6. Our charism in Africa and how to enjoy it
In the light of his experience, Fr. Luigi Cencin, superior of the Vice-Province of Africa, shows us some priorities so that the charism of St L. Murialdo can meet the reality of Africa, a continent urged by many resources for change and also surrounded by a number of problems that seem to crush it. Let us have the courage to bring the good news that Jesus is. The charism invites us to develop good relations among us, to be on the side of poor young people with patience and fidelity to their dignity as persons. Prayer, work, forgiveness and concern for education find in the charism their resource. The charism helps us to pass the good news of God’s love, even through the structures, because we offer a lot more than them: proximity, hospitality, justice, and not with a sense of superiority. The charism also invites us to enhance some aspects of African culture and tradition, such as the sense of family, hospitality, love for life. We can only be optimistic.
P. Luigi Cencin
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6. Our charism in Africa and how to enjoy it
(P. Luigi Cencin)
Each generation has its own qualities and its own challenges, so there is not one age better than another, they just differ. And each time has its own people, some of them are wise, others are narrowminded in their own personal interest. The description of nowadays society is either optimistic or pessimistic according to the experience of the describer. I am a Josephite, living in Africa at the present time, when society is changing from a quiet living to a life daily provoked by new proposals, open challenges and visible provocations. Television, internet, mobiles are now as common as daily greetings, making people, events and news as familiar as relatives and friends. Some of us are getting acquainted with the new reality, others are still struggling. At time, we voice out considerations on what is going on. We ponder at activities, feelings and future life. If the world is changing, if the river is at the point of overflowing, the elders were used to say: “Save the seedlings”. The flood will pass away, but we have saved what is important to continue. So, what is important?
For us Josephites our charism is vital. What I sense in our people is a clear desire for Christ. Let me start from that point, because I want to go straight to the core of the issue. We are immersed in news of any kind, but the news I know that have meaning and bring solace to people are the news about Jesus. My grandmother, on a good Friday, pointing at the crucifix, whispered to me: “He is dead. Do not worry. The day after tomorrow He will be alive!” Impressive information. It was said hundreds of years ago, and it is still going around the world: “Do not be afraid! Jesus is alive, he is with us and your sins are forgiven, go with your heart at peace! You are reconciled with God, go and love your people. Heaven is for you, eternal life is yours, now!” Our mouths are so full of laughter, of gossip and of non-sense, that when somebody stands and speaks words of Jesus immediately many become keen listeners. People want to listen to about God. People need brothers who tell them about the beauty of a life risen from anxiety, from mess and from death to a new one enlightened by the presence of our risen Lord. It has been the experience of Murialdo, he passed from few years in the sadness of being far from God to fiftyfive years of gratitude, of desire for holiness and confidence in God with hope. That’s it. The author is God, we are the protagonists. The key person of our happiness is Jesus, the accessible way to God’s love. This is what Africa feels and seeks.
Then, I agree with those who point at relations as important aspects of our life. Many writings combine together charim of a congregation with the remak of true relationship among their members. Everybody agree on a profound connection between desire of spirituality and desire of reciprocal encounter and of sincere relationship. Among us Josephites it is well known the remark addressed to our founder: “You can do a lot because you love and are loved”. This can be the summing up of a vast modality of relations which are typical of our educational style. The shared compliment of being “friend, brother and father” of our youth gives a picture of the spirituality of those who are ready to sit down near to a young person, able to listen to and to talk to. We have to show ourselves patient with the wrongdoings of young people, good to those who are bad and able to forgive their sins. To the unloved ones, we go close; to those who are far, we make the first move; to those who are sad, we go with our kindness. If we are not anymore expert in humanity, how can we perceive God’s action in the life of people? How can we talk about incarnation if we do not feel friendship, family spirit, financial uncertainty and dangers?
The great fighting of Murialdo was to make society to recognize and to declare that there is human dignity in young boys who are stricken by social poverty, living a vicious life and abandoned to themselves. “Bread, job, love and eternity” can be our “manifesto” to win men favor and to enter into Paradise. In Africa, if we would be able to implement our educational style, boys, parents and civil authority would reward us with a “prize ad honorem”! True relations are the heart of any educational activity and pastoral experience. Encounter and personal accompaniment was the walk of Jesus with the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. The welcoming and the reciprocal understanding is the way to express our charism.
The next challenge is the presence of the poor youth. In Africa we do not search for poor youth, we find them everywhere. They come to us in search for means to dignify their life, for education enabling them to build up a better future and for spiritual enrichment. And there are those, deprived of almost everything, who stay far from us because they lack the courage to make the first move. The youths themselves question our life. Just from the first approach. They feel immediately if the “contact” has the taste of God’s love, if we welcome and consider them with respect or because, doing so many things for them, we deny them what they probably expect: somebody who listen to them, console them and give them the courage they need most to go ahead with their lives. We have more than just money or material things to share with them. It is true that we own structures and facilities, but we use them for the service we render, not to satisfy either comfort or our desire of recognition. We cannot go towards needy people from a position of privilege and of ostentation of wealth without causing in them envy and humiliation. We are to equip ourselves with more sense of justice. Then, our service to the immediate material and intellectual needs of the youth should not lead us to consider our task fully accomplished. Our being Josephan educators and consecrated people led by the certainty of the personal love of God demand that we offer them also serious moral and spiritual nourishment. Education and evangelization go hand in hand, especially in our African context. Which paths shall we use with the youth to have life in Christ? We have a store from which we can draw “new and old” resources. Our tradition speaks of education of heart. We can call it also “theology” of goodness. We Josephites should be known as “the smile of God” because we are never tired of loving, of waiting and of forgiving.
About modality of how to implement our charism I would like to suggest some points. Without excitation, the first one is prayer. The very day of his election Pope Francis said: “Pray for me!” And he continued: “Let us make a moment of silence and pray. You pray for me, you ask God to bless me”. We are at the service of youth who are highly considered in the sight of God, they are the “theological place of God’s presence”, and so they have a great dignity. If they pray for us, God listen to them and He will bless us, but if they do not pray for us, well, we are in trouble! And being the successor of Murialdo, how can we claim to be apostles as he was without prayer?
Catechesis is another modality. We teach through words and deeds. We cannot be silenced on what we saw and heard. It is a duty for us to preach Christ and to give witness to Him. We cannot take for granted that our people are Christian. We have to find the way to proclaim the Gospel in a time where I-pad, Facebook and sms attract youth and drag them into an “unreal realm”. Once again, seductions challenge Jesus and introduce themselves to people as alternative more appealing than gospel news. We Josephites are called to declare openly God’s merciful love manifested in Christ Jesus as a genuine human love, since faith and of hope so requested by our youth often discouraged and disappointed are in it.
Then, what we are expected to do is to work. We have to be realistic and to stay close to those whose life is difficult and hard. After prayer, work comes: a daily work done in schools, in parishes and in all our institutions. Fr. Reffo was stressing it: “If people do not see us praying, let them see us working. Let them know us as hard workers!” The social condition of our young people, wherever they may be, demands our presence and our apostolate. Nowadays social condition requires togetherness, close relationships and reciprocity. We are getting familiar with projects aiming at sponsoring activities. Let us use them as an opportunity to work for people, as social activity which improves standard of lives and enhances human dignity. And we Josephites are there, were there is a need to struggle for human promotion.
Last, I believe that we should keep alive the modality of our founder: ordinary life. Especially in Africa, were to appear as a “big man” and to play a “recognized role” in public life is very, very attractive. We should learn the evangelical poverty and simplicity that help us to do and to talk as normal and ordinary people and to regain the power of the humble service well done for the sake of God. Whatever we do and say should be simple, clear, aiming at truth and love. “O, holy humility, O, blessed simplicity, O, impressive normality!” Our reference is Murialdo, an extraordinary active and holy person who expressed himself for many years inside an orphanage, being non-influential to any of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities. Nevertheless, he experienced the drama of the poverty, fully involved in the events of his own time and with a strong feeling of belonging to his people. Gospel was his inspiration, not ideologies nor fashion.
Finally, for us Josephites living in Africa, our charism can easily penetrate inside the hearts of African people because they have precious qualities: they like God, they like life, they like family and they like to stay together. They only have to keep alive their natural sense of morality, their being routed in their environment and of being aware of the responsibility inherited from their fathers and teachers. They feel to be the protagonists of that African values and traditions handed on to them by their “ancestors” which gave them the capacity to discover what is good and what is evil, what people need and to reject what is unfair and destabilizing. In Africa, there is life, and as the proverb says: “If there is life, there is hope”, we do not have reason for pessimism. Challenges are there, new ones. We are called to exercise our missionary activity spreading hope around us. We receive as much as we hope, so let us make of our lives and of our apostolate a liturgy of hope where hope is proclaimed, enjoyed and spread.
P. Luigi Cencin