COMBONI MISSIONARIES CELEBRATING 150TH ANNIVERSARY: IN FIDELITY TO GOD WHO CALLS US TO SHARE HIS PASSION FOR THE POOR
“The missionary who lacks a strong awareness of God and a lively interest in his glory and the good of souls is without the right attitude for his ministry, and will end by finding himself in a kind of emptiness and intolerable isolation”. – St. Daniel Comboni
Thirty years have gone by since I first encountered Fr. Sina Ottorino Philip, a Comboni Missionary. One of the points he constantly repeated to me during the vocational discernment we did together was the importance to grow more and more in the awareness of God… the source of our vocation. Later on I witnessed him spending hours and hours in prayer in the parish church of St. Kizito, in Juba, where I was going with him for pastoral work. As I grew in my missionary and religious life I came to understand more and more why he was insisting that I should grow in the awareness of God.
Fr Louis Okot, mccj
Juba, S. Sudan
God! Daniel Comboni received much of this God since his childhood (from his parents) and from his early education in the Mazza’s Institute in Verona, Italy. The experience of this God who called, transformed and empowered him to withstand the storm of hardships from the days of his childhood up to the day of his death.
Few of these hardships could be quickly mentioned as follows: the separation from his parents, the separation from Mazza’s Institute (when Fr. Tomba, the successor of Mazza withdrew from the mission of Africa, in 1866), the death of Fr. Oliboni and later, when he Comboni became bishop, the death of eight missionaries in less than six months, and the redefining of the boundaries of the Vicariate (part of his vicariate was given to the Society of the Missionary of Africa – ‘White Fathers’).
Not only these but also his followers experienced many hardships when a number of them, together with the some Sisters, were taken prisoners by Mahdi. Sometime later the Institute he founded was divided into two (1922): the Sons of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Italian branch) and the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (Austrian and German members).
These hardships have always accompanied the Comboni missionaries… I risk saying that hardships will always be our companions. Why? Because the context in which we live in South Sudan is yet another living witness. We witness our confreres being displaced together with the people they serve in different missions (Lomin and Leer). Meanwhile others are living in constant insecurity and uncertainty.
The daily strive of the people we witness in our missions and in the entire country for liberation represent the affirmation of their rights for life since the oppression, violence, insecurity, poverty they suffer also means death: premature and unjust death. Faced with lot of pressures, looting, raping, killing, threats, insecurity, ethnic conflicts and targeting of particular groups and abandonment, our answer (manifested in our total consecration for the mission) is life. This is a new and compelling utopia of life, where nobody can decide for others even the form of dying; where indeed love will be certain and joy can be possible.
In our fidelity to the mission we share with God, the God of the poor and most abandoned. How can we not think of anonymous farmers, women of our missions/country, civil servants and youth who give their lives for love of their people who suffer? We honour them and raise them high.
Finally, with gratitude, on the 1st of June we have celebrated 150 years of existence as Comboni Institute. This is the celebration of our fidelity to the God (despite our limitations) who called us to share his passion for the poor, oppressed, exploited, disadvantaged, abandoned and humiliated people. St. Daniel Comboni consumed his life, as a prophet of Africa, to liberate the Africans through the preaching of the Gospel. Though the Institute was, and still is, stormed by hardship it will never succumbed to the strong waves of our times. The celebration of these 150 years will reset us on the rail to continue the life of solidarity with the poor and most abandoned in our missions.
However, we need to re-discover the source of our existence and of our vocation by resetting vital relationship with God – in prayer, his Word and serving others. Our life and our vocation have to be centred in the Master – fixing our eyes on him who called us: Jesus Christ. This demands great dose of humility. A humility which will lead us to renew the passion and enthusiasm for the mission and, to live as ‘Cenacle of Apostles’ (caring for each other, planning together, evaluating together and sharing with each other).
Fr. Louis Okot Tony, mccj
Provincial Superior of the Comboni Missionaries in South Sudan