COMBONI THAT DAY

In Pace Christi

Fr. Tiboni Pietro

Born: 06/04/1925
Luogo di Nascita: Tiarno di Sopra/I

Voti temporanei: 15/08/1944
Voti perpetui: 23/09/1949
Ordinazione: 08/04/1950

Date of Death: 13/06/2017
Place of Death: Lacor/UG

Fr. Pietro Tiboni (Tibo for his many friends) was born on April 6th, 1925, in the town of Tiarno di Sopra, close to Trento, on the mountains bordering Lake Garda, the birthplace of Saint Daniel Comboni. When, still a fresh teen, he felt the desire to dedicate all his life as missionary, Don Virgilio, his parish priest, directed him to the Comboni Missionaries.

Fr. Tiboni professed his first vows on August 15th, 1944, under the protection of Our Lady towards whom he bore an unshakable devotion all through his life. He then continued his theological studies and became priest on April 8th 1950. His superiors, recognizing his swift and lively intelligence, asked him to pursue further studies, which he did in Rome in the following two years. In such brief period, he achieved two master-degrees in philosophy and theology, under the guidance of the prestigious theoretical philosopher Fr. Cornelio Fabro. When also the latter recognized the skills of the young Fr. Tiboni, he proposed to him to go further and pursue an academic career in Rome. At that point Fr. Tiboni was clear: “My Rome is in Africa! I am a Comboni Missionary and I admire all the Comboni Missionaries because they are ready to offer their life”.

In his case though, departure to Africa still had to wait. The superiors asked him in fact to remain in Italy where, in Verona, he taught philosophy to young candidates of the Institute. It was not until 1955 when he was allowed to leave teaching but, alas, to pursue more studies in the UK, where for two years he learnt English and obtained a General Certificate of Education that would enable him to teach in schools in the Commonwealth Countries, a pre-requisite for a born educator destined to teach throughout his life.

In 1957 he could proceed to Africa, assigned to the province of South Sudan, to teach philosophy and theology in the National Seminary of Tore, in the south of the Country. Among his many pupils was the future Cardinal Archbishop of Khartoum, Msgr. Gabriel Zubeir Wako and also the Comboni Missionary, Fr. Peter Magalasi, who – sick himself – has been his companion during the last years of Fr. Tiboni’s life in the Comboni Community of Lacor Hospital in Gulu. Fr. Magalasi’s recall of his confrere underlines that Fr. Tiboni was not only a gifted teacher, capable of explaining the most complex philosophical and theological concepts in terms that made them understandable to all, but also a very compassionate missionary, always ready to reach out to the “most forgotten and abandoned” among God’s children. This characteristic of Fr. Tiboni is witnessed by the many poor, sick, unfortunate men and women whom he actively sought out to share both spiritual and material help, along with an enormous amount of sympathy and empathy. In his own way, Fr. Tiboni has been an example of the “Church in her missionary outreach” that Pope Francis wants.

In 1964 his time in South Sudan suddenly came to its end when the political leaders of the newly independent Sudan decided to expel a great number of Catholic Missionaries.

After a brief period spent again as teacher in Verona, he was appointed, once again, as professor to the International Scholasticate of Venegono Superiore. He then spends the next six years in the ministry of theological formation of young Comboni Missionaries priests candidates.

In 1970 he is, at last, back to his beloved Africa, this time in Kitgum, Northern Uganda. For the first time the superiors had asked him to take up an active pastoral commitment and was appointed parish priest of the Church in Kitgum Town, not far from the old Mission Parish across the river that runs through Kitgum. Due to his special concern for the formation of African Priests he soon pursued his intuition that priestly formation should be strongly rooted in an active apostolic environment and therefore founded, attached to the Parish Church, a Seminary for adult vocations with a particular predilection for pastoral and community life: it bears the name of PIK: Pastoral Institute-Kitgum. This formation endeavour will come to an end during the turmoil that affected Northern Uganda since the early ’80s, but not after having first ensured that a good number of priests, all adult vocations, African and Europeans, had been ordained, which was something new in Uganda.

It is during his stay in Kitgum, right at the beginning of the ’70ties, that Fr. Tiboni came across something that struck and provoked him, and that will mark all his subsequent life and understanding of his own missionary vocation. In fact, he met a small group of volunteers from Northern Italy, belonging to the movement of CL (Communion and Liberation), who had just moved to Kitgum driven by the missionary impetus of the charismatic Founder of the Movement, Don Luigi Giussani, to work as health professionals and teachers in the local institutions. What struck him was that those young professionals and their families put Jesus Christ at the centre of everything and lived among themselves a communion that Fr. Tiboni found impressive and intriguing. He recognised in don Giussani a kindred spirit and reached the certainty that his belonging to the Comboni Missionaries would have found in the charism of don Giussani new energy and drive.

In 1975 Fr. Tiboni was expelled from Uganda by the Amin’s regime, but he was already in Rome to attend the General Chapter of the Comboni Missionaries, where he gets elected as General Assistant. The years spent in the General Council (1975-1979), besides being marked by an important service to his Institute, offers him the possibility of a deep involvement in the life of CL.

The fall of Amin and the completion of his service in the General Council give Fr. Tiboni the possibility of returning to Uganda. In 1980 the superiors assign him to the ministry of formation of the young Comboni Missionaries in the International Scholasticate of Kampala, while teaching theology at both the National Seminary of Ggaba and the Diocesan Seminary for adult vocations of Saint Mbaga, founded by H. E. Cardinal Nsubuga, under the inspiration of the PIK. In the meantime, the presence of CL volunteers continues in Kitgum despite the uncertainty of the political situation of those years. The desire of proposing to everybody life’s communion in Christ remained alive in the heart of the volunteers, of Fr. Tiboni, of many of his Comboni Confreres and of the young priests coming from the PIK. The occasion to boldly “go public” with this desire finds its expression during a National Theological Week held in Katigondo Seminary in August 1981. In that context Fr. Tiboni, his friends and confreres ‘launch’ the Movement ‘Christ is Communion and Life’. This move, known as the ‘Katigondo Proposal’, well expresses the synthesis reached in the heart of Fr. Tiboni between the charism of Saint Daniel Comboni and that of don Giussani: a deep love for Christ, a deep love for the communion that is born of His Presence, and thereafter a missionary drive towards everybody.

Thanks to an explicit request of don Giussani to the then General Superior of the Comboni Missionaries, Fr. Tiboni obtains the permission to pursue, along with his teaching ministry in the service of the Church in the Uganda seminaries, also the guidance of the Movement of the CL in Uganda. For many years, Fr. Tiboni has continued to guide the CL and to teach in the seminaries of Kampala until the beginning of 2014, when, due to his worsening health conditions, Fr. Tiboni was sent to Gulu, at Lacor Hospital, in the Comboni Community where the elderly missionaries are nursed and cared for. But the idea of retirement never found place in Fr. Tiboni’s mind and heart. The many people who visited him drew comfort and energy from the encounter with him in his weak condition.

Fr. Tiboni’s offering of himself to Christ through the hands of Our

Lady came to its fulfilment on Monday 13 June 2017 at Lacor Hospital, at 20.15 hrs. (Bro. Daniele Giusti)