Anna Moccia gives her testimony on missionary animation at the General Assembly of Missionary Animation in Rome, on April 23rd 2024. Her reflection elaborates on the role of the Spirit in guiding missionary animation and on the outcomes of such process, that led to some interesting innovations in this ministerial field. See here the slides of her presentation.

First of all, I am very happy to be here because I hold your missionary family close to my heart. After my time in Africa in 2016, I got to know the Comboni Family and became a mission animator in Rome with GIM (Giovani Impegno Missionario) and for two years I participated in the Verona – Limone summer camp. That was a very effective animation initiative, inspiring young people and promoting the mission and the charism of Comboni and of the Comboni Family. So, it is with joy and gratitude that I am here today to share with you my testimony of service in the field of missionary animation through the Terra e Missione project, as you have also been, in a sense, co-protagonists in it.

I am Anna Moccia, a journalist. Since 2020, I have been directing the online missionary magazine Terra e Missione, which since 2022 has also become an organization for social promotion, and I work for the Caritas office of diocese of Rome, where I manage the communication desk, in particular the web section, the newsletter, various social channels, and graphic design. I approach my work at Caritas as a mission. As your confrere, Fr Giulio Albanese, often reminds us, “communication is mission” and we might say that “charity – understood in its highest form – is mission”. As a matter of fact, material aid alone is not enough; there is a need for presence, human relationships, and sharing of suffering. In this, I see much of the transition from a “missio ad gentes” (to the people) to an “inter gentes” dimension, immersing ourselves to make a “common cause” with the countless suffering people of our world and thus recognizing that the proclamation of the Gospel occurs in the reciprocity of communication, in intercultural and interreligious dialogue, in encountering others. These are the added values that also make charity a mission. And it is this aspect of Caritas – replacing an assistential approach with genuine human promotion – that I try to convey through various communication tools.

Everything is interconnected; the cry of Mother Earth and the cry of the poor make one single cry. The time of the COVID-19 pandemic reminded us strongly and importantly of such reciprocity, confronting us with ourselves, our frailties, and those of others. And now we are called to question ourselves, to understand how to be witnesses of charity and missionaries in this new and different time. We can view the COVID experience not only negatively but also as an opportunity for introspection, discernment, as an opportunity to read the signs of the times and to explore new paths and adapt our missionary commitment to the needs of the present, to be “salt of the earth and light of the world.”

A missionary vocation

Terra e Missione is the fruit of such journey of reflection and introspection undertaken precisely during the time of the pandemic, but it is also the result of a missionary vocation, which was born thanks to communication. This is because in 2016, I was collaborating for a newspaper and I was asked to write an article about some young people organizing Vol.Est, which stands for “Volontariato Estivo”, a summer volunteering initiative for young people organized by the Missionary Office of the diocese of Porto-Santa Rufina. The interested youth could participate in a missionary experience in Malawi or Romania. Attending the preparatory meetings, I was immediately struck by the enthusiasm of the young participants, but also by that of the mission office director don Federico Tartaglia. However, what finally pushed me to undertake that trip was a series of concatenated circumstances. Shortly before such initiative, I used to work with an NGO that sent me to Ukraine, at Chernobyl, for the 30th anniversary of the nuclear accident, to accompany a team of journalists to create television reports. Upon my return, I was somewhat disillusioned with the world of journalism, where I saw excessive simplification of information at the expense of in-depth analysis, and also a certain sensationalism using the suffering of people. However, my boss told me that I had done an excellent job and also gave me a financial reward which was equal to the amount needed for the plane ticket to Malawi. So, I decided to leave and go to the mission where don Federico had worked as fidei donum missionary for 9 years.

Initially, I left with the idea of making a trip, but then it became more of an inner journey for me, which also changed my way of doing journalism, an encounter with the Truth I wanted to tell. In fact, I thought I was going to Africa to help the local community, to give them something, but instead, I found myself shedding those tight clothes that were my convictions and habits, my little faith, to return to the importance of the essential. This also thanks to a people who, despite their poverty and daily suffering, were capable of rejoicing precisely because they put God at the centre of everything. And so they were happy to share the little they had with me. I can say that Africa was at the centre of my encounter with the Lord, and I still carry this experience in my heart.

I like to remember a phrase by Blessed Carlo Acutis, which says: “Conversion is nothing but shifting the gaze from down upwards, just a simple movement of the eyes.” For me, it was this change of perspective, from my life and my selfishness (at that time I was also working in a disco), to instead considering myself part of a larger reality for which I felt and still feel the need to commit myself. I was able to make this journey thanks to an encounter, in this case with don Federico and the young people of Vol.Est, because then the Lord does not only speak to us in the intimacy of our hearts but also through the voice and testimony of our brothers and sisters. However, that path did not stop there because once I returned to Italy, I wanted to get involved in missionary animation, because I wanted other young people to have my same experience of encountering the Lord. For three years, I collaborated first with the diocese and then with the Comboni family. I started by taking care of Vol.Est, organizing training events for the youth travelling to Malawi, and I went myself to Malawi several times. As I mentioned, I also helped the Comboni family in the running of the youth missionary programme (GIM), relaunching the programme in Rome with Bro. Marco Binaghi, which was held in this house for two years, and I participated in the Verona-Limone camp twice, the first time as a young person and the other as a member of the organizing team.

This was also facilitated by my previous background. Indeed, I believe that when the Lord calls us, God does not discard anything of what we have been in the past but involves us in a new adventure where all the ingredients are to be used, and we have to put ourselves out there and not keep them for ourselves, even with the risk and fear of failure, because we might embark on new paths compared to those that already exist.

The birth of Terra e Missione

In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic arrived, and the lock down made it impossible to meet with the young people in the GIM programme and also to go to visit some missions, and from there the idea was born, with two friends of mine, to open a blog which then turned into the magazine Terra e Missione.

The initial intent, since we were in the most challenging phase of Covid-19, was to narrate what the missionaries were doing in that difficult period in the various peripheries of the world. At the same time, we also wanted to bring them a word of hope, an encouragement to continue in their mission and not feel alone.

After the pandemic, the magazine quickly developed into its current sections, eventually becoming an organization for social promotion, revolving around three main axes: peace journalism, which we achieve through the magazine; integral ecology, which we carry forward through various training and communication initiatives, such as the ecological training course for journalists “Custodi del giardino,” held at the Pontifical Faculty of Educational Sciences Auxilium; the third axis is missionary cooperation: about 20 institutes are networked with Terra e Missione, thus more easily promoting their initiatives, collaborating with Terra e Missione projects, and collaborating among themselves.

Everything came very spontaneously: I had this missionary blog, and I was told that by law, I couldn’t publish articles daily because it wasn’t a newspaper; from there, Terra e Missione became a registered magazine in court; then they told us that a magazine must have a publisher, and from there the social promotion organization was born. So it came about through a series of obstacles that we had to overcome, but I would say we managed very well.

I must also say that, along with the vocational component of our project, and thus the attention to young people, our activities mainly focus on cooperation, which is the service we want to do with the various missionary congregations, so they are the primary recipients of Terra e Missione‘s missionary animation. This is to help rekindle the missionary zeal of the different missionary families and together, with renewed momentum, share the responsibility in proclaiming the Gospel. Therefore, we try as much as possible to create initiatives where the various ad gentes institutes, male and female, are invited to collaborate and network among themselves.

Indeed, Comboni himself had such a great sense of Catholicity, dreaming of involving everyone in the work for the Regeneration of Africa. In fact, he wrote: “The Work must be Catholic, and not Spanish or French, German or Italian.” For evangelization, he truly relied on the full cooperation of all the missionary forces then existing.

Comboni also paid particular attention to the importance and effectiveness of the means of social communication of his time, both Italian and foreign, to put them at the service of his missionary ideal.

A missionary magazine

Terra e Missione magazine aims at offering a different type of information, somewhat marginal because it does not live on gossip but it narrates the world from the perspective of those who have no voice or are not heard, namely, the poorest. Not in a perspective of sensationalizing suffering to gain more visits on the website, but rather in the line to bring hope, and also to promote the culture of peace and not war. And we see how much need there is for this now: think of the war that is bleeding Eastern Europe or the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, not to mention the many forgotten wars.

(I open a parenthesis: I love printed books, I don’t read e-book, mainly for a sensory choice: I like to underline a sentence or writing notes. But I deliberately chose to create an entirely online magazine because if we look at young people, today they rarely read printed materials; they get informed mainly online, they no longer watch the news, and indeed, the information mainly passes through social media. So, we are focusing more on these new media.)

Like other missionary magazines, we also give voice to those who have no voice, opening windows on the world’s peripheries, which are increasingly on the margins of information. But the magazine’s mission is mainly to tell the good, what is done in the various peripheries of the world, also thanks to the missionary institutes. In this, I always say that Terra e Missione is not our space but a space at the service of missionaries.

Besides, we consider the aspect of spirituality very important, indeed a priority. Also because, while when you go in search of news, the day after it is already replaced by another news… and thus in the journalism world, there is a certain “throw away culture,” a product of the disposable mentality, so for us, it is more important to sow a lasting news, which is that of the Gospel. For this reason, all the institutes in our network dedicate themselves in turn to the Sunday Gospel commentary, and then we have a section dedicated to the “Missionary Word of the Month,” also curated alternately by the various congregations. Moreover, one of the sections I care most about in the magazine is “Voices from the Monasteries,” dedicated to contemplative life, a space designed to give voice to the various monasteries. I have always seen a strong link between mission and contemplation; not by chance, St. Thérèse of of the Child Jesus, Thérèse of Lisieux, is the Patroness of the missions without ever setting foot outside her monastery. And it is beautiful the statement by John Paul II, which we find at the end of the encyclical letter Redemptoris Missio when he says that “The missionary must be a contemplative in action.”

This is precisely what struck me most about missionary life: the missionary is not like a cooperation worker in an NGO; he must be himself or herself a person of commitment and prophecy, but also a person of silence and prayer. In fact, everything is born in the light of God’s word and prayer. Thinking about this, I recall images of two missionaries: one is Fr Gigi Maccalli, SMA missionary, who during his captivity in Niger, inspired by Thérèse of Lisieux, found comfort in prayer by making a small rope rosary; the other is Fr Augusto Gianola of Pime, who in the last years of his mission in the Amazon built a hut in the heart of the forest to give space to this more contemplative dimension. And there is also a beautiful book published by EMI, which unfortunately is no longer available but would be worth republishing, written by Fr Piero Gheddo of Pime, which tells of his tormented journey towards holiness, a beautiful testimony of missionary life, which also inspired the film “You Must Go,” set in the Amazon, where the protagonist, Augusta, is played by the talented Italian actress Jasmine Trinca.

Among other things, this is also the year dedicated to prayer, in preparation for the Jubilee of 2025, so it would be worth dwelling a bit more on this aspect, trying to promote as much as possible the centrality of prayer in individual and community life. Together with Sr Maria Rosa Venturelli (CMS), who has been by my side all this time and is still a member of the board of Terra e Missione, this year we are organizing an in-person tour for “Voices from Monasteries” in November, which will bring us to learn more closely the importance of the contemplative dimension by making a concrete experience in some monasteries here in Rome.

The digital continent, a new missionary frontier

Although I love this contemplative dimension, Terra e Missione is also keeping up with the times. In fact, as previously mentioned, one of the aspects we care most about is vocational, in a 360° degree sense, that is, helping young people understand their place in the world, and for this, we use all the tools available today, including social media.

The recurring question in ecclesial circles is whether it makes sense for the Church to continue investing in social communication media or whether the few available resources should be diverted elsewhere. The issue related to artificial intelligence and the future ethical and social challenges is also highly debated. Is it worth it?

My answer is Yes! If today we want to embody and testify to the beauty of the Christian experience, we cannot fail to be, as believers, with our means, in the world of mass media. Precisely because we are in this time of precariousness, we can give young people, in these spaces they visit daily, a reading of reality in the light of the Gospel, to bring them a word of hope. So social media is indispensable in today’s world if you want to reach young people, even though they must be used in the right measure and with caution because our reputation can be significantly influenced by online activities, so we must carefully vet the content before publishing it.

Attention to new media is also one of the reflections of the current synod, which has created a place for the “sixth continent,” the digital one. The Internet is not only seen as a tool for evangelization but as a new mission territory because it transforms how we live relationships and perceive reality. In that, the Xaverian missionaries, whose charism is proclaiming the Gospel to those who do not know it, are at the forefront: recently, a young Italian was ordained a priest whose mission destination was not a country but the digital continent. So he took a master’s degree in journalism in Boston and is now touring the various Xaverian missions worldwide to narrate their experience through new media and is making agreements with content distribution platforms to reach even the non-Catholic world. It is an example on which I invite you to reflect for the future.

However, even if social media has its weight, among young people, word of mouth is still more important, in my opinion. So, for example, almost no one will have a missionary experience because they read a post on Instagram, but rather if they are fascinated by a testimony or the story of a friend who may have had this experience. But we can say that if the same young person is uncertain whether to go or not, seeing that post on social media might convince them to leave. Therefore, social media is a reinforcing element of our communication.

From a magazine to an organization

A characteristic of Terra e Missione is that, in addition to reporting news, it also “makes news” through the initiatives we organize, so it’s as if the organization itself comes to life from the magazine’s pages.

Among the most relevant projects we are currently carrying out there is the sewing workshop “Threads of Hope” we have created in Ladispoli, in the province of Rome, where the organization’s headquarters are located. We are currently conducting a basic course for unemployed women, which will end in June. Last year we concluded the course with a fashion show, which we hope to do again this year, but for us, the goal of this project, more than teaching the art of sewing, is to help these women “mend” their relationship with the Lord, and this can be done through an experience of gratuitousness because this initiative has no cost but it is offered free to the ladies participating.

This year, we replicated the course in Cameroon, thanks to the Thouret Foundation of the Sisters of Charity of St. Jeanne Antide, specifically in the village of Ngaoundal, where we are offering the opportunity to 20 girls to learn the art of sewing. In this case, we also bought them sewing machines that they can take home once the course is over. The beautiful thing is that a real twinning has been created between the Italian ladies and the girls in Cameroon, and on March 9, we had our first online meeting to introduce them to each other and exchange designs and tips in the art of sewing.

We are also collaborating with the Sisters of Charity on a missionary training for young people, and this summer, Cameroon will be one of the summer destinations, along with India and Argentina, where we can bring young people who participated in the training.

Then there are two projects related to the Amazon:

– An exhibition of drawings made by Fr Ezechiele Ramin, which we designed with Bro. Alberto and the Ramin family, in collaboration with the Laudato Si’ Movement, which was inaugurated last March 15 in the garden of the Sisters of Charity of Sr Jeanne Antida and subsequently at the Auxilium Unoiversity. The exhibition is called “Passion Amazonia”: there are scenes related to the daily life of indigenous peoples alternating with those of Christ’s passion, and it was created for the Day of Missionary Martyrs, precisely during Easter time, together with the missionary centres of Rome and Porto-Santa Rufina.

– The other project is carried out directly in Brazil in collaboration with the archdiocese of Manaus, a city I visited last year thanks to the hospitality of the Sisters of Pime. Through them and the archdiocese, we are starting a journalism course for young people of “PasCom”, the pastoral communication group. The first course, which started on April 20, is taking place in the S. Pedro Apostolo mission area. The aim is to train these young people in writing, film-making, and social media use so they can put the acquired skills at the service of the diocesan magazine, radio, or social media.

In addition, we organize several pilgrimages throughout the year. The next one will be held in Assisi on May 4 and will be organized in collaboration with the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Assisi and the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Egypt, who will accompany us on the journey and guide the various meditations. In this, the association increasingly shows how mission is not just an individual activity but a communitarian commitment.

Personally, I can say that Terra e Missione has played a crucial role in shaping my missionary commitment and nurturing my passion for the mission over the years. The stories of hope and resilience I get to read on the magazine’s pages, as well as the Gospel meditations I publish on the site, have illuminated my path and continue to inspire it to this day.

The challenges

= Communication is mission?

Certainly, doing mission means announcing, communicating to everyone the joy of the Gospel, and at the same time being attentive and conscious communicators is mission. Of course, today’s dynamics have changed. Suffice it to think that St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists, who was concerned about the listening of homilies in church, introduced the so called”pizzini” (small pieces of paper with handwritten notes) with short and intense phrases, to be distributed in homes or posted at the entrance of churches. It was then a revolutionary method. Today, we write these short thoughts on X, formerly Twitter, or make short videos on various social platforms like Instagram or TikTok. In Italy, priests like don Luigi Epicoco, don Alberto Ravagnani, or even lay figures, like actor Giovanni Scifoni, are great Catholic communicators and influencers.

Anyway, what I think is important to emphasize is that in the Church’s message, at the centre of everything, the foundation of everything, must always be the Word of God and testimony. One cannot disregard the coherence between what is announced and what is lived. Also because young people immediately understand if we are genuine in what we say. Once there is Truth, it can be communicated by choosing the platform that allows us to reach as many people as possible to convey a clear message to everyone. The challenge today is also to know how to reach worlds very far from ours, so even non-believers. Otherwise, we risk being self-absorbed and talking only to ourselves. This is the challenge and mission of today’s communicators. Not by chance, the theme of the 2024 World Mission Day will be “Go and invite everyone to the feast,” in the context of the parable of the wedding feast, where we find the invitation to be drawn into the movement of mission and bring our evangelical testimony to the crossroads of the streets, to everyone without exclusion, in every environment of our daily lives.

= Missionary animation

Today, a strong missionary awakening is needed in our ecclesial communities to give new vigour and depth to Christian life. For this reason, it is important that mission animation is not seen as a fallback activity, due to the inability to live mission in a “direct and active” way, like a sort of “plan B” to be content with the given circumstances. On the contrary, to inspire others with our same passion can and indeed must find its place at the centre of the charism of the various institutes. At stake is not only what people do in their missionary activity. At stake is the evangelization of the world, and the Spirit’s strategy looks at the effectiveness of this universal work.

Certainly, even today in our Christian communities, there is a certain missionary interest, but it is not something that transforms people’s life. One aspect that struck me very much about Brazil, when I had the opportunity to participate in the “missionary weeks” organized by various local communities, is the strong contribution that comes from the laity, who feel like protagonists of mission. In the diocese of Manaus and even more in that of Parintins, which then includes an infinity of “ribeirinhos” communities, who live along the banks of the Amazon River (which I could reach by canoe with the Sisters of Pime), I saw how the laity actively participate in ecclesial life. It is the laity, and especially the laywomen, who carry forward the Christian communities for which the Sunday Eucharist is crucial. But the experience of basic ecclesial communities in Latin America, in general, is also linked to the fact that there is a scarcity of clergy, which allows the laity to express themselves more easily, to be more involved in the apostolate, evangelization, and human promotion.

Of course, we are all responsible, lay and consecrated. One then wonders how much even the missionaries, besides feeling like mission “workers”, desire to be missionary animators. How many energies, ideas, and suitable personnel are concretely offered to missionary animation compared to other areas?

If we look at Italy, in many parishes, we see that the Mission group no longer exists or acts with personalistic criteria, more concerned with raising funds than evangelizing. Missionary animation cannot be confused with economic cooperation or helping a mission station; it is something much bigger.

“Animation” means communicating life and spirit; “missionary animation” therefore is a pastoral action to make people become missionaries, that is, to allow them a personal encounter with Christ so that they can then become his witnesses and bring his message to others. This is what should happen to the Church, to every parish and mission group, to each of us.

Certainly, the evangelizing action is not the result of a merely human effort; we must be aware that there is Someone who precedes us and works in the depths of everyone, so “the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of evangelization. But it is our task to facilitate and help others discover the saving presence of God among them and support them in dialogue and a generous response to God.

In my opinion, to be able to do this, we need to return with our minds and hearts to the moment when this personal encounter with Christ also occurred in our lives to rekindle this missionary zeal. I think of the image of the two disciples of Emmaus, who were moving away from Jerusalem with sad faces, with heavy and discouraged hearts. And then they meet this stranger, with whom they talk and are listened to, until they share lodging and meals. It was then that recognition occurred, in the Eucharistic gesture of the broken bread, which opened their eyes and made their hearts burn. So much so that they resumed their journey and became missionaries.

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