General Chapters are monastic general assemblies held every six years, in which elected representatives from all of the monasteries of an order come together to embark on a journey of discernment, communion and prayer as an occasion of renewal.
In September of this year, the Comboni Missionaries held their eighteenth General Chapter in Rome, under the aegis of the following theme: “The Comboni missionary disciples called to live the joy of the Gospel in today’s world”.
In the Letter of Convocation for the XVIII General Chapter from 27 June 2014, the signatories put forth the following intention for the Chapter:
“Let us thank God for the journey travelled in these five years and for the good things that have been sown in the heart of many through your work and the spirit of dedication to the poorest and most abandoned. Let us thank the Lord in particular for the witness of fidelity and love to the people of God of many confreres who are going through situations of tension and frequent discomfort. Even in our days we give testimony to this as many of you are experiencing with courage, generosity and enthusiasm situations of great violence and serious difficulties.”
The opening of the Chapter saw missionaries from all over the world come together for a solemn Mass: 34 members were European, 20 from Africa, and 13 from the Americas. In his opening homily, the Superior General Father Enrique Sánchez said: “In as much as we shall be capable of placing the person of Jesus at the centre of our reflection, our interests and our research, the Chapter will become an intense moment of Comboni missionary life”.
Interviewed by Radio Vaticana a few days later, Father Sánchez elaborated on the critical work that the Comboni Missionaries carry out in the countries where they are present. He spoke particularly of the work “in those contexts where mercy is today a truly great challenge, especially in situations of war and persecution. For Comboni, Africa was not just a continent or a geographic area but a situation of humanity.”
“For this reason, that which Comboni called ‘Nigrizia’ – the situation of poverty, of urgent missionary need in his time – we Comboni Missionaries now find in many other parts of the world”.
The Chapter saw the presentation of a Report of the General Council, in which, following the inspiration of Pope Francis, the Superior General invited the Comboni Missionaries to a renewal of the evangelising mission based upon courageous options and the humble acceptance of their situation. The Report reflected on the work done over the last five years, supported by a number of regional reports relating the activities of the Comboni Missionaries all over the world.
Many events rendered this General Chapter a special success – not least the papal audience accorded to the Missionaries, previously reported here. Reflecting on the course of the Chapter, the representatives issued the following message to the confrères on 3 October: “The Chapter has been a celebration of fraternity and shared passion for the mission. We were accompanied by the sufferings of the people with whom we make common cause. It has been an experience of joy and unity that surprised even ourselves: we have discovered the beauty of our Comboni missionary vocation”.
By Father John Downey