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Evangelizing Through Art

In South Africa, a Filipino Comboni missionary is developing his painting skills and is engaging in social media platforms to announce God’s love for humanity. “I use the artworks to express my own faith and my life as a missionary, abstract as they may be,” he says.

"Who would have thought that Christianity, heritage and art can go together?” One of my Tiktok friends made that comment about my doodle of the carrying of the Cross. Aside from doodling, I love painting and “collaging” old magazines or newspapers. I am not a professional artist, just a self-taught artist, who discovered these passions in my late 40s and more in my 50s. Probably, I am one of those whom you can say: “Life begins at 40, a very late bloomer in the field of arts.”

I worked as a Comboni missionary priest in Zambia for almost nine years, and the sceneries in the mission captivated me; especially the Luangwa National Park, where I had very personal and close encounters with animals. Most of my paintings subsequently included animals. 

While I was in my sabbatical year in Rome in 2017, one day I started doodling. I made different strokes and designs and I found them so beautiful. I bought a bigger sketchpad and I started doodling in my free time, not even realizing that at the end of my sabbatical, I already had three albums. 

When I went home for the holidays, I carried with me sketch pads and I produced more doodles. I also started painting different images, mostly abstract on illustration boards, canvas etc. I found so much joy in this hobby, and quietly, I put my thoughts and sometimes my prayers into art.  

Communicating Faith 
Nobody knew of my hidden talent, and I was ashamed to share it with others. Later, I started posting my paintings and doodles on Instagram and Facebook.  It was then that I realized that my artworks created a special impact on my friends. Nowadays, I use these artworks to express my own faith and my life as a missionary, abstract as they may be. 

When I doodle or paint, I often feel like praying deeply. It creates in me some form of discipline and calmness. It develops patience and in-depth reflection of reality. Art conveys the intangible stories of our faith; therefore, it is a very effective means of teaching and enhancing devotions and prayers.  

In the past, they used art to teach their children and many people about the history of the Church, lives of saints and images of the Old Testament. The messages in images can easily be retained in the mind when teaching is accompanied by visual aids.  

For example, a mere glance of a dove and a man in the river reminds us of the baptism of the Lord and what transpired in that event. The sight of an image can communicate at a greater level.  In 1999, Pope John Paul II addressed this very issue too in his Letter to the artists: “In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art.” 

The Value Of Artworks
When there are special occasions in the Church, I find myself asking how I can make a meaningful image of the feast. When I visit a Church, the first things that attract me are the paintings on the walls and the ceiling. I noticed this also from my collection of pictures, I tend to take more photos of artworks. 

I often stay for long, sitting down, staring at a painting or artwork, because there is something in art that conveys reverence, as if you become involved in the picture. Aside from art, I love writing a lot, and I preserve my memories in my writings.  I like writing the details of what I have seen or experienced, my feelings of joy and my frustrations. As in art, I love the little details.  

My painting, doodling and collaging are special gifts for me. These are spiritual gifts that lead me to a deeper communication and communion with God. A spiritual piece of art links one to Him; gives some connections of one´s life, past, present and future. Artists have a vision, and bring it to life by painting or doodling, as they are always participants in their work.

Art is a healthy hobby, it keeps you grounded and lets you analyze things, visualize thoughts and convey desires.  Since it is a passion, one´s creation and creativity can also transform into a way of life, in personal or communitarian aspects. 

A good artist has a deep level of introspection. He can connect his work to a higher motivation and stir the unconscious part of a person. I am trying to reach that. I pray that it will come. Reflecting on the words of my Tiktok friend, art and any form of social media can powerfully connect together in the evangelizing work of the Church.  

Let’s consider the “Creation Story” in Genesis.  We call God, “the Creator.” He created heaven and earth, fishes and plants, trees and animals, and everything that lives on earth.  God is an artist and He was immensely happy with what He had created.  At the end of the day, He looked at His creatures and everything was good. I am also happy with my work.  Actually, I find them very good. 

Creating and being artistic runs in our veins. It should be handed from generation to generation in our works of evangelization and developed more and more so that people can experience that intimacy and connection with God. 

As I have said, in the beginning, I was so ashamed to share my work, afraid of being laughed at by people. I didn’t have that confidence because I felt that, being a self-taught artist, my pieces of art were of no value.  Then one day, I said to myself: “Raul, God has given you this gift, and you should put it into the open space.” My hidden talent should be discovered in depth, developed and put out for the common good.  

When I started posting online one by one, I was so surprised by the effect: What a huge community of friends and family I found, aspiring artists, neophytes in the craft and many professional artists who encouraged me to keep on practicing, developing my skill and harnessing my work to perfection. I am an aspiring artist who pursues goodness and beauty in my life, and I want to share it with others. Perhaps they may also see beauty in the little details of their lives, whether bad or good.  In life, as in visual arts, we can also repair the work, as we can also make amends for the wrongs we have done.

Mission And Arts
Being a missionary, I think art is a challenging gift to impart, as many of our missionaries are more into buildings and infrastructures, churches and helping out refugees. As a Comboni missionary, I experienced life in the mission as being more about relationships with people and pastoral commitments than artistic expression.  

It was only when I worked in Waterval Mission (Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga in South Africa), that I dug a bit deeper to discover my artistic talents.  My colleague priest used to tell me to organize a workshop with the youth and combine prayer and arts, and I would have called it, “Praying with your fingertips: Painting your imagination.” The plan unfortunately didn’t come to fruition, because of transfers and the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mission needs some creativity to capture the attention of our people.  The Charisma of St. Daniel Comboni has a lot of symbols: the Pierced Heart of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, The Crucified Christ, The Cenacle of Apostles and Mission Ad Gentes.  All of them have been interpreted by artists in different ways. We need creative and quality communication techniques to show to the people in the mission the love of God through arts.  

To have a creative team for this unique mission is a big challenge. If you are attentive to social media, there is an increasing number of aspiring artists. Today’s generation relates more to the arts than to lengthy talks. 

I take this as a personal challenge now to use my God-given gifts for a special ministry.  When I post my humble works on Instagram, I accompany them with my own voice, explaining the work created, the events, the historical and biblical backgrounds as my way of imparting our faith. This is my little personal contribution to God, aside from my commitments. May it flourish, for it is said, “If it is for God, it will always bear fruit.” 

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