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Comboni Missionaries - 150th Anniversary: "Our ancient, deep, extraordinary vocation"

This year, Comboni Missionaries will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the Institute. We have asked, Father David Glenday former Superior General (1991-997) and at the moment Secretary General of the Union of Superiors General, based in Rome, to share with us what it means for him to celebrate this event.

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Daniel Comboni's foundation of his missionary Institute cannot but be something deeply personal, the celebration of a multi-faceted grace that has accompanied me from my earliest years, and that I have grown to appreciate and comprehend in the different events and stages of my missionary journey. For me, this celebration is about gratitude, my gratitude to St Daniel Comboni, for the ways the Institute founded by him has so deeply shaped and enriched my life. So let me share just three of my many reasons for this gratitude.

An experience of God. In his Plan for the Regeneration of Africa, Daniel Comboni makes it very clear that he lives his mission, and all the initiatives this mission leads him to take, as a sharing in the mission of God. Reflecting and praying on his first, deeply painful experience of mission in Central Africa, he discovers that there, in the midst of the loss and apparent failure, he has in fact come to know the Living God, a God-in-community and a God on mission, a God who goes out to the ends of the earth, and takes us with him, if we let him.

This is surely why, when Comboni comes to found his Institute, he envisions it in terms of a "little Cenacle", a present-day Pentecost, a place where human beings are drawn into the missionary mystery of the Trinity. This is why the true life of this Institute is a life in the Spirit, and why a proper way to celebrate these 150 years is to say: the best is yet to come. This is why it may well be that the fragilities and limitations of the Institute today, rather than being obstacles to mission, may be the way to discover where and how the Spirit is leading us into the future. In other words, this celebration is just as much about the future as the past.

This Work is Catholic. I was born in India, of Irish mother and Scottish father, and so I suppose it is not strange that I should be especially grateful for the fact that St Daniel Comboni, from the very beginning, intended his Institute to be entirely international, or "Catholic" as he liked to say. The God he had discovered and experienced was a God for the whole world, involving the whole Church in a mission directed to every continent , nation, language and culture. Only by being open to members from every nation could this Institute, Comboni clearly felt and understood, be an effective and credible witness to the mission of God in the world.

This path has not been, and never will be, an easy one for us Comboni Missionaries, and we have had our struggles and failures along the way, but there is something very beautiful about the fact that in the end we have always been drawn back, at times despite ourselves, to this desire and intuition of our Founder. Deep in our hearts, we know what we are called to be: a little seed in the world of the family the Father longs for and desires.

Needless to say, I am deeply grateful that, thanks to so many Comboni Missionaries, I have been given the grace and opportunity of belonging to this Institute, a grace and opportunity I undoubtedly owe to the Founder's intuition and vision.

A mission for every disciple. As we celebrate 150 years since Daniel Comboni had the courage of founding his Institute, we can only wonder at the width, vitality and freshness of his vision. Once again, from the very beginning, he was clear, both in thought and action, that God had shared his mission with the whole Church, with every baptized person, and, in spite of the many difficulties he encountered, he pressed forward with this vision.

Every bishop, he stressed, was called and ordained to accept responsibility for the evangelization of the whole world, and not just of his own diocese - and so he went to the First Vatican Council seeking to convince the bishops of this. His Institute was not to be composed only of priests, but also of laymen totally dedicated to mission - the "Brothers" who have made such a rich contribution to these 150 years, and without whom this Institute would not be Comboni's. Within the same dynamic, Daniel Comboni involved women in mission from the start and went on to found the Institute of his Sisters - the two Institutes are two lungs of the same body, and the whole can only breathe and live well when this truth is lived in the daily practice of Comboni's mission. The Founder reached out to laypeople, again both men and women, to other missionary Institutes and groups, to communities of contemplative Sisters: before being theory, this was for him the reality of mission, a reality that continues to challenge and provoke.

In the same direction, a particularly beautiful and evocative aspect of St Daniel Comboni's foundation of our Institute are the relationships, the friendships, he lived with so many of the outstanding missionary figures of his time: with St John Bosco, with St Arnold Jansen, founder of the Divine Word Missionaries, with Fr Jules Chevalier, founder of the Sacred Heart Missionaries, and so on. Here, too, to celebrate these 150 years challenges us and points us forward towards the future.

Thank you, and yes. As Pope Francis says towards the beginning of his Evangelii Gaudium, the joy of the evangelizer always shines against the backdrop of grateful memory. It is this joy, and this kind of memory, that fills me and enthuses me even more today than when I first "met" Daniel Comboni, the Founder, so many years ago. Put simply, I am glad that this holy missionary did what he did.

Father Paul Neri Augustine Felix
The man of cordial manner

He loved the Comboni Institute and spared no effort to fulfil its aims and in the same way he loved the Church and spent his life in its service.

Fr. Paul Felix's sudden death on 10 November - he was only sixty-one - was a great shock to many. A Londoner by birth, Fr. Paul's mother was from Co Mayo, in Ireland. He was only eleven when he asked to join our Junior Seminary, with the enthusiastic approval of his parish priest. It was as a junior seminarian in Yorkshire that he first showed that spirit of kindness and innate goodness that made him so fit to be a missionary, never refusing to do cheerfully and willingly all that was asked of him and much more. Scotland was the scene of his novitiate, followed by studies at the Missionary Institute, London leading to his ordination in Morden, London, in 1981. After a period three and a half years as Vice-Rector of the Junior Seminary where he was very much appreciated also for his tireless work, he achieved his ambition to be a missionary in Africa. He ministered from 1984 to 1992 in the Ethiopian Province. This first experience of his was, like the language of the place, by no means easy.
In 1992, he was recalled to serve in England at Sacred Heart Church, Sunningdale where he was also Superior of the community. Two years later, he was asked to go to Leeds where, on his own, he ran the Missions Office on weekdays and did Mission Appeals at weekends. In 1999, he returned to the Province of Ethiopia-Eritrea. Haikota was a difficult area of mission but, with his inimitable style, Fr. Paul, threw himself into the work. War broke out between Ethiopia and Eritrea and the Ethiopian army invaded the territory. He was obliged to leave Haikota and go to the more secure city of Asmara.
In 2004, the General Council appointed him to the London Province of which he became Provincial that same year. He was also placed in charge of the Secretariat for Missionary Animation in the European Provinces. He was the deciding factor in assuming the commitment of the parish of Battersea (south-west London), for ministry among asylum-seekers, refugees and immigrants. During that period, he was also editor of 'Comboni Mission', and regularly preached Mission Appeals.
He spent the last three years of his life in Leeds, again in charge of the Missions Office and surprised everyone with his efficiency, his cordial manner and his ability to maintain good relations with everyone.
The real contribution Fr. Paul Felix made to the Comboni Institute is probably known only to the Almighty but it is certainly true to say that he was a man who struggled to see the meaning of this world of contradictions.
He got along well with people of many nationalities and yet was totally true to himself; He was a Londoner born and bred but never forgot his Irish roots; he loved the Comboni Institute and spared no effort to fulfil its aims; he loved the Church and spent his life in its service.
We thank God for the gift of Fr. Paul's all-too-short life among us and ask that we may understand what he struggled to teach us.

Vincent Anthony Maguire
With courage and determination

He spent 35 years in Africa in his dedicated work in the field of religious education in schools. During his last years spent battling with cancer that Fr. Vincent really showed the determination and courage. He was living proof that, like Daniel Comboni, the missionary must never consider any obstacle too great, any situation beyond redemption, as we take up the Cross and follow our Lord and Master.

Vincent Anthony Maguire was born in 1933, the youngest of ten children, in the County of Monaghan in Ireland. He had a sound Catholic upbringing but could only complete primary school as a secondary education was beyond the financial means of the family. From his early years, he had felt a strong desire to be a missionary priest but his options were few and he went to the capital city of Dublin where he worked as a footman at the Italian Embassy.
As Divine Providence would have it, Vincent was one day walking down the main thorough-fare of Dublin, O'Connell Street, when he stopped to chat at a Legion of Mary bookstall manned by a young man by the name of Sean Russell (who would himself become a Verona Father). In the course of their conversation, they discovered that they had something in common - a budding vocation to the missionary priesthood. Vincent expressed his own poor prospects of ever fulfilling his dream. Like a good Legionary, Sean informed Vincent that an Italian priest would shortly come to interview him and suggested he, too, come along and meet this missionary priest. Vincent did so, met Fr Polato FCCJ and, at the age of eighteen went to Sunningdale to commence his course of formation that would lead him to the marvellous adventures of his missionary life in England and Italy, then to Uganda, in Africa and eventually back to England and, last of all, to Bunnoe where his funeral took place on 3 December, 2016.
Sunningdale and a place in the Novitiate seemed to be a dream fulfilled but Vincent still had a long way to go. Unsurprisingly, he found philosophy difficult. He even found it difficult to read or speak at times due to his pronounced stammer.
It so happened that his Novice Master and one of the professors of philosophy recognised his intelligence and good will and took him under their wing. The result was that Vincent went through his studies with flying colours and crowned his academic achievements with a degree from the University of East Africa, Kampala, Uganda.
Although he willingly served on the home front as Rector of Mirfield Junior Seminary and as Chaplin to Overseas Student for a number of years, Fr. Vincent was most at home in his beloved Uganda. There he spent 35 years and was especially noted for his dedicated work in the field of religious education in schools. Those who worked with him testify to his respectful and gentlemanly way of dealing with people. This surely helped as he organised very active teachers' organisations, gaining the appreciation of the local clergy, his own confreres and all who worked with him.
Perhaps it was during his last years spent battling with cancer that Fr. Vincent really showed the determination and courage that had served him so well ever since he first heard the call to mission. He had overcome many obstacles in the past; not even his serious illness would discourage him.
Fr. Vincent liked nothing better than a nice meal with friends in a good restaurant. In fact, despite the protests of his 'more sensible' colleagues, he enjoyed a nice meal in a Chinese restaurant with an old friend the very day before he died (12 November, 2016).

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