Being one of the veteran missionaries of the 19th century and one of the first to venture deep into the heart of Africa to bring the message of the Gospel, Daniel Comboni and his few companions were faced with a reality, which was as sad as well as complex. Not only many Africans had not received what the gospel offers, not only disease was rampant with little cure, but Africa was also being ravaged by the notorious slave traders.
It was indeed a hard time for Daniel Comboni to convince even some ecclesiastics in Rome that Africans were humans with souls and thus, with God given rights to be enjoyed as all other human beings. In this missionary month (October 2020) which also coincides with political campaigns in Uganda, it is worth reflecting on Daniel Comboni today.
The mission to evangelize leadership
Daniel Comboni understood evangelization as going beyond a mere transmission of contents of religious texts. He understood his mission of evangelization as a force, which had to transform cultures for the better. Cultures are, to some extent, a fruit of leadership; the type of leadership a society has will always affect culture in a way or another. Corrupt leaders will build a culture of corruption just as good leaders are most likely to inspire and instil in populations good behaviours and attitudes. The educationist Paulo Freira, in The Pedagogy of the Oppressed holds the idea that even when leaders are oppressors, their victims will unconsciously imitate them in a way or another. Looking back at the interest Daniel Comboni had in preparing African men and women to be responsible leaders of their communities, ours is a moment in which we have to commit ourselves more to preparing the leaders we want for the generations to come. It is a fundamental aspect of the mission of the Church, to prepare responsible leaders; it is indeed useless to whine about bad leaders when we have not prepared good ones.
Education as a fundamental avenue for human emancipation and development
While direct instruction in the values of the Gospel of Jesus occupied the first place in the activities of Daniel Comboni, formal education was seen as a fundamental avenue for preparing leaders and thus, to promote a culture of productive work, respect, justice and peace. In our times, the tragedy is that education is often looked at as a means of creating personal wealth. In other cases, education has become so politicized to the extent of risking becoming an instrument, among others, of transmission and perpetuation of ideas and ideologies of whoever rules.
Far from focusing on passing examinations, as is the case in Uganda, education is meant to equip individuals with skills together with the right behaviours and attitudes. God’s Kingdom, according to Daniel Comboni, comes only when human beings cooperate with God especially by putting to use the skills and intellectual capacities God has given to them.
While skills in themselves are necessary, they never change situations without a work ethic. Love for work is something that Daniel Comboni found necessary to inculcate both in his missionaries and in the people who were to be evangelized. Our times are marked by a love for wealth with minimum effort. Society has learnt to glorify those who become rich overnight; those who are cunning and can go away with it. Why should one work hard if it is possible to become rich without a drop of sweat?
There is much to be done by the evangelizer of today in as far as adopting a right understanding and practice of education is concerned. Mission is, among other things, equipping persons with skills and instilling in them behaviours and attitudes which are necessary to ensure a purposeful life.
God is glorified when the human person created in His image is healthy
Daniel Comboni and his missionaries have given importance to health. Medical facilities have been and still are part of the missionary activities. While it is true that no country with a sick population can pride itself of real development, it is to be admitted that good health care is very expensive in Uganda and many deaths are due to treatable diseases. Is it because means are not there for good health care for all or it is because our priorities are wrong? Comboni has a word for us today: the health of individuals is of paramount importance and God is glorified when persons are healthy spiritually and physically. We have the resources to equip better our hospitals and other medical facilities, than focusing on things that don’t matter.
The mission of promoting human rights and the integrity of creation
Daniel Comboni saw his mission of evangelization as implying, among other things, the promotion of God given rights for all human beings. While slave trade is officially abolished, it has just changed skin. Human trafficking is as rife as it was centuries ago with the sole difference that in our times, the victims are often accomplices.
The missionary of today has to tussle it out with powerful gangs which run the multibillion-dollar trade in human beings. It is enough to observe in some of our African airports: young women ready for export, often dressed up in uniforms, bundles of their passports handled by their traffickers who happen to operate ‘legally’! Besides, it is not by chance that missionaries have always been keen on taking good care of the environment. Daniel Comboni understood that the emancipation of the African person had to go hand in hand with a healthy relationship with creation especially with the environment. Missions have always been places not only for reclaiming souls from the grasp of the devil, but also places of educating the people on basic pro-environment practices such as planting trees.
Evangelization today, in the spirit of St. Daniel Comboni calls for an effort to promote a good relationship between the human beings we are and our environment.
Soul searching is called for and much action
It is very common to hear political leaders reminding their religious counterparts that they should keep to preaching the things of heaven and leave world affairs to them. The truth is that the contribution of the Church in development has been, still is and will continue to be enormous.
St. Daniel Comboni will always be a source of inspiration for an approach to evangelization whereby the liberation and development of the whole person is at the centre.
By Fr. Achilles Kirabika Kasozi mccj
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