(Men and women consecrated for the same missionary ideal). Daniel Comboni in his life did nothing but evangelise. In other words, he made of his life a "gospel". Evangelisation meant for him to manifest the absolute of faith.
Daniel Comboni in his life did nothing but evangelise. In other words, he made of his life a "gospel". Evangelisation meant for him to manifest the absolute of faith - publicly expressed in the oath to consecrate his entire life to the apostolate of Central Africa (cfr. W 4083 and 4797) - by his constant availability to the project of the Father, who makes individuals and peoples pass from a destroying fatalism to the experience of feeling transformed in sons and daughters, sanctified and loved by God, and for this reason capable of recognising themselves as brothers and sisters.
Daniel Comboni proclaimed and witnessed the Gospel in everything he did. He feels, first of all, to be a disciple of Christ. On the footsteps of the disciples, transfigured by the power of the Master, the Crucified Lord of Glory, in total consistency he too lives (like Peter, Stephen, Paul and others) his being constituted "God's gospel", "parable of the Kingdom", consecrated to a state of life similar to that of Christ and of the Apostles (cfr. W 442).
In this conviction rested the kernel of the authenticity of his being missionary:
- An identification with Jesus Christ, consisting of deep affection. A taste of boundless docility to his Word, in the dynamics of the beatitudes. Intimacy with the Lord that Daniel Comboni stresses by welcoming his missionary vocation with filial conviction: "I have been assured that God calls me; so I carry on with this certainty" (W 15). It is the equivalent of saying "God is with me!" because it is God who chooses his beloved ones (cfr. W 5684). The expression "I am with you" is the form of blessing of which Moses, and every servant and maid of the Word, requires as guarantee of the mandate, which becomes thus the Grace of fidelity to his vow (cfr. Ezk 25,8; Lk 1,28.42; Rev 21,3).
- The joyful fidelity to the demands of his "deep, ancient, extraordinary" vocation (W 6983), sparing no sacrifice, always aware of the urgencies of his hard and difficult mission to which he has devoted all his soul, his body, his blood and his life (cfr. W 5256).
- The constant commitment to make himself grow "in the omnipotence of prayer" (W 1969), derived from contemplative silence as well as from the ability to reflect, to ponder "in essential and efficient prayer" (W 2709) in order to discern by faith the events of history and to read God’s project on the portion of humanity that has been entrusted to him.
These, more than material means or innovative methods, were the spiritual bases that sustained Daniel Comboni in his evangelising action for Africa. Certainly, they contributed also to give him the necessary strength to carry on his radical commitment in favour of the most abandoned populations of the universe.
In other words, exactly because he became an authentic disciple of Jesus Christ and let himself be moulded by his message, he could preserve his firm trust in the action of the Holy Spirit in the most desperate circumstances, make an option for the least of the earth despite incomprehension, and look forward to a future of dignity, justice and brotherhood without surrendering in the face of apparent failures.
A twofold inheritance: Christ and Nigrizia
The ideals in which Daniel Comboni believed and for which he fought are the same as those he has left to his sons and daughters as his inheritance; ideals we today identify by the expression "Comboni missionary charism". We can summarise them in the following way:
a. A passion of communion with Christ who offered himself up, out of love, to the utmost sacrifice of the Cross in order to save us.
b. A passion of communion with the poorest and most abandoned, out of love, to the utmost sacrifice of martyrdom and daily oblation of his life.
Christ crucified and the Nigrizia are his two passions that cannot be separated one from the other. They are inclusive. Two passions that incessantly reflect the colour and the intensity of the characteristic aspects of the life of Daniel Comboni and of all those that "the right hand of God has given him and will give him" (W 6987) to follow in his footsteps. Two passions that are made relevant as grace from Above for the Church in its today’s commitment to evangelise.
Indeed this binomial: Christ crucified/Nigrizia constitutes uninterruptedly for us, sons and daughters of Comboni, a fundamental point on which to build our identity and to find the realisation of every personal, community and apostolic aspiration. At the same time, this binomial remains the criterion of discernment concerning all our work and apostolic commitment in the Church, which is missionary by its very nature.
Different times – One single objective
Daniel Comboni expressed his missionary convictions through the theological concepts and the language of his own time. Today, to us is entrusted the task of deepening, reinterpreting and enriching these convictions in his same spirit living in us, his disciples.
Daniel Comboni, for example, spoke of "earning souls" to God (W 1493), of "planting the Cross" (W 255), of "regeneration"(W 2741), "to free slaves" (W 3603), "to bring the faith and civilisation" (W 6214), "to fight the battles of the Lord" (W 7225), "to destroy the kingdom of Satan and to replace it with that of Jesus Christ" (W 5659), "to lead into the sheepfold of Jesus Christ" (W 6082), "to conquer for the Church" (W 2184), to establish "the true religion" (W 6337)… Formulas that could be translated in this way: "proclamation and witness", "incarnated evangelisation," "prophetic and martyr-like mission," "to discover the seeds of the Word in every people and culture," "missionary social conscience," "promotion of justice, peace and integrity of creation," "search of the values of the Kingdom and preferential option for the poor," "dialogue and inculturation," "formation of the Church as the family of God… the people of God."
Regardless of the variety of expressions, some fundamental "Comboni" intuitions remain and are strengthened:
- Evangelisation as an initiation to an encounter with the God of Life (preaching of the Good News and Sacramental celebration of his salvific presence) that blossoms in ecclesial communities of brothers and sisters;
- Evangelisation as a commitment undertaken in solidarity with our most suffering brothers and sisters, embracing the logic of the Cross as a paradigm from which a new world rises;
- Evangelisation as a way to witness a personal and community conversion and faithfulness, which goes hand in hand with the harmony to be found in our identity in life.
Men and women for the Gospel
It is important to underline those aspects in which Daniel Comboni reveals himself as a true prophet known to God, by Him consecrated and constituted for "the hour of Africa". An extrovert and strong-willed prophet, an evangeliser ad vitam and ad gentes, a man of the Church with a very wide vision and new intuitions that sustained his proclamation of the Gospel. Such aspects again we find especially in the Plan for the regeneration of Africa (W 2741 - 2791).
The first of these aspects is certainly the conviction that Comboni has concerning mission, understood as a common commitment of men and women for the proclamation of the Gospel. He asks as co-workers, male and female, persons "dressed with the Spirit of Jesus Christ and animated by his charity for the Work" (W 2374). In fact, he leaves as his inheritance strong evangelical exhortations for "those auxiliary tools" of both sexes "that God has given and will give him" (cfr. W 6987).
Men and women who, like him, are capable to let themselves grow in human relationships that are truly healthy; who know how to express, in an unadulterated manner and as a "cenacle", the apostolic ingeniousness of men and women who are friends of the Bridegroom and who give a joyful witness to Him. Men and women consecrated to Christ in reciprocal transcendence to express, honestly and irreproachably, the paternity and maternity necessary to the re-generation of Nigrizia. To this purpose, "a high degree of well-proven chastity" (cfr. W 2229) is a constitutive and integral element of the vast number of apostolic virtues that are essential to the following of the only Son, the visible image of the Father.
The Plan of Comboni shows his gift of appreciating the value of the feminine feature by involving women in the re-generation of Africa, in justice to the Creator: joined together as brothers and sisters in mutual and total trust in order to collaborate in the apostolic works assigned to them by their common vocation. This ministry of the woman of the Gospel seemed to go against the official understanding of the ecclesiastical institution, mistrustful and embarrassed by such an intuition, but which was nothing but the ancient evangelical novelty: men and women constituted disciples, together following the itinerant Rabbi of Nazareth.
The exclamation coming from a persuaded and convinced heart: "First still we should have given life to a Congregation of Missionary Sisters" (W 2472), seems to point out that the intuition of the woman of the Gospel, the Pious Mothers of the Nigrizia, is in relationship with the Plan of the Prophet for Africa, like the branch of the almond tree shown by God and seen by the prophet Jeremiah. A precocious vision, an announcement of a new spring. A vision welcomed by the prophet, but uninterruptedly accompanied by God to implement his own plan. The complementary role of the woman, the powerful and indispensable helpmate in the Plan for the Regeneration of Africa is Word that has come out of his mouth and that will be fulfilled (cfr. Jr 1,11-12).
Greatness of vision
The Plan seems, therefore, to point out to his sons and daughters the following aspects:
1. Centrality of Christ and of his Easter mystery, as the root of the work of evangelisation (against any temptation of spiritualist proselytism or of altruism capable to inflame one’s ego only);
2. Absolute trust in the potentialities of the Nigrizia, as protagonist of its own destiny: "to save Africa with Africa" and the priority of the "Christian formation of local leaders of both sexes";
3. Strong feelings for the Church, cherished as "maiden and mother". Looked at, therefore, from God’s perspective: first there is the people and then the particular vocations, men and women complementing each other in the service of the whole of "God's people"; collaboration, therefore, among dioceses, institutes, groups, organizations;
4. Integration of nationalities and cultures since the beginning of his missionary enterprise, based on respect, on spirit of charity and on dialogue where values are concerned;
5. An integrating mission, which embraces the whole reality of the person in the order of creation and of the Covenant, characterised by the inseparable dimensions of direct evangelisation and of human promotion;
6. Prophetic promotion of the dignity of the woman and of her primary role in evangelisation;
Dynamic boost of the laity in all fields, including that of missionary apostolate.
7. This Plan, one and simple, could by analogy be compared to the "small open book, sweet and bitter" of chapter 10 of the Apocalypse. Such it appears to be the "Plan" to the palate and stomach of Comboni. Flashed into his mind in moments of affectionate elation, the Plan is sweet: It is the consolation of welcoming and being able to re-express a Word deeply felt for Nigrizia, the first love of his youth. When coming to its practical implementation, though, the Plan is bitter: As a prophet, Comboni experiences in his stomach the whole bitter labour of the weight of a ministry that makes him an expert in suffering due to sneers, calumnies and failures, in order "to build on a firm and unshakable foundation" (W 2469).
8. The Plan is sweet, because it expresses a plan of salvation for Africa, his beloved one: "regeneration of Africa by Africa". A programme that puts the wings of an eagle onto his Christian hope, confident in the final triumph of the Lord Jesus, "the Lion of Judah shall win", he who is able "to open the book and its seven seals" (W 3461 and Ap. 5,5). But the Plan is bitter, because in its realisation it follows the dynamics of the Parable of the Kingdom. "The mustard seed has been sown; out of necessity it will sprout among tribulations and thorns. It will grow among conflicts and the winds of persecutions" (W 1453).
9. The Plan, looked at from this biblical perspective is indeed like a small open book, sweet and bitter, which finds its higher qualification in the joyful involvement of the Woman of the Gospel who gives birth in the affliction of the childbirth’s pains (cfr. Jn 16,21), namely "among the hardest sufferings" (W 2705 and Rev 12).
Texts for our reflection
Let us now reflect on some of Daniel Comboni’s Writings, which, according to each one’s personal sensitivity, may better arouse in our hearts the desire to share in his missionary zeal and evangelising vocation. We propose just a few:
"Only He, who with his glorious sacrifice on Golgotha wanted slavery to be forever eradicated from the earth, only He who announced true freedom to all, calling all the nations and every single human being to become God’s progeny and to Whom the regenerated person, by means of the true faith, may say Abba Father, only He may free Africa from the stain of slavery…" (W 1820 - To the Society of Cologne - 1868).
"Therefore I implore you, Very Reverend Fathers, that, after having come at this See of Blessed Peter to gather all the peoples of the world in the one sheepfold and in the one Kingdom of Christ, you may have pity especially on the peoples of Central Africa, arousing with your words and with your votes a hope of redemption and life, so that by your interest it can be said indeed that the Nile has finally revealed its sources in order that the bordering populations may be purified through Holy Baptism with its waters" (W 2307 - To the Council Fathers - Rome – 24 June 1870).
"The Missionary of Nigrizia, completely emptied of himself and deprived of every human comfort, works entirely for his God, for the most abandoned souls on earth, for eternity…" (W 2702 - Rules of the Institute - 1871).
"Except that the Catholic, used to judge things in the light that comes from above, looked at Africa not through the miserable prism of human interests, but through the pure ray of his faith; and he saw there a numberless crowd of brothers belonging to his same family, with one Father of all in heaven, oppressed and weeping under the yoke of Satan, standing at the edge of the most horrible abyss. Then, moved by the strength of that charity that was lit by divine flame on the hill of Golgotha and which poured out from the side of Christ to embrace the whole of the human family, felt the throbbing of his heart beat faster; and a divine grace seemed to spurn him on to those miserable lands to hold in his arms and bestow a kiss of peace and love on those unhappy brothers of his, on whom the anathema of Cam seems to be still looming" (W 2742 - Plain for the regeneration of Africa - 1871).
"We follow this irresistible impulse of our heart, that spurns us to the salvation of an abandoned people, of a lacerated and shaken population lost in thousand habits and errors: let us arm ourselves with the shield of faith, the helmet of hope, the protection of charity, the double-edged sword of the divine Word, and let us bravely march to conquer to the Gospel this last nation of the universe" (W 3127 - Cairo – 26 January 1873).
"Come on, let’s go to destroy from the midst of this people the empire of Satan, and to install there the triumphant banner of the cross. In the radiance of this sign those people will see the light. Let’s go to water with our sweat and the waters of eternal life those arid and sweltering regions, and they will generate to the Creator a new people of worshipping believers" (W 3128 - Cairo – 26 January 1873).
"Be assured that in my soul there is a boundless love for all times and for everyone of you. I return among you to be always yours, as I am consecrated for your highest good… I intend to make common cause with each one of you, and the happiest of my days will be when I may give my life for you…" (W 3158 and 3159 - Homily in Khartoum – 11 May 1873).
"After all it is God the inspirer of the different works of the apostolate and, in the ever adorable decrees of His Providence, all these works serve to His glory and are like the many rings that become linked to provide perfection in His plans…" (W 3567 - Khartoum - April 1874).
"The Holy Congregation of Propaganda possesses all the wisdom to direct in the spiritual order four parts and a half of the whole universe… and to be able to distribute to the most important missions of the earth the help necessary to continue the Mission of the Son of God" (W 4383 - Rome – 21 December 1876).
"All the Works of God and especially those of the Catholic apostolate, which have the purpose to destroy the empire of the devil and replace it with the kingdom of Jesus Christ, have above all to be born and to grow at the foot of Calvary and be marked by the Cross…" (W 5448 - Khartoum – 31 December 1878).
"…the apostolic Works, whose aim is to upset the empire of Satan in order to replace it with the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, have to pass through the regal way of the Cross and of martyrdom. Jesus Christ arrived to the triumph of his glorious Resurrection by his Passion and Death" (W 5659 - Khartoum – 20 February 1879).
Questions for our sharing
From the texts of Daniel Comboni you have meditated upon, and according to your own experience of consecrated missionary life:
õ What does it meant to evangelise as a Comboni missionary?
õ In which aspects you feel stronger and in which lacking?
õ Are you able to integrate your service in pastoral work, in missionary animation, in formation or in finances as sectors of the same evangelising project?
õ Do you know of any concrete example of a Comboni Missionary or of a Sister who, by his/her life, reminds you of the values lived by our Founder?
õ If you wish, you may choose and comment on some central figure of our Comboni missionary spirituality who, in your opinion, better describes the constitutive elements of our being an apostolic community that evangelises:
- the Good Shepherd (Jn 10,1-18),
- the Pierced Heart of Christ (Jn 19,31-37),
- the immolated Lamb, standing upright (Rev 5),
- the woman and the dragon (Rev 12),
- the Cross on Mount Golgotha (Jn 19,1-30),
- the Beatitudes (Lk 6,20-26),
- the Transfiguration (Mk 9,2-10; cfr. 2 Pts 1,17-18),
- the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10,29-37),
- the Mission of the Twelve (Mk 6,6-13; Mt 10,1-15)…
õ Or, if you prefer, you may choose and comment on one of the realities taken from the social context of Daniel Comboni and which is still actual in our days:
- the majority groups of people who have not yet received the proclamation of the Gospel,
- the excluded from the world system and the victims of wars that are ignored by the powerful,
- today's slaves,
- the woman's role in the Church and in society,
- the apostles of our time who continue to struggle so that hope may not vanish.
Sr. Fulgida Gasparini, smc
Fr. Rafael González Ponce, mccj