Lucy is also the site of the national shrine of St. Gerard Majella, patron saint of expectant mothers. We host our parish festival on his feast day (October 16) each year.

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Trouble at St. Lucy

(IDPs). We have been hosted by the diocese in the rectory of the cathedral since June 1. It is just a ten- minutes walk from our parish to the Cathedral. We are grateful to Cardinal Joseph Tobin for receiving us to the community of the cathedral. The work of rebuilding the rectory has not yet started. The insurance company is still discussing the damages with the diocese, which owns the property. It is another new experience for me to commute everyday between the cathedral and the parish for our parish ministries every day. We pray that one day we shall be able to come back to our rectory. In the meantime, we know that everything that happens has its own grace, and we ask the Lord to help us to learn and understand the grace he is giving us in this event. ∎

The aftermath of the fire. The destruction is evident in the photos on this page and opposite.

People told us, “We are not Catholics, but this place means a lot to us, especially the celebration of the feast of St. Gerard in October that bring all of us together as children of God.” When evening came, we found ourselves homeless. We did not know where to stay, or where we could go next. Fortunately, a kind and generous family took us for a night. It is from then that we became, like so many of those we serve in the missions, internally displaced persons

FR. CHRIS ALETI, MCCJ, is a Comboni Missionary from Uganda, currently serving the parish of St. Lucy in the North American Province in Newark, New Jersey.

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Supporting the Mission Heather Kaufman Drop by Drop As we enter into the last few months of 2021, I can’t help but reflect on the year. As a community, country, and world it was a challenge. However, there was so much to be thankful for as well. For example, our contributors allowed us to sponsor a project in northern Uganda. For $3,000 the Agiermach Technical School purchased and installed three 8,000-liter collection tanks for the storage of rainwater. Why is this meaningful? The access to clean water allowed the students to stay in the classroom instead of trekking to a distant water source, one also used by cattle, to secure water. Agiermach Technical has a special emphasis on the vocational training of disadvantaged young women, many of whom reside on campus in a dormitory. This project provides access to clean water and allows the students to focus on their studies. Projects such as this are designed to make a big difference with modest amounts of money. Every gift to the Comboni Missionaries improves the lives of others. No gift is too small, and all are so appreciated.

Rainwater collection tanks at the Agiermach Technical School in northern Uganda.

There are several ways to make a donation. One is to send in a check (you can use the envelope enclosed in this magazine). Another is to make a secure gift online at Some of our friends choose to give appreciated stock, which provides a great tax benefit for the donor. Speaking of tax benefits, did you know the CARES Act allows most U.S. taxpayers to deduct up to $300 ($600, if filing jointly) in charitable donations from their taxable income even if you use the standard form? As always, we encourage you to speak with your tax advisor too. Some of our benefactors choose to contribute through deferred gifts via a will, life insurance policy, or trust, while others have given by purchasing a gift annuity or rolling over their required minimum distribution from an IRA to the Comboni Missionaries. There are many ways to give and, no matter the amount, $1 to $1 million, we appreciate it! For more information, please feel free to contact me at or 513-474-4997. ∎

HEATHER KAUFMAN is director of development for the Comboni Missionaries, North American Province.

Workers lay the foundation for the rainwater collection system, which will keep students healthy — and in school.

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If you feel called to share the joy of the Gospel with those most in need through a life of service as a Comboni Missionary, we invite you to learn more about our charism, mission, and way of life. To learn more about becoming a Comboni priest or brother, contact the headquarters of the North American Province in Cincinnati, Ohio, at (513) 474-4997, or visit our website at

If you are enquiring about life as a Comboni Missionary Sister, please contact their Richmond, Virginia, location at (804) 266-2975. For more about the lay missionary adventure, please contact Paul Wheeler, director of the Comboni Lay Missionary program, at (708) 588-1602, or visit www. We invite your interest, questions, prayers, and support! ∎


Comboni Mission Center 1318 Nagel Road Cincinnati, Ohio 45255 (513) 474-4997 Saint Boniface Parish 1750 Chase Avenue Cincinnati, Ohio 45223 (513) 541-1563

Comboni Mission Center 645 S. Aldenville Avenue Covina, California 91723 (626) 339-1914

Comboni Mission Center 1615 E. 31st Street La Grange Park, Illinois 60526 (708) 354-1999 St. Lucy Parish 118 7th Avenue Newark, New Jersey 07104 (973) 803-4200 St. Joseph Parish 148 Madison Avenue South Kitchener, Ontario N2G 3M6 (519) 744-4680

Holy Cross Parish 4705 South Main Street Los Angeles, California 90037 (323) 234-5984 Sacred Heart Parish 9935 Mission Boulevard Riverside, California 92509 (951) 685-5058

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Comboni Missionaries 1318 Nagel Rd. Cincinnati, OH 45255-3120

Non-Profit Org U.S. Postage PAID Cincinnati, OH Permit No. 9155

“Train the young in the way they should go; even when old, they will not swerve from it .” —Proverbs 22:6

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