THE AFRICAN PASSION OF SAINT DANIEL COMBONI
Daniel Comboni, from whom the Comboni Missionaries take their name, had a life marked by a passion for Africa. He was born at Limone, on Lake Garda in northern Italy on 15 March 1831 and died at Khartoum, Sudan on 10 October 1881. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1996 and canonised on 5 October 2003. Three words depict his short life for us: Missionary, Father, Prophet.
At a time when Africa was the place of great expeditions and explorations, Daniel developed a love for Africa and Africans that would last all his life. In 1857 from Verona, where he had trained for priesthood, he went as a young missionary to Sudan. He returned to Europe several times, for health reasons, on vocation recruitment and for fund raising. He was entrusted with a vast mission that included the whole of Central Africa and in 1877 was named the first Bishop of Khartoum where he died just four years later.
Comboni's missionary spirituality was centred on devotion to the Sacred Heart. He had been present in Rome at the beatification of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque who had received private revelations from the Sacred Heart of Jesus and promoted that devotion to the whole Church.
The Heart of Jesus was pierced for love of humanity and Comboni saw in that love the source of zeal for the salvation of souls and strength in bearing trials and crosses for the sake of the Gospel.
Comboni soon realised that to ensure continuity to his mission to the vast African continent, he needed to form a group of priests, lay brothers and sisters. He started in 1867 in Verona by putting together a group of men - missionary priests and lay brothers - to whom he gave a rule for missionary life. Later, in 1872, he founded the 'Pie Madri della Nigrizia', the Comboni Sisters of Verona. He wrote, 'I only have one life to consecrate for the salvation of those souls: I wish I had a thousand lives to spend to such a purpose.' His wish is fulfilled in the 4,000 Comboni missionaries of many nationalities who now work in over 40 countries world wide. Among these many nationalities, a number of Comboni missionaries , priests and sisters, come from the British Isles and are now working in different continents and ministries.
Comboni looked lovingly at Africa with faith and respect and saw potential where others saw only extreme and crippling poverty.
He also designed a 'Plan for the re-birth of Africa' where he saw Africans as architects of their own destiny. The kernel of the plan was to 'Save Africa through Africans' . At a time when many people were dismissing the African Continent as incapable of joining the rest of the 'civilised' world, Comboni sent two young Sudanese men to Rome to study for priesthood.
He preached and wrote about the all-embracing concept of mission and the direct involvement in missionary work of religious men, women and lay people working together beyond the boundaries of nationalities. At the time, this sounded like Utopia; today these key elements of mission are taken for granted in the Church.
The most profound aspect of Comboni's prophetic vision was in his understanding of martyrdom: he yearned to be so fully united with his Lord that he would willingly sacrifice his life for the Lord and for Africa; like the grain of wheat that would die and produce a harvest for the whole of Central Africa.
His plan and work have encouraged followers for more than a century to witness to the Gospel by their work, example and, in some cases, physical martyrdom. Today, Comboni missionaries all over the world continue his work, often risking their lives to remain with the people they serve during times of war and famine.
Times and situations have changed since Comboni's time and, as well as Africa, his followers are now present in Europe, the Americas and Asia. The ideal, however, remains the same: that, wherever we are, we may help the most abandoned of our world to savour the love of God through works of charity and to proclaim the fullness of life promised by Christ through the preaching of the Gospel.
By a happy coincidence, 2003 marked the centenary of the arrival of the first two Comboni priests (Verona Fathers) in England. They were given a small chapel to look after in Sidcup, Kent, which later developed into a fully-fledged parish. With the passing of time they established various communities and vocation centres throughout the UK. Today the Fathers have four communities in England: Sunningdale in Berkshire, Notting Hill in London, Elstree in Hertfordshire, and Leeds in West Yorkshire. They also have a house in Glasgow and one in Dublin. The Sisters have three communities - two in London and one in Glasgow.
Both the Fathers and the Sisters carry out mission animation activities especially through their magazine Comboni Mission, direct correspondence with their supporters and friends of the missions, mission appeals in parishes throughout the UK, school visiting and taking a keen interest in justice and peace issues. And so the spirit of Comboni continues to flourish, enriching and giving life to the whole Church.
This booklet contains brief profiles of twenty-three
Comboni Missionaries who were murdered on the Missions
(Click to open pdf)