The guarantee of his life and his message. A short biography.
Jesus' contemporaries asked him where he came from. His origin was the guarantee of his message.
He explains to his disciples that He is the One sent by the Father..., that anyone who sees Him sees the Father. The works and miracles he performs confirm that he comes from the Father. He even goes so far as to say «... the Father and I are one» (Jn 10:30).
We too might wish to ask Daniel Comboni this same question now that the Church is proclaiming him a «saint», so that we might be drawn to and therefore enriched by the source that gives us the guarantee of his life and message.
Where do I come from?
1. From the certainty of my vocation
I come from the certainty of my vocation to be the Apostle of Africa; a vocation I felt as a desire in my childhood and which I cultivated in the Mazza Institute until my final decision to give myself totally to God for the regeneration of Africa. Here 1ies the secret of the tenacity with which I have 1ived my consecration to the cause of Africa and the constancy with which I have remained faithful to this ideal against all difficulties until death.
I come from a vocational response purified and strengthened in the desert melting pot. In fact, there is no response to the vocation without sacrifice. So it happened that I left everything, I let myself be possessed by the Almighty and I gave myse1f totally to Him for the work to which he was calling me. I 1ived my vocation as a pilgrimage, as a passing to another shore, where God made me the «spouse» and liberator of black people.
2. Yes, I come from the desert
This reality is very familiar to me both in its physical-geographical dimension and in its spiritual dimension.
I come, in fact, from endless journeys in the desert, which I had to cross no less than seven times in order to reach the heart of Africa. Those journeys were really difficult. The time for rising from the mats spread on the sand was at two in the morning to the shouts of the camel-drivers and, in five minutes, we had to be mounted on those beasts, which when whipped, set out at a peculiar trot that made the traveller sway from side to side in a nerve-racking and oppressive manner. We stopped in the shade of some boulder only at around eleven o' clock and at 3 p.m. set off again to stop only late in the evening. The desire to eat, with our stomachs shaken to pieces, disappeared entirely. We would have drunk a little cool water, but there was only lukewarm water, foul-smelling and nauseating, because it had been ruined in the goatskin water bags, with the sun that beat down at 55 and 60 degrees.
The vas t surface of the desert from Korosko to Berber has penetrated into my flesh and into my spirit as «one consecrated» to Africa. It is a «vas t» and «horrid-looking» desert, but also wholesome, because in its solitude, in its silence, in its endless space, under a cloudless sky, the soul is lifted up and strengthened. I crossed this desert seeking that other shore where God was sending me, populated by the disfigured faces of my brothers, sustained by God himself, who smiled on me with his fatherly Face and held out his arms to me from Heaven...
I lived the desert of my soul intensely and even dramatically in the various stages of my missionary journey, culminating with death in harness.
In fact the inner desert is the soul alone, empty, arid and impoverished... It is my situation as a man «alone» willing to give a thousand lives for his beloved Africa. It is the experience of a pang of grief caused by the surge of Love that gushed
from the Pierced Heart of Jesus on Golgotha, so that I find I am detached from everything and far from everyone and at the same time crushed like a grain of wheat in order to be with Jesus the bread that gives life to Africa...
3. I come from my inwardness, where dwells a strong sense of God
I did not enter the desert in search of exotic adventures or hidden treasures. Rather I entered it prepared to lo se all human certainties and wishing to let myself be conquered and loved by God alone...
For me, God, God alone, is the only reason for my being a missionary. His presence within me is my Love, my Treasure, my Liberty. My only happiness is to feel continually inhabited by this Loving Presence, which gives heat to my existence, even if it is night. My only happiness is to live for the glory of this God who has become my traveling companion in life's journey, agreeing to make use of me for the happiness of Africans.
Yes, only HE has remained for me, the only certainty and guarantee of my missionary journey. It is from Him that I take my inspiration and strength for the affairs of Mission. From when I was a child I began to seek solely the will of this God who has «consecrated» me to the African missions; I have lived and I live always ready to sacrifice everything just to fulfill his will and with the intent of living and dying carrying out this divine will alone, sustained by the certainty that doing his will is the only consolation in trials.
In my thirst for the Infinite, Mission appears to me in all its clarity as a gift from God. A God whom I have sought and found, who loved me and sought me first and who, while he saves me, chooses me as an instrument for this same salvation for my brothers who are farthest from it. So I have learnt to take my life into my hands with gratitude and filial joy and to offer it as a gift to this God of life for the regeneration of my poorest and most oppressed brothers.
4. I come from the Heart of Christ
Crossing the desert of my soul I found a «well», Yes, because even though there is only sand in the desert, even though you do not see or hear anything, hidden somewhere there is always a well, where you can drink and recover your strength (cf. Gen 21:8-19).
This well is the Pierced Heart of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
Advancing into my desert I quench my thirst by drinking in abundance from this «well».
The water that flows from it is that «divine Virtue» that, penetrating my inner world, impels me to develop it incessantly. It is this that increases my sense of God and strengthens my bond of solidarity with Africa.
It is from this that that exuberant persevering and coherent outer life that calls your attention has its beginning.
5. I come from the desert of the black people of Africa and from solidarity with them
The desert of my soul meets the desert of the black people of Africa. In fact, the fascinating and horrible desert I had to cross to reach the black people of Africa casts its shadow over them like a «mysterious darkness» that envelops them. A darkness that is born from a mixture of disconcerting phenomena and that has gripped Africans in a cycle of «radical poverty» for more than forty centuries, keeping them from the benefits of human progress and the faith. It is poverty in every sense of the word: it touches the natural environment, fascinating and at the same time hostile to life and mission, souls, bodies and the social fabric, causing the dejected disposition of black people, «on whom it seems the terrible curse of Ham still hangs». In a word, it is a poverty that, like the desert, creates a horrible void all around and in the midst or black people and makes them living images or soul, abandoned by God.
However the marvelous desert dawn that flushes the sky, the hills and the plain like a golden fire, the sun that regularly rises majestically and inflames the immense emptiness of the desert, are in my mind signs of the provident presence of God everywhere, also in the kingdom of death. This presence sustains me and impels me to enter this «mysterious darkness» of Africa, to throw in my lot with its sons and daughters in the certainty of their regeneration.
So I can tell you that I come from a life lived in solidarity with the poor and oppressed peoples of Africa: united and in communion with these real brothers of mine. I come from this life of history's forgotten and emarginated people, which society remembers only when they capture the headlines through some new calamity that strikes them or when it finds some new way of exploiting them.
6. I come from communion with the Trinity
Continuing the journey of the desert of my soul, drawn into this «mysterious darkness» that covers Africa and sustained by the water that flows from the Heart of Christ, at a certain moment I found myself on the Lord's Mountain.
I do not know very well whether it was Mount Horeb, or the mount of the Transfiguration or of Calvary. Perhaps all these three mountains for once carne together and gathered me in their embrace, communicating to me something of God's Mystery which each of them had witnessed. The fact occurred on the Vatican hill, while I was praying at the tomb of St Peter, contemplating the Heart of Jesus on the occasion of the beatification of Margaret Mary Alacoque.
It is a moment of prayer, when the individual points of the Plan for the regeneration of Africa come to me from Heaven, marking a definitive turning point and shaping the rest of my missionary life. All the Blessed Trinity is present at this moment. In fact, in my soul an intense light «from on High» illumines the communion I have lived with the Trinity until this moment. I begin to experience communion with the Trinity in a new way, since I perceive it as a pilgrim in mankind's journey... This perception that fills my spirit is the hidden vein that justifies and shapes my «passion» for Africa, so that I can tell you truthfully that I come from the heart of the Trinity.
I come from involvement in the dynamism of the Holy Spirit; «divine Virtue», which reveals to me in the Pierced Heart of Jesus on the Cross the sign and perennial instrument of the saving love that gushes eternally from the heart of the Father, and the way of solidarity with the life of all men and women. Thus I am introduced into the endless dialogue and communion between the Father, who so loved the world that he decided to send his Son, and the Son who responds with his obedient redeeming submission unto death on the Cross and merits for me the gift of this same «divine Virtue» as the flame of Love that gushes from his Pierced Heart.
On being involved in the Trinity's saving action through this flame of Love, I am removed from the «mysterious darkness» that covers Africa and from the fear of the past in which «all sorts of risks and insurmountable obstacles sapped energies and caused terror» among the missionary ranks. The black people of Africa are now transfigured before my eyes: I begin to see them «as an infinite multitude of brothers and sisters who have a common Father in heaven». I feel the embrace of God the Father marked by the suffering of his African children, and in the needy African I discover a brother, who still does not enjoy the Father's blessing that flows from the Cross... so he needs to be led towards Him.
7. I come from the Church, «my spouse and mother»
As a Christian, as a missionary and finally as a Bishop I am a son of the Church, I am a «man of the Church». From her I have received everything: in her I have met the Lord Jesus, who «loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her» (Eph 5:26); in her and through her I have received and I live my vocation to the missionary apostolate in Africa, so that I am proud to be an Apostolic Missionary.
In the school of Fr. Nicola Mazza I discovered her fundamental dimensions: holiness, the search for truth and missionary outreach. Thus I became convinced that only someone who stakes his life on two options fully belongs to the Church: to strive for holiness and to serve through the vocational choice. It did not escape my attention that not everyone in the Church enters deeply into her Mystery and therefore not everyone measures up to her lofty ideals. This helped to make me increasingly aware that I belong to the Church and to understand that I must love her as she is and live in her spiritually at the foot of the Cross, which is the «seal of God's works» (S 994).
This attitude gave me the strength to be faithful to the Church. I live my Church membership as a great gift from God, which cannot be compared to any other interest. Without her I am not myself. She is «my spouse and mother» (S 700l). I feel loved and welcomed by her. For her I feel respect, love and loyalty in seeking the truth; in communion and participation with her I wish to fulfill God's Plan. I am firmly convinced that I myself, the mission and my plans are guaranteed only in and by the Church. Therefore I have submitted my will, my life and my whole self to her authority, and in her I see the providential hand of God that leads me along the path of my missionary apostolate. I love the Church with my whole self, not out of human self-interest but because of the express will of Jesus Christ, who entrusted her with the Gospel which she has sent me to proclaim.
8. I come from the encounter with the Virgin Mary
I come from the encounter with Mary and accompanied by Mary, the mother of the Lord, the «maternal face of God», ineffable presence of a love that is given constantly. She has a privileged place in my life, because she is the Mother of the apostles, the Missionary's precious comfort whom she watches over to defend him from danger, the Morning Star of the missionary who strikes out into the heart of Africa, a Teacher in doubts, Health and strength in sickness, Guide in journeys, Light of wanderers, Harbour for those in danger, Mother of Consolation.
She is the compassionate Queen and loving Mother of Black People, the mother of Africans, of those crucified yesterday and today on the world's Golgotha, where she receives them as children standing beside her Crucified Son. With her powerful intercession she will free them from misfortune and immerse them in the joys of faith, hope and charity (cf. S 1644).
I behold her as the Immaculate, the «woman without sin», the «all holy», the «all pure», «marvel of divine grace» and «miracle of God's omnipotence», «sanctuary of the Trinity» and ideal image of man and woman, the sign of real life, the «promised land» to Black People. Living in your company, Mary - beloved Daughter of the Eternal Father, abode of the Eternal Son, ineffable dwelling place of the Eternal Divine Spirit (S 4003) - explains to me what the Temple of God the inner cell where one continually experiences communion with the divine Persons of the Trinity, the house where dialogue with God and prayer for the coming of his Kingdom is ceaseless.
Mary's company again reveals to me the dignity and ability of woman and her indispensable role in my difficult mission. I attribute to Mary's presence in my life the fact that I am the first to bring to the apostolate of Central Africa the contribution of «the almighty ministry of the Gospel woman, and of the Sister of Charity, who is the shield, the strength, and the guarantee of the Missionary’s ministry» (S 5284).
The meeting with Mary reminds me how the beginning of my Christian life is linked to the actions an the piety of a simple woman, when «as a child learnt to make the sign of the cross at my mother knees» (cf. S 342). From this experience that bind me to Mary through my mother, comes my conviction of the necessity of the formation of the African woman, because to a large extent the regeneration of the great African family depends on her.
These are the vital centers from which I come: come from God and from everything that I haw received as a gift from Him for my human fullness and the realization of the mission to which he calls me. When I speak and write I always and abundantly refer to Him and I have numerous great works needed for the realization of the Mission of Central Africa, where many of his children and my brothers live still deprived of their dignity and forgotten. However the deepest desire I have in my heart and which I wish to transmit also to you, is that my life in its totality should be a word that speaks of God, a word that come from my tête-à-tête with Him
Fr. Carmelo Casile, mccj