St. Daniel Comboni was an apostle of Africa and a prophet of mission, whose zeal came from the joy of the Gospel, witnessed the Good Shepherd’s love, and made others’ suffering his own.
Pope Francis offered this reminder as he reflected on the Italian-born saint during his Wednesday General Audience in St. Peter’s Square, as he continued his catechesis series on figures in the Church who embodied apostolic zeal.
St. Comboni, an Italian Bishop who served in the missions in Africa, was beatified in Saint Peter’s Basilica in 1996 and canonized in 2003.
According to its website, the ‘Comboni Family’ is now made up of 3,000 missionaries. It includes the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus, founded in 1867 by St. Comboni; the Comboni Missionary Sisters, which founded in 1872; the Comboni Secular Missionaries, added in the second half of the 20th century, and other lay groups, including the Comboni Lay Missionaries, who draw inspiration from the same charism and are spread in many countries.
Bearing witness to Good Shepherd’s love
In his catechesis, the Pope praised St. Comboni’s zeal for Africa which has left an important legacy, noting, “Saint Daniel testifies to the love of the Good Shepherd who goes in search of the one who is lost and gives his life for the flock.”
The Pope described the St. Daniel Comboni’s zeal as energetic and prophetic, opposed to indifference and exclusion, highlighting that in his letters, the missionary saint “earnestly called out his beloved Church who had forgotten Africa for too long.”
Zeal for Africa
The witness of Saint Daniel Comboni, this apostle filled with zeal for Africa, was so great, that the Pope recalled his writing about the people of the African continent.
“They have taken possession of my heart that lives for them alone,” he said. “I shall die with Africa on my lips” (Writings, 1441). He also had written to them, that “the happiest of my days will be when I may give my life for you.”
“They have taken possession of my heart that lives for them alone… I shall die with Africa on my lips”
This, the Pope said, is the expression of someone who “is in love with God” and “with the brothers and sisters he was serving in mission.”
Horror of slavery
In this context, the Pope recalled that St. Comboni witnessed the “horror” of slavery, and recognized it as an evil.
Slavery, the Pope condemned, “objectifies” the human being, “whose value is reduced to being useful to someone or something.”
St. Comboni, the Pope added, “understood that social slavery is rooted in an even deeper slavery, that of the heart, that of sin, from which the Lord frees us.”
“As Christians, therefore, we are called to fight every form of slavery,” the Pope said, while lamenting that, “unfortunately, however, slavery, like colonialism, is not something from the past.”
The Africa Comboni loved so much
The Pope decried the conflicts across “the Africa that Comboni loved so much,” and denounced all “political exploitation” and “economic colonialism.” The Pope deplored that the world often “closes its eyes, ears and mouth” to this tragedy.
“I therefore renew my appeal: “Stop choking Africa: it is not a mine to be stripped or a terrain to be plundered,” he said.
The Pope went on to recall the challenges that St. Comboni, and other missionaries to Africa faced, and their great faith and perseverance.
“Though others abandoned Africa, Comboni did not do so,” Pope Francis said.
“Though others abandoned Africa, Comboni did not do so.”
Save Africa with Africa
The Pope recalled that after a period of discernment, Saint Daniel felt the Lord was inspiring him along a new path of evangelization, which he summed up in these words: “Save Africa with Africa.”
“This was a powerful insight,” the Holy Father stressed, “that helped renew his missionary outreach: the people who had been evangelized were not only ‘objects’, but ‘subjects’ of mission.”
Since Saint Daniel wanted to make all Christians participants in the evangelizing enterprise, the Pope said he involved in his efforts, the local clergy, and promoted the lay service of catechist. “Catechists,” the Pope added, “are a treaure to the Church.”
He also cultivated the arts and professions, fostering the role of the family and of women in the transformation of culture and society.
“How important it is, even today, to make the faith and human development progress within the context of mission,” the Pope said, “rather than transplant external models or limit them to sterile welfarism!”
The Joy of the Gospel
The Pope went on to say that St. Comboni’s great missionary passion, however, was not primarily the fruit of human efforts, but Christ-driven strength.
“His zeal,” Pope Francis said, “came from the joy of the Gospel, drawn from Christ’s love which then led to Christ’s love!”
“His zeal came from the joy of the Gospel, drawn from Christ’s love which then led to Christ’s love!””
The Holy Father praised St. Daniel Comboni’s missionary ability being inspired by charity and by his having made the sufferings of others his own.
The Pope asked those present to think of those who are “crucified today, with injustice,” and invited us to pray for them. He also urged faithful to remember the poor. “Do not forget the poor,” he said, “because they will open the door of Heaven for us.”