ENCOUTER TO TRANSFORM: Ministerial Innovation through Collaboration

In 2016 the tension for the numerous landings on the Italian coasts by international protection applicants reaches a peak, fuelled by populist propaganda that exploits fears and prejudices. Between light and shadow, there is, however, a reception system, coordinated by the prefectures, which operates through cooperatives and voluntary associations. The immediate, primary needs are taken care of, but the challenge of accompanying asylum seekers remains, especially in the interaction with Italian communities.

As Comboni missionaries we feel challenged. The Chapter of 2015 had already identified the issue of migrants as one of our missionary priorities in Europe. In Padua we feel challenged: it is not enough for the young people with whom we work to hear us talk about mission, they want to see us in mission. In Agust 2016, we organize a camp with young people at a shelter in Este. It is a powerful experience, of great impact, from which young people develop the desire to continue the experience throughout the year. The challenge is to be able to bring together such different and distant participants, which is not easy. On the one hand there is strong resistance on the part of the migrants, partly because of disorientation; and partly because of the difficulty of communication, not to mention the weight of traumatic experiences and a “suspended” existence, waiting for a document, work and stability. Sometimes they also have difficulty in participating due to distances and lack of means of transport. On the other hand, there is often no interest, no common ground for the encounter. Therefore the biggest challenge is the mobilisation of participants.

To achieve this, first of all we feel the need to form a team: young people as motivated animators, who have the sensitivity and the language to involve and dialogue with the world of youth. It is they who can also mobilize the participation of other young people! Then it is necessary to involve young asylum seekers and thus the association Popoli Insieme (affiliated to Jesuit Refugee Service) is identified as the project partner, which enthusiastically welcomes the invitation to collaborate. Its contribution is valuable: it can mobilize the participation of the refugees it welcomes, mainly from West Africa and Muslims; it can contribute from the training point of view, link the experience with other projects and initiatives, involve young volunteers who serve with the association. It is our task to bring out spirituality, to nourish the path with the Word, prayer and discernment, to recognize the Risen One along teh way, to let ourselves be touched and follow him.

The team starts off by creating interpersonal relationships and a sense of mutual trust, through visits and contacts with the networks of which its members are part. Through relationships of friendship, reluctance and disinterest are dissipated. Thus Malankeba! Encounter 2 Transform1 is born, a path of sharing and intercultural dialogue involving young Italians and young asylum seekers.

Once the path has been started, along the way there are important convergences with other groups, such as Arte Migrante and Rinascita (Arte Migrante and Rinascita). The fundamental dynamic of the process is to bring together young Italians and asylum seekers, in a climate of mutual reception and listening, in a group context and in a space free from prejudices, stereotyping and predefined roles, for facilitating sharing and intercultural dialogue. The role of the team is to create this space, which generates energy and creativity in the participants, the real protagonists of the path. The team listens deeply to people and situations, identifies, promotes and supports initiatives that arise from within the group, such as solidarity football matches that bring together migrants and young people from sports teams, or the Afrodance group, which promotes dancing on African music. But it also listens to expressed and unexpressed needs and proposes paths that meet them.

Among the main activities there are the monthly thematic evenings. The program is elaborated together and the group is also involved in the preparation. Then there are the home visits, which promote small-group dynamics, and participation in events and recurrences such as the National Day of Memory of the victims of migration and the diocesan March for Peace. The team also proposes formative moments, addressing current situations, the needs of the participants (intercultural dynamics) and offering in-depth study of themes proposed by them. The strength of the path lies in the ability to facilitate a meeting of humanity and the use of participatory methodologies, thanks to the skills of the team members.

Malankeba! allowed us to bring back into play in Europe the skills acquired in Africa, opening us to the mission to Europe. Working with asylum seekers and refugees has a meaning that goes beyond accompanying migrants: it is the starting point for living the global mission, for a prophetic missionary presence that invites Europe to conversion. And it surprises us how the true protagonists of this mission are the young people and the asylum seekers themselves.

For personal and community reflection:

– What strikes me about this experience of collaboration? Why?

– What does this experience evoke in me? For what reason?

– What does it say to us as a community?


Collaborative ministry consists in the identification, use and union of all gifts in ministry for the good of the mission. Therefore, there are gifts or talents with which people are endowed that contribute to Jesus’ mission to introduce the Kingdom of God; for this to happen, these gifts need in the first place to be recognized. Then there must be the conditions that allow their release with synergy.

Collaboration is built on the variety of gifts brought together for a common purpose, which is partly the specific goal of the service given, and partly building community and communion.

Each one is the bearer of different gifts, and all are important contributions in consideration of today’s complexity. There is always a need for one another and for the co-responsibility of each one, both for practical needs, to give community witness, and for communion.

Authentic collaboration has 4 characteristics:

1. It is focused on a clear, articulated, and lived common mission, owned by all colleagues.

2. There is an apparent priority for working together over tendencies to compete and/or to protect one’s own area of control from others’ influence. The major driving force is the desire to collaborate, a spirit of mutuality and partnership.

3. The group reaches a decision to identify, value, and unite the various gifts that each one has. Individuals and groups acknowledge the gifts they bring to the common mission and are able to affirm the gifts that others also bring.

4. It is a call to conversion, knowing that differences will always be there and conflict likely to surface sometimes. This needs not to discourage the community because it is a necessary step for building communion. It demands attitudes such as readiness to listen and learn from each other, letting go of one’s petty ideas or preferences for the sake of journeying together, and to be free enough to accept being challenged and corrected in a spirit of respect.

What are the conditions that make collaboration possible?

1. Clarify the terms of collaboration: it is necessary to understand what is meant by collaboration and to reach a consensus on the vision, the purpose, the ministerial style, the objectives and the various tasks to be carried out.

2. Conviction: Collaboration always involves the need to manage diversity, personality, culture, interests, etc., with the emotional baggage and conflicts that it can generate; if there is not enough conviction of the importance and value of collaboration, it easily does not survive the tensions that may emerge.

3. Courage: sooner or later, everyone comes to experience some form of resistance to collaboration in the face of inevitable difficulties. The temptation is to attack the other or withdraw from collaboration. It is important to identify the difficulties and their origin precisely, discuss them and resolve them openly as they arise.

4. Skills and a solid spirituality are needed, in particular

a. Ability to discern and appreciate the gifts of each person, to share leadership, to organize, to manage tensions and conflicts constructively.

b. Design and manage a process of collaboration, taking into account

= the conditions that facilitate it

= a method to identify and value personal gifts

= clarify roles and responsibilities

= have a reporting and evaluation system.

c. Spirituality that sustains and nourishes service and collaboration, compassion and forgiveness that bear witness to God’s love. The journey of faith and prayer purify personal motivations, transform attitudes, help grow in living values and are essential for the transformation of conflicts and building communion.

The role of the animators of collaboration is to encourage and shape the path of conversion and reconciliation. They must be aware that not everybody can have the same level of capacity for collaboration, which depends on the process of human growth. They must also know the dynamics of collaboration and the obstacles that block it, such as problems of self-esteem, arrogant or hypocritical attitudes, burn-out situations, lack of conflict management, a sense of powerlessness, mourning, a poorly integrated sexuality, and the inability to share one’s journey of faith.

Further readings:

L. Sofield – C. Juliano (2000) Collaboration: Uniting Our Gifts in Ministry, Notre Dame (IN): Ave Maria Press.

R. Covey (2004) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful lessons in personal change, Revised edition, New York: Free Press, pp. 185 – 284.


Mc 1:1-8

1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” 4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Tips for personal prayer:

Mark begins his gospel with these words: “Beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God.” And what is this good news that the evangelist already anticipates to us? It is a new relationship with God which is based on the acceptance of the Spirit, a dynamic force within humanity. The evangelist continues this presentation by adding: “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah…”, but in reality he presents three texts. The first is the book of Exodus, the second is the prophet Malachi, and finally the third Isaiah. Why this one? At that time they never quoted a passage from the prophets without supporting it with one from the law.

The evangelist puts together several concepts, the first “Behold, before you I send my messenger”, which is the announcement of liberation linked to the first exodus, the one from slavery in Egypt, and then “He will prepare your way”, with which the evangelist modifies Malachi who had said “Behold, I will send a messenger to prepare the way before me”. Now, God’s way is Jesus’ way. And then finally the text of the prophet Isaiah concerning the second exodus, the one from Babylon, “Voice of one who cries out in the desert” (or from the desert), “Prepare the way of the Lord, straighten his paths”. This exodus (exodus means a collective liberation from a state of oppression and the arrival in a promised land) will not be possible without the collaboration of all. It will not be something that comes down from above, but something that must involve people. (A. Maggi)

= The Gospel emphasizes that the coming of the Kingdom requires cooperation between God and humanity. Can you see how God calls others, together with you, to this collaboration?

= Collaboration with God and humanity requires conversion: what does such “baptism” call you to, personally?

= What invitations to collaborate does the Spirit make to you in your ministerial and community commitment?


1. In an atmosphere of prayer and mutual listening, let us share in community the fruits of personal prayer.

2. Let us reflect together:

= What emerges from our sharing?

= What invitations is the Spirit making to us as a community?

= How can we respond, concretely and realistically, to these invitations?

= Our commitment, concrete and realistic, is ……

“We all need, in order to oppose successfully the barbarity of those who would like to make every difference the occasion and the pretext for ever more brutal violence, to recognize the fundamental values of common humanity, values in the name of which we can and must collaborate, build and dialogue, forgive and grow, allowing all the different voices to form a noble and harmonic song, rather than fanatical cries of hatred”.

Speech by Pope Francis on the occasion of the Meeting with the Authorities at the Presidential Palace – Apostolic Journey to Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina), 06/06/2015.


Eucharistic Prayer: prayer of Reconciliation, or alternatively prayer V.D, “the Church on the way to unity”.

Sign: a composition in front of the altar with water, memory of baptism and the Spirit; a flourishing plant, witness of new life, and objects that recall the ministries in which the community is engaged.

Offertory: the community presents at the altar the concrete and realistic commitment that it has decided to make.

1 Malankeba is a Mandinka expression meaning “great leader!”: in Este’s field experience it had emerged as an expression of respect, welcome and mutual service.

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