Saturday, August 19, 2017
“In this article – prepared by Fr. Giovanni Taneburgo for on-going formation in the Comboni Delegation of Philippines – I mean to present Comboni as a person of meaningful human relationships and of deep friendship in the spirit of Christ whose Heart is the sanctuary of Love and of Friendship. Our Founder was really taken up by the love of God and, considering so many pages of his writings, we can see clearly that for him a privileged way of living the love of God was friendship. I believe that he could be inviting us, his followers, to pray asking God to enable us to create links of  true friendship and to give us, as a great gift, a good number of friends. I am convinced that we need friends in order to live as ‘Comboni missionary disciples called to live the joy of the Gospel in the word of today’. (Theme of the 18th General Chapter. We need friends as a source of strength in our journey of life.”



Fr. Giovanni Taneburgo,
working in the
Comboni Delegation
of Philippines.



In the first article I wrote to celebrate Saint Daniel Comboni on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Foundation of our Institute, I described him as a true Eucharistic person. A person who lived in depth the aspect of sacrifice that the Eucharistic Celebration presents, as “martyrdom of the heart” while offering his existence to the Father, in communion with Christ, for his glory and for the salvation of the world; a person who lived also the aspect of banquet because, nourished by the Eucharistic Jesus, he was able to be like living bread offered to God and blessed by Him, broken and given by Him to nourish all those people he encountered during his missionary pilgrimage.

In this second article I mean to present Comboni as a person of meaningful human relationships and of deep friendship in the spirit of Christ whose Heart is the sanctuary of Love and of Friendship.

Our Founder was really taken up by the love of God and, considering so many pages of his writings, we can see clearly that for him a privileged way of living the love of God was friendship. I believe that he could be inviting us, his followers, to pray asking God to enable us to create links of  true friendship and to give us, as a great gift, a good number of friends. I am convinced that we need friends in order to live as ‘Comboni missionary disciples called to live the joy of the Gospel in the word of today’. (Theme of the 18th General Chapter. We need friends as a source of strength in our journey of life.

Let us remember that the Word of God presents friendship as a divine gift, as a charism. God, we are told, rewards the just giving him a friend: “A faithful friend is a sure shelter, whoever finds one has found a rare treasure. A faithful friend is something beyond price, there is no measuring his worth. A faithful friend is the elisir of life, and those who fear the Lord will find one” (Si 6:14-16).

Life is possible and can only be celebrated within the context of relationships. Relationship with God, relationships with ourselves, with others and with creation. In isolation we can survive for a while, but then eventually, in our inner selves, we die. In fact, as it has been said so many times, no man is an island. Friendship is part and parcel of life. What the above statements express, is not a matter of opinion. They express a principle of great significance in our journey of life.

Friendship is a precious treasure within human relationships

This is what we see in the life of Jesus: openness to all in love, and friendship with his disciples and many other people. Let us call to mind the friendship lived by Jesus, because friendship in Comboni resembles the friendship that Jesus lived, treasured and enjoyed.

Jesus said to his disciples: “As the Father has  loved me so I have loved you. Remain in my love. If you obey  my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I obeyed my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy be complete. This is my commandment: love  one another as I have loved you. A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do what I command you. I shall not call you servants anymore, because a servant does not know his master’s business; I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything I learned from my Father” (Jn 15.9-15).

As I said above, Jesus befriended not only his close disciples, but many other people. We may think about his friendship with Lazarus, Martha and Mary; a friendship so deep and so touching in meaning and in intensity:

There was a man named Lazarus who lived in the village of Bethany with the two sisters, Mary and Martha, and he was ill … Jesus loved  Martha  and her sister and Lazarus … Jesus wept  and the Jews said: ‘See how much he loved him!’ … When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, here! Come out!’ The dead man came out, his feet and hands with bands of stuff and a cloth round his face. Jesus said to them ‘Unbind him and let him free.’ (Jn 11:5-44).

That man who had been in the tomb for four days came back to life thanks to the miracle performed by Jesus in love and friendship.

Friendship in the life of Comboni is very rich and it has various facets. I will deal with those I consider most relevant for us as we are followers of this great missionary and founder who was able to cleave to his friends in the spirit of Christ.

Friendship in Comboni has a divine source:
the Heart of Jesus “center of communication”

This expression appears a few significant times in the writings of Comboni, and it is not the result of abstract speculations, but the spontaneous fruit of the warmth of his sensitive heart. It appears, as a reality of faith, in the context of a profound friendship; a kind of friendship which reveals itself in the communion of the hearts and  in the same sensitivity and interests. Because of this, we understand that friendship in Comboni is not simply human empathy of two or more similar people, but the acceptance of one another thanks to the common in-dwelling in the Heart of Jesus. We could use the expression of Aelredo of Rievaulx who wrote several pages on Spiritual Friendship. “Friendship has its beginning in Christ, grows in Christ and has its apex in Christ”.

The statement of Comboni presenting the Heart of Jesus as the center of communication appears the first time in his letter to Mary Delvin Martiny, a letter written on the 5th of July 1865. After having  expressed dep joy for the goodness of this friend of his, Comboni writes, “I must tell you of the joy I feel at  corresponding by letter with you regarding  the interests of the glory of the Divine Heart who is the center of communication between us and must be burning with love for the salvation of souls”  (Writings 1149).

The encounter in the Heart of Jesus, “center of communication”, not only makes possible deep friendship as commitment of faithfulness to the Lord and to each other, but also as commitment to mission, to apostolate.

It is important to point out that  the  title given by Comboni to the Heart of Jesus is theologically and biblically sound and beautiful. We can find support for it in the gospel of John: “Make your home in me, as I make mine in you” (Jn 15,4).

And we can find support for it also in the Synoptic Gospels, for example, in the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus presents himself as the center  of communication with the Father and as the center of communication among his disciples with whom he identifies himself; he identifies himself with each one of them:

“At that time Jesus exclaimed, ‘I bless you , Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding this things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father for that is what it pleased you to do. Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, just as  no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle  and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.” (Mt 11:25-30).

K. Gibran says: “The one who loves is in the Heart of God”. Considering the passage quoted above (Jn 15,4), we can add that also those who are friends in the spirit of Jesus dwell in his Heart. Moreover as they dwell in the Heart of Jesus, in that Heart they enter into the inner sanctuary of one another.

Friendship in Comboni expresses a heart always welcoming people in an atmosphere of respect and veneration for them

I see this aspect  of  Comboni’s friendship revealed in his relationship with  a young man from Africa, a Sudanese, Backit  Kaenda. Comboni met him in Verona in 1848. This is what he wrote:

“Since 1848 I had known the good young African Backit Kaenda who belongs to the noble family of count Miniscalchi, a native of the tribe of Gebel Nuba, and with whom I had become acquainted in Propaganda. In the long years of true friendship and the close relationship I had with this fervent African Catholic, with the Bishop of Verona I could not but admire in this Nuba a distinct piety, an unshakeable faith and an admirable strength of character, so that without almost realizing I conceived a high esteem for the Nubas, and repeated to the excellent Backit  thousand times that I would not be content until I had planted the Cross of Jesus Christ in his motherland”. (Writings 4098).

We see the welcoming heart of St. Daniel Comboni is his love story with the Nuba people as a whole. Backit Kaenda was one of them.

“When I reached Kordofan and had the opportunity every day to hear about the land of the Nuba …., the desire to take the light of the Gospel there was then rekindled in my heart.This is why I took every care to gather exact information about this neigbouring people. I contacted one of the Diwa’s chiefs of police by the name Maximos who among his wives had a relative of the great chief of the Nuba people, with whom he had formed a close friendship. Providence was not long in providing me with the most propitious opportunity.

One of the Nuba chiefs from Dilling, called Said Aga having come to El Obeid, the police officer, Maximos, introduced him to me in the Mission in the morning of 16th July 1874 dedicated to our Lady of Mount Carmel…

I greeted the Nuba chief with great reverence. I showed him the craftsmen’s workshops, the little school for African boys and girls. In the church, I played the harmonium for him and I showed him the main altar well adorned, and the statue of our Lady, etc… Seeing how happy and pleased Said Aga was, I revealed to him my desire to make acquaintance with the great chief of all the Nuba and I let him understand that I was not far from establishing a Mission among the Nuba people. (Writings 4099-4100).

Frienship in Comboni is full of sacred and joyful affection

In a letter to Count Guy of Carpegna (Verona, February 9, 1962) Comboni wrote:

“My spirits are raised when I look through my album and gaze  fondly at your portraits, the portraits of the dearest friends of my heart. It is an inexpressible joy for me to say a prayer for you in the Memento at morning Mass. It seems to me that in those blessed moments my spirit is aglow with the most fervent devotion, because I see in God the point of union between you and me. Yes, you are far from me physically, but we are one in religion, in faith and in our hearts. (Writing 667).

In another letter to Countess Ludmilla of Carpegna (Verona, 1 June 1862) we read:

“Most noble Countess!… If I were to tell you that an hour passes without my affectionately recalling all the members of your family, I would be telling a lie. Always, sans cesse, I carry them all  in my heart, I remember them  all and occasionally  without realizing it  I speak of them to those around me. I find real comfort and sweet consolation during our separation in remembering you to God in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which I never neglect to do every morning when I go up to the altar. Yes, the God of peace and of mercies will not be slow in imparting to your noble family the healing unction of  joy and concord; he will disperse all the clouds that the enemy of human happiness spreads over the delights of a family which merits the special regard both of God and society.” (Writings 693-694).

Comboni befriended the Cross in a unique way with the deep feelings
of a lover beyond what many people could imagine

Right away, let us listen to Comboni himself,  hoping to sense the great passion with which he speaks of this friend, the Cross:

“I already see and understand that the Cross is such a friend to me that I have for some time chosen it as my eternal and inseparable Bride. So the Cross will be my beloved bride  and my wise and prudent teacher” (Writings 1710).

“You must know that I have chosen the Cross for my dearest Bride to the point that I have decided to live with her always until death, and, were it possible, for eternity”  (Writings 1733).

“With the Cross which is the sublime outpouring of  love  from the heart of Jesus, we become powerful”  (Writings 1735).

At the end of a painful period  in his life, Comboni wrote  his own hymn to the Cross “from which there issues a strength,  which is gentle and does not kill, which comes down on souls and renews them like a refreshing dew”.

The Hymn to the Cross  is found  in the Writings of Comboni (n. 4973-4974-4975).

Comboni wrote  it in the language of his time and of his own inner world.

Hopefully you have the Writing of  this great lover of the Cross among the books you are familiar with. You can open it and read and meditate on the hymn I do not report here.

I feel the need instead of sharing with you part of an article entitled “A God who suffers” by Paul J. Wadel, a Dominican priest. I believe it summarizes for us what Comboni felt and could tell us about the Cross in current language:

“In Jesus crucified we are taken into the depth of God. It is there that we come to understand most deeply the love God has for us and the absolute length to which God goes to give us life, even in our moments of darkness and defeat. What we see in the passion of Jesus is a love that gathers in all the scattered, shattered pieces of our life and heals them with a tenderness that can break our hearts. What we see in the cross is a love that loses nothing that can be saved, whether that be our defeats, our brokenness, or our shame. With God, all these  can be points of life for us and the reason is startling: God can kiss us with a healing because God is wounded by our pain.

A God who was crucified is also a God who heals with an abundance of Easter life. This is why we as Christians are able, like Saint Paul, to look at the cross and see there not shame or ruin or defeat, but the power of  the wisdom of God. Like Paul we are able to look at the cross and see the love of God who absorbs  into himself  all the accumulated evil and hatred and waste and suffering of the ages, and somehow transforms them into life.

In his first letter to the Corinthians , Paul tells us that in the crucified Christ evil is allowed to do its worst to God, and God overcomes it with love. We are not ashamed to pledge our  loyalty to a crucified God because for us the cross is not a place of loss, but of salvation.

God in Jesus suffers. Confronted with the sorrow  and exhaustion  of life, God does not turn away; rather, God opens his heart and the world moves in. God embraces, enters into, and becomes one with our pain. What we see happening time and time again in the Gospels is God in Christ being drawn into somebody’s suffering, and when this happens God does not flee the suffering, but makes the suffering his own.

The passion of Jesus begins not on the cross, but in the world’s passion and suffering. Jesus’ passion  starts when  he looks  upon us and  in our suffering  and is stirred in the very depth of his being. In grasping this truth we come to know that we never suffer alone. Our pain is always the pain of God; our afflictions are God’s too. Our suffering is shared by God because when we suffer God opens his heart to receive it.”

There are other points regarding friendship in Comboni, but those I have presented are the ones which fascinate me most.

As I conclude this presentation, I hope that, as I said earlier, the Lord may give us the grace to create links of friendship and may give us many good friends.
Fr. Giovanni Taneburgo
Comboni Missionary