During his weekly General Audience, Pope Francis continues his catechesis series dedicated to apostolic zeal and applauds St. Daniel Comboni’s great zeal and love for Africa, saying he was fuelled by the joy of the Gospel.
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 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.”
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.”
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.” 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 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. 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 the 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 treasure 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 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!”
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 the faithful to remember the poor. “Do not forget the poor,” he concluded, “because they will open the door of Heaven for us.”
Saint Daniel Comboni is the founder of Comboni Missionaries (Verona Fathers). Today the Comboni Family is made up of 3,000 missionaries. It includes the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus, founded in 1867; 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.
St. Comboni, was beatified in Saint Peter’s Basilica in 1996 and canonized in 2003. (Deborah Castellano Lubov/VN)