A man of many relationships

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Holy: Comboni was endowed with a broad mind, a large vision and a deep-rooted spirituality.

Fr Joseph Rebelo

Daniel Comboni was an outstanding missionary. He was a very capable and holy person—multi-skilled and with a rare intellectual capacity. He was endowed with a broad mind, a large vision, leadership qualities and a deep-rooted spirituality. These are more than enough reasons to be proud of him as our spiritual leader and missionary guru.

Comboni was a towering figure of the 19th century. His exuberant personality, knowledge of languages, range of interests and, especially, his passion for Africa, allowed him to open and enter almost all doors and to relate to so many civil and religious personalities of his time. The following references, drawn mainly from the excellent biography of Comboni written by Gianpaolo Romanato (L’Africa Nera fra Cristianesimo e Islam. L’esperienza di Daniele Comboni) highlight his multi-faceted personality.

Among his contacts were: Pope Pius IX, who received him in audience, at least 18 times; cardinals, archbishops, the General of the Jesuits and other Congregations, such as: Don John Bosco (1815–1888), the founder of the Salesians; Arnold Janssen (1837–1909), the founder of the Divine Word Missionaries; Charles Lavigerie, the founder of the White Fathers; Herbert Vaughan (1832–1903), the founder of the Mill Hill missionaries; Cardinal Guglielmo Massaia (1809–1890), the Apostle of the Galla in Ethiopia.

In the world of politics, he dealt with French Emperor Napoleon III and his wife; Belgian King Leopold II; Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph; the Russian Czar, Alexander II; the Khedive of Egypt; the Governor General of Sudan, Ismail Ayoub Pasha, among others.

He met men of culture and science such as Jacques Paul Migne (1800–1875), the famous author of the Greek and Latin patrologies, and Charles Forbes René de Montalembert (1810–1870), a French publicist and historian. Comboni was in touch with all major specialists in African studies, from Ferdinand de Lesseps (1805–1894), the creator of the Suez Canal and Antoine d’Abbadie (1810–1897), the explorer of Ethiopia, to Henry Morton Stanley (1841–1904).

He met men of culture and science such as Jacques Paul Migne (1800–1875), the famous author of the Greek and Latin patrologies, and Charles Forbes René de Montalembert (1810–1870), a French publicist and historian. Comboni was in touch with all major specialists in African studies, from Ferdinand de Lesseps (1805–1894), the creator of the Suez Canal and Antoine d’Abbadie (1810–1897), the explorer of Ethiopia, to Henry Morton Stanley (1841–1904).

Knowledge about Africa and mission are closely correlated in Comboni. In a March 1872 report, to Cardinal Alessandro Barnabò, he writes: “I have read the books and writings, in different languages, of all the most famous travellers who, in the last century and in this one, have visited one part or another of the central regions included in the Vicariate, penetrating them either from the north or the north-east, or even from the south” (Writings, 2916). Then, he indicates 61 names and the dates on which they accomplished their exploration, and adds that he knew many of them personally.

Comboni had personal contacts with all the great explorers who kept him informed about the progress concerning Africa. In a report to the Society of Cologne, written on 29 March 1872, he states: “I have had personal dealings with the great travellers Linant Bey, Mr (J.P.) d’Arnaud, (John Hanning) Speke, (James Augustus) Grant and (Samuel) Baker and had many conversations with the Jallabas and the Arab merchants who were constantly crossing the country and know it better than the European travellers. In addition, I have well digested all the literature published on this subject and have studied the works of the explorers on the matter from 1698 to the present day” (Writings, 2935).

Much more could be said about Comboni. The above-mentioned facts are just a glimpse to help us better appreciate Daniel Comboni and his missionary holiness.