TOUCHED BY THE TESTIMONY OF ST. DANIEL COMBONI AND HIS MISSIONARIES: LIVES LIVED AT THE SERVICE OF CHRIST AMONG THE POOREST
By Komakech James Kenyi – Saint Daniel Comboni is to me such an extraordinary missionary with an inspiring vision and holistic missionary approach. He heroically managed to fulfil his dream to serve the people of the Vicariate of Central Africa and those who inherited his Charism carry on his mission.
At the very beginning of his missionary endeavour Comboni used camels and boats, with his six companions from Italy, to reach the Holy Cross mission on the west bank of the Nile River on 14 February 1858 after three months and three weeks travelling. Among his missionaries was Fr. Francesco Oliboni, Combonis’ best friend, who died six weeks after their arrival due to the intolerable conditions.
Komakech James and Fr. F. Chemello in Leer mission, S. Sudan
Without fear Comboni made several trips to Europe and back to Africa in caravans, presented his Plans for the Regeneration of Africa in 1865, his Postulatum Pro Nigris Africae Centralis on 24 June 1870, and founded two institutes for the missions: the Comboni missionaries (MCCJ), an Institute of Priests and Brothers, on 01 June 1867, and a female institute, the Comboni Missionary Sisters (CMS) on 01 January 1872. Both have yielded much fruits after Comboni’s death.
The missionary groups of the past century included Gayer and two other priests and one brother who managed to reach Uganda in 1910, the nowadays Pakwach in west Nile, among the Madi and Alur peoples. Fr. John Fornasa, also his missionary, entered the Acholi land in 1911, as well as the Comboni Sisters in 1918 in Uganda.
They worked hard to build the local Christian community, churches, hospitals, schools, pastoral centres and programmes, magazines for missionary animation and invested in the formation of the local clergy, etc. All this has been done in difficult and poor locations for the benefit of the most needy and has had positive impacts on the population of northern Uganda.
Pre-postulancy in Kajo-Keji, S. Sudan, 2013
I here recall two catechists, martyrs of Paimol, Dauidi Okelo and Jildo Irwa. These two brothers have really accepted to follow Jesus Christ, like Comboni did, and were ready to die for Christ. This eventually happened when they went from Kitgum mission to Paimol. Their sacrifice contributed a lot to the continuity of faith in northern Uganda. The Christian community grew like the mustard seeds mentioned by Jesus in the Gospel’s parable (Mt 13:31).
Comboni and his missionaries faced several challenges, such as wars, language barriers, Shari ‘a law, unsympathetic climate, Madhya revolution, just to mention some. Some of these challenges are still there, but from the very beginning up to now the missionaries did not give up in serving the needy in all hard and unbearable conditions.
I was born on 02 February 1991 in northern Uganda into a family of refugees during the 21 years of civil war for the liberation of southern Sudan. The refugee camps were far from the rich land where these missionaries were evangelizing, which is now the new country of South Sudan. The missionaries constantly visited the Christian communities in the different refugee camps. Among them was Fr. Mario Busellato, my parish priest, who had served in my parish from 1986-2000 during the civil war, both inside South Sudan and in northern Uganda.
Postulancy in Nairobi, Kenya
The communities regarded Comboni as our prophet of Africa. This was clear in the church, schools and villages where songs were used for praising his determination in the hard situations of Central Africa. This became clearer to me when I grew up. I was able to see, read, digest and better understand the meaning of the songs we have been sing about Comboni.
The Acholi community sings: “Daniele Komboni in wonwa I yee, konywa ki legani bot Rwot Yesu” (Daniel Comboni you are our Father in faith, intercede for us, bring our prayers to our King Jesus). The Bari community sings: “Komboni do a laprofeta lo Afrika lo to’diri” (Comboni you are a true prophet of Africa).
After finishing my Ordinary level in Moyo Senior 2009 and Advance level in Bishop Angelo Negri College 2011, next to Gulu Catholic Cathedral built in memory of Bishop Angelo, a Comboni, I got informed about the work of these missionaries. When I came back to South Sudan (Kajo-Keji) I met the Comboni missionaries. They were happy to offer me some guidance and helped me to know them more and more through group meetings and personal encounters, reading articles, histories of their struggles and what they do all over the world as missionaries working as witnesses of Christ among the poorest and needy places.
This made me to express my willingness to join them (aspirancy stage of formation) in March 2013. I was included in the formative group of young people in South Sudan with the Comboni missionaries for a pilgrimage to Holy Cross mission where Comboni first arrived to on 14 February 1858. The theme was “On the footsteps of St. Daniel Comboni… a thousand lives for the mission”.
Komakech James, a Comboni student
On 15 April 2013 I joined the Comboni missionaries’ formative process in South Sudan through my parish (Sacred Heart of Jesus in Lomin) as a Pre-Postulant. The formation house was Kajo-Keji. I had the opportunity to two months of pastoral service in Leer St. Joseph the Worker Parish. Due to the armed conflicts that started in Juba on 15 December 2013 and spread also to Leer, I was not able to finish the required four months and had to return to Kajo-Keji.
In the period of 2014-2017, I did my Postulancy in Kenya. This included a three months missionary experience in west Pokot Amakuriate (Mary Mother of Peace Parish). During these years I studied Philosophy and had the chance to meet several old and young Comboni missionaries, Priests, Brothers and Sisters, in different occasions and missions.
During these two formative periods, Pre-Postulancy and Postulancy, I have learned a lot more about the Comboni missionaries and about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in the missionary and Consecrated Life according to the Charism of St. Daniel Comboni.
What will be next? I have asked to join the next step of formation, the Novitiate of the Comboni missionaries. Why? Because I feel that there is a force driving me through, after being touched by the uniqueness and testimonies of St. Daniel Comboni and his missionaries in serving humanity in many difficult parts of the world. I feel myself identified with the Comboni mission and Consecrated Life and want to be a missionary too to announce the Gospel of Christ. The works I have seen the missionaries doing helped me to continue discerning about my missionary vocation.
I have just returned home from my school training in Nairobi and was sad to find not one single Christian in my home parish, indeed nobody, including the Comboni missionaries, not even my own family. Why? Because they were all forced to the leave the place and become refugees in Uganda. All facilities that the missionaries and local authorities had established in the town of Kajo-Keji – dispensaries, schools, workshops, churches – are closed and some have been looted.
Comboni missionaries visit Komakech James’ family
One thing that impressed and touched me a lot in all this was the fact that the Comboni missionaries – Fr. Jesus Aranda, Fr. Martin Isaac, Br. Erich Fischnaller and Br. Fafa Peter – and the Comboni Sisters – Dorinda, Lorena and Maria de Carmo – followed Kajo-Keji people to share in their sufferings and hopes.
This reminds me of Daniel Combonis’ homily on his return to Khartoum from Rome as newly ordained Bishop of the whole Vicariate of Central Africa: “I have come before you as a father, teacher, doctor, councillor and brother never to return back… I will be with you always come night or day, joy or sorrows rain or sun…’’.
I can honestly say that when I came to look for my family in the refugee camps of Uganda’s Moyo west Nile, what I have seen made me to renew my faith in God and in Comboni. I saw the missionaries, male and female, living and working with the refugees in difficult situations where there lack of clean water, food scarcity, poor school and insufficient health care. They were there giving their support to thousands of South Sudanese refugees, especially through spiritual nourishment.
Komakech James with west Pokot Amakuriate children, Kenya
My mind was opened up after this experience and I just pulled up the leaves and started collaborating with them during my two months holiday period in the refugee camps in northern Uganda.
“All unique things can be done if, and only if, one is well informed of the task he or she is choosing to do in the future, which can make him or her not to regret later on”, said Fr. Peter Magalasi, an 88 years-old South Sudanese Comboni missionary, when I visited him in Gulu Hospital Mission Lacor during the political crisis in South Sudan. It is that sort of ‘treasure hidden in the field’, the fulfilment of my missionary vocation that I am joyfully pursuing.
Komakech James Kenyi
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