The father of African Christianity

“Daniel Comboni distinguished himself for his total dedication to the missionary cause for which he spoke, worked, lived and died”, it is said in the Rule ofLife (# 2) of the Comboni Missionaries. He was a trailblazer. His life is a hymn to entrepreneurship and courage. He was a man without frontiers. Armed with an unshakeable faith, an intrepid temper and an indomitable courage, he pursued the evangelisation of Central Africa—a vicariate with more than nine million km2, almost one third the size of Africa.In spite of the hardships he endured, Daniel Comboni never shrank from his missionary passion. Like Paul the Apostle, he could write: “I consider life of no importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the Gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20: 24).

No obstacle seemed great enough to deter him from his mission. Renowned South African journalist, Allister Sparks describes the ‘fortress’ that was Central Africa in Comboni’s time: besides the geographical inaccessibility, there was a second line of defence made up of “patrolling squadrons of mosquitoes and tsetse flies—which meant that until the advent of modern medicine, any traveller intrepid enough to penetrate to the interior was struck down with malaria, yellow fever, or sleeping sickness” (Allister Sparks, The mind of South Africa).

Foreigners, among them the missionaries, lacking immunity to these African diseases, could not resist them and died. Comboni died in Khartoum, Sudan, on 10 October 1881, at the age of just 50 years, weakened by fevers and tribulations of every kind. But his missionary thrust was not in vain. On the contrary, the seeds he sowed continue to bear much fruit. The successor of St Daniel Comboni in the Catholic See of Khartoum, Cardinal Zubeir recalls: “We African Christians are sons and daughters of Comboni. Without him, today we wouldn’t have bishops, priests, deacons, brothers, sisters, Christians.”