by Bro. Alberto Parise MCCJ

The Connection between Mission and Integral Ecology

The connection between mission and integral ecology might not seem evident at first glance. Someone might wonder what integral ecology has to do with evangelization and missionary animation. The magisterium of Pope Francis, which revives and updates the theology of Vatican II, is the starting point for answering this question.

The Council highlighted the theological foundation of the mission, which is Missio Dei – a Trinitarian initiative – and demonstrated how the Church is inherently missionary (AG 1), being “in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race” (LG 1). The message of Evangelii Gaudium – which follows the structure of Lumen Gentium – is that the Church fulfills its mission both through the direct proclamation of Christ and through the promotion of the unity of humanity and universal peace.

Evangelization takes place in historically and culturally characterized contexts: the proclamation of the Gospel must consider the particular historical and cultural circumstances, which is why the magisterium of the Church is particularly attentive to the signs of the times. Events as such or social conditions do not constitute the signs of the times, but rather their relationship to the Kingdom of God does, and thus the indications they provide for seeking out where God’s action manifests itself as salvation. In a nutshell, the signs of the times refer to God’s action concerning the coming of His Kingdom, expressed in history through its witnesses.

In the magisterium of Pope Francis, themes such as the interconnectedness of everything; economic globalization, with the growth of inequalities and indifference; the spread of increasingly destructive conflicts, which now constitute a sort of “piecemeal third world war”; the climate and environmental crisis, which is the product of a system of exploitation and exclusion that has brought us very close to a critical point of no return; the reality of migration, between aspirations for a dignified life and unbearable conditions pushing millions of people to leave their homeland, are signs of the times that point at the Spirit’s call to build a people of God that is solidary, fraternal, and inclusive.

Today’s evangelization cannot ignore that “everything in the world is connected” (LS 16). According to the principle of incarnation, the proclamation of the risen Christ, the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, does not take place in a neutral, aseptic space but in a world undergoing a profound crisis, complex and configured as the sum of various interconnected crises: climatic, health, geopolitical, socio-economic, and so on.

Evangelization has much to say in relation to the existential and planetary situations of our time. Integral ecology – as understood in Laudato Si’ – is the evangelical response, the proclamation of the risen Christ to a world that has lost its way and is rushing towards an abyss.

The 19th General Chapter and Integral Ecology

The 19th General Chapter expressed a missionary dream, outlining the vision of a horizon towards which the Comboni Missionaries’ journey should be directed (CA ’22, 28):

We dream of a missionary style more inserted into the reality of the peoples we accompany towards the Kingdom, capable of responding to the cry of the Earth and of the impoverished. A missionary style that is also characterized by simpler lifestyles and structures within intercultural communities where we witness fraternity, communion, social friendship and service to local Churches through specific pastoral care, ministerial collaboration and shared pathways.

Charismatically, this dream reflects making common cause with excluded and marginalised peoples and, in today’s awareness — in which we perceive that everything is connected — of the suffering Earth. Although in today’s world the geographical criterion of mission is no longer as decisive as in the past, the ad gentes dimension remains central to the Institute’s mission, taking on a more markedly anthropological emphasis. There is an invitation to an ever greater insertion in the life and reality of peoples, animated by a profound sense of compassion that manifests the heart of Jesus.

It is precisely the Comboni charism, therefore, that calls us to respond to the cry of peoples and of the Earth, along paths of ecological conversion. In particular, the Chapter has given a guideline (CA ’22, 30) for the next six years, which points us towards the path of Integral Ecology:

In response to the challenges of the epochal change we are experiencing, in the light of the Word of God, we take Integral Ecology as a fundamental axis of our mission that connects the pastoral, liturgical, formative, social, economic, political and environmental dimensions.

Two aspects of ecological conversion are emphasised here: the spiritual and the ministerial ones. First of all, ecological conversion is the fruit of an evangelical discernment, guided by the Word of God. We do not see ecological conversion as a human project and, even worse, flattened solely on the environmental dimension of reality. Rather, it is the journey of faith, in response to the invitations of the Spirit. A journey of missionaries who listen to the Word of God and put it into practice.

Moreover, it is a pastoral conversion towards a ministerial approach that starts from the awareness that everything is connected. It invites us to overcome the fragmentation of our commitments and services, arriving at Comboni-specific pastoral commitments, dedicated to particular human groups — especially according to continental priorities (CA ’22, 31) — that connect the pastoral, liturgical, formation, social, economic, political and environmental dimensions.

In the apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Africa, John Paul II stated:

The purpose of evangelization is “transforming humanity from within and making it new”. In and through the Only Son the relations of people with God, one another and all creation will be renewed. For this reason the proclamation of the Gospel can contribute to the interior transformation of all people of good will whose hearts are open to the Holy Spirit’s action. (EiA 55).

This statement emphasises that evangelisation is the fundamental dynamic, from our point of view, of ecological conversion, a response to the epochal challenges we experience today. A Trinitarian initiative, evangelisation also calls us to constant conversion and to proceed with the Church on a path of ecological conversion.

For this, the Chapter has made a commitment to

Join the Laudato Si’ initiative platform promoted by the Holy See’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development (Laudato Si’ Action Platform — LSAP) at various levels (community, Circumscription, Institute). (CA’22, 30.1)

Missionary Animation and Integral Ecology

Daniele Comboni was a great missionary animator. In the context of his time, when there was a clear distinction between the European Church sending missionaries and an African reality where the Church was not yet present, Comboni’s missionary animation in Europe aimed to support evangelizing action in Africa. He encouraged prayer for the mission, missionary vocations, and the donation of financial resources to support various missionary activities. But there’s more. Comboni was also deeply committed to denouncing the evils and structural sin afflicting African populations, such as slavery. Part of his missionary work in the field involved freeing slaves, while in Europe, he fought to push political action to eradicate this scourge.

Since then, the world and the Church have changed profoundly, and with that, the vision of missionary animation has also evolved. Today, we live in a globalized world where the Church is a reality spread across every continent. In fact, its vitality often seems to come more from recently evangelized countries than from traditionally Christian nations like those in Europe.

The Comboni Missionaries’ Rule of Life, after the II Vatican Council, updates the traditional vision of missionary animation: the animation of the people of God – so that they recognize their missionary responsibilities and participate in the evangelization of other peoples – is reconsidered from the perspective of collaboration between Churches1. The primary responsibility for animation lies with the pastors and their collaborators, while the Comboni Missionaries offer a specific service according to their charism2. Furthermore, the missionary impetus of the Church of origin3 of the missionaries broadens the horizon of the young Churches from which, nowadays, vocations come. Every Comboni community – regardless of its location – must be a centre of missionary animation and spirituality for the local Church4. Therefore, there is no longer a separation between evangelization and missionary animation services, on the basis of the continent or country one is in.

In continuity with the Comboni charism, the Rule of Life reaffirms the importance of missionary animation in recognizing, in the light of the Gospel, situations of injustice and exploitation in socio-economic relations between countries and all forms of oppression within them5. Here, in a charismatic sense, the theme of integral ecology comes alive.

In summary, the traditional approach remains, which involves animating Christian communities in prayer for the mission; promoting collaboration with their missionaries abroad; sharing material goods through various forms of economic support; promoting missionary vocations6; and seeking material means to support the Institute and its activities7. However, this approach takes on new meanings and expressions in the new ecclesial and global context. In particular, the aspect of integral ecology has significant implications for the service of missionary animation: the dissolution of the boundary between missionary animation and evangelization; the realization of new forms of mission support; a starting point for reaching people and contexts drifting away from the Church; and a broader dimension of missionary prayer.

1. The Dissolution of the Boundary between Missionary Animation and Evangelization

At the heart of the Comboni charism is the vision of “the regeneration of Africa with Africa,” meaning that the protagonists of the mission in Africa should be Africans themselves. This intuition already reveals a vision of mission in which evangelization and missionary animation of the local Church are two sides of the same coin.

In Europe, one of today’s recognized priorities is the specific pastoral commitment with migrants. On the one hand, this is a direct missionary service; on the other, it animates Christian communities for welcoming, protecting, promoting, and integrating migrants. However, the boundaries between evangelization and missionary animation are increasingly blurred. For example, consider the initiative of the Diocese of Padua starting in 2016, when the reception system in Italy was on the verge of collapse. The diocese chose to commit through a model of reception based on small structures disseminated in the region, but did not forgo pastoral presence in huge first reception centres managed by social cooperatives. A pastoral team led by Fr. Lorenzo Snider (SMA) was formed, bringing together various pastoral agents, religious and laypeople, from the diocese – including Comboni missionaries from the Padua community. This team began visiting migrants in two large reception centres in the countryside, eventually forming a group called “Rinascita” (Rebirth), composed of migrants from various countries, predominantly Africans, and from various Christian denominations or none. The pastoral care involved spiritual accompaniment and prayer, including sessions of popular reading of the Bible; a catechumenate that led to several baptisms and integration of asylum seekers into Christian communities; assistance with legal asylum requests and job placement through a network of contacts with professionals and entrepreneurs. Above all, by valuing their great vitality and celebratory capacity through a liturgical choir, Rinascita presented itself in the territory as a group for Sunday liturgical animation in parishes, also including direct testimonies from asylum seekers. This animation had a surprising impact: not only in terms of joyful and engaging liturgical celebrations but also in helping Christian communities overcome prejudices, misinformation, and fear instilled by certain political forces, as well as a suspicious and an attitude of rejection towards migrants in the region. How should we define this type of reality? Evangelization or missionary animation?

Another interesting example is Ecopax in Mexico. In that case, the social issue is violence, to which the initiative responds with a social mission of peace inspired by the missionary principles of Daniele Comboni. The Ecopax movement provides spaces for reflection, training, and accompaniment to promote peace among people and in all possible areas, bringing together Comboni Lay Missionaries, parish pastoral workers, and pastoral agents from specific ministries such as that with Afro-descendents, youth ministry, and university groups; but also people who, although not belonging to or participating in any ecclesial or social structure, feel called to make peace take root where they live and coexist. Thus, it grows an awareness that peace is not only the deepest desire of every human being but also an essential dimension of the Kingdom of God and, therefore, of the Gospel. This initiative, in the long term, seeks social transformation involving Christian communities in the social mission of the Church and in cultural transformation inspired by the Gospel. Again, is this missionary animation or evangelization?

2. New Forms of Mission Support

The financial support for the Institute and its activities has always been based on the popular support from Europe. Thanks to the generosity of thousands of faithful, largely from the simplest classes, missionary action found significant support for a very long time. However, with the process of secularization in Europe and the change in the geography of vocations, this fundamental source of economic support is coming to an end. One of the prompts for initiating missionary animation in the global South is to mobilize resources to support missionary action. In recent years, for example, several provinces in Africa have considered the possibility of administering some well-established parishes that have already achieved self-sustainability and can also contribute economically to mission ad gentes. But the experience – in the context of integral ecology, which, we reiterate, means not only the environment but all dimensions of reality – shows that there can be other very interesting paths.

An example of integral ecology is the Verona Huruma Savings and Credits Cooperative(VH Sacco), whose beginnings date back to 1991 with the formation of an informal savings group of 15 people who regularly met in one of the small Christian communities of the Comboni mission in Kariobangi, in the slums of Nairobi, more precisely in the Huruma area. The Huruma group worked well and grew, so much so that in 1994 it transformed into the Huruma Self-help Group, a formally established mutual aid group. Based on the experience that even small sums can make a difference in the living conditions of people at Nairobi’s outskirts, the group had a remarkable success thanks to the great social capital of trust and integrity due to the parish context. In Kenya, many experiences of this type have sadly failed, which can make people distrust cooperative forms. But not in this case. The group managed to mobilize many residents of the area, who joined this association to protect family savings and facilitate access to credit. This initiative made such services accessible to a large part of the population that could not obtain them from the formal banking sector because they had minimal, unstable incomes and lived in great vulnerability.

The parish remained a point of reference for this project, and the Christian community took responsibility for this social mission. The administration and management of activities were the group’s responsibility, but the project offices and the culture, the spirituality of the members – the “social” capital – came and were cared for, accompanied by the parish. This model was so successful that in 2013, due to the group’s significant expansion, there was an important leap of scale: the project became a “Sacco” (Savings and Credits COoperative), thus with the possibility of making investments. In 2017, there was yet another step: from the local dimension, it moved to the national scale, always maintaining its missionary identity: Verona Huruma Sacco is an inclusive group that welcomes people of different religious denominations but continues to be motivated and nourished by the Comboni spirituality8.

Moreover, the social dimension of the cooperative’s activities also emerges in the insurance and financing packages for medical expenses, a scholarship program for needy children and young people, a corporate social responsibility program addressing the needs of the most disadvantaged, and, from the beginning of the group’s initiative, financial support to the Comboni parish, recognizing the evangelical values and social capital of trust and integrity it promotes. Spirituality – open, welcoming everyone regardless of socio-cultural and religious affiliations – is not a secondary aspect of this organization’s journey.

The ability to meet the needs of those usually excluded from formal economic circuits and the social impact of its activities demonstrate the importance of this initiative. To this day, many missionary groups and Catholic associations in the global North support microprojects in the global South as expressions of solidarity and Christian faith. This initiative shows that similar, self-sustaining initiatives can be initiated even in the global South. From the perspective of mission sustainability, this scenario offers interesting possibilities: a concrete commitment to the “evangelization” of the economy, now not only at local but even at national level, which can involve the Church, providing investment opportunities together with the people it accompanies.

Another interesting experience is the Comboni Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship (CASE), a Comboni work aimed at facilitating the birth and growth of social enterprises in the context of Comboni missions on the continent. The initiative aims to animate Christian communities and youth groups to become evangelizers of the economy – as hoped for by Evangelii Gaudium and the Economy of Francesco movementpromoting social justice and environmental sustainability.

The underlying idea is that a social enterprise is a tool for solving community problems, for building the common good. Everywhere, missionary communities face serious social problems that are also a testing ground for the proclamation of the Gospel. CASE proposes to engage local youth, valuing their potential and creativity, to solve these problems by creating employment and participatory, innovative social solutions. Through targeted training, young people learn to identify opportunities generated by social problems and design and start sustainable solutions. Besides training, CASE can offer human and professional accompaniment, connect young people to a social enterprise ecosystem, provide a social innovation and development hub, facilitate access to funding, and start new businesses.

This is an experience still in its early stages, but it already shows interesting responses in several African countries, such as the Central African Republic, Chad, Togo, Uganda, and Benin. CASE’s proposal helps make an important transition, overcoming the dependency syndrome and the sense of powerlessness, by facilitating a change of mindset. People begin to rediscover their strength and potential, the possibility of taking initiative and changing their situation, translating their faith into life commitment, and transforming their community. The reaction of a group of young people in the Central African Republic is emblematic: instead of dreaming of leaving their country, they now want to acquire skills to transform it. This is one of the realizations of Comboni’s dream for the regeneration of Africa with Africa. The way of seeing and of relating to reality changes, inspired by the Gospel and sustained by a grounded spirituality. At the same time, the vision of missionaries also begins to change: some recognize that local resources can be used to support the community and pastoral work, in collaboration with the people. At circumscription level, moreover, there is the possibility to have some social impact investments, contributing to initiatives that transform local reality, obtaining an economic return alongside a social and an environmental one. However, research and experimentation are needed to identify, develop, and adapt replicable models.

Obviously, these experiences are anything but easy and comfortable endeavours; making them work is very laborious, and great difficulties must be faced. One must believe, have faith, and not be discouraged by setbacks; indeed, in Comboni’s vision, these “crosses,” which are the price to pay for fidelity to the mission, are a sign of the spiritual origin of these works.

3. A Starting Point for Reaching People and Contexts Moving Away from the Church

The European continent is experiencing an epochal transition: sociological Christianity has reached its endpoint, and it is increasingly difficult to reach society, especially young people, with the evangelical message. Generally, it is not about hostility, although in some cases a certain distrust in the Church has grown due to scandals and poor pastoral renewal; rather, it is about indifference, disinterest. In the past, parishes were our privileged place for meeting people and young people. But, a part from important exceptions, even parishes often experience increasingly weak participation, especially from the younger generations. One of the great challenges of mission today in Europe is to rebuild a relationship with the people. We find that themes related to integral ecology are a great opportunity to relaunch our local presence. There are various positive experiences in this regard: awareness programs in schools, the development of Laudato Si’exhibitions in the gardens or parks of our communities – like here in Rome, for example – participation and support for youth initiatives like Arte Migrante9, which create free spaces for meeting, sharing, and creativity, bringing together groups that otherwise hardly meet (young people, migrants, homeless people, the elderly, students, etc.). Moreover, these experiences teach us that the new language for missionary animation with new generations does not only pass through social networks but also through participation and the expressive language of the arts.

Participation in these spaces, with young Christians – who do not want to hear us only talk about mission but see us in mission – becomes effective testimony and missionary animation, as well as living the mission in Europe, reaching distant people, building a relationship of trust, sharing the message of faith when the opportunity arises.

4. A Broader Dimension of Missionary Prayer

Comboni often insisted on the power of missionary prayer, the most secure and infallible means for success in God’s works, and on trusting in God. Prayer is a fundamental aspect of mission. Missionary animation in relation to integral ecology opens new possibilities also concerning missionary prayer. A significant experience was the prayer campaign leading up to and during COP28 on climate, held in Dubai in December 2023. Following the apostolic exhortation Laudate Deum, which called on world leaders to show courage and genuine ecological conversion, Christian communities were invited to accompany the process with intense prayer, in the awareness that God can touch human hearts and consciences. The commitment to integral ecology is not merely a social issue but also a theological one, as explained by Pope Francis in Laudato Si’. From the perspective of Evangelii Gaudium, it is a properly missionary action aimed at building the unity of humankind, starting from an epochal crisis that involves everyone, as we are all in the same boat and share a common destiny. The missionary presence in the global climate movement is a testimony of the Gospel that does not aim to proselytize but to promote the Kingdom, with the understanding that the Church grows by attraction (not by proselytizing) and that fraternal presence and self-giving for the common good, human dignity, social, and climate justice are meaningful in the eyes of humanity, especially the suffering ones. Without solid spirituality and faith in God’s presence in history, in God’s providence, and in the importance of discerning the action of the Spirit to follow it and let ourselves be involved in what God is doing, we would succumb to discouragement. Fostering missionary prayer for peace, ecological conversion, and a more just and fraternal world is a form of missionary animation of fundamental importance.

The Development of Some Pastoral Programs for Integral Ecology

The 19th General Chapter mandated to “Study the documents of the social teaching of the Church and promote theological reflection on these realities, in the light of the Word of God.” (CA’22, 29.2), urging us to be challenged by Pope Francis’s documents, such as Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato Si’, Querida Amazonia, and Fratelli Tutti. This formative dimension must, of course, be reflected in the integration of our ministerial practice. The General Secretariat of the Mission, in collaboration with JPIC (Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation) representatives from some continents, is preparing contextualized pastoral programs for missionary animation based on Laudate Deum (in America) and Laudato Si’ (in Africa). These programs, based on the methodology of the pastoral cycle, aim to sensitize Christian communities to integral ecology – in the light of the Word of God and the Church’s teaching – to integrate it into their faith journey and to make them protagonists in the process of ecological conversion.

Another initiative is promoted by CASE for Christian communities in Africa, especially for young people, who have enormous potential for energy, creativity, and the ability to dream of a different future. At the same time, all this energy can go to waste, with young people feeling marginalized in terms of access to job opportunities, representation, and participation, and stuck in high levels of poverty. CASE proposes the initiative of the 3Zero Clubs to young people, conceived and promoted by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus, which aims to create a world with three zeros: zero net carbon emissions, zero concentration of wealth to end poverty, and zero unemployment by unleashing entrepreneurship in everyone. However, in the missionary version promoted by CASE, the initiative is based on the methodology of the pastoral cycle.

The goal is to create a positive impact within the ecclesial community, addressing social and environmental challenges by empowering young people and contributing to the well-being of parishes and local communities. This involves offering training, resources, and support to equip young people with the skills and knowledge necessary for social transformation. CASE organizes and trains young people and facilitates access to the resources and support needed to propose social innovations that stimulate change. Putting young people at the centre of development has proven to be a solution to some of society’s most pressing challenges, including unemployment, poverty, and environmental degradation.


In light of the epochal change we are experiencing and Pope Francis’s magisterium, we have seen that evangelization and missionary animation are so interconnected and overlapping that it is increasingly difficult to distinguish them. For this reason, missionary animation can no longer be seen as a separate task or something to be delegated to specific individuals. Certainly, as the Rule of Life states, acquiring specific skills is important, but every missionary is called to be a missionary animator through his ministry, and each community a centre of missionary animation and spirituality in the local Church. The classic forms of missionary animation remain valid, but they are being enriched, also taking on new forms and broader horizons: the recognition of integral ecology as a fundamental axis of our mission (connecting pastoral, liturgical, formative, social, economic, political, and environmental dimensions) opens up interesting opportunities also concerning the support of the mission, missionary prayer, and the offering of pastoral programs of missionary animation.

1Cf. RL 72-73.

2Cf. RL 73.

3Cf. RL 72.2.

4Cf. RL 75.

5Cf. RL 73.3.

6Cf. RL 73.1.

7Cf. RL 78.2.

8The official name of the Comboni missionaries in Kenya is “Verona Fathers”, a reference that the members wanted to retain in the official name of their Savings and Credits Cooperative. By now, the cooperative has more than 15,000 members, from different social backgrounds, and offers a wide range of services: first of all, the collection of savings (in the form of shares in the cooperative’s capital, which can only be withdrawn by leaving the cooperative) and various forms of soft loans. Financial and real estate investments have become an important part of the balance sheet. In particular, investments in land and residential real estate make this market accessible to members due to fair and long-term rates and economies of scale. This factor has contributed significantly to the opening of the cooperative beyond the borders of Kariobangi-Huruma.

9Arte Migrante organizes events open to everyone, with the aim of creating inclusion through free creative expression. Participants include students, migrants, homeless people, workers and the unemployed, young and old. The evenings are divided into three parts: 1. Self-introductions, with participants seated in a large circle; 2. A shared meal, pot luck style; 3. Sharing artistic expressions: anyone who wants to can step forward and showcase their talents in singing, dancing, juggling, theater, music, poetry, etc.

The secret to the popularity of Arte Migrante, a movement spreading rapidly, seems to lie in the combination of several elements, specifically:

– It responds to a relational need of young people (e.g., fear of loneliness, the pressure of a dominant culture of competition that separates individuals and makes them doubt themselves or overlook others).

– It proposes practical, immediate activities that offer the opportunity to feel like protagonists and practice a different lifestyle (thus, young people reclaim the ability to meet their needs autonomously and collectively).

– The atmosphere of welcome, inclusion, fraternity, and dialogue, which makes participants feel safe and at home.

– It liberates energies, allowing people to express themselves and put themselves out there without fear of being judged.

– It relies on very light and circular structures (horizontal relationships, few and simple rules… and there aren’t even any chairs!).

– It expands thanks to subsidiarity and autonomous local initiatives inspired by and networked with others that model them. In this regard, the great ease and freedom of entry and exit should also be noted: this is not a minor detail since young people experience multiple affiliations and highly structured, demanding spaces can be perceived as limiting their need to continue moving between different spaces.

– A simple manifesto that interprets the values of the new generations and expresses them directly and joyfully (not as a “heavy duty”): this provides a meaningful framework in which to place one’s experience of Arte Migrante.

Previous article“Terra e Missione”: A Sign and Instrument for Missionary Animation
Next articleMaterial on Ministeriality