Comboni Missions Spring 2020

Comboni Missions 2020 Sp r i ng

A New Provincial for the North American Province

Men of the Word of God

Africa Faith and Justice Network

1 | Comboni Missions | A publication of the Comboni Missionaries of North America

The Comboni Missionaries around the world

The Comboni Missionaries have celebrated 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. 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.

From the Editor’s Desk

for their young children, volunteer shoppers for older neighbors, or armchair health experts on social media. And far too many are struggling with direct experience of the illness. It is a battle being disproportionately lost by our elders and caregivers. A generation is suffering, dying, and being buried with no friends or family allowed to share the journey. Our Comboni family has borne some of the worst of it in northern Italy. We grieve for those we have lost and pray for those still ill. And we grieve for all you have lost and pray for you, our nearest and dearest. These pages, though, are about hope. Suffering is not new in the world and our focus has always been not on what is wrong, but on how we can best put things to right. So you'll read in these pages about one heroic doctor whose work did not go unnoticed. You'll get to know our new provincial superior, a trailblazer and the result of decades of Comboni ministry in Uganda. You'll meet our newest lay missionary and learn from one of our older missionaries that the Gospel call is forever. I think you'll see in these pages the regularity with which we humans triumph over adversity, and I hope it will inspire you to fight your own battle with patience and grace. Our prayers are with you. ■

Kathleen M. Carroll

Dear Readers, With each issue of Comboni Missions magazine, we typically have at least one article that invites our readers to imagine themselves in the shoes of some of the poorest and most abandoned people in the world. This time, sadly, we don't have to. No matter where you live, your life has likely been turned upside down by the global pandemic. The most fortunate among us are worried about jobs or stock portfolios. Many are assuming new roles as teachers

Cover: Fr. John Converset and Fr. Ruffino Ezama celebrate the transfer of leadership of the North American Province in a Mass at the Mission Center in Cincinnati.

Cover photo by Kathleen M. Carroll











Send Letters to the Editor: Volume 58 No. 1. A $15 annual donation is greatly appreciated.

Spring 2020 PUBLISHER Comboni Missionaries EDITORIAL OFFICE Comboni Mission Center 1318 Nagel Road Cincinnati, OH 45255 (513) 474-4997

E-mail: Web: EDITOR Kathleen M. Carroll

Comboni Missions (ISSN 0279-3652) is an award-winning publication of the Comboni Missionaries and a member of the Catholic Press Association. Published quarterly.


Pope Francis's Prayer for Protection from Coronavirus

Help us, Mother of Divine Love, to conform ourselves to the Father’s will and to do what Jesus tells us.

O Mary, you shine continuously on our journey as a sign of salvation and hope. We entrust ourselves to you, Health of the Sick. At the foot of the Cross you participated in Jesus’s pain with steadfast faith. You, Salvation of the Roman People, know what we need. We are certain that you will provide, so that, as you did at Cana of Galilee, joy and feasting might return after this moment of trial.

He who took our sufferings upon Himself, and bore our sorrows to bring us, through the Cross, to the joy of the Resurrection.


We seek refuge under your protection, O Holy Mother of God.

Do not despise our pleas— we who are put to the test — and deliver us from every danger, O glorious and blessed Virgin.

The Pope’s Prayer Intentions APRIL Freedom from Addiction We pray that those suffering from addiction may be helped and accompanied. MAY For Deacons We pray that deacons, faithful in their service to the Word and the poor, may be an invigorating symbol for the entire Church. JUNE The Way of the Heart We pray that all those who suffer may find their way in life, allowing themselves to be touched by the Heart of Jesus.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

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Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.

—St. Teresa of Avila 5

Spring 2020

Around the World

NIGERIA Murdered Seminarian Laid to Rest

CANADA Jean Vanier Investigated for Abuse

In February, L’Arche International published the results of an independent investigation detailing sexual misconduct by its founder Jean Vanier with six women without disabilities in the context of spiritual direction. “We are shocked by these discoveries and unreservedly condemn these actions, which are in total contradiction with the values Jean Vanier claimed and are incompatible with the basic rules of respect and integrity of persons, and contrary to the fundamental principles on which L’Arche is based,” the leaders of L’Arche International, Stephan Posner and Stacy Cates-Carney, wrote. Vanier was the founder of L’Arche, an international community of individuals with intellectual disabilities and their supporters, and of Faith and Light, an ecumenical Christian association of prayer and friendship for those with intellectual disabilities and their families. The report found that none of the abused women were intellectually disabled.

At the funeral Mass for Michael Nnadi, the 18-year-old seminarian killed in January, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto said he hoped the death would be a turning point for persecuted Christians in Nigeria. “This is a solemn moment for the body of Christ,” Kukah said in his homily at Good Shepherd Seminary in Kaduna, where Nnadi had studied. Nnadi was abducted in January, along with three fellow seminarians. The others were released. In the last year, several priests and seminarians, and pastors from other denominations, have been kidnapped in Nigeria, some for ransom, and some by Islamist militant and terrorist groups. Nigerian Church leaders have expressed serious concern about the security of their members. “For us Christians, it would seem safe to say that we are all marked men and women today. Yet, we must be ready to be washed in the blood of the lamb,” Bishop Kukah said.

Image and story elements courtesy of CNA.

Image via Wikimedia Commons; story courtesy of CNA.

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Around the World

ITALY Comboni Missionaries Struck Down by COVID-19

VATICAN CITY Papal Document Declines to Endorse Married Priests

Pope Francis published his response to the Vatican’s 2019 Amazon synod in an apostolic exhortation in February. Despite widespread speculation following the synod, the pope does not call for married priests, but seeks to expand “horizons beyond conflicts.” Querida Amazonia, Pope Francis’s much- anticipated post-synodal apostolic exhortation, presents the pope’s “four great dreams” for the Pan-Amazonian region’s ecological preservation and “Amazonian holiness.” The exhortation does not quote from recommendations made by bishops at the Vatican’s October meeting on the Amazon. Instead, Pope Francis “officially present[s]” the synod’s final document alongside his exhortation, asking “everyone to read it in full.” The pope also made a point that this apostolic exhortation is addressed “to the whole world,” not just to the Amazonian region.

At the time of this writing, the count is at eight—seven Comboni Missionary Sisters and one Comboni Missionary Father have been killed by the Coronavirus outbreak. By the time you read this, the cost will likely be dearer. Northern Italy has been one of the greatest gen- erators of vocations to the order; it has also been among those regions hardest hit by the pandem- ic. Limone, Italy, the hometown of St. Daniel Comboni is in the region. The nearest large city to the birthplace of the order is Milan. Already we are hearing heroic stories of priests sacrificing themselves for others, of Sisters continuing to serve the ill and elderly despite the risks they face. Predominantly Catholic Italy has fostered a disproportionate share of clergy and religious, and they are disproportionately shoul- dering the burden of illness. Since public funerals are currently banned in Italy, the faithful are encouraged to pray for those who must die and be buried alone.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Image and story courtesy of CNA. 7

Spring 2020

New Provincial

“I am a fruit of what the Comboni Missionaries from the NAP did for Uganda” ­ —new Provincial Superior Fr. Ruffino Ezama

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Braud

Lindsay Braud The North American Province Celebrates a Historic First

The Fruit of Decades of Missionary Work For over one hundred years,

For the first time in its eighty- year history, the North American Province of the Comboni Missionaries has elected an African as its leader. Fr. Ruffino Ezama, originally from Arua, Uganda, began his three-year term as provincial superior in January 2020. On a bright, cool January afternoon, the Comboni Mission Center chapel filled with the gentle murmur of friendly voices praying in solidarity for Fr. Ruffino Ezama as he began his term of office. The special Mass gathered friends and supporters to

thank outgoing Provincial Fr. John Converset for his years of service, and to pray for Father Ruffino as he takes on this new challenge. Fr. Ruffino says he takes on this new role with a “spirit of gratitude. It is a way to say thank you to the people in North America who have supported and continue to support overseas missions.” “I am a fruit of what the Comboni Missionaries from the NAP did for Uganda,” Fr. Ruffino said.

the Comboni Missionaries have served the people of Uganda — in parishes, schools, and communities. Father Ruffino spent his formative years surrounded by Comboni Missionaries, eventually discerning a call to that same religious order. “Becoming the first African superior here is a way of saying, ‘Look, I’m a fruit of what you people did, though you probably didn’t see it,’” he said. “And this

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New Provincial

Celebrating the Mass with Fathers John and Ruffino were Fr. Elias Mwesigye, parochial vicar of St. Susana, Fr. John Ndlovu, an MA student at the Athenaeum and resident priest at St. Ann, and Deacon Benson Lotianga Lokodiriyo from Mt. St. Mary of the West Seminary. Also their confreres—Fathers Paul Ewers, Modi Abel, and Louie Gasparini.

brings us to the oneness of the Church, at the moment where we look at the different backgrounds from where we come and see that each one has a little to contribute.” During Mass, the Congolese and Cameroonian choir led the congregation in hymns of praise in Swahili and English. This vitality and sharing of cultures is an example of what Father Ruffino hopes to bring to the NAP. In this way, people can easily recognize the universality of the Church. Father John Converset delivered the homily, concluding by giving Father Ruffino the keys to his office attached to a large package, telling him that the package symbolized “a sort of Pandora ’s box, although not all of its contents are bad.”

“It represents everything you’re going to have to deal with—difficult

will be quite different. He describes the day-to-day work as more administrative — responding to correspondence, attending meetings, and the like. “It will mean a lot of work understanding the issues more deeply and taking them into prayer, so it is not just my way of deciding, but for the good of the congregation,” Father Ruffino said. This first year Father Ruffino will be busy visiting the six Comboni Missionary communities spread throughout North America — Los Angeles, Chicago, Newark, Cincinnati, and Kitchener, Ontario. He plans to help vocations grow for the mission society. His priority, though, will be to bring a “new vitality to the province and mission.” ■

and easy, joyful and painful. It represents responsibilities,

things unforeseen to us; tensions, problems, options, choices you can make with your council. And these are the people who are going to help you,” Father John said, pointing to the crowd of friends in the nave. A New Focus Father Ruffino has been a member of the NAP since 2009 when he was assigned to work in Cincinnati. For six years he served on the provincial council, helping make decisions about the province and its future. The past three years he has worked as the mission director, helping coordinate mission appeals, and visiting parishes and schools. His work as provincial superior 9

Spring 2020

Men of the Word of God

Men of the Word of God Comboni Missionaries Helped Bridge

In the first half of the last century the Comboni Missionaries in Africa produced — in addition to specialized studies disseminated in various articles for magazines and books — 63 grammars, 88 dictionaries, 114 catechisms, 23 books of sacred history, 54 prayer books, 137 textbooks: primers, readers, and texts for arithmetic, history, geography, and more. This vast production, it is important to underline, was not the work of missionaries working in isolation. It was a task nourished by daily contact with people, asking them questions, listening to them attentively, and observing them carefully. When a missionary is sent to a so-called “mission” area, he has the main task of studying the languages and culture of the people. Knowledge of the language is essential because the missionary’s job is to proclaim the Gospel. Furthermore, at the roots of this effort, there is an attitude of appreciation and esteem for people and their culture of their ability to understand and “embody” Christian truths. A missionary is a “man of the Word.” But the Word of God must be made into the language of the

people. The need to translate it into the local language therefore arises, but it is not a simple thing. “How do we translate temple, pagan, sin, grace, justify, or save ? What does God do when he forgives?” These questions from Comboni Missionary Fr. (later Bishop) Giuseppe Sandri get at the heart of the matter. Sandri studied in Cincinnati and, in the mission field, he translated, with a team of local people, some books of the Bible into South Africa’s Xitsonga language. It was part of a vast project in cooperation with the South African Biblical Society. His queries highlight the difficulties of translating the Bible in a way that makes sense for the people. Before Vatican II, the primary book used in Christian formation was a catechism from 1912. Bible translations were limited to some biblical stories translated as aid to the truths of faith contained in the catechism. The first translations of entire books of the Bible into the language of the common people were the work of missionaries from the churches of the Reformation. The translation of the Bible for Catholics was one of the fruits of Vatican II, favored by a new climate

the Gap between Sacred Scripture and the Language of the People

Fr. Mariano Tibaldo, mccj

Fr. Pasquale Crazzolara, mccj, expert in Lwoo languages, hard at work at his typewriter.

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Men of the Word of God

A sample of the results of the Comboni Missionaries' work on developing grammars — and even a diocesan newspaper — in local African languages. These are on display at the Comboni Missionary Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio.

of ecumenical openness and by the rediscovery of the centrality of the holy book in the life of Christians. When the translation into local languages is the result of a joint effort with the missionaries of other Christian churches, the so-called Deuterocanonical and apocryphal books must be added. These are the books of the Old Testament not included in the Hebrew canon and not accepted by the churches of the Reformation but present in the Catholic tradition (parts of Esther, Judith, Tobias, First and Second Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, the Letter of Jeremiah, and some chapters of the book of Daniel). Bishop Sandri's statement on how the translation of the Bible

proceeded is interesting: “Even after having found the true meaning of the Hebrew or Greek text, it is necessary to render it in current Xitsonga.” In my experience working in Africa — I worked thirty years in Africa in Uganda and Kenya — I was always amazed at the desire of African Catholic Christians to read the Bible and improve their knowledge of biblical facts and characters — a desire certainly stimulated by the examples of many Christians from other churches for whom the Bible is the essential tool of prayer and Christian formation. Now the Bible is in people’s homes, it is read in the family and in the various circumstances of life: the birth of a child, a wedding, a

funeral, a visit to a sick person are very much felt by the members of a small community and there is always a catechist or leader ready to guide those present in the reflection of a biblical passage. Above all, it is the instrument of prayer and formation in the small Christian Communities where one meditates, prays, shares reflections, and applies what the Sacred Book tells to today’s life. The Word of God helps people to discover the presence of God in their lives and to have that hope that sustains them in the struggle to improve the difficult conditions in which they find themselves; the words of Jesus give strength to fight and not be discouraged in the face of the difficulties and often the tragedies of life. ■ 11

Spring 2020

Africa Faith and Justice Network

Africa Faith and Justice Network

As the sun rises, children dot the busy streets of Kano, Nigeria, selling fruit, nuts, and water. As he does every morning, twelve-year-old Ahmad Mohammed sloshes sachets of water through the market, and sells them one by one throughout the day. Along with thousands of other children in Nigeria, Ahmad left school early to support his family. Each day he rises early and hawks in the streets, because his family cannot afford to send him to school. Ahmed is one of 13.2 million children out of school in Nigeria. In 2003, Nigeria adopted the United Nations Convention on the Rights

of the Child—an international agreement on governmental responsibilities toward minors. By the terms of the agreement, every person under eighteen has the right to: • Life, survival and development • Protection from violence, abuse or neglect • An education that enables children to fulfill their potential • Be raised by, or have a relationship with, their parents • Express their opinions and be listened to. Despite the agreement, the 2019 Global Childhood Report estimates that one in every four children is

An international organization is working hard — so children don’t have to.

Ellen Baverman

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Africa Faith and Justice Network

“Child labor is growing and we have been working with sisters and other stakeholders and organizations for the past three years to promote the welfare of children and women, especially on ending child exploitation and violence against women,” Dominican Fr. Aniedi Okure, the executive director of the Africa Faith and Justice Network, told the National Catholic Reporter. AFJN has been utilizing the energy of Catholic nuns in Nigeria who are angry about the rising cases of violence and injustice towards women and children, and the silence that surrounds these issues. They held a women’s empowerment workshop in 2019, where local organizations and community members could discuss these issues. The group is now openly speaking out against many forms of injustice toward women and children. “We will continue to advocate for children’s rights,” Sr. Eucharia Madueke, coordinator of AFJN’s Women Empowerment Project, told NCR. “The children don’t even know their rights and that is why we want to educate them to know this and speak out when they are abused.” Spurred, in part, by the workshop, the government has established thirteen family courts to handle child rights. Here, children can speak and defend their cases. “We cannot do it alone and that is why we need to train them

denied these childhood protections. UNICEF reported that half of Nigeria’s 79 million children are working — some in very hazardous conditions like begging, and quarrying for stones and granite. The Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) promotes child rights in Nigeria. As child labor grows, AFJN has been raising awareness of this exploitation and supporting laws that protect children in Nigeria. AFJN advocates for just relations between the U.S. and Africa. Inspired by the Gospel and Catholic Social Teaching, AFJN focuses on issues of peace building, human rights, and social justice. The Comboni Missionaries are among more than two dozen religious communities that are members — and supporters — of AFJN. Often partnering with Catholic missionary congregations and a variety of Africa-focused coalitions, AFJN works to address political policies that, “benefit Africa’s poor majority, facilitate an end to armed conflict, establish equitable trade and investment with Africa and promote sustainable development.” AFJN works with policy makers to resolve specific issues regarding women’s empowerment, just governance, land-grabbing, toxic dumping, and food systems. These issues are especially important in Africa, which accounts for about half of all child labor abuses.

to take charge of the campaign themselves,” Madueke said. In April 2020, the organization plans to host additional advocacy workshops across the country in hopes of training at least one hundred more to become effective advocates for women and children being exploited. ■ Learn more about AFJN at www. 1

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laborer 13

Spring 2020

Giuseppe Ambrosoli

Giuseppe Ambrosoli The “Great Doctor” to be Beatified

It was the summer of 1949 when a young doctor asked to enter the Congregation of the Comboni Missionaries. In his letter of application he wrote: “I would like to place myself at the service of the missions as a qualified doctor.” Before joining, the young Giuseppe Ambrosoli decided to go to London for a course in tropical medicine. When he returned to Italy, he entered the Comboni Institute. On September 9, 1953, he made his first profession and on December 13, 1955, he was ordained a priest by the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI. A few months later, in February 1956, he left for Africa, destined for Kalongo, in northern Uganda. Fr. Giuseppe arrived to find a wild place, populated more by animals than by people. It was home to a small medical dispensary established by the Comboni Missionaries in 1934. But Ambrosoli was not at all discouraged; his vision of a large hospital meant there was a lot of work to do. Working with his own hands, he dug for stones and transported them on a truck to the building site, where he also saw to

the making of bricks. Little by little, that dispensary grew, one block after another, until it had room for 350 patients. It had departments for maternity, pediatrics, medicine, surgery, gynecology, radiology, and infectious diseases; these were soon joined by others for the care of the malnourished, lepers, and tubercu- losis patients. Fr. Giuseppe saw immediately that to win the hearts of the Africans one must sow infinite benevolence. In only a few years, the people began to call him Doctor Ladit (the great doctor) or Ajwaka Madit (the great giver of medicine). Together with his unmistakable smile, his peace- fulness became proverbial. But this did not prevent him, as the occasion required, from being strict. He showed courage and determi- nation and even risked his life for others. He defended the wives of the soldiers and, in general, of the people of the south, upon whom the guerrillas tended to unleash all their aggression. The faith of the people in the heal- ing powers of Fr. Giuseppe knew no limits. They saw him as a kind of healer. In the collective imagination of the people, Fr. Giuseppe became “The man of God with the power to heal.” To heal not only the body

but the spirit and the heart. In his work as a surgeon, Fr. Giuseppe afforded special care to the women as mothers and bearers of life. He understood that those mothers were capable of heroic acts to make sure their children were born and lived. Fr. Giuseppe looked for collabora- tion and gave others responsibil- ity: the doctors working alongside him were duty-bound to look upon Kalongo Hospital as their own. He wanted all the nursing staff to feel directly involved in run- ning the complicated machine that was Kalongo Hospital. For this he valued the local element. His esteem for the Sisters working with him was deep and sincere, and he regarded their work as essential. By the end of 1973, Fr. Giuseppe’s health began to show signs of deteriorating but he gave himself no rest. Even the periods he spent in Italy were a race against time as

14 | Comboni Missions | A publication of the Comboni Missionaries of North America

Giuseppe Ambrosoli

he went from one operating room to another to learn the latest surgi- cal techniques. He met with sup- port groups who provided medical equipment. He was well aware of his precarious health but he felt it would be a betrayal to hold back with things in Uganda in such a state. For him, to love others more than himself was the norm. The year 1986 was certainly the most difficult year for Kalongo, overrun alternatively by rebels and the regular army. On October 21, the army occupied Kalongo amid indescribable scenes of panic: not only the people but even the patients took flight. Relations with the government troops collapsed ir- remediably: the very fact of having spent a few months with the rebels was interpreted as connivance. The situation at the hospital came to a head on January 30, 1987. The military authorities accused the missionaries and hospital person- nel of collaborating with the Acholi guerrillas and ordered the evacua- tion of Kalongo. Having to transfer everything and everyone suddenly to Lira was a real Calvary for Fr. Giuseppe. His concern was for the doctors, the young women students of the school of midwifery, and the Sisters in charge of them. He feared the students would miss a school year while he wanted them to end their courses with their exams and diplomas. Even though he had only one partly functioning kidney, Fr. Giuseppe asked his superiors’ permission to delay his return to Italy for treatment. Unfortunately,

his health was rapidly deteriorating. After working unceas- ingly for 31 years, he died in Lira on March 27, 1987, of a renal infection. He was 64. Seven years later that his remains were exhumed and reburied in Kalongo, close to the hospital that bears his name.

On November 28, 2019, Pope Francis authorized the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints “to promulgate, among oth- ers, the miracle attributed to the in- tercession of the Venerable Servant of God Giuseppe Ambrosoli.” The miracle granted through the in- tercession of Fr. Giuseppe benefited a young Ugandan woman. In the spring of 2019, the medical com- mission set up by the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, con- cluded it was “an extraordinary and inexplicable cure” from a clinical and scientific point of view. The beneficiary’s name is Lucia Lomokol. On the evening of October 25, 2008, (she was 20 years old), she lost the child she was carrying and was dying of septicemia in Matany hospital, in Northern Uganda where she had been brought in an extremely poor condition. The hospital had no means of helping her. Then Dr. Eric Dominic placed an image of Fr. Giuseppe on her pillow and

asked the relatives there to pray to ‘The Great Doctor.’ The following morning, Lucia was better, something no one expected. Today the work of Fr. Giuseppe goes on through his foundation, Doctor Ambrosoli Memorial Hospital. The foundation was established in 1998 by the Ambrosoli family and the Comboni Missionaries to guarantee the future of the hospital and the school of midwifery. Its aim is to ensure access for the people to a quali- fied health service to improve their health and standard of living. The Foundation works with the local communities and fosters medi- cal training so that Uganda may one day have its own independent health service. The beatification ceremony will be held at Kalongo on November 22, 2020. Fr. Ambrosoli will be the first Comboni Missionary to be beati- fied. ■ Story elements courtesy of Comboni Youth, UK and Ireland and Southworld . 15

Spring 2020

Comboni Lay Missionaries

Rossie Patlan was intent on serving her community, even as a child. At a young age, she joined the priests and nuns in her parish in Los Angeles, California, to attend to the sick, visit the homebound, and minister to those in the community. As an altar server, she felt that it was her job to give more of herself to the Church. These first steps were the making of a vibrant missionary heart. Today, at thirty-one, Rossie continues to give herself to the Church. She has decided to serve as a Comboni Lay Missionary in Brazil beginning this spring. After years of smaller “yesses,” Rossie knew her calling and her happiness were tied to a missionary life. Rossie grew up in a bilingual household with Mexican-American parents. She learned to love her Catholic faith from her close-knit family. Her faith grew and became so dear to her, that she could not keep it to herself. In her twenties, Rossie had a total conversion. She surrendered everything to A Big Yes New Comboni Lay Missionary Prepares for a Journey of Faith Ellen Baverman

Photo courtesy of Rossie Patlan

God. She began doing mission work and youth ministry all over California, Nevada, Oregon, and the surrounding areas. She and her team would visit churches and build programs for the youth and other young adult ministries. Despite all her work, Rossie still felt a gentle pull on her heart. “Even with all of this, I still wanted something else, something even more,” she explained. At this time, she turned to her family and her trusted friend, Comboni Missionary Father Gerardo de Tomasi, who suggested the Comboni Lay Missionary program to Rossie.

“I was scared because this was such a big step,” she said. “But, for some reason, I felt really at peace with the Comboni Missionaries.” She explained that she was, “so comfortable with these priests because they had helped me through difficult times already.” When it came time to interview for this Missionary role, Rossie had a strong sense of inner peace. She already felt like she belonged. Rossie hopes to soon depart for her three years of missionary service in Piquia, Brazil, after three and a half months of preparation, retreats, and relationship building with other missionaries.

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Comboni Lay Missionaries

Although she had the option to serve in a Spanish-speaking country, where she would have been linguistically at home, Rossie chose Brazil. She wanted the opportunity to learn the Portuguese language. “I chose to go to Brazil because I think this is a beautiful part of the mission, to learn from the people.” Paul Wheeler, director of the Comboni Lay Missionary program for the North American Province, has a lot of confidence in his latest recruit. “Rossie is a deeply spiritual Catholic who has been a great addition to our work in Illinois and California,” he says. “Her leadership qualities and her experience in youth ministry, elder care, and parish work will be great assets as she joins the Comboni pastoral team in the town of Piquia, in Maranhao State.” Rossie remains excited and ready to learn from the community she will be serving. Despite the fear of embarking on a new mission, she feels open and willing to go wherever God calls her. She

explains that, “Being a missionary, so far, has taught me to be positive and look for beauty in the difficulty.” And there have been many difficulties already. One of the challenges of answering God’s call, is choosing it over time with family and loved ones. Rossie’s family went through immense despair when she told them of her plan to go to Brazil. But, even when her parents were “scared and worried and crying all the time,” Rossie knew they would come to understand the sacrifice God was asking them all to make. After time and many prayers, they did come around. Her family knew it was the right choice for Rossie’s servant heart. While sad to let her go, they embraced God’s call too. Without question, there is hardship and fear when leaving everything familiar behind. “There is always fear,” Rossie explains. “It never goes away, it is part of being human. Fears are always

there—of not being able to communicate, not being accepted, of not being good enough . . . it does mess with me. But, the motivation the Holy Spirit provides is so much greater,” she says. “Maybe, I will have something little to offer.” ■

Rossie was commissioned with a Mass and celebration on December 20, 2019, at Mary Queen of Heaven Parish in Cicero, Illinois.

Are You Called to Be a Lay Missionary? The process of becoming a Comboni Lay Missionary involves an applications, admissions, and discernment process, followed by three and a half months of training in the Chicago area. We want our formation in Chicago to be fun and active, and we include our laypeople as partners in the process. Once your training is complete, we have many international locations in Africa and Central and South America that are interested in receiving our laypeople, where they may end up working in a broad range of ministries: church work, outreach and evangelization, health or medical services, project management, education and teaching, refugee ministries, or peace and justice work. For more information, check out our website at, or contact director Paul Wheeler, at 17

Spring 2020

The Missionary Perspective

Ministry Is Service And Service Is Forever

On St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, I celebrated my 58th anniversary of ordination into the missionary priesthood as a Comboni Missionary. I remember with fondness some of my earlier milestones. There was a lot going on in those days and I was in the thick of it all. Great memories. By comparison, my 58th will be very much on the quiet side and down to basics. On the plus side, I am alive and I am writing my next entry for my blog, I still do a few things like translations, I keep an eye open for valuable mission items that will enhance our museum, I occasionally delve into our pictures’ archives, I do some writing. On the minus side, I am on oxygen to supplement what my lungs no longer can provide fully, my energy level is very low most of the time, both of my old artificial hips are giving up on me, and my hearing leaves a lot to be desired. This year, God willing, I will turn 83. Because of my current limitations, I haven’t driven a car in months (in fact, mine has been

sold). But on the plus side again, I scoot with reckless abandon around our long corridors and spacious offices on a three-wheel, Ferrari-red little electric gizmo. I am no longer able to go out for public ministry. Nor would I have the strength to do it. But from my vantage point, I look at what seems to be the current main mission topic: Ministeriality , they call it. It’s another word pushed on us by more verbose, Latin-speaking theologians and it is so defined (I Googled it): “noun. rare. The quality or fact of being ministerial; ministers collectively or as a class.” Is it something new? Have we just discovered hot water again? Schooled for Service Have I been in ministeriality for 58 years and did not know it? Or was I introduced to it at age 11, when growing up in post-WWII Milan, Italy, I idolized the young priest in the parish who made us pray, play, reflect and behave as “little apostles,” as he was saying. His spirit of service to us was

contagious. Basically, that is why I became a priest. I wanted to minister like him. I joined the seminary of Milan at age 14. I was being formed to a life of ministry as service to the people in a local church with a millennial tradition dating back to St. Ambrose and the Ambrosian Church, strengthened by St. Charles and the Counter-Reformation, the Christian Humanism of later centuries, the spearheading of social involvement and labor union by local archbishops in the early twentieth century, and the papacies of Milanese Pius XI and my local bishop of the 1950s, the future Pope Paul VI. I thought I had it all. Service as Mission Yet, by age 19 the leaven of my growth into ministry had yet to come. Over the years in the home parish and at the seminary we had constantly been exposed to missionaries and their service beyond all borders. Through a long set of circumstances, a great missionary figure and the exciting,

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The Missionary Perspective

rewarding lives of his followers had been taking over my thoughts, dreams and aspiration. Daniel Comboni, the apostle of Central Africa, his passionate love for Africa and the “thousand lives” that followed in his footsteps had conquered me. By October 1956 I was ready to leave behind all that I had known and taken for granted and joined the Comboni Missionary novitiate in Italy. By September 1957 I had been transplanted in the United States and the year VAT II started, 1962 saw my ordination into the missionary priesthood of the Comboni Missionaries. It meant that service, ministry, self-giving (in 2020 call it Ministeriality!) were mine by God’s merciful grace, to be practiced without borders, and for a lifetime. In the spring of 2020, as I catch my breath (or what is left of it) I look back on my “ministeriality” of the past and in the here and now. A Call vs. an Assignment It pays to know the difference between the vocation to minister/ serve and the jobs/tasks you do to fulfill that vocation. Jobs change and even end with time and places, service/ministry never changes or ends… it is who you are and meant to be. So, jobs/tasks have come and gone. I started by recruiting for our seminaries, then plunged into pastoral work in East Africa. I spent years providing funds, projects and a public voice for mission among people back home. A large chunk of my life was given to the written

word, reporting worldwide from the United States, Rome and around the globe, editing Christian leadership publications, ghost-writing for bishops, exposing to the world the joys and sorrows of the Church and “It is not enough just to wish well; we must also do well.” —Saint Ambrose its people in many a trouble spot. At age 70 I gambled on stepping out of my comfort zone and ended up in San Luis Petén, Guatemala’s remote Amazon-like frontier, and there I found the joy of being embraced by

a living local Church drawing life from a committed laity. What a gift it was. Living the Call Assignments filled the years, but assignments do not define a person. After years of growing into a life of service and 58 years as a Comboni Missionary priest, what do I see as my defining lines of service? • Wherever I have been, I have tried to serve by providing, celebrating, explaining, highlighting the Eucharist. I did it with the Maya who were starved after decades without the bread of life, I celebrated Mass in the shade of tropical trees in East Africa and used a Portuguese missalette to concelebrate in China, I explained every detail of the Mass whenever it was necessary, I rejoiced in seeing 19

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The Missionary Perspective

people appreciate the gift of all gifts. concern in my service has been the explanation of the living Word of God. I relished basing my sermons on the human background of the inspired Scriptures and trying to translate what is at times a rather arcane language into everyday verbiage that regular people can understand. There was never any room for blond, blue-eyed Mary and Jesus in my catechesis. I never thought of Mary at Cana as a guest of honor, but rather coming out of the kitchen in a dark dress with a wisp of gray hair sticking out of her scarf to remind her son that he needed to do something. • Third, my service has included making the essence of the Church’s presence known by preaching, reporting, and photographing mission. It was Comboni’s passionate love for it that conquered me as a youngster. And I did it with special gusto especially as I addressed, provoked, enthused, and directed the youth of Europe, America, and Africa in any possible way. My Ministry Today So, Fr. Joe, are you retired? Am I retired? Isn’t this the buzzword among priests today? Well, yes and no. I retired from the many things I have done so far. But I am still a Comboni Missionary priest and this is not something you retire from. This is who I am. • Another line of constant

Vocation to service cannot ever be dumped, but rather recycled. These have been and still are the three basic pillars of my Comboni Missionary priesthood. Was it always easy? No! Was it possible? Of course, with God’s help and a propensity to take risks and to never give up. Was it worth it? Yes! Do I minister today? Yes, I do. Being a survivor is God’s reward for those who risk it all: a story with lots of bumps, but with no regrets. I have a hopeful story to tell. A good friend reminded me on what could have been a dark day of physical limitations. “Joseph,” she said, “do not forget that your being here with us is giving the opportunity to friends, confreres, visitors, and casual acquaintances to be kind, to help, to assist, to do what priests are called to do for others by their God-given call. To some, your need of help may be a nuisance. To the overwhelming majority of your neighbors you offer a daily opportunity to do good deeds.” I am so blessed. And, so be it. It is humbling and it is also life-giving, to be given the chance to empower others to do good and to serve. May the Lord give me the strength to do that. A Priest. AMissionary Priest. A Comboni Missionary Priest. Forever. ■ Father Joseph Bragotti, mccj, is a Comboni Missionary Priest and editor emeritus of this publication. He has trav- eled, worked, and served in more than thirty countries worldwide.

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20 | Comboni Missions | A publication of the Comboni Missionaries of North America

Supporting the Mission

Heather Kaufman ow to Make a Difference

In the fall the Comboni Missionaries hosted a Coffee and Conversations at a local café. The event was geared towards high school and college students to give them a glimpse of the Comboni Missionaries and our work. In a follow-up survey one woman wrote, “I wish I would have learned more about helping the Comboni Missionaries. I am an unemployed teen with no money, but I will give up my time to help.” This simple comment still sticks with me many months later. How many people feel just like this student? She clearly wants to be involved but just doesn’t know what to do. There are many ways our friends can help. One is to reach out to one of our local communities. Many would welcome help with a special occasion or mailing. These are thriving places with a variety of activities available throughout the year. In our North American headquarters located in Cincinnati, we are always seeking volunteers for our annual Taste of Mission and Nativity events. For more information about volunteering visit our website at combonimissionaries. org/volunteer/. Our friends often comment, “I don’t have a lot of money, my donation won’t really make a difference.” My immediate response is, “EVERY CONTRIBUTION IS APPRECIATED AND IS IMPACTFUL.” Did you know one twenty-dollar donation can provide a student in Uganda with a school uniform and books? Or that thirty dollars pays for an expectant mother to deliver her child in a medical facility? And ninety dollars supports an orphan — providing food, medicine, and shelter for an entire month? These may not seem like large donations to the average American, but to the recipient of these gifts (students, mothers, and orphans) the result is life- changing. There are many ways a gift can be made: through the mail, online, via phone, by becoming a Monthly Faith Promise Partner, by donating stocks, IRA rollovers,

annuities, and making planned gifts, to name just a few. Please know, whether your gift is five dollars or $5 million you are changing someone’s life for the better. One very basic way you can help is through prayer. As we pray for you please pray for us. Your prayers make a difference to our missionaries around the world as well as the people they serve. Together we can spread the gift of God’s love. I wish I could step back in time and talk to the young woman asking how she can be involved. I’m so glad she spoke up during the survey and shared this insight. We can always use our friends’ talents, treasure and prayers and no matter the size of the contribution we are grateful! ■ Students at St. Francis Seraph, an inner-city K-8, combined the quarters and dimes they amassed through bake sales and out-of-uniform passes to present an amazingly generous check for the Comboni Missionaries water project benefitting refugees from South Sudan.

Heather Kaufman is the director of development for the Comboni Missionaries, North American Province. 21

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Around the Province

Upcoming Events CINCINNATI

Holy Land Pilgrimage Join Father Aldo Pozza on a trip to the Holy Land November 9 – 18, 2020 Starting cost $3,575 Call 626-339-1914 for more information. Following the Footsteps of St. Paul Join Father Jorge Ochoa on a visit to Greece and Turkey October 18– November 2, 2020 Trip cost $3,995 Call 626-993-1914 for more information Siguiendo los Pasos de San Pablo Únase al padre Jorge Ochoa en una visita a Grecia y Turquía 18 de octubre– 2 de noviembre de 2020 El costo del viaje es de $3,995 Llame al 626-993-1914 para más información .

Meet the Missionaries Night 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 15, 2020 Anderson Center 7850 Five Mile Road Cincinnati, Ohio 45230 Please call 513-474-4997 for more information. CHICAGO Wednesday Night Mass 5:30 p.m. every Wednesday 1615 E. 31st Street La Grange Park, Illinois 60526 708-354-1999 Note: This event will reopen to the public as soon as possible. Please call if in doubt. COVINA Music For the Missions Theme: “If I had a thousand lives I would give them for the Mission”

6 p.m. Saturday, June 6, 2020 St. Louise de Marillac Church 1728 E. Covina Blvd. Covina, California 91724 626-339-1914

Proceeds from this event will support several mission projects in Africa. Visit events for more information.

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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 adven- ture, please contact Paul Wheeler, director of the Comboni Lay Missionary program, at (708) 588-1602, or visit www.laymission- We invite your interest, ques- tions, prayers, and support! ∎


Comboni Mission Center 1318 Nagel Road Cincinnati, Ohio 45255 (513) 474-4997

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 23

Spring 2020

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