VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 10, 2003 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II on Oct. 5 will preside over the canonization of Daniel Comboni, a missionary famous for his plan for the regeneration of the African continent.
Daniel Comboni was born at Limone sul Garda, Italy, on March 15, 1831, into a family of farmers. He was the fourth of eight children of Luigi and Domenica, but the sole survivor. All the others died young.
The family’s poverty obliged Daniel to go away to school in Verona, to the institute founded by Father Nicola Mazza. There, Daniel discovered his calling to the priesthood, completed his studies, and applied for entrance to the mission in Central Africa, drawn by the descriptions of the missionaries who returned from that continent to the Mazza Institute.
Comboni was ordained in 1854. Three years later, he left for Africa together with five other missionaries of the Mazza Institute.
After a four-month journey the missionary expedition reached the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. Father Comboni quickly became aware of the difficulties of working in Africa, problems that included the climate, disease and widespread poverty.
Yet he was undeterred. From the mission of Holy Cross he wrote his parents: “We will have to work hard, to sweat, to die: but the thought that one sweats and dies for love of Jesus Christ and the salvation of the most abandoned souls in the world, is far too sweet for us to desist from this great enterprise.”
After witnessing the death of one of his missionary companions, far from being discouraged Father Comboni felt the urge to carry on in the mission. “Africa or death!” became a rallying cry for him.
On a return visit to Italy, he worked out a fresh missionary strategy. In 1864, while praying at the tomb of St. Peter in Rome, he was struck by an inspiration that led him to draw up his Plan for the Rebirth of Africa, a missionary project that can be summed up in the expression “Save Africa through Africa.”
His intuition told him that the whole of European society and the Church were called to become more concerned with the mission in Central Africa. He went all over Europe begging for spiritual and material aid for the African missions from kings and queens, bishops and nobles, as well as poor, simple people. As a tool for missionary promotion he launched a missionary magazine, the first in Italy.
In 1867 and 1872, respectively, he founded two missionary institutes, for men and for women: the Comboni Missionaries and the Comboni Missionary Sisters.
He took part in the First Vatican Council as the theologian of the bishop of Verona, and got 70 bishops to sign a petition for the evangelization of Central Africa.
On July 2, 1877, Father Comboni was named vicar apostolic of Central Africa, and ordained bishop a month later, confirming that his ideas and his activities — considered foolish by some — were recognized as truly effective means for the proclamation of the Gospel and the liberation of the continent.
In 1877 and 1878 Bishop Comboni and his missionaries suffered through drought and malnutrition. The local populations were halved, and the missionary personnel and their activities reduced virtually to nothing.
In 1880, the bishop traveled to Africa for the eighth and last time, to stand alongside his missionaries, to continue the struggle against the slave trade, and to consolidate the missionary activity carried out by Africans themselves.
A year later, exhausted, and beset by calumnies and accusations, the great missionary fell sick. “I am dying,” he said, “but my work will not die.” On Oct. 10, 1881, at age 50, he died in Khartoum.
Bishop Comboni was beatified on March 17, 1996. Last Dec. 20 the Holy See published the decree recognizing a miracle obtained for Lubna Abdel Aziz, a Muslim mother of Sudan, through the intercession of the missionary bishop. So the doors opened for his forthcoming canonization.