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Mission: a journey into gratitude - This year the Comboni Missionaries celebrate 150 years of their foundation.
Not long before, on April 16, Comboni Missionary Fr David Glenday celebrates forty years of priesthood. Here, drawing out the missionary meaning of gratitude, he shares something of what these two significant milestones mean to him personally. From 1991 to 1997 Fr David was superior general of his Congregation, and, after eleven years spent in the Philippines, he now serves as secretary general of the Union of Superiors General.
Anniversary, celebration, remembrance, memory: all these things are readily and rightly associated with inspiring a sense of gratitude. Yet, at its most authentic, gratitude is more than a passing sentiment, more than a stirring emotion: at its deepest, gratitude is a journey, a discovery, a new beginning. As Pope Francis has remarked: "the joy of the missionary always shines against the backdrop of a grateful memory", because "a disciple is fundamentally someone who remembers".

Gratitude is not static, but dynamic; gratitude is movement - inwards, outwards, and forward. And mission is truly a journey into gratitude. Gratitude, in the first place, means to know - in the deep, rich and biblical sense of knowing - that the deep - down meaning of everything is love, or, as Cardinal Carlo Martini, archbishop of Milan once memorably put it: "Everything has a meaning, and this meaning is luminous and life-giving. In other words, despite the darkness of humanity's current circumstances, despite the human tragedy surrounding us, despite the trials of the Church and the well-nigh absurd situations through which the world and we ourselves have to pass, at the bottom of everything there lives a Gospel, a Gospel which assures us that that there is indeed a luminous and life-giving reason for all these things, if only we know how to grasp it and let ourselves be transformed by it".

This is gratitude's first challenge: to let myself be led to the experienced conviction that the key which unlocks the mystery of existence is Grace, and that Grace is present in history - in our/my story - as Providence. Grace is active and at work, always; Grace searches us out, and waits for us to catch up; Grace never loses hope in us, and is always ready to begin again; Grace always grows, and always has dreams for our future. Grace always hopes, because Grace believes in us.
So to be grateful effectively means to re-read our history and our stories: How, where, by whom have I been loved? What has been the name, the face, of love for me, for us? How has Grace made it possible for me, too, to love? In this sense, the journey of gratitude will perhaps often mean surprise and unexpectedness, a whole new and different way of seeing things.


I find something very encouraging about the fact that Jesus foresees that his disciples are likely to forget what he has said while with them, and that he knows his Father will send the Spirit to help them with this amnesia of theirs. There is a powerful and consoling insight here: for the disciples, for us, remembering is in the first place not an effort or project of our own, but a gift, a grace, a work, of the Spirit. 150 years of my Institute, 40 years a priest: to keep an anniversary is not in the first place something we do for ourselves, but rather something the Spirit does in us and with us: in the end, the one who really remembers is the Spirit. And this means that remembering, when thus rooted and founded, is likely to trigger fresh discovery and surprise.
Each of us individually, and all of us together, can experience this gift of Spirit-led remembering. For my part, recently I have sensed that this grace has been offered me in two distinct and rather beautiful ways.

First, I have been, as it were, brought to remember times, situations, encounters, circumstances of life, that for many years I had simply forgotten. Now, as they come once again and unexpectedly to mind, they become new and deeper reasons to be grateful, to say, perhaps even to sing: the Lord was in that place, at that time, in those persons. It is as if the Spirit - precisely as Jesus promised - leads us to hear the word of love that Jesus was saying to us long ago in those experiences. There is an exciting challenge here: discovering in this way how great is the potential of our personal and community history, to treasure, cherish and re-visit that history in ever renewed hope and expectation.

Second, I have noticed the Spirit nudging me not only to re-call apparently forgotten times and experiences, but also to re-read only too well remembered experiences in a new way. Times until now read as times of hurt emerge as times of healing; times of sin and fragility are revealed as places of mercy and wisdom; times of fault are recognized as places of joy: felix culpa, happy fault, fortunate fall; times of sin as times of forgiveness and growth in compassion. In Gospel terms, to remember is to be transformed.
The first line of the first poem in Irish poet Seamus Heaney's last book of poems runs like this: " Had I not been awake I would have missed it…
The poem, written after Heaney had suffered a severe stroke is, we might say, a hymn to attentiveness. The sudden and unexpected experience of serious physical fragility had brought Heaney to a new and deeper appreciation of the preciousness and beauty of being alive, and this had made him more attentive to the power of life in the present moment.

So true gratitude is never mere nostalgia, a hankering after the old days: true gratitude heightens my awareness of and deep respect for the present moment, so as to discover and cherish there the seeds of the future. A grateful person will tend to be a person willing to accept the challenge of discernment, very likely identifying with some of the things Pope Francis shared when he met the superiors general in November 2016:
"I am very keen on the theme of discernment… We are used to formulas, to black and white, but not to the gray areas of life. And what counts is life, not the formulas. We need to grow in discernment. The logic of black and white can bring casuistic abstraction. Instead, discernment means going beyond the gray of life in a search for the will of God. And you look for the will of God following the true doctrine of the Gospel and not in the fixations of an abstract doctrine… This is the key point: discernment is always dynamic, as is life. Static things don't work… So two words: listening and movement. This is important".
Or, in Heaney's terms, gratitude means staying awake - and so not missing the movement of new life.
Given all this, it comes as no surprise to find that gratitude in the end turns into mission, that thankfulness lies at the heart of every authentic outreach to others. Gratitude sends us out, urges us into the future, rekindles the dream, challenges to commitment, makes giving joyful. Mission as gratitude enacted is a recurring and ultimately delightful theme in the lives of many outstanding missionaries.
So then, mission: a journey from gratitude into gratitude, a place where praise is discovered ever anew, in the folds of real life, with all its beauty, challenge and opportunities to begin afresh. Or, as St Augustine urged his people in his famous Easter homily:
Brothers and sisters, see that your praise comes from your whole being; in other words, see that you praise God not with your lips and voices alone, but with your minds, your lives and all your actions.


South Sudan. Education to change a country
A country in search of peace. A secondary school in Juba is trying to provide concrete answers.

A city that formed on the left bank of the White Nile, about a hundred kilometres from the Ugandan border, Juba has been, since the eighteen hundreds, the principal city in the South of Sudan, a vast region of 619,745 square km. With a population of around 500,000, Juba remained under the control of the central government of Khartoum and its army during the civil war that lasted twenty one years. As a result, it was virtually isolated from the rest of the region and besieged for most of the time by the rebels. With the peace agreement in 2005, the city began its renewal, creating administrative structures, a regional government with all the main ministries, legislative assemblies and governments for the twelve states that comprised the region as well as local administrations at the provincial (county) and municipal (payam) levels. The city had its moment of glory on 9 July, 2011 when, before presidents and heads of state from various parts of the world, South Sudan officially became the 54th African state and the 193rd state in the world and Juba the newest capital in the world. It was a moment of enthusiasm, joy and hope that would not last long however.
In December 2013, some Dinka militias loyal to President Salva Kiir began to clash with Nuer army soldiers, accusing them of planning a coup. The Nuer soldiers were led by Vice President Riek Machar who had been dismissed by Kiir a few days previously. The city became a battleground. Thousands of people took refuge in United Nations areas. Dead bodies lay in the streets. Despite talks and various negotiations, peace has not yet been restored. The city continues to be a discouraging example of ethnic violence and fear. The amount of damage caused by the conflict cannot be known exactly but it is estimated that, since 2013, there have been thousands of deaths and 2.3 million displaced people. The people flee towards bordering countries (such as Uganda) or seek shelter in the UN refugee camps within the country.

The Secondary School
Not far from the places where, in December four years ago, the clashes took place between the various factions, the Daniel Comboni Juba Secondary School stands. Sr. Lily Grace Akuma, a Ugandan Comboni Sister, has been teaching English and religion there since 2014. She said: "the Comboni Secondary School Juba (CSSJ) is a school, set up in the eighties by the Comboni family to provide educational opportunities for the young population of what was then Southern Sudan, where secondary schools could be counted on the fingers of one hand. It was meant to be a response to the lack of education in the region, especially for girls. It is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious school that tries to promote peaceful co-existence. This year there are 470 students from eighteen different ethnic groups; half of them are girls. There are thirty three teachers of whom only two are women".
The secondary school is much appreciated in Juba for its educational standards and the formation it gives. Many parents favour the education of their daughters since they believe that they, in their turn, will contribute in a qualified way to the development of the country.
Among the extracurricular activities there are various clubs: that of the girl students, guided by Sr. Lily, has 235 members who study such themes as self-knowledge, gender violence and reproductive health. There are also theatre, journalism, environmental and debating clubs. All students are involved in debates including those between schools.
Sister Lily recalls: "Unfortunately, towards the end of 2013 the civil war brought the population to its knees. The traumas inflicted by the civil war have wounded the boys and girls who attend the school and the constant lack of security has upset the educational programme of the country".
"I teach English and religion - the Comboni Sister continues - and coordinate admissions and the disciplinary committee. The religion course aims at connecting Christian values to daily life. It helps to look beyond one's own individual needs and to take care of other people. This spiritual formation has produced a commendable assistance initiative after the clashes in July".
Sr. Akuna recalls a particular event that took place just a year ago and left its mark on the progress of the school: "It was 8 July 2016. The city was disturbed by the deafening noise of the shells and rockets. At the Presidential Palace the soldiers of President Salva Kiir clashed with those of his rival, Riek Machar. More than three hundred people were killed. It was indeed a sad statistic on the vigil of the fifth anniversary of independence on 9 July".
Following the conflict, almost all foreign personnel left the country and many South Sudanese sought refuge in bordering countries, at the UN bases and in the churches. There was widespread fear and suspicion as the economy fell apart.
"On 16 August - Sr. Akuna continued - we again heard the sound of shooting and the city was filled with fear. The boys and girls of the school decided to risk their lives to reach Juba orphanage where one hundred and twenty three minors who had lost their parents in the civil war were living. The youngest was six years old. The wanted to let them see they were close to those children who had suffered the violence of war".
"It was their decision - Sr. Akuna stated - and it was a surprise for me to see so many boys and girls of different ethnic groups working together to give support to so many orphaned children. I believe it was a lesson for the 'adults' who, by their greed for power destroy the country. Not only did they go to see the children, bringing them food and clothes but they also cleaned up the area and cut the grass on the lawn. Yes! Education can do this: eradicate resentment and hatred and create moments of encounter and solidarity". Sr. Akima then concluded: "I am sure that quality education will succeed in gradually transforming South Sudan. This new generation, by means of a school that educates for responsibility, can humanise a country and bring peace...true peace".


Kenya. The missionary dowser
He explores the sun-scorched savannah with a wooden stick in his hand. Silently, he listens for the vibrations of the water. He is a Comboni Missionary dowser who, for thirty-five years has sought the life that flows beneath the ground.

He moves slowly with his forked stick in his hands, he stops, moves on again as it is not easy to achieve harmony with the vibrations of water. In the Turkana desert in northern Kenya, the sun is already high in the sky. Brother Dario wears shorts and a T-shirt with a beret on his head and a pair of well-worn sandals on his feet.

At last the stick begins to vibrate. He smiles. That is where they must drill. He is quite certain. There is plenty of water there.
This year, the drought affecting Kenya could become a humanitarian disaster. The shortage of water has sparked off episodes of violence between the nomadic pastoralists who seek to access and take over the meagre sources of provisions, essential for human survival as well as that of the animals.
The emergency is also affecting other countries of the area. According to Red Cross figures, 13 million people are in immediate need of humanitarian aid.
Brother Dario Laurencig, 66, Italian, is well aware of what drought means. He still remembers today how his work of water divining began in 1982, just after a terrible drought had brought the local population to its knees in West Pokot. When the humanitarian emergency was over and the aid had been distributed, Brother Dario decided to do what he could so that the shortage of water would not kill again in the future.
" I did not know how to combat drought. Wells were needed. I had not studied geology and I was no hydraulic technician", the missionary recounts. "However, I remembered having seen, while I was young, the shepherd of my own mountains looking for water using a forked stick. I thought it best to gather some information about water divining and I began to practice it. I must confess that I felt strange with that stick in my hands. But gradually I realised I was developing a sensitivity that helped me find underground streams".
Thirty-five years have gone by since he first found water. Now he can claim to have provided 300 wells in northern Kenya. He recently visited Sudan. "There is an emergency situation there. Already last year I was asked at least twice to go there to look for water. I did not go because of the civil war. The previous year I had gone there to drill a well and set up a solar pump. When I was finished, the rebels did not want to let me go back. The UN had to intervene to evacuate me from there by plane. This year I could not refuse to go, also because there is a bad drought in the whole of east Africa. I found a badly confused situation. Continual attacks by government and rebel troops have cause more than 3million people to flee. Many had to seek refuge in the nearby countries including Kenya. In Juba, the capital, there are no supplies to be found and what there is is extremely expensive. There are long queues of people waiting to buy fuel for vehicles and the roads are almost empty. Most of the shops are closed. Only a few people take the risk of trading for fear of being robbed by the different armies and placing their lives in danger. The few workers still there are mostly immigrants since the locals have been compelled to join the army, and they take things very calmly. However, we succeeded in drilling three wells and to indicate three or four places to drill more. Unfortunately, the only company still present in the capital city (the others have fled) has no fuel to carry out the work".
Back in Kenya, he already had a car at the airport waiting to take him to look for more water. "I have so many requests - the missionary continues - that I can no longer carry out my works. On the other hand, water is essential for life and I believe it takes priority over other commitments. Due to the drought, we have to increase our work this year".
Over the years, Bro. Dario has seen his work recognised by many NGOs, hydrologists and various drilling companies. "In reality, as a missionary, I am happy to see the joy on the faces of the people when the water starts to flow. Water is life. I remember one place west of Lodwar in Turkana. There, fifty metres down, I found water. Soon after the well was drilled, it changed the lives of 300 people. The inhabitants of the area no longer had to dig with their hands in dried-up river beds. They no longer had to walk for tens of kilometres under the burning sun to reach a well. And, even more importantly, they no longer had to fight over the well."
Brother Dario notes a small camel coming to drink at the well. "God has given me this special sensitivity of finding the life that flows underground." He has spent more than 42 years on African soil. A life to give life by giving water. (C.C.)

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