Hand down our memory to ensure a true handing down from generation to generation of the experience of faith.

On the first day of the year, the Superior General, Fr. Teresino Serra, wrote to us an important and meaningful letter.
The title, Together toward the Intercapitular Assembly of 2006, is appropriate since it involves all of us, not only in the preparation but also in the celebration of this Assembly, even if only our representatives will be present in Mexico.
The message, which at the beginning expresses gratitude to God and the optimism of Comboni, realistically lists difficulties and dangers followed by proposals of priorities-challenges-answers.
With regard to its own area of concern, namely the preserving of the memory, also the Historical Archives is part of this “journey”.


For the Christian, in order to reflect upon the importance of memory, a text from Vatican II will suffice:
“Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church. By adhering to it the entire holy people, united to its pastors remains always faithful to the teaching of the Apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and in prayers (see Acts 2, 42). So, in maintaining, practicing and professing the faith that has been handed on, there should be a remarkable harmony between the bishops and the faithful” (Dei Verbum, 10).
Nations and civil societies are none the less eager in invoking their shared memory in order to combat individualism and to reconstruct their own specific identities. Throughout the ages, the most attentive and sensitive souls have anticipated this, like, for example, D. Bonhoeffer in a number of his writings collected in the book Memory and Fidelity. John Paul II also, in later years, gave us, as a friend and not as the Church’s teacher, that splendid autobiography Memory and Identity. Thus, the old saying appears all the more meaningful: we are what we remember.


Having seen the importance of the rediscovery of memory in contemporary culture, we return to Fr. Teresino’s letter. In no. 16 he deals with the theme of the Ratio. The presentation of this theme suggests how much importance the Superior General attaches to the happy outcome of this experience. We can say that the journeying together has, for the most part, already taken place and this is a value and an achievement in itself. We must all ask ourselves on what level we have participated, remembering that the questions in the following extract are directed to us personally.

“We have worked a lot between General Chapters and the renewal has not arrived... Each General Chapter does a clinical analysis: for quite sometime we have noticed that each General Chapter comes up with the “same clinical analyses” and the same diseases. We are tempted to conclude that, either the General Chapters did not do a valid analysis and have not identified the right diseases, or else the remedies that were suggested did not work....” (no. 16).

It is up to the Intercapitular Assembly to provide in-depth answers. From the horizon of the Historical Archives may come a partial contribution which is presented below in four sections. Each section, without going too deep in the analysis, suggests a cause that contributes to frustrate - at least to a degree - the Chapters’ priorities, which are valid and challenging.

1. Limiting ourselves to the letter of the document

Another quotation from the document: “The Ratio Missionis has a purpose: it is not to produce another document, but to reflect, to evaluate and to share experiences. The aim of this journey consists in verifying our mission and the Comboni charism” (no. 16).
This statement might seem to be contradictory, if I consider the amount of documentation which Fr. Fernando Zolli has already handed in to the archives. But there is no contradiction. We are, in fact, warned against the idea of an eventual document, something which is necessary, but to grow in the spirit of communion which this project has begun. To satisfy ourselves with a superficial reading of the documents will not allow us to feel personally involved in what they propose.

2. Shallow knowledge of the MCCJ’s history and tradition

Among the authoritative voices which have understood the danger of shallowness, let us remember what our former Superior General, Fr. Manuel Augusto Lopes Ferreira, wrote in his letter of preparation for the XVI Chapter:

“Our discernment must also delve into our past history, to discover what are the specific aspects and characteristics of our charism, found particularly in the life of our confreres who have lived the Comboni vocation in an outstanding way, starting from our father and founder, Blessed Daniel Comboni and, after his death, in the more important happenings of our history.
Our discernment should lead us to re-discover the ‘portrait’ of the Comboni Missionary of all time, the identity of our mission of yesterday, today and tomorrow. This is a portrait, an identikit drawn from everyday life, from within, offering the values, the attitudes of heart and mind which characterise our Comboni missionary vocation and the missionary service which we are giving to the Church” (MCCJ Bulletin, 210, pp. 3-4).

It is all too true; shallow and abstract knowledge can never be fraternal and cannot help to preserve our identity.

3. Partial implementation of the “MCCJ Cultural Assets By-law”

This by-law, which came into force on 19 March 1999, is seen perhaps as an ‘optional extra’, but the understanding that cultural assets would always have an “intrinsic evangelization importance” in the history of the Church was underlined on more than one occasion by Pope John Paul II.
For this reason, the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Patrimony of the Church has sent directives to all dioceses and Institutes on the pastoral function of cultural assets.
The 1997 General Chapter (CA ’97, 173) took these up and entrusted them to the General Council. From the beginning of our missionary history, many confreres understood the importance of this aspect and enriched the Institute and the Church with valuable works.

The by-law, therefore, is simply a guide to properly choose documents and objects of authentic historical value. If it were implemented as it ought on the three levels: general, provincial and local, historical riches proper to our charism would be seen everywhere. People who come into contact with our communities show their esteem and appreciation when, visiting our houses, see historical evidence of our encounter with peoples and cultures in our proclamation of the Gospel.

4. The history of the provinces/delegations

The need for their own written history on the part of the provinces and delegations was perceived towards the end of the nineteen eighties and it was proposed to the Institute in a letter written in 1994 in Studium Combonianum on behalf of the General Council.

It is easy to understand the complex historical reasons which made it difficult to put this proposal into practice. Some provinces and delegations that have written their histories are better able to present to young candidates the new land in which they are called to live. It is to be hoped that the exchange of such respective histories - once the barriers of language have been overcome - will enrich the other provinces and delegations of the Institute. Only in this way can we become aware both of the unity and of the variety of expression of our charism.


A - Which memory?

Like everyone else, we, too, ought to feel bound to remember, fighting the temptation of oblivion. Our existence is woven from what is remembered and what is forgotten. Following a master like Paul Ricoeur, we may deepen our understanding of the complex theme of preserving our memory.
Living in time brings with it the difficulty of establishing a notion of personal identity, given once and for all. It is also an illusion to think that our memories remain unchanged in time and, if forgotten, that it is possible to recover the original impression and correct any distortions suffered.
How can we avoid falsifying memories? Is there an authentic fidelity to the past? History and memory are condemned to fluctuate between trust and suspicion. The only antidote is the ethical dimension by which all pledge to be faithful to the truth. In this way the possibility of true remembrance and true forgetfulness may spring from a new relationship between the past, the present and the future. Then, to balance the accounts with the past, it is necessary to be open, if possible, to the experience of forgiveness.

This briefest of introductions to the notion of memory becomes more relevant and understandable if we consider our Founder as a true model of happy memory and happy forgetting, in the sense of forgiving. During the last months of his life, Comboni often repeats in his letters expressions of gratitude to God for his vocation, his mission and his missionary men and women (the happy memory); in the same period there is an increase in misunderstandings and accusations. These he is able to forgive (the happily forgiving and forgetting) and so he is able to exclaim as he is dying: “My work will not die”.

B - The contents of our history

The contents of our history have been substantially described in the sub numbers of the first number of the Rule of Life, especially regarding the life of the Founder and his writings of which three are called “fundamental texts”. In 1.4, we find the spiritual patrimony of the Institute, which includes: the sound traditions, the history of our work of evangelization and the memory of the confreres “whose lives provide the best examples of the original charism”.

Too numerous to thank individually are the confreres who have enriched us both by preserving the sources and for the research and historical studies with which they interpreted them. Certainly we can only blame ourselves - I say this with myself in mind - for not having sufficiently read, studied or meditated these texts. In fact, just reading the Scritti or having an incomplete knowledge of the history we have lived, cannot insert us fully in our history.
If the lives of many role models of religious-apostolic life, the meaning of the traditions, the times and the methodology of our work of evangelization cannot inspire us because we do not know them, we shall feel alone.
Knowing our history does not mean bewailing the past and the cultural forms in which it expressed itself, but discovering the virtues and motivations, the heroism and the mistakes (which we will forgive). It is this that teaches us. No one is born without luggage; we all came into a history which was begun by a saint and continued by people who inherited his spirit.


Still in view of the immediate future which awaits us and according to the final appeal of Fr. Teresino’s letter, it is necessary not only to plan for the present, but also to feel obliged to leave a message and to hand down our memory. This expression, hand down our memory, has recently been adopted as the most meaningful, at Church level, to ensure a true handing down from generation to generation of the experience of faith.
As has been said of the historical sources, it is also true that many confreres have left us enriching testimonies, including individual life experiences. Others, instead, have almost disappeared without a trace while the unedited writings of some others remain. These biographies, due especially to the heroic labours of Fr. Lorenzo Gaiga, say a lot in this regard.
To sum up, I present the example of just one confrere and how we ought to hand down our historical memory.

P. Giuseppe Zambonardi (Brescia 14.2.1884 - Arco 5.06.1970)
His life covers much of our history and for many years enriched the communities of Uganda, Sudan, Egypt, Eritrea and Mozambique.
He was always attentive to historical events which he committed to paper, even when burdened with commitments. Beginning in 1960, he wrote his memoirs, filling 14 volumes totalling 3000 pages not only with news but also with photographs, cuttings and originals of letters he received. When he finished his task, he wrote: “Carraia, Lucca, 5 April 1965. Today I am closing this suitcase containing 14 volumes of Memoirs to be preserved in the archives of the Curia of the Congregation for any future use. Good luck to my manuscripts. For God I wrote them. May God take care of them. (Signed: Fr. Giuseppe Zambonardi).”
They have been preserved, but until now have been used only for some BA theses. It is to be hoped that they become a point of reference for us in the future.
When he retired to Arco in his final years, he again wrote some notes. He was a peaceful person, full of hope, open to the youth and to the future. Here are some extracts from his unedited work Africa: impressions and memories.

“After 48 years of mission, I can safely say that the life of the missionary is beautiful and very fulfilling, which more than compensates for the discomfort and difficulties which such a life brings with it...
Spiritually speaking, the missionary feels at home. Having longed for many years to consecrate himself to God for the salvation of souls, when he finds himself in his field of work, he desires nothing more than to make known to the people the reason why he is in their midst.
In recent years, the Congregation has done nothing but grow, expand and bear fruit. At the desire of the Holy See, it extended its activities to Mexico, California, Ecuador and Brazil… I may add that Portugal and Spain bring to the Congregation members who are rich in goodness and zeal.
Whether the missionaries will do better in future in the countries they are evangelizing is not for us to foretell or to decide…
If the Congregation keeps its fervour and observes the directives given to it by its Founder and the Church, then it will not fail in its spirit to sanctify its members and in the zeal to spread the light of the faith among the peoples. If the Lord has blessed the Congregation and what it is doing, one may argue that He wishes to protect it and enhance it for the future”.


On 19 January 1882 a solemn Requiem Mass was celebrated in the cathedral of Verona for “the blessed soul of Mgr. Daniel Comboni”. Don Giuseppe Sembianti had the eulogy and posters in honour of the deceased printed and placed around the catafalque.

Let us examine one of these given here below:



Here the reputation for holiness of Mgr. Daniel Comboni is understood as the exclusive choice he had made for the glory of God and the good of souls. He was immersed heart and soul in this reality: to the highest degree and exclusively.

The adverb studiosamente (a reductive translation of the Latin word sedulo) means: with zeal, attention, seriously, with perseverance. Thus Comboni manifested his sanctity and prophecy. He did not identify with the explorer or the politician, the writer or the anthropologist.

This is an invitation to us who live in the culture of the image, immersed in a continual flow of information, to discover new ascetics: to be faithful to our vocation, after the example of St. Daniel Comboni, we must to a certain extent go outside our own culture in order to be sufficiently free to establish ourselves “in the love of God and the good of souls”.

Rome, 15 June 2006

Fr. Pietro Ravasio, mccj
General Archivist
Fr. Pietro Ravasio, mccj