Pope Francis Commemorates St. Daniele Comboni, Champion Against African Slavery
In a powerful homage to the enduring legacy of St. Daniele Comboni, Pope Francis celebrated the "apostolic zeal" of this Italian missionary priest and bishop who played a pivotal role in the fight against slavery in Africa. Comboni's profound impact on the abolitionist movement during the mid-19th century resonates even today, as Pope Francis emphasized during his general audience on September 20, 2023.
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St. Daniele Comboni
St. Daniele Comboni, a visionary missionary, bore witness to the abhorrent reality of slavery during his mission in what is now Sudan. His writings, which passionately condemned the dehumanizing effects of the slave trade, referenced the issue more than 450 times. He lamented how this cruel trade "degrades humankind and turns human beings, endowed with the light of intelligence, a ray of divinity, and an image of the most holy Trinity, into the dismal condition of animals."
Pope Francis, addressing a crowd of approximately 15,000 people in St. Peter's Square, shared the extraordinary life story of the founder of the Comboni missionary orders. He described Comboni as an exemplar of Christian commitment, one who believed that the Church should unite with those suffering crucifixion in history, ultimately to experience resurrection alongside them.
"Comboni's dream was that of a Church who makes common cause with those who are crucified in history, so as to experience the resurrection with them," Pope Francis affirmed.
The Pope also underscored the continued relevance of Comboni's mission, noting that slavery and colonialism persist as contemporary challenges. He cited his earlier speech in the Democratic Republic of Congo, highlighting the shift from political exploitation to a form of "economic colonialism" that remains just as oppressive.
Comboni's motto, "Save Africa with Africa," encapsulated his approach to evangelization, one that Pope Francis hailed as "a powerful insight devoid of colonialism." Comboni envisioned the active participation of every Christian in the evangelizing endeavor, actively involving local clergy and promoting the lay service of catechists.
The life of St. Daniele Comboni began in humble circumstances in 1831, born into a modest family on the shores of Lake Garda in northern Italy. His path to priesthood was marked by a profound calling inspired by stories of missionary priests returning from Africa. Ordained to the priesthood at the age of 23, Comboni embarked on a transformative journey to Khartoum, Sudan, at the age of 26 in 1857.
Despite the hardships he encountered in Africa, including the loss of three of his missionary companions within just two years, Comboni's unwavering dedication to his mission remained unshaken. In a poignant letter to his parents, he wrote, "We will have to toil, sweat, die, but the thought that we sweat and die for the love of Jesus Christ and the health of the most abandoned souls in the world is too sweet to make us give up on the great undertaking."
Comboni's enduring connection with the African people was profound and heartfelt. He once wrote that they had "taken possession of my heart that lives for them alone."
As Pope Francis's words echoed through St. Peter's Square, they served as a reminder of the timeless commitment of St. Daniele Comboni and his unyielding fight against the inhumane scourge of slavery in Africa. His legacy continues to inspire countless individuals worldwide to work tirelessly for justice, compassion, and the betterment of humanity.
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