Comboni Father Mario Mantovani murdered by a young man whom he had baptised.

Saturday, 20 March 2004

Italian missionary Father Mario Mantovani was shot dead with Ugandan Father Godfrey Kiruowa in Uganda on the eve of the Feast of the Assumption as they were passing through Lobel about 40 km from Kanawat mission. The two Comboni fathers were on their way from Kanawat to Kapedo to administer the Sacraments and celebrate the feast of the Assumption when they were attacked by a group of Karimojong gunmen. The car, driven by Father Godfrey, was surrounded by a two bands of warriors Dototh and Jie. The Ugandan priest, it would appear, was shot first with a shot to the head and two more shots. When Father Mario realised that there was nothing he could do to help his confrere he slid out of the car unhurt and hid in the high grass. Probably fearing he would be recognised the murderer followed Father Mario and shot him dead. Then the assassin stole the missionary’s shoes and a few small personal belongings and took them to his hut. It was through those objects that the local authorities identified the killer who was nearly lynched by the people who loved Father Mario. The murderer was a Christian who had worked at the mission as a mechanic, he had been baptised by Father Mario himself.
Father Mario spent 46 years of mission in Uganda, the most difficult of the Comboni missions. He was not afraid of approaching and caring for lepers. He went to their huts, dressed their sores, (without gloves), he took them food and blankets, a little soap, and tobacco and even smoked tobacco with them to break down the barriers and treating them as healthy people.
Another category of people he loved were the elderly. Sometimes then food was very scarce old people who had to rely on other people were abandoned in the desert and left to die, at the mercy of hyenas. Father Mario arranged for the local Christians to let him know when some elderly person was about to be abandoned. He would go a fetch the person take him to the mission and look after him with love. This made a deep impression on the people it was bearing witness to the faith he preached .
“For many years - he wrote - I worked in various missions and never baptised a child or gave them first Holy Communion because the parents knew nothing of the faith and the children from the age of 4 upwards were sent every day to the pastures to look after sheep, goats and cows. Those were the years of sowing in tears. All through those years I tried to open little schools but they remained empty, no children came.
After 10 years, at the suggestion of our catechists, we invited the little shepherds to come to the mission in the evenings to learn catechism and share with us a little supper of maize. After 20 years we had young people of 16 and 17 starting elementary school and after three years of instruction they were baptised and made their first Holy Communion. Now at the age 18-20 they have been confirmed. They seem to be here to stay. Very often when I drive past on my way to visit the mission chapels they run up to say hello. They are all my brothers and sisters who greet me as I pass on the road, in the fields, at the pasture or at the mission. And so in this land where there seemed to be only thorns, sand and stones the Church grows and becomes strong with its faithful, its catechists and its priests”. (Agenzia Fides 20/3/2004 - Righe 42; Parole 654)


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