Saint of the Day – 10 October – St Daniel Comboni (1831-1881) Vicar Apostolic of Central Africa , Bishop, Missionary, Founder, Theologian, polyglot – born on 15 March 1831 at Limone sul Garda, Italy and died on 10 October 1881 of natural causes at Khartoum, Sudan. St Daniel was an Italian Bishop who served in the missions in Africa and was the founder of both the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus and the Comboni Missionary Sisters.
St Daniel Comboni was one of the Church’s great missionaries—he engaged all of Europe in the evangelisation of the African continent.
He was born in the Lombardy region of Italy in 1831 to parents who farmed on land owned by a wealthy owner. His seven siblings all died young—six in their infancy—so his parents held him very closely. They were poor but rich in faith and love.
Daniel was sent away to a Catholic boarding school in Verona, where a vocation to the priesthood was awakened in him. During his studies, he became fascinated with the people of central Africa as they were described by visiting missionaries.
He was ordained in 1854 and three years later set out with five others to help spread the Gospel there. It took five months for the team to reach Khartoum, capital of the Sudan. They immediately encountered many difficulties, including hard work in an uncomfortable climate, the dire poverty of the people and sickness. The death of several of his fellow missionaries did not dampen his zeal.
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.”
He was forced to return to Italy to develop a new strategy for his missionary work. While he was praying at the tom of St. Peter, he received an inspiration for a new plan—to “save Africa through Africa.” His idea was to empower the local Church in Africa so that it could regenerate and sustain itself, rather than approaching central Africans as helpless. From that point, he began begging tirelessly throughout Europe for support and awareness of the emerging Christians of central Africa. Kings and queens, bishops and nobles responded. He could speak six different European languages in addition to Arabic and several indigenous African dialects. He founded Italy’s first missionary magazine and began gathering men and women in a religious order to sustain the work.
In 1877, he was ordained a Bishop and given responsibility for the Church in central Africa. Soon after, a terrible drought and famine hit the area, which crippled the missionary efforts once again. Daniel and his missionaries endured, however and also proceeded to surpress the slave trade.
In 1881, Daniel fell sick and died. He was only 50 years old. Comboni priests, brothers, and sisters continue his work today in 41 countries. He was Beatified in 1996 after an Afro-Brazilian girl was healed through his intercession and Canonised in 2003 after his intercession was credited with the healing of a Muslim mother from Sudan, both by St Pope John Paul at St Peter’s. St Daniel Comboni, you built the Church in central Africa—pray for us!