THE CROSS AS BRIDE
It would not be improper to say that Comboni had a "love affair" with the Cross. He said that he had chosen the Cross as his inseparable Bride. It was the way to Heaven (Jesus built a Cross, not a carriage, to take us there!). In 1877 he sent a massive document, all hand-written in German, to the Society of Cologne: "A Historical Account and present State of the Vicariate of Central Africa". In it there is a passage which is a beautiful Hymn to the Cross
Thanks be to God for everything, and may our generous benefactors be eternally rewarded for helping us in our sublime task with their donations and their fervent prayers, even if they could not contribute in any other way to our work for the triumph of the Catholic Church. The historical outline which I have
prepared for them in which I have omitted many other things, is evidence that this work was born at the foot of the Cross and that it bears the seal of the adorable Cross which is why it becomes a work of God.
The Savior of the world made his marvelous conquests of souls with the strength of this Cross which felled paganism, demolished profane temples, threw the powers of hell into confusion, and, as Pope St Leo said, became the altar not of a single temple, but of the whole world. This Cross which started its flight from the summit of Golgotha and filled the universe with its power, was worshipped in the churches; in the royal cities with the greatest veneration; it came to be respected as an emblem on flags, and hoisted on the majestic masts of ships. It consecrated the foreheads of priests and crowned those of monarchs. On the breasts of heroes, it communicated enthusiasm. Land, sea and sky recognize the Cross, and it is honored everywhere.
The work of the Redemption was born and developed among sorrows and thorns, and for this reason shows an admirable development and a comforting and happy future. The Cross has the power to change Central Africa into a land of blessings and salvation. The Cross releases a virtue that is gentle and does not kill, which renews and descends on souls like a restorative dew; the Cross releases a great force, because the Nazarene, raised on the tree of the Cross, extending one hand to the East and the other to the West, gathers his chosen ones into the bosom of the Church from all over the world, and with his pierced hands, like another Samson, shakes the pillars of the temple where for so many centuries the power of evil was worshipped.
On these ruins he planted the marvelous Cross which has attracted all things: "Si exaltatus fuero a terra, omnia traham ad meipsum" (When I am raised from the earth, I will draw all things to myself).
MARKED BY SUFFERING AND SACRIFICE
The heat, drought and famine, sickness and death of missionaries and of thousands of his people, were a feature of the last years of his Comboni's. But there were moments of satisfaction, too. In spite of all his troubles, the famine, deaths and his own exhaustion and illness, Comboni remained constantly aware of the Mission, Africa, and his Plan. He followed up details that might have small significance. He never gave up. The following letters show this.
To the Girelli Sisters, from Khartoum, 26 Sept. 1881
I would like to ask you to inform me of the present whereabouts of a certain Delfina Vercellino, who was a postulant at my Institute of the Devout Mothers of Africa in Verona, and then went to Brescia, I think in 1876, commended to your charity. My Mother Superior in Khartoum would like you to transmit the enclosed letter to Delfina. I would be immensely grateful to you for this great favour, because my Superior ardently wishes to have news of her.
I would like to write so many things to Signora Bettina about St Joseph, the Sacred Heart and the life of Jesus Christ, which we missionaries and Sisters of Central Africa read and meditate upon every day. But I have no time at present and I am in great difficulties, because Jesus wishes it like that, that Jesus who, as the people of Verona say: "put the pips in cherries". A few days ago we celebrated the Requiem office and Mass for one of my most devout Missionaries who had just died, and whom I myself had ordained a priest, namely Fr Mattia Moron, from Poland. Before we had even removed the catafalque, I received the news of the death of another Missionary of mine, Fr Antonio Dobale, a student of Propaganda whom I had redeemed in the East Indies and brought to Verona. He died of typhoid fever in El Obeid, capital of Kordofan. Yesterday morning, we celebrated the Requiem office and Mass for him.
Just as we finished the funeral celebration, I received a dispatch saying that Sister Maria Colpo of my Institute had died at Malbes there in Kordofan. She died as a saint and a heroine, happier and more jubilant than a bride and groom on their wedding day. She was buried beside a baobab (Adansonia digitata), a tree that is 27 or 30 metres in circumference. What can I do? This morning, after celebrating the funeral rites for this fortunate Sister from Vicenza, I ordered that the catafalque be left intact, because I expect more kisses from our loving Jesus who has shown more talent (from a certain point of view and as it were) and level-headedness in building the Cross than he did in creating the heavens. In Kordofan, for ten months I have been spending 40 to 50 francs a day on dirty water so as not to die of thirst. This is the first year since time began that there has not been a drop of water in the wells after three months of rain. Ah, my Jesus! What a Cross for a missionary Bishop! But dear Jesus, we have little understanding and cannot see beyond our noses: if we could, we would be able to see the reason for all that God does and we would have to praise and bless him, because that is right in every way.
To Fr. Francesco Giulianelli from Khartoum, 4th October 1881
Fr Francesco and Fr Battista are also ill. Fr Francesco has relapsed into an extraordinarily weak state. Pray for us who are happy and resigned to carrying the Cross, on which our sweet Jesus died.
Say special prayers for me, because I am full of crosses from head to foot. But beloved Jesus! Should we refuse him, when he enables us to acquire heaven?
The day before yesterday we baptized, I baptized 14 non- believers, including a Muslim girl.
The last paragraph of Comboni's last recorded letter, written less than a week before his death:
To Fr. Giuseppe Sembianti from Khartoum, 4th October 1881
Let everything that God wishes come about. God never abandons the one who trusts in him. He is the protector of innocence and vindicator of righteousness. I am happy in the cross, which, when borne willingly out of love for God, gives birth to victory and eternal life.