What is a Vocation?
Every Christian person has a vocation. The word ‘vocation’ comes from the Latin ‘vocatio’ which means ‘a calling’. Through baptism each person is called by God to become more like Jesus Christ - to share his life and love, to grow in knowledge and love of God, and to place our personal gifts and talents at the service of others.God calls each person through prayer and reflection, and through speaking with others about our hopes and desires, our gifts and talents. In responding to God’s call to each of us, we can experience what Jesus has promised ‘I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full’ (John 10:10).Discernment is very much a part of each vocation, and that means discovering the hand of God active and inviting you to More! The missionary vocation is a special challenge to openness in encountering other cultures ~ entering into a free relationship not only with God, but also with others different from you.The sense of God as “Father”:St. Comboni had a profound sense of God and from the consciousness of his own weakness there breaks forth incessant prayer at all moments of his life. Through faithful and constant prayer, God becomes a comfort in the uncertainties of daily life, in his anxieties and in his hopes.Christ, The Good Shepherd of the Pierced Heart:The Church expresses this mystery of salvation with the eloquent words of the Preface for the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus: “Lifted high on the cross, Christ gave his life for us, so much did he love us. From his wounded side flowed blood and water.” St. Comboni found in the mystery of the heart of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the source of his missionary zeal and the origin and model for his unconditioned love for the peoples of Africa, who he saw as the poorest and most abandoned of his time. This mystery is made present in St. Comboni through an extraordinary experience of the cross, stemming from his missionary service.Under the impulse of the Spirit:For St. Comboni, the missionary is a man invested by the Holy Spirit who rises from the pierced heart of the Crucified One and renders the missionary capable of facing all difficulties and obstacles and to accept even martyrdom.Following St. Daniel Comboni’s example and, in particular, his total dedication to the missionary cause for which he worked, lived, and died the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus commit themselves to imitating his style of life, his fidelity to the Holy See, which constitute a sure guide in following the religious missionary vocation according to our family charism.
How long do you stay in the mission?
There is no fixed time given as to how long a missionary stays in a given mission, and so it is different for each one individually. The Comboni Missionaries follow what the Institute documents call “attention to the person.” This implies that there exists different reasons for each person if it is time for a change from one mission to another or for time back in their country of origin.There are many reason a missionary might feel called to change their mission field. The mission is in constant flux and circumstances may motivate change. We are not permanent in any mission setting and the mission may be ready to be handed over to the diocese. Some missionaries take time for further study or a time of sabbatical. It is sometimes a personal decision, it is sometimes a request from his superiors.It is understood that each Comboni will do at least some years of service in their country of origin - when this would happen is not defined. We are all on a spiritual journey and grow at different speeds. The missionary may feel it is time to move on, and discussing that with his superiors and the General Council, the best change can be looked at.
What is the Charism/Spirituality of St. Daniel Comboni?
During his lifetime St. Comboni consecrated himself to the cause of missionary awareness of the Church, particularly in Africa, which he saw as the poorest and most abandoned of his time. He remained faithful to this ideal until his death - notwithstanding all the difficulties.The secret of such apostolic force is found in the certainty of his own missionary vocation. God called St. Comboni and therefore no human force could hinder or deviate his steps from the unique and supreme purpose which in the light of the faith guided his life.First phase: Comboni in his consecration to the missions draws close to Christ and His heart in which he finds the model of love and total dedication to the most needy.Second phase: This is tied to his African experience and lasts until 1864. Comboni discovers the reality of Africa and its extreme poverty, at all levels, and he becomes conscious that he cannot help unless he is prepared to risk his life. Mission, death, and martyrdom begin to be united and will never be disassociated in his life.Third Phase: This is a charismatic moment that became central in the experience of September 14, 1864. At the tomb of St. Peter, Comboni is overwhelmed by the love that God has for humanity. Becoming totally absorbed in this love, Comboni has the inspiration for his plan which, in obedience to the Church, will lead him to the foundation of his Institutes (one for men the other for women).
At the same time Comboni realizes that it is possible to “immerse oneself” in Africa only by sharing fully in the mystery of Christ on the cross.Fourth Phase: This begins in 1873, when Comboni arrives in Africa as pro-vicar apostolic and in his first discourse identifies himself with the people entrusted to his pastoral care. Comboni understood the necessity of sharing fully the situation of the Africans; it is the moment of the valorization of the people to be evangelized, of inculturation and of incarnation. “I come,” says Comboni, “to make common cause with you and the happiest day of my existence will be that in which I can lay down my life for you”.The Last Phase: In 1878 the hardships, the privations, the diseases, the struggles and the contradictions suffered for many years, the death of so many of his missionaries, the abandonment of some of his closest collaborators lead Comboni to experience how much it costs to incarnate the figure of the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his flock.
But the cross and death are only the way to arrive at the fullness of life. The last words of Comboni are already the living experience of the paschal mystery: “I am happy with the cross that borne willingly for love of God generates triumph and eternal life”.
Do I need to know another language to enter the Comboni Missionaries?
A candidate is not expected to know a foreign language before entering the formation program with the Comboni Missionaries. Learning a foreign language is a common occurrence in the missionary life and formation tries to meet this difficulty and help create the personal discipline necessary for the future regarding learning another language. Study of another language can be incorporated into the program of the Postulancy and this can be continued during the Novitiate.When passing to a Scholasticate or Brother’s Center, the superior of the community promotes opportune initiatives to welcome and introduce the seminarian to the new community and environment. Wherever the missionary goes, time is given to understand better the culture and time is given especially to learning the language of the country if one does not already know it. Language is a first step in inculturation and every Comboni Missionary has a few funny stories to share about when they were learning a new language!
What is special about the Comboni Brother vocation?
Candidates for the brotherhood are called to realize their missionary vocation as lay people consecrated to God for the mission, sharing actively in the growth of the human and Christian community especially through the exercise of a profession.Because of the link between evangelization and human promotion, the Comboni brother is called upon to give a particular contribution to the activities which favor the integral development of man and the advent of a type of society according to the Christian conception of the world. He does this by means of the practice of his profession and his collaboration in the pastoral work, according to the concrete needs of the single communities and as a testimony of his consecration.The exercise of a profession is the specific form, even if not exclusive, of the missionary activity of the Comboni brother. The needs of the mission are many. The most requested skills from the Comboni brother are: administration, agriculture, building, carpentry, electro-technical, engineering, graphic arts, law, mass media, mechanics, medicine, nursing, pastoral animation, pedagogy, social services, sociology, and teaching to name a few.The professional commitment of the brother finds ample space in activities that promote and realize initiatives which better the living conditions of the people; creating awareness among persons for the defense of human rights and social justice; professional and technical formation of young people; participation in the administration of the local church and of the Institute and collaboration in pastoral work according to the needs of the individual communities.
What does Comboni mean?
The question is not what, but who is Comboni? The name “Comboni” comes from St. Daniel Comboni. He was an Italian who had the missionary vision to evangelize Africa in the mid 1800s, when Europe was debating whether or not the inhabitants of Africa were human! He became the first bishop of Central Africa and worked tirelessly for the cause of the African People (slavery was an injustice he had to face in his time, for example). He died at age 50 in Khartoum, Sudan.We are an international group and we share our faith in God through service to the poor and powerless throughout the world. Our main focus, or charism, is First Evangelization just as it was for St. Comboni - that means we must be willing to go to the outskirts, the marginalized. Our commitment is to people who are deprived of their basic human rights to faith, freedom, health, education. We evangelize as a community through word and action! The needs in the mission are many, we strive to empower people to work together and live the Gospel message.Comboni Missionary identity consists in the capacity of accepting the initiative of God as Comboni did, in letting oneself be consecrated by the Father with the gift of the Spirit and in recognizing that one is sent by Him; finding the source of this donation of one’s very life in the Pierced Heart of Christ, the Good Shepherd, and in the ability to give one’s life for the most “needy and abandoned” for love of Christ.
What are the Stages of Formation for the Comboni Missionaries?
Postulancy:The first stage upon entering is called the Postulancy. It has as its objective to prepare the postulant (or seminarian) for entry to the Novitiate (which is the next stage in formation). It offers the possibility of growing as a man and a Christian, clarifying your own vocational motivations in an environment of freedom and responsibility. This pre-supposes a certain flexibility of structures and programs according to one’s educational level upon entering, and a personalized formative accompaniment which respects the times, rhythms, and growth of each candidate. The principle objective is to permit the postulant a free and responsible choice of entering or not entering the Comboni Novitiate.It is a time of getting to know the Comboni way of life that includes community prayer and ministry. Candidates for the priesthood will finish their philosophy studies at this time and will finish a bachelor’s degree if they do not already have one. Brother candidates will finish a professional degree or certificate if they do not have one already.Missionary awareness and interest, the sense of solidarity and the desire to share the life and lot of the poor, are values that must be encouraged and deepened during the Postulancy. Accepting the missionary vocation as a gratuitous gift of God who calls, the postulant chooses to remain with Christ in order to be transformed by Him and sent to bring Good News to the poor.Novitiate:This is an 18-month period that has as its fundamental aim your prayer life and is the same for both priest and brother candidates. The Novitiate leads to the attainment of a clear consecrated identity to God the Father for missionary service. There is no formal study done at this time. It is divided into three sections:1. The first part is an experience of intense prayer - we call this the desert period, understood as a dimension of life that includes an environment that facilitates the encounter with God and the encounter with oneself, in recollection and solitude. It has prayer as your main activity, which includes time for reading and reflection, there is time given to some apostolic work but this is not the focus. St. Daniel Comboni believed that the missionary must be an “active contemplative.” Prayer is our strength; there is a time for adoration and a time for active work. Specific contents are also presented for personal reflection and together in community, for example; the Word of God, the founder - St. Daniel Comboni and the Rule of Life, documents of the Church (especially regarding mission).2. The other two moments are periods of apostolic activity and of community experience - usually placed together to form one period. These periods could take place in another country for a mission experience. The objectives include; greater vocational identification, the interiorization of values such as community and personal prayer, community life, consecrated life and missionary service, the ability to integrate contemplation with action, the ability to work in a team and to depart in the service of the most poor (in one’s own country and in a different culture), the ability to live in simplicity and austerity and at times a certain discomfort.3. The Novitiate ends with making your first temporary vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. These are then renewed annually as you continue to the Scholasticate (for the priesthood) or to a Brother’s International Center - both of which are communities of young religious of different nationalities, united by the same missionary consecration and guided by a team of formation directors.Scholasticate:At this point of your discernment, you enter more deeply into the religious life as a vowed religious - renewing your vows each year. This is a 4-5 year period marked by theology studies.We have 8 theologates (communities of theology students) at different Catholic universities in different countries and languages. The main activity is your study with some type of apostolic activity as part of the program. The scholasticate ends with making final vows and ordination to the deaconate (the deaconate will last a minimum of 6 months). Normally you will return to your home country while you are still a deacon, in preparation for your ordination to the priesthood.The MCCJ ask that we study theology in a language different from our first language (your mother tongue). It is always a help for the missionary to learn a language well. This is an opportunity to do that. Theologates are often an introduction to living in an international context since students that make up the community are coming from different countries. It is a rich experience of faith sharing!After your ordination, you will be given your first assignment in the mission. The Comboni General Council in Rome asks that you make three choices of where you would like to go and they will work with that. In 2006, 86 Combonis were ordained in the order. It is the work of the General Council to oversee where these newly ordained go - this is why three choices are asked. If many are asking to go to the same place as a first choice, decisions need to be made regarding the needs of mission sites and you may be given your second or third choice. There are missionaries of course, who simply ask to go where there is the greatest need!The Brother’s International Center:This period normally lasts for two years. There are two brother’s centers to choose from, one in Nairobi, Kenya and the other in Bogota, Colombia.The fundamental objectives that characterize the centers are; the growth in fidelity to the Lord and the consecrated missionary life, a strong sacramental/liturgical experience, the preparation for missionary service by means of study/and or professional work, the concrete experience of community life, the deepened experience of internationality and pastoral initiation through apostolic activity.The first duty is contemplation and union with God in prayer, living contemplation as the ability to walk in the presence of the Lord, to recognize him present in the religious and Christian community, in the events of history and as a commitment to work for justice and fraternity.The brothers attend courses organized by the local schools and the center’s programs of theological, missionary and professional formation are continued. Work helps the brothers to re-think their formation in missionary terms, adapting it to the real possibilities of the environment and learning new ways to become agents of human promotion with the project of development of the local church.The relationship between work and study may have different rhythms and is determined by each center on the basis of concrete situations and in agreement with the brother.Community life of the brother’s centers permits each one to grow in self-sacrificing love, indispensable for his continual human and Christian growth, for his fidelity and vocational perseverance, for the fruitfulness and efficacy of his service to the mission.
Is there an age requirement for joining?
In general, there is no age limit for entering the seminary; it is different for every religious order. Important attributes for a person of any age beginning formation are maturity and a love of learning.For the MCCJ, the majority of those entering are in their mid to late 20s. The demands of the Church’s mission impose a kind of cut-off age that is younger than orders that minister primarily or exclusively in the USA. Learning another language and adapting to different cultures becomes more difficult if you do not begin before the age of 30. We still consider men in their 30s for entering, much depends on one’s level of education completed and whether he knows another language, or has some cross-cultural experience; this is of course advantageous and looked at on an individual basis.While the Comboni Missionaries do not require a candidate to know another language or have cross-cultural experience before entering, when a prospective candidate is older than 30 years of age, this is something that is seen as necessary.