AFRICA/UGANDA - "It is not the poor who need us, but we who need the poor"

Saturday, 14 October 2023


Arua (Fides News Agency) - On Oct. 10, 2023 in Arua located in northern Uganda, about 25 members living the spirituality of St. Daniel Comboni gathered to thank God for giving the Church and the world the great missionary bishop.
St. Comboni, born in Limone sul Garda on March 15, 1831, died in Khartoum on Oct. 10, 1881. "The service was celebrated by Father Tonino Pasolini, a Comboni missionary who has been living and working in Uganda since 1966, founder and long-time director of Radio Pacis, a radio station heard in almost all of Uganda" , reports the Italian Comboni Missionary Sister Laura Gemignani, who herself has been living in Africa for about 40 years, between Ethiopia, South Sudan and currently in Uganda. "We met in Arua for the celebration of the Mass commemorating the anniversary of the death of St. Daniele Comboni on October 10. Before the Eucharistic celebration, Father Tonino read the words of Pope Francis from the Catechesis of 20 September 2023 (cf. Fides 20/9/2023), which speaks of passion and apostolic zeal for evangelization, two attitudes that are still indispensable today for those who carry out apostolic work in Africa. Daniele Comboni was an apostle and a prophet of Africa with a mission in his heart: passionate love for Africa as a true relationship between you and your beloved," said the religious sister. The passion of my life was the unhappy Nigrizia, to whom I have consecrated my whole life, and the happiest day of my days will be when I will be given the grace to give my life for her,' repeats Sister Laura quoting Comboni.
'What does a man who is in love with a woman do? He is willing, not superficially, to give his life for the Love he has for her. And I also think of the love of so many mothers who arrive from Africa on a barge! I saw a movie that froze me: a pregnant woman who gave birth alone in a container and was drowning. She gave birth to a baby, made it survive by pulling herself out of this container on a kind of raft. At one point she fainted but she tied her hand and said to her creature, 'I gave you everything I had.' "The Comboni Missionary Sisters have a passionate heart, just as Comboni had for Africa," Sister Laura continued, "That's the first thing the novices, postulants and nuns want to embrace. You can go and do what you want, you can be a teacher and work. You can work to eliminate the slavery of illiteracy. You can become a nurse and eliminate the slavery of disease. But in both cases, you can do very little unless you have a warm heart of love. And when we feel a little desolate and discouraged and see before us no mountain to climb but a steep rock, the Lord says to us, 'I will always be with you.' And he has left us the Gospel as a compass".

One can wish and say to 'Save Africa,'" Sister Laura continued, "if we have discovered together the nugget of the Gospel, the stone for which it is worth the expense of selling everything else. So let's dig this field together, let's search together for this stone that is the one that makes you and me happy. "One of the most difficult things I've found in Africa," the missionary continues, "is helping the poor. Even the word 'help' can be confused and misunderstood. As Pope Francis says, to touch the flesh of the poor is to "touch the flesh and heart of Jesus Christ, who is still crucified there." "But the poor are the only lifeline that allows us to live and work close to the Heart of Jesus. It is not the poor who need us, but we who need the poor," emphasizes Sister Laura.

Sister Laura, shares how the sisters, following in the footsteps of Daniel Comboni, manage to keep their founder's charism alive in the context in which they live. "We are animated by the same love that animated him, which he called apostolic zeal, passion for Africa. Without enthusiasm, without passion, without constant contact with the Lord through his Word, through the Eucharist, through sharing with the sisters, one cannot make progress. Here we have to try as Comboni again said "to be hidden stone, to reduce protagonism and present ourselves always and in every way as Community'... In some ways, it is much more difficult today than it was in Comboni's time. We are called to be the hidden stone, which, however, is necessary for the foundation of Africa's future."Sister Laura concluded.

Hosanna Badra, a Congolese novice, will finish her studies at the university in 2019. "I knew the Comboni Sisters in my parish in Congo, where I was involved in helping other young people," she tells Fides, "With time I saw how the Comboni missionaries and sisters cared for the poor, especially the pygmies in our area. Observing their constant commitment, I wondered how it was that these priests and sisters cared for these people who were isolated from everyone else and badly treated." "From then on," the novice continued, "I began to realize that my path could be one of this kind, and I asked myself how I could realize this deep desire and thus be closer to those in need." "Thanks to a priest with whom I embarked on a journey of discernment, we realized that the Missionary Vocation was growing in me. A Central African Comboni sister told me, 'if you have the vocation to become a missionary I will only give you a book by our founder Comboni, read it'. I realized that I wanted to share the love of God with others, the passion that St. Daniele Comboni had for the poor. And when the Pope says we should go out and meet the poor and the outcast, he is speaking in the language of the Comboni missionaries," Hosanna concluded.

Atija Abel, a novice who arrived in Uganda from Mozambique, still remembers the shock of having to leave the customs of her country and family. "But my mother said, 'This is the path God has chosen for you. If you are happy to go, it's okay with us. Don't think about us. We will be fine.' When I arrived in Uganda, I didn't know English. What helped me was the conviction that I was not alone, our formation is from the beginning international and opens us to the richness of inculturality."

Daniele Comboni, founder of the Institute of Comboni Missionaries for men in 1867 and the Comboni Missionaries for women in 1872, was proclaimed a saint by John Paul II on Oct. 5, 2003. (AP) (Fides News Agency 14/10/2023)