“Faces of Mission” is a bi-weekly blog series produced by the United States Catholic Mission Association highlighting our membership and all their work in and for mission. This week we feature Rev. Joseph Bragotti, MCCJ. Fr. Bragotti is a Comboni Missionary who has spent his life in communications and mission work.
Satisfying a Thirst for God
An Attraction Becomes a Calling
At ten years old, Joseph Bragotti had his first encounter with mission and missionaries. He met a Comboni Missionary with a friend and the two of them immediately decided they wanted to go to Africa. At the time, the desire to go to Africa was mainly to see lions, Fr. Bragotti says, but after that initial meeting, “[t]here was always this attraction” to Africa.
Even though Fr. Bragotti had come in contact with Comboni Missionaries while growing up in Italy, he initially entered his home archdiocesan seminary in Milan. As his relationship with several Comboni Missionaries deepened his enthusiasm and resolve to become a Comboni Missionary blossomed, and when he was ready to begin his studies in theology Fr. Bragotti transferred to the Comboni formation program.
The Comboni Missionaries
In joining the Comboni Missionaries, Fr. Bragotti entered a long tradition of mission work. Their founder, St. Daniel Comboni, was born in Northern Italy. Similar to Fr. Bragotti, St. Comboni’s interest in mission work in Africa was sparked when he met returning missionaries. Those were the pioneering days for the missions in Africa and St. Comboni was one of the first young priests to go.
St. Comboni had very modern ideas of how to help Africa. While European powers were dividing up the continent and arguing over spheres of influence, he was already thinking about a Church in Africa. According to Fr. Bragotti, St. Comboni’s “mantra was to regenerate Africa with Africa.”
In the beginning, Comboni Missionaries worked solely in Africa. But overtime, the Comboni Missionaries grew and expanded around the world. In the early 20th century, they expanded first to England, Spain, and the United States. In the late 1940’s, the Comboni went to Latin and Central America, to Mexico and Costa Rica, and then to Ecuador and Brazil in the 1950’s. They then turned to Asia and went to the Philippines in the 1980’s to do mission promotion work and prepare missionaries to go to China. Then it was on to Hong Kong and Macau to study and practice Chinese. The Comboni Missionaries continue to expand the reach of their missionary activities and there are currently two priests in Vietnam exploring possibilities there.
Mission Work through Communications
Most of Fr. Joseph Bragotti’s missionary life has been spent working in communications. By working with the press and media, through producing magazines and newsletters, and in setting up publishing houses, Fr. Bragotti spread the word of God and brought to light places and stories that would generally never have made the news. He started a news service, Comboni Press Network, and maintained relationships with the bureau chiefs of wire services, like the Associated Press and Reuters, to ensure important news from the missions was reported. During his travels, he covered most of the Comboni missions and spread the news of their work.
In the Missions in Uganda
Fr. Bragotti was on mission in Uganda on two separate occasions for a total of 11 years. He was there first when things were still peaceful and the country was considered the “Pearl of Africa”. But his second assignment was during the days of Idi Amin and the war that removed him from power, a very dangerous and unstable period of Uganda’s history. During his 11 years in Uganda, Fr. Bragotti did a wide variety of communications work for the Comboni Missionaries, including working with the Daughters of St. Paul to set up a publishing house and producing an English language magazine for the training of Christian leaders.
Fr. Bragotti remembers the “thirst of the people” and how very much they wanted to read. They would read anything, even labels off of soup cans. Sensing this, Fr. Bragotti started to write about social justice in a magazine he produced called Leadership. At the time, this was a dangerous topic to write about it, Fr. Bragotti says, but he did it anyways.
When the capital city of Kampala was overrun by the Tanzanian army, there was looting and burning for three days. At that time, Fr. Bragotti had just completed a new issue of Leadership and brought it into the city. But with the looting, it was difficult to distribute the magazine. A man came to him, Fr. Bragotti remembers, and said he would sell 1500 copies of the magazine for 10% of the profits. And he did. He sold 1500 of Leadership and brought the money back the next day. “It was really affirming to see,” Fr. Bragotti says.
Moving Beyond a “Maintenance Church” with Mission
Fr. Bragotti believes that the Church in the United States is currently a “maintenance Church” that is not focused on mission. Maintenance Churches are good business, he says, but not good Gospel. Pope Francis has been clear that he doesn’t want a maintenance Church, but instead wants a missionary Church. According to Fr. Bragotti, this is why mission is still very important in the world today.
“Mission is coming into its own,” he says, citing Pope Francis’ desire for the Church to go to the margins, to the peripheries, to the slums, to the poor, to those who don’t believe, and to be positive. When he was a child, Fr. Bragotti thought that by the time he became a priest there would be nothing left for him to do. But now in his 70s he says, “Gee, we’re just beginning!”
Continuing the Work
Fr. Bragotti remains involved in communications and mission work. He recently spent three and a half years in Petén, Guatemala, ministering to 25 communities in a very remote area of the country. Fr. Bragotti is still committed to publicizing the important stories from around the world that tend to be overlooked by other media.