CHRISTIAN SOCIAL INVOLVEMENT IS NOT AN EASY TASK.
An interview with Fr. Franco Bordignon, Sx.
Since October 28th, the Synod of catholic bishops on “Young people, Faith and vocation discernment” is over. The question now is: what is next? In their letter to the Young people, the Synod Fathers said: “We are certain that with your enthusiasm for life, you will be ready to get involved so that your dreams may be realized and take shape in your history”. (cf. Letter from the synod fathers to the young people. You are the present; be the brighter future. 28/10/2018).
It means that after the synod, Christian young people are expected to be involved in their different social contexts as a way of bearing witness to the Joy of the Gospel. But moving the Joy of the Gospel from the church to the world is demanding. This is what stems from the interview of Fr. Franco Bordignon, a xaverian missionary working in DRCongo since 1972. With Fr. Louis Bira, he shared his experience of Christian social involvement describing it as “not an easy task”.
Fr. Louis Bira sx (LB) : You are a xaverian missionary working in DRCongo since September 1972. Your missionary presence has been characterized by a strong social involvement. Why?
- Franco Bordignon sx (FB): As a missionary, I have been lucky to get a degree in Sociology. Since then, I have tried to keep together the announcement of the Gospel and the real life of the people to whom I was sent. Early in the 1975, once called to train catechists in parishes like Kadutu and Cimpuda/ Archdiocese of Bukavu, I felt the need of forming catechists for whom Christian doctrine and the problems shaping the life of people were not separated. Thanks to that formation, many catechists became later good lay Christians involved in social life. I was also blessed to have as mentors great xaverian missionaries such as Fr. Camorani Lorenzo and Fr. Tumino Giovani.
LB: According to you, is there any relationship between Christian faith and social involvement?
FB: From the letter of James and especially from the Gospels of saint Mathieu (25: 31- 46) and saint Luke (4: 18-21), I realized that as a missionary, teaching catechesis and training catechists could not express all the dimensions of my missionary life. Then came to my mind the question: How to evangelize? With words and actions, with a presence and witness of life. In fact, the preaching of the Gospel- the Good news of Jesus Christ- cannot be separated from the signs of liberation. Otherwise it is distorted. Liberation is to be understood here in its wide sense. It is applied to all dimensions of human life, whenever it is bowed down, spiritually and materially. Therefore, the commitment for the promotion of human dignity is an inalienable duty of every Christian who believes that Jesus Christ came to set us free. For a missionary, this task is absolute, particularly when he works in places where injustice is more than mere words, a place like in DRCongo.
LB: Do you have some good memories about your achievements in Christian social involvement?
FB: Good memories are plenty. For instance, I remember seeing people very happy in villages when through our commitment they were able to get clean water, water closer to their hands…Or when people marginalized were able to stand and defend their rights after a workshop on human rights and dignity. It also comes to my mind when public officials helped us to escape in informing us in secret that the ruling elites were not happy with our workshops on democracy and on some issues related to the exploitation of the poor such as land grabbing. Sometimes people who helped us were just those who were happy with what we were doing though they could not express it clearly because of fearing the regime.
LB: A synod of catholic bishops has just finished in Rome. Its main theme was: “Young people, faith and vocation discernment”. In your opinion, why is it necessary to help young Christians to hold together the profession of faith and social involvement, especially in Africa?
FB: Christian social involvement is not an easy task. The temptation of many Christians, particularly for young people, is to withdraw in a kind of liturgical spiritualism once facing hard times or social problems. There we are in what Karl Marx called Religion as Opium! Liturgical celebrations may seem for people a short-term solution because they are joyful. But if the joy of the celebrations does not shape the reality, things become worse than before. So despair comes back again and again. Young people are the future of any society. So it is also for Africa. They have strength, hope, ideals, enthusiasm and optimism. All this energy cannot be confined into spirituality. Spiritual life should be the soul of any social involvement. In this way, investing in the spiritual formation of young African people in view of their Christian involvement is a great service the catholic church can render today to the African continent. Indeed, the continent is in need of witnesses of hope. It is only in this way, that the young African generation can give hope to those old African people facing despair and desolation.
LB : The Church in Africa and especially in DRCongo is a fertile land for religious and vocations for priesthood. How can we accompany today African young generation of religious and priests in order for them to discover the link between their vocation and social involvement?
FB : We can say that Africa is the future of the Catholic Church. But also the Catholic Church of DRCongo can also be seen as the future of the Catholic Church in Africa, if we just consider the growing number of African religious and priests. It is really the time of the Spirit. But there is the other side of the coin. In a society where young people do not have opportunities for a better future, religious life or priesthood can be a refuge to avoid the hard reality of the daily life. A serious accompaniment of candidates to religious life or to priesthood is obliged in this context to present such vocations as a service, an immolation and a donation. Candidates should be reminded that the choice is not made for personal interests or those of their families. Candidates should know that their donation will lead necessarily to a social involvement, to the service of others, especially the least of the society. In Africa, the seriousness of any kind of religious life or priesthood should be measured on its ability of being a selfless service to the Church and the society and not a social promotion.