Saint Daniele Comboni

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Saint Daniel Comboni
Daniele Comboni.jpg
Portrait of St. Daniel Comboni
Born (1831-03-15)15 March 1831
Limone sul Garda, Italy
Died 10 October 1881(1881-10-10) (aged 50)
Khartoum, Sudan, Africa
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Beatified 17 March 1996, Rome by John Paul II
Canonized 5 October 2003, Rome by John Paul II
Feast 10 October

Daniel Comboni (15 March 1831 – 10 October 1881) was a Roman Catholic missionary to Africa and is a canonized saint.

Early life[edit]

Comboni was born on 15 March 1831 in at Limone sul Garda, Brescia, Italy,[1] into a family of cultivators employed by a local proprietor. His parents, Luigi and Domenica, were very attached to Daniel, the only child of eight children to survive into adulthood. Despite the death of his siblings, Comboni and his parents formed a very close unit and maintained their faith and values. The Comboni family lived in poverty, which is the reason that Daniel went away to school in Verona, at the institute founded by Father Nicola Mazza. During the years spent in Verona, Daniel discerned his calling to the Catholic priesthood, and completed his studies.[1] During this time, Comboni was entranced by the mission to Central Africa after hearing descriptions from the missionaries who returned from there to Fr. Mazza's Institute. On 31 December 1854, the year of the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, Daniel was ordained a priest by the bishop of Trent, Blessed John Tschiderer. Three years later, with the blessing of his mother, he left for Africa along with five other missionaries of the Mazza Institute.

Mission to Africa[edit]

After four months, Comboni reached Khartoum, capital of the Sudan. The impact of this first face-to-face encounter with Africa was tremendous, Daniel was immediately made aware of the multiple difficulties that were part of his new mission. But labours, unbearable climate, sickness, the deaths of several of his young fellow-missionaries, the poverty and dereliction of the population, only served to drive him forward, never dreaming of giving up what he has taken on with such great enthusiasm. From the mission of Holy Cross he wrote to his parents: "We will have to labour hard, to sweat, to die: but the thought that one sweats and dies for love of Jesus Christ and the salvation of the most abandoned souls in the world, is far too sweet for us to desist from this great enterprise".[citation needed]

After witnessing at the death of one of his missionary companions, Daniel, far from being discouraged, felt an interior confirmation of his decision to carry on in the mission, as he wrote: "O Nigrizia o morte!"—"Either Africa, or death".

Ever confident in his mission, Comboni worked out a fresh missionary strategy in 1864 in Italy. While praying at the Tomb of Saint Peter in Rome, Daniel was struck by an inspiration that led to the drawing up of his "Plan for the Rebirth of Africa", a missionary project that can be summed up in an expression which is itself the indication of his boundless trust in the human and religious capacities of the African peoples: "Save Africa through Africa".

Missionary bishop[edit]

In spite of all the problems and misunderstandings faced, Daniel strove to drive home his intuition: that European society and the Church were called to become much more concerned with the mission of Central Africa. He undertook a tireless round of missionary appeals throughout Europe, begging for spiritual and material aid for the African missions from royalty, bishops and nobles, as well as from the lay peoples. Around this time he also launched a missionary magazine, the first in Italy.

Comboni established a men's missionary institute in 1867 and one for women in 1872: the "Comboni Missionaries" (Latin: Missionarii Comboniani Cordis Jesu, whence their abbreviation MCCJ) and the "Comboni Missionary Sisters", or the "Verona Fathers and Sisters". Comboni was the first to bring women into missionary work in Central Africa.

Comboni took part in the First Vatican Council as the theologian of the Bishop of Verona, and was able to get 70 bishops to sign a petition for the evangelisation of Central Africa: Postulatum pro Nigris Africæ Centralis. The Postulatum was not discussed by the Council due to its premature end.

On 2 July 1877, Comboni was named Vicar Apostolic of Central Africa, and ordained bishop in August 1877: this was seen as a confirmation that his ideas and his activities, which were considered by some to be foolhardy, were recognised as a truly effective means for the proclamation of the Gospel.[2]

In 1877 and 1878 he and the missionaries in Africa were tormented in body and spirit by the tragedy of a drought, followed by mass starvation that was considered without precedent. The local population was halved, and the missionary personnel and their activities reduced almost to nothing.

Final African Mission[edit]

In 1880, with unflagging determination, Bishop Comboni traveled to Africa for the eighth and final time, to stand alongside his missionaries: intent, also, on continuing the struggle against the pernicious Slave Trade, and on consolidating the missionary activity carried out by Africans themselves. Just one year later on 10 October 1881, after falling gravely ill from disease, he died in Khartoum. His final words were reported to be: "I am dying, but my work will not die".

Combonian order[edit]

The Verona Fathers later changed their name to the Combonian Missionaries.[3] As of 2008 the Combonian order comprised 328 houses with 1,803 members, of whom 1,296 are priests, spread all over the world.[4]

Sexual abuse[edit]

The order has several bases in the United Kingdom, mainly active in fund-raising, in addition to other locations. Following police investigations it paid out £120,000 in 2014 to 11 former trainee priests following allegations of widespread sexual abuse at a Verona Fathers junior seminary, St Peter Claver College, Mirfield, West Yorkshire, England during the 1960s and 1970s, when the men were aged from 11 into their teens. Four main abusers were named in the men’s statements, and others are identified in statements from other victims. Named abusers fathers John Pinkman, the seminary’s junior housemaster, and Domenico Valmaggia, its infirmarian, were then dead; one, Fr Romano Nardo, lived in the order's mother house in Verona. In some cases the abuse took the form of result of bogus medical examinations and tutorials on the facts of life; boys were made to remove their clothes, and then assaulted. The Missionaries said "All the claims were made on a purely commercial basis and with no admission of liability", and did not "accept that claims from 12 individuals demonstrate a culture of abuse at the seminary".[3][5]

Mark Murray, a British victim from Mirfield, travelled to Verona in 2016 to meet Fr Nardo, who had sexually abused him at Mirfield 45 years before, and had never been prosecuted (a request to extradite him to Britain was refused on the grounds of his ill-health). He met with Nardo and said "You've had a massive negative impact on my life, but now I want to forgive you". Nardo apologised, in English, "If what you say was caused by me, I'm sorry. I'm really sorry", and then left. The meeting was recorded on video by journalist Marco Ansaldo of La Repubblica newspaper.[6] Afterwards Murray was being prosecuted in the Italian courts on counts of "trespassing, stalking, and interference in private life" charges which Ansaldo say are wrong: "I checked my sources. We had three journalists working on the case. What can the Combonis say? I think their principal objective is to pull down Mark Murray and because he was listened to by La Repubblica, they would like to bring us down too. It will be a battle – and we will see what the outcome is."[7]


  1. ^ a b Lenhart, John. "Daniel Comboni." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 8 Mar. 2014
  2. ^ "Daniel Comboni (1831-1881)", Vatican biography
  3. ^ a b Catherine Deveney (19 October 2014). "Catholic missionary compensates 11 former trainee priests". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 July 2016. 
  4. ^ Ann. Pont. 2010, p. 1451.
  5. ^ "Claims of historic abuse at Mirfield school investigated". Bradford Telegraph and Argus. 7 September 2013. Retrieved 17 July 2016. 
  6. ^ Marco Ansaldo (12 May 2015). ""Why did you do it?" Former seminarian and priest who abused him come face to face". La Repubblica. Retrieved 17 July 2016. 
  7. ^ Catherine Deveney (17 July 2016). "Abuse victim ‘appalled at intimidation' by church". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 July 2016. 


Coordinates: 45°26′46″N 11°0′21″E / 45.44611°N 11.00583°E / 45.44611; 11.00583

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