The experience of Maurizio Trabuio in the wake of the Comboni charism

At the end of the 80s of the last century a group of young people who gravitated around the Comboni community in Padua (they called themselves GIM, i.e. Youth Missionary Commitment) met a few individuals of good will from different educational backgrounds and a worker from Caritas Diocesana: they got together to start a series of activities to promote the reception of migrants. In fact, as these increased in number in the territory, ever fewer of them were able to find forms of support and institutional integration.The association Unica Terra was set up, which was the first in the Province of Padua to open a reception shelter, creating the necessary synergies between the Elizabethan Sisters – who made an old farmhouse in Bosco di Rubano available free of charge – the volunteers, the municipal administration and the parishes of Rubano. In literature years later such a shelter would be called co-housing for young foreign workers: 17 beds with a low turnover due to the serious housing emergency, which, although in a different form, still continues to give answers to people in distress1.

Two years later, even Caritas Diocesana decided to engage in a testimonial activity and with an investment ten times as much as that of the small association Unica Terra, restructured a portion of the oratory of the Parish of Mandria in Padua and built a reception shelter for 10 people, entrusting its management to the Suore Operaie of Brescia. The centre, called Centro Mondo Amico, thus became the institutional response of the Church of Padua. Like all testimony works, while welcoming, it is also the point of reference for good practices, organizational methods, spirit and style of involvement of guests and volunteers.

After the emergency evolved, about ten years later, Caritas Diocesana entrusted the Comboni sisters with the management of the Centro Mondo Amico, making it a welcoming structure for women and children2. Fifteen years later, and we are now in 2018, Caritas Diocesana decides that the testimonial work is no longer sustainable and returns the property to the Parish.

The parish priest, who is also in charge of the neighboring parish and the spiritual assistant of the largest retirement home for the elderly in the Veneto region, and the parish community are used to thinkng that others take care of that service and space, so they suddenly find themselves having to decide what to do. Dropping the experience? Let the local voluntary work that over the years had somehow become involved in the proximity of the people welcomed disperse? Letting out the freed space on the market? Transform it into further space to be dedicated to catechesis and pastoral work when it is already impossible to fill those already available? To watch without doing anything the queue of people who over the last 25 years had learned a way to ask for help?

In the meantime, in order to respond to the growing complexity of reality and the epochal changes that have occurred with globalization, I had started other experiences to promote the right to housing: the Cooperativa Nuovo Villaggio and the Fondazione La Casa Onlus3, which build and manage real estate assets for access to housing for the groups that are excluded from it. And then, taking the path of social entrepreneurship, I also started the cooperative Città Solare , whose mission is to create spaces and activities to provide housing and work opportunities for fragile people. It is a small group of social enterprises always looking for a balance between sustainability, innovation and quality of services. For the employment of fragile people, it operates in the collection and disposal of urban waste; it has a laboratory where it manufactures industrial work on behalf of third parties, and it manages accommodation facilities that are also an opportunity for people experiencing a shelter crisis4. As for situations of housing deprivation, it manages housing and provides housing services in different areas of the region5.

Back to the present, the parish priest presented to Città Solare the questions that the Christian community posed . The steering group immediately evaluates that the management of the service in those spaces and with that destination will never be sustainable, indeed the risk of significant losses is almost certain, so it brings up an alternative proposal to the parish: to experiment together a “hybrid” solution combining qualified operators employed by the cooperative and parish volunteers. Together they can continue to provide shelter for women, children and men in difficulty; but in order to be accessible to most people it is necessary to integrate professional expertise , which is expensive, and with voluntary and free availability.

For personal and community reflection:

– What strikes me about this experience of lay ministry? Why?

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

– What does it say to us as a community?


Centro Mondo Amico hosts people in a situation of personal or family fragility and through the availability of a space and of welcoming people it offers the possibility for those who are received to recover the energy to start again in their life. We cannot and must not take over responsibility from people in any activity: we can and must support and accompany them. Any activity taking over responsibility does not allow them to fully express their need for help and their weaknesses, and at the same time to deploy all their own or institutional resources necessary for the positive evolution of each person. In providing poor people with a space for their lives, we accept and appreciate that these people can fully express their personality, and the friendly and familial relationships they maintain are one of the most important forms of expression. However, in order to make it easier for many people to live together in promiscuous spaces, the possibilities of relationship and exchange with other people outside the house have been properly regulated.

If you say Kingdom today, it is then necessary to specify the cultural and historical context where this word indicated the place of right and fair relationships and where there was the King’s guarantee that justice would prevail; and where justice would not come, mercy would come.

With this premise, my actualisation of service for the kingdom is: to give a welcoming response to people in difficulty, so that each one, those who welcome and those who are welcomed, can understand and taste their own intimate demand for existential meaning that comes from their own spirituality. The ecclesial context in this case is very evident given the involvement of a parish and also the protagonism of the laity. We often encounter difficulties in expressing our ministry as lay people, especially in contexts permeated with clericalism, which we sometimes find in the mentality of the parish volunteers involved. It is a mentality in which ministry is seen as an exercise of power rather than service, so that an attitude of power management and hierarchical control corresponds to an attitude of servility in the subordinate sides, which inhibits the assumption of responsibility and the courage to act.

On the other hand, lay ministry has a reserve of energy and creativity to invent new responses to new social situations and problems. It expresses itself on a double track, i.e. on the one hand by providing services to the person, and on the other by promoting policies of access to human rights and satisfaction of basic needs. Taken together, these two dimensions are called to offer a “prophetic” perspective: evoking the Kingdom through social innovation, identifying regulatory and institutional, systemic, and spiritual gaps.

All this is possible thanks to specific professional skills in the socio-economic, legal-administrative field and generally linked to the sector of intervention. But above all with the involvement of the Christian community, facilitating its participation and assumption of responsibility and networking with all social actors and stakeholders, such as public authorities and institutions, associations and civil society movements and the private sector.

In all that, the Comboni charism has an important contribution to make: the capacity to make common cause with the excluded, to aim at a collective regeneration starting from the subjectivity and protagonism of those in need, and the collaboration with all stakeholders, appreciating their specificities and characteristics, harmonizing their contributions in their complementarity. In a particular way, today the world needs the creativity and innovative capacity that characterized Comboni’s work, his courage and total dedication, in order to dream and realize a more fraternal, more just and sustainable world, and to experience the joy of the Gospel.

Finally, going into greater depth should delve into the various themes present in this experience: reception; the third sector and public administration; poverty and the peripheries; the design of services to the person; voluntary work, formation for service and social role; pastoral work at the time of empty oratories; work in services to the person not codified by bureaucratic patterns, and many others could be identified. I only invite you to read Dove. La dimensione di luogo che ricompongono impresa e società, by Paolo Venturi and Flaviano Zandonai (EGEA, 2019), L’economia civile, by Luigino Bruni and Stefano Zamagni (Il Mulino, 2015), and Contro l’urbanistica. La cultura delle città, by Franco La Cecla (Einaudi, 2015).

Further readings:

John Paul II (1987) Christifideles laici.

Francis (2013) Evangelii gaudium, 238-283.


1 Cor 12:31 – 13:13

1231But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

131If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Tips for personal prayer:

The theme of charisms, so felt in the Corinthian community, leads to the great Hymn to Charity. Verse 12,31 is the hinge between the previous passage and this one. The context is very clear: wisdom, knowledge, freedom… if one does not have charity, is of little use. The situation of the community of Corinth is such that, despite the many gifts and boasting, it finds itself divided, living in sin, and risks scandalizing those around it. Even the Eucharist is lived as an occasion for division instead of a force of communion. To this community, as the summit of the whole letter, Paul addresses his praise to Charity. It is none other than that foolishness of the cross which is capable of giving itself by renouncing everything for the good of the other, it is the true wisdom of God, that which men consider a weakness, but which has the power to conquer and save the world.

= Have you had the experience of recognizing the signs of “charity” in the ministerial drive and creativity of the laity? What have you learned from them?

= Have the initiative, perspective and sensibility of the laity in their ministerial service ever caught your eye? To what conversion does the Spirit invite you?

= What invitations does the Spirit make to you to accompany the laity in your missionary service?


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 ……

“Clericalism is one of the evils of the Church, but it is an evil that is complicit, because priests like the temptation to clericalize the laity; but many lay people on their knees ask to be clericalized, because it is more convenient! It is more convenient! And this is a two-handed sin. We must overcome this temptation: the layman must be lay, baptized; he has the strength that comes from his Baptism: servant, but with his lay vocation” and this “one does not negotiate” because identity counts. (Pope Francis)


Penitential Act: The community asks forgiveness for specific occasions – which it names – in which it has failed to recognize the gifts and to give space, listen, accompany or support the service of lay missionary ministers.

Offertory: the community presents its commitment to the Lord at the end of the discernment.

Thanksgiving: the community presents and gives thanks for the various lay ministers with whom it collaborates and their service.






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