Rome (Fides Service) – On the occasion of the canonisation of Daniele Comboni, Sunday 5 October, Fides Service interviewed newly appointed Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako Archbishop of Khartoum, the 7th successor of Comboni and the first native African to be Archbishop of Khartoum. The Archbishop who came to Rome for the canonisation will receive the Cardinal’s ring and hat with 30 other new Cardinals on 21 and 22 October.
Your Eminence, how was the news of your appointment as Cardinal received in Sudan?
The news came as a boost for the morale of Sudan’s Christians for whom daily life is a battle against all sorts of tribulation and suffering. It is as if a lamp has been lit in their midst: they hope that with a Cardinal in Khartoum their voices will at last be heard by the rest of the world. This gesture by the Holy Father is also seen as a sign of his closeness to us. Also with regard the date, the appointment is highly significant: this year is the 10th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s visit to us in Sudan as well as the 25th year of his Pontificate.
Personally I wonder how I can do more than I have done so far. I trust the Lord will give me the strength to do more. I remember what the Lord said to the Apostles: “throw the nets into deeper water and you will find fish”. With this in mind we are preparing for our 2nd diocesan Synod in the light of the Great Jubilee 2000 to strengthen our faith.
How does it feel to be the successor of Saint Comboni?
I can never forget that the See entrusted to me was occupied first of all by Saint Daniele Comboni and I feel so small compared to him. But at the same time I feel this is a challenge and a challenge to which I must respond. It is also helpful to look at Comboni’s methods of mission, his ability to build communion among different pastoral workers and make them aware that evangelisation is a commitment for life, as we see from his motto “Africa or death”.
Who was Comboni for Sudan?
His spirit lives on in Sudan’s Christians, particularly in the present day when civil war sows seeds of division and hatred which can creep into the Church. In fact one challenge for us today is to undo the evil which war sows in the hearts of the people. In this we are sustained by Comboni’s confidence that God was always present in his life and in his missionary work. We think of all the difficulties Comboni faced, the death of many of his assistants…it took all his total trust in the Lord to start again in the face of apparently insurmountable difficulties and failures. In this sense Saint Comboni tells us that crosses are necessary if we are to carry on the work of Christ. So we should have the courage to ask the Lord, not to take them the crosses but to send more! If we are able to do this, we can say we are on the path to holiness.
What impresses you most about the figure of Comboni?
Many are impressed by his courage and strength. Whereas I am deeply moved by Comboni the little boy who puts himself in the hands of his mother, who is God. His prayers so frank and confident are deeply inspiring. His manner of describing himself is that of a child who hides nothing. It is also encouraging to see how he asked people for help with the perseverance and language of a child. Also his pastoral plan, which to some might have seemed that of a megalomaniac, for me shows the courage of a child who attempts things greater than himself. This was also the source of his wisdom because it is with little ones that God shares his secrets.
The canonisation comes at a time when in Africa there are signs of hope, but there is also a fresh upsurge of its evils, war, hunger, disease…what message does the canonisation offer the Church in Africa and society in Africa?
Now we can rely on more intercession from Saint Comboni, a man who experienced all the troubles that still affect Africa today, living them in his flesh. We have an advocate who understands us. Comboni told Africans: “Like everyone else, you have wonderful gifts, you must show them!”
The miracle which led to Comboni’s canonisation was the cure of a Muslim woman who did not change her faith. Can this fact be of special significance for Christian/Muslim dialogue today so vitally important?
It is not easy to say. It is true that Muslims believe that Saints are men and women of God. When they see that Christians pray to a Saint and receive a grace they are not surprised. Comboni is widely known and respected among Muslims. In fact very often when you ask a Muslim where is the Catholic church they are not sure what you mean, but if you ask simply for “Comboni”, they will immediately point to the nearest church. LM (Fides Service 4/10/2003 EM lines 72 Words: 880)