This is the title of a wonderful movie on the life of St. Philip Neri. It starts with a beautiful scene of Philip going to Rome to ask permission to go to Africa as a missionary. While having a rest in the middle of the veld, he is awakened by a small child, Jesus, who tells him: your Africa is in Rome. And the film goes on showing Philip arriving in Rome
and getting challenged by the appalling situation of the street children. He commits himself to providing spiritual help, food and housing for those children. Philip goes through many difficulties but in the end his work is acknowledged and he is offered places of honour in the Church. His answer is always: “I prefer paradise” and he renounces any kind of honour to continue serving the poor.
This example came to my mind because during this month as Comboni missionaries we are asked to pray in a special way for our deceased confreres, benefactors and friends. Although we are always in communion with those who departed before us, November is especially dedicated to remember them. We pray so that they may be freed from their sins and may enjoy the full presence of God. This full presence of God is what we call Paradise. More than a place, Paradise or Heaven is a relationship with God and others. Heaven is a state of life and being that consists in “being like God”: “it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). We need to express this belief in words knowing that whatever we say is very far from reality. We may say that Paradise is wellness, harmony, fullness of life, overwhelming peace and joy, full achievement and personal realization, communion. However, Paradise starts here: “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). Thus, Paradise is communion with God, with our deceased brothers and sisters dead and alive. It is what we call the “communion of saints”.
This communion implies concrete choices, not only prayer for the dead, but being attentive to others trying to help them spiritually and materially. In this line, the Comboni missionaries decided to establish a community in Orange Farm, as an attempt to be closer to the poor.
We invite you, Comboni Friend, to accompany us in this move to the “peripheries” of Johannesburg and to support us through your friendship, prayers and sharing of material goods. Paradise is real when, inspired by God, we go out of our little world and we open the horizons of our life beyond our comfort zones, if not physically, at least with our concern and attention to situations of suffering and less life. Then, Paradise happens in our lives and in the lives of others.