To meet the “man” called Daniel Comboni look at his “letters”. An accurate reading of his Writings unveils the events which mark the unfolding of his love story. the story starts off on the 4th of July 1857, with the preparations to depart for Africa. before? Just pre-history! Comboni is credible as a saint because he was a reliable man
Nobody is born a saint. Daniel Comboni, at the moment of departure for Africa, overcome by the suffering of a wounded heart, in the grips of anxiety, wrote to his parish priest: “leaving my parents… disconcerts me greatly… disturbs me… makes me tremble… i am terrified. imagine the storm my spirit is in, the struggle, the conflict which troubles me… i do not know which part to take. (Signed) your anxious,” Daniel Comboni. that’s the “incipit” (beginning) of a narrative—but just the first line.
Before that, though well trained for missionary life, he was a quiet priest, silent, disciplined, totally dependent on somebody else’s will and very confident in his personal willpower. the departure, signs a demarcation line and a radical change in his inner attitude.
The dynamics of a vocation are not the dynamics of desire, but that of the will of God. it took almost a month for Comboni to assimilate this—a time of discernment, prayerful recollection and dialogue with trustworthy people. He came out of this experience, a reborn man: it was the discovery of his true self. He wrote anew to his friend fr Pietro Grana, on 13 August 1857: “i have been assured that the lord is calling me and i go with certainty. i know that i bring upon myself the condemnation and the curse of many who can see no further than the end of their noses; but this will not deter me from following my vocation.
The seed of a “strong relationship with Jesus” had been planted. the exciting story unfolds. Comboni, 24 years later, recalled with impressive precision, the details of these events culminating in the crucial dialogue with his counsellor. “(on that morning, 9 August 1857, fr benciolini was outside, waiting to hear from me, of fr marani’s decision). He said to me: ‘Well, be comforted and do not be afraid (i was trembling like a leaf)… your vocation to the mission and to Africa is one of the clearest i have ever seen… Go, in God’s name…’ and he added: ‘We must put all our trust in God. ’those words, engraved in his heart, were the unbreakable covenant of a life-long love story. At the start of his being a missionary, we find a “new encounter” with a Person who gave to his life fresh power (the power of bestowed love) and a decisive direction. this didn’t prevent him from being fully alert and, at times, even sarcastic—in love, but not blind to the bigotry surrounding him! He turned to his disconcerted friend (Sembianti), and said: “Dear father, you should remember a maxim inculcated in me: ‘those who trust in themselves, trust in the greatest ass in the world.’ …many holy souls, including many Jesuits, friars, devout priests and religious… who in their… frequent prayers say that they trust in God (i have seen them with my own eyes and heard them with my own ears, not only religious and priests, but also prelates, bishops and some cardinals), they say God can do everything, will take care of everything, we must carry the cross humbly, but when the storm comes… then their trust in God is crushed under the burden, is non-existent (they were trusting in the greatest ass in the world), and true and genuine perfection went up in smoke.” Comboni is credible as a saint because he was a reliable man.
A STRONG PERSONALITY
A man in love? A genuine interwoven love story? Correct! that’s it! this is what comes to mind in Comboni’s narrative. Work it out by yourself who might be the partner, responsible for “passion”. We have here all the ingredients for an explosive personality. His mind was really a volcanic melting pot of ideas, reaching the solid ground of praxis, through a capable filter of a straightforward folk wisdom, of profound, down to earth realistic common sense. this is our point of departure to enumerate the many characteristics which make this unlikely saint, extremely sympathetic. Here is a provisional list. – Single-mindedness. it is a typical attitude of people dominated by a central intuition. everything has to be driven by this extraordinary power, a source of greatness in a man’s personality, a sign of great inner freedom. yet this behaviour may raise strong opposition.
Such a personality appears to be “a living paradox”. is it the case of Comboni? bold enough to say in front of the coolness of the Church: “if the Pope, Propaganda fide and all the bishops in the world were against me, i would lie low for a year and then present a new Plan (for the regeneration of Africa): but i would never, never stop thinking of Africa. i am discouraged neither by the ‘cum quibus’ (lack of money) nor by the holy self-esteem of the Congregations… the qualities of a good hustler and mendicant are three: prudence, patience and impudence. i lack the first, but by Jove, i compensate for it marvellously with the other two, and especially the third.” At the same time, he said: “if the will of the Church is made manifest… the Plan will be off to a good start.
Otherwise, my efforts and those of others will be worth less than nothing.” He couldn’t find time for anything else, not even for the long awaited approval of the rules. He asked fr Sembianti from Khartoum to look into that business, “if you wait for the changes from Africa, Judgement Day will come, because i have no time to compile rules; you should look at it, then, i see the modifications to be made, attenta experientia Africana (given my African experience).” – A man of an adamant determination wanted as followers people of the same kind: “Woe to anyone who might begin because of a passing burst of enthusiasm, or the attraction of exotic travel!” He calls it passion, comparable to love of a man for a woman. Her name (Africa) will be on his lips on the point of death, “i will die with Africa on my lips.” A sleepless passion. He writes to the Society of Cologne: “the thought of the enormous human misery which weighs upon my beloved Africa gives me many sleepless nights, and in the morning, i rise wearier than i was the previous evening after a busy day’s work.” – A strong and fearless fighter. He wrote from Khartoum to Cardinal Simeoni: “Dear friend, Comboni fears nothing, neither tempest in rome, nor storm in egypt, nor clouds in Verona: with me, i have Jesus and mary, and that is enough for me.”
In very similar words, but in a more precise context, just a month before, he had opened his mind to Cardinal barnabò, prefect of Propaganda fide: “So the Cross will be my beloved bride, and my wise and prudent teacher, mary will be my dearest mother and Jesus my all… i fear neither the storms of rome… nor the clouds of lyons and Paris.” by the end of his life, he was back to the same theme with a beautiful personal witness: “However most eminent Prince, i fear nobody in the world besides myself, whom i examine every day and commend most fervently to Jesus, to mary and to St Joseph. i know well enough who the enemies of my work are, and i have not the slightest fear of them… because their lies and ill-advised reports have very short legs.” not only was Comboni fearless but as he admitted in a letter from munich to Cardinal Canossa, calm in the storm. “i need all the calm God always grants me in a storm to have the necessary patience.” – for “a man” who looked like a “bundle of contradictions”, it was hard for some Churchmen to consider him as “a candidate for sainthood”, and when the time came, they voted thumbs down, not once, but twice. that’s to say: enough of this. let us turn to a more conventional case but “God takes us with all of our gifts as well as our limitations and calls us to holiness and a deeper life in Him” (Sr m. Karecky).
A VERY CREATIVE MIND
He was certainly a man of vision. one dream cherished for life: the regeneration of Africa! Very early (1861), writing from Aden to his superior, he revealed his innovative mind, by elaborating a new “most efficient and reliable channel… i have thought of undertaking the… voyage round the Cape of Good Hope.” He summed it up in a “skeleton outline”. this was just the beginning of a long gestation of ideas to embrace the whole of Africa. the outcome was the Plan for the regeneration of Africa. the Plan implied a long process of acclimatization and enculturation. We are surprised to hear, from a man who was always in a hurry, who attacked rome for being too slow (“terrible roman laziness”), the recommendation given to his missionaries: do not make haste, think in long terms—an approach which did not hide the problems, on the contrary, confronted them directly, in their most difficult terms, extending the solution into an unforeseeable future. Haste: the first temptation to win.
– A man of global vision. from the Writings, he appears to be a man more inclined to have a global vision of a project, than to care for the details. the Plan impressed the contemporaries for its broad scope. Cardinal barnabò called it gigantic. being in need of an enormous amount of money, Comboni became a fantastic fundraiser, albeit a more limited administrator. Under attack for that, he chose a good administrator. As he told Cardinal Simeoni from Khartoum: “now it is incumbent upon me to work very hard to promote the spiritual welfare for these missions, and i must write frequently to my private benefactors in europe, to extract from St Joseph’s beard, the necessary financial aid to assist my excellent right-hand man, fr Antonio Squaranti, the General Administrator of the Vicariate’s temporal possessions, who is here beside me.” – He was in touch with a great variety of people, not just within the western world but, also within muslim society. As he explained to an Austrian nobleman:
“All the egyptian authorities are supporting me, and giving me real help in my apostolate. the pashas of Khartoum and Kordofan have become friends of mine, and thank me above all for having brought the Sisters to educate the young women.” on another occasion, he said to Cardinal Alessandro barnabò from el obeid, capital of Kordofan: “i acquired precise information about the great chief of the baqqarah and the nuba, from a great many people, but especially, from Sultan Hussein…. finally, the great pasha was most courteous to me and offered me all i could have wished for.” – A clever and sympathetic approach according to the partner in dialogue. Writing to mother Julien, he would praise the work of the Sisters: “in Central Africa the Sister is everything,” and “A Sister of Charity is a priest and more than a priest.” in a report to the Society of Cologne, he stated: “these women missionaries are crucial and essential elements in every respect.” –
Quite often on a journey, he wouldn’t miss the attention to the smallest details in asking the help of others, to meet the smallest obligations. “How can i manage to attend to all these little matters while travelling?” He didn’t overlook the shortcomings or exaggerations of collaborators as in buying candles: “my poor fr francesco, not to be able to light as many candles as you wish!” He demanded exact administration: “Here, the Superior fr fraccaro is working very hard—but it is nearly a month that i am in the Kordofan, and every day i have pestered him to give me the accounts: he said he would, but i have seen nothing so far, and i never will.” – Always very busy, he nevertheless made excuses, if he was unable to keep up a high flow of relationships with close friends. to Sembianti, he wrote from Cairo: “i cannot write, because i am busy night and day,” and a few days later in the same mood: “i am so tired that i can hardly breathe.” Particularly in the last months of his life, this complaint of lack of time was recurrent: “i have no time; i shall write when i will have some,”—or “everyone comes to the first Pastor, and i cannot dispense myself, especially in what concerns the governance of the souls.”
A GREAT COMMON SENSE
A fundamental characteristic which could be described as a kind of popular common sense after the manner of country folk (country folk may have big boots but they have got sharp wits). this, paradoxically, acted as a healthy reaction against ambiguous religiosity typical of his time—and indeed of any time, within the religious world. – During the pilgrimage to the Holy land, on his way to Central Africa, he kept his distance from “some extra-devout reverend gentlemen”.
In the same way a few years later in naples, he spoke with respect of the devotion to St January, but with regard to “the extravagant scene that takes place on the day of the miracle, he wrote—“those who have been to naples… know how backward that nation is, and indeed, how inclined it is to piety, albeit of a somewhat superstitious kind.” – Speaking of saints and miracles, it is amusing what Comboni wrote in 1872 to mgr Canossa: “All saints have worked striking miracles; but none has yet worked the miracle of letting himself be canonised without money.” A few years later he said: “Cardinal federico borromeo at the conclusion of the Cause for the Canonisation of St Carlo, seeing the enormous expense borne by his family, exclaims: ‘in my house, good people, yes, but enough saints!’” – the impact with Africa led Comboni to reformulate some european devotions typical of his time. He didn’t like superficial bigoted people. He wanted “missionaries and Sisters who are truly holy, without false (honeyed) piety, because in Africa one needs direct but bold and generous souls.” He never played the saint. He warned the followers against the formality of the external practice of prayer. “What matters is that… prayers… should not through habit become simply a formality.”
Spirituality plays a fundamental role but does not consist of exteriority. the basic characteristic of a missionary in the mind of Comboni was a great inner spiritual freedom with no other obligation than a total and unconditional commitment to mission modulated on two basic structures: inner piety and a great ability of adaptation to an external variety of circumstances. – A very outspoken man. in 1876, writing to fr francesco bricolo, he ironically speaks of himself as “a poor devil who must direct the most difficult and arduous mission in the world, who must fight with priests, with friars, with nuns of all races and nationalities, with the turks, with freemasons and above all with saints… who are mad.” this allowed him to put up with a very strange type of people:
“then there is also the most absurd action of the holy madman fr losi”, but at the same time in a solid realistic attitude he was able to acknowledge their good qualities: “He has so many other apostolic virtues for our challenging mission”, he wrote from Khartoum to fr Sembianti. He was very wary of the fervour of people: “one must not take the zeal of europe seriously (and this applies to all institutes). He smiled at “certain cardinals at Propaganda fide who have seen nothing but the gilded salons of Paris and lisbon” and “who have suffered and endured nothing”. – free in his religious language.
As when he used a funny type of expression such as “Christ is a gentleman” and keeps His word. in a letter from Khartoum to Cardinal Simeoni, he explained: “my late Superior fr nicola mazza, who was a father to me for 24 years from when i was a boy, always used to say that Christ is a gentleman. i have always interpreted this to mean that, as surely as a note comes from a piano when you touch a key, so if you say and repeat the petite, quaerite, pulsate (ask, search, knock) there always comes the accipietis, invenietis, aperietur (you will receive, you will find, it will be given to you). let the world prattle, as it will, this is a real truth.” in Comboni’s vocabulary, a gentleman has real concrete goodness in meeting people’s requests. Availability and goodness at heart were also his characteristics.
HAPPINESS AS AN ATTRIBUTE
– A great sense of humour is an essential aspect of Comboni’s personality. He wrote from Verona on a Christmas letter to his cousin eugenio: “Here, my father and i are very happy together (only the weak-minded get depressed).” nevertheless, although he was gifted with a merry temperament he was very sensitive to distress and uncertainty. When he found himself practically cut off from the mazza institute, writing to a friend, he said: “Although God has given me a merry temperament, and such that i am joyful and always content, and perhaps few people in the world are happier than me, nevertheless, these things distress me and wound me to the heart. Since in rome, it is still thought, that i no longer belong to the institute, as indicated in the letter from Cardinal barnabò to the Apostolic nuncio in Paris, and i have had no direct communication of this from the Superior, as i requested in a letter even after my return from Prussia, i have therefore thought of leaving Paris and coming to Verona, to see how things are.”
– Comfortable enough to laugh at himself. “i am large, fat, tall, white and red, not blissful, strong and robust, and happier than napoleon iii.” Humour, simplicity, humility and joy are a constant: “faith in God; scorn for mankind and saints who eat: the Church, the Pope, rome, zeal for the glory of God and good conscience: the rest, everything and everyone must be trampled.” on the occasion of his name day, he said: “i received visits from pashas, consuls, and the great of Sudan. in brief, i gave the impression of being a harlequin pretending to be a prince.” When he was appointed bishop, to a friend he wrote: “the Holy father Pius iX, in the presence of the bishop of Verona, when he saw me so strong and robust said: ‘Comboni, you are not doing penance; it seems that Central Africa is doing you no harm.’” – Happiness didn’t desert him even in the midst of misunderstandings and sufferings. As for the false allegations on Virginia’s case (Comboni was accused of favouring a lebanese Sister): “i do not complain of this at all… and thus i am happy to receive any humiliation for the love of God and Africa,” he wrote from Khartoum to Sembianti. A few days later he added: “At night (i hardly sleep at all…) i find much more pleasure in having toiled and suffered in the preceding 24 hours than when i used to come home from a grand aristocratic meal in london, Paris, Vienna or St Petersburg.”
In spite of being exposed to high criticism he didn’t bend: “let them say what they want in Verona, the Pope and the most powerful and best missionaries… are convinced that it was the steadfast firmness of that sinful old cobbler Comboni; now i am just about beginning to realise it myself, and that, with the help of fervent prayers of the whole world, and the heroism of my most persecuted collaborators, i have managed to not let this arduous mission collapse.” – too good at heart? in a way, yes. this brought him to praise quickly and naively, people who later on, revealed most negative sides in their behaviour, as it was the case with fr Zanoni for instance. in a report to the Society of Cologne, he wrote: “As a churchman he is a good preacher, an excellent religious, and an able infirmarian.” A few months later, writing to mgr Canossa, he had to change his opinion: “most venerable father, i and all the others were mistaken.” this would happen very often, with so many people. – A grateful person.
In a letter to Cardinal franchi, to express his gratitude, he made a long list of people worthy of recommendation, among them, of course, his good friend mitterrutzner: “i therefore implore your most reverend eminence to have him appointed as Consultor to the Sacred Congregation.” this spirit of gratitude prompted him to write to the Secretary of Propaganda fide to recommend a letter of thanks to the president of the Society of Cologne “for the zeal it has shown”. for some reason, the request was ignored, so a few months later, Comboni was back again suggesting that, “a couple of words of thanks would have been cherished by these generous Catholics.” – “Public relations man”. in spite of the integrity and strength of his temperament, Comboni did not lack a fine diplomatic touch. At times, he proved to be a highly experienced diplomat.
He wrote, for instance, to nicola mazza: “As a corollary to my Plan, my dear Superior, i shall have a vicariate Apostolic entrusted entirely to the mazza institute, without it depending on any other authority but rome alone.” tactfully, he praised other institutions: “la Palma is like the model which should provide substantial guidelines for all other institutions.” He openly showed his satisfaction and mutual co-operation to ludovico da Casoria: “your letter, filled me with joy because in it i see a living disposition of your spirit to sustain me in this awkward enterprise with the help of your venerable counsels and your authoritative co-operation,” and also: “As long ago as last november, i went to bressanone and charged mgr mitterrutzner, who is Vienna’s right eye, to instruct the Committee to give at least half its rich donations to you.”
Writing to Goffredo noecker, he obsequiously spoke of being in debt to Cologne for the intuition about the Plan: “As soon as i arrived in rome, i spoke of the new Plan i had conceived in Cologne and developed in my mind on the journey between Cologne and mainz, and the Cardinal ordered me to put these ideas down in writing and in my Plan to unite and make use of all those who are working for Africa.” there is no flattery in all that, but the will to keep everybody involved in the Plan. Particularly, at the end of his life, the correspondence with fr Sembianti shows a refined ability, in moving from the need of being frank without lessening the differences, and the concrete fear of losing him: “but you will say… i am so inept at doing my duty in forming saintly workers… it would be better, to run away, and to send someone else here, who is more capable and virtuous than i… hold on my dear friend… trust in God and be calm… you are but an instrument of the lord” (W, 6878–83).
CONTROVERSIAL & CHALLENGING
“in every action i have always been open and truthful; and i have always informed your eminence of the step i was taking, even when i was afraid of not acting with wisdom and prudence. it seems to me impossible that, what i told you about the Good Shepherd Association, could have escaped your most tenacious memory,” he wrote to Cardinal barnabò in a situation of disagreement. once, he openly confronted Cardinal barnabò in defence of two of his missionaries: “let no one touch them! barnabò made a remark to me about the younger one: i jumped at his eyes like an ibis! He was very pleased to hear fine things about him. i have only one thing no one can steal from me: my conscience. rome knows that i speak in conscience.”
He boldly reproached the S. Congregation of a “grave mistake in dealing with lavigerie’s mission because, it has been too hasty in taking action… the Congregation has not sought the necessary information from those who would be able to provide it (i do not mean myself, but others who know more than me),” he wrote to Cardinal Simeoni from el obeid. – the reaction to that was a constant mixture of admiration and fear. Propaganda fide kept an eye on the man, they didn’t trust him and they adopted the policy of “wait and see”. Canossa offered his juridical support and liked his enthusiasm but didn’t fully trust him.
Comboni was certainly considered a charismatic but he gave the impression of being a little bit over the top, one who wanted to bend the Church to his ideas. the long process of creating convictions and gaining support took him all over europe, to no avail. He found himself in front of an insurmountable wall—but he met with greater support among the laity: “i have made a lot of friends with Aug. nicolas… He is a great Catholic, the likes of which i have never seen. He examined my Plan and told me that in his opinion, in order to achieve the best result, it should be based on a Congregation founded for that purpose. … you have made this Plan which reveals your affection for the Church, and you will succeed in winning many children for the Church from among the Africans. even if all your efforts were to prove fruitless, the mere fact of having proposed such a Plan makes you worthy of the appreciation of the Church and of the civilized world.” outside the ecclesiastical environment the realistic and genuine appreciation is impressive!
AN UNLIKELY SAINT?
not available to be encapsulated in a niche! “to be a saint is to be myself.” A “self”, transplanted in somebody else’s heart! this is Comboni’s personal path to sainthood and his idea of holiness. it is a wide range of “controversial human” characteristics freely present under the spontaneous push of a great vitality in a man totally free to be himself in all circumstances, without a shade of intimidation, transfigured by a madly responsible loving relationship. Sin is not “the breaking of a rule”, but “death of a dream in your heart”. if that spirituality is a way to God, the sympathetic attraction of this man is irresistible to me! responsible for the whole mission in Sudan, first as pro-vicar (1873) and then as bishop (1877), full of energy, aged 41, he is back to Africa. A memorable homily was given in Khartoum on 11th of may 1873: “i am truly happy, dearest friends, to be back… i came sixteen years ago, to these lands… but i left my heart in your midst and… by returning among you… i make common cause with each one of you, and the happiest day in my life will be the one on which i will be able to give my life for you…”
He moved in all directions, with a wide strategy. He kept in touch with egyptians aiming at overcoming them; with europeans, looking for support as the continent was opening up in all its vastness and diversity. He was fully aware of the enormous gap between the ideas he once conceived and the reality, confronted with the inadequacy of his own strength. overcome by the impenetrability and enormous distances of Africa, he fully understood problems and he listed them. – How to combine evangelization and diversity? it is not enough to learn languages, one needs to understand cultures. Africans are not to be changed into europeans. from this point of view, his respect for diversity was adamant and definitely ahead of his time.
Comboni was lacking the cultural tools and keys to enter into it. the intuition of a missionary method capable of integrating progress and respect for diversity, with the true respect given to the African mind, was a kind of heritage which placed Comboni in the forefront of the most advanced trends in his time. He lived this dramatic contradiction. this is surely a point of greatness in him: the clear-cut rejection of conversion on the basis of the abolition of African culture; the dream of an original African contribution to Christianity and world progress is encapsulated on the still missing icon of nigricans margarita (brownish margarita). – every human person has an infinite dignity which commands respect and love. the gap between the ideal and the reality was intolerable to him: “Why are the most sacred rights of nature so outraged?”; “the government of Sudan which adhered to the 1856 treaty (against slavery) adhered on paper but not in practice.” Slavery brutalized the Africans: “the horror of the slave trade which triumphs in these parts… both children and parents are kidnapped or stolen… but since the cries of pain of these peoples do not reach europe… thus the desolation of these areas continues and will continue for a long time to come.” Human dignity is the launching pad to make the Africans protagonists of their own future. – the role of women. behind a bunch of hyperbolic expressions one can read the daring mind of Comboni who, first, brought Sisters to Central Africa! “the Sisters are the right arm of my apostolate” (W, 3177).
They have become the soul of mission. As italian explorer matteucci wrote, “Comboni couldn’t conceive a more splendid idea when he called Sisters to Khartoum”; “imagine uneducated girls gathered together and educated by Sisters. now they have a smiling future, they enjoy the full freedom of their rights (…) i admired their works looking like they were made in europe— so much precision and ability. leaving the Sisters’ house, i praised the lord for the happy idea of Comboni. that’s a living proof how much mission can regenerate Africa.” – the writings of the last two years are the most beautiful letters, transparent, full to the brim of delicate and deep affection. in a very confidential mood, he made his closest friends sharers of the wide range of personal problems—from the financial ones, with his evangelical trust in the Providence of God through the infallible mediation of a trustful St Joseph, albeit sometimes of “hard hearing”, to the most personal and intractable of the false allegations in Virginia’s case.
Comboni went back to Africa for the last time in 1880. He spent most of his time in between “languishing, suffering, diseases, fevers etc.”, as he wrote to Sembianti. from his words, as “…if i do not die… if death does not come too soon”, he felt close to the end. on top of that, he experienced the bitterness of critics and isolation. in a straightforward letter to Cardinal Giovanni Simeoni he openly showed his deep disappointment: “i am baffled, when i see this unjust and unreasonable behaviour of holy men… who eat, like my dear fr Sembianti, who appears to be completely lacking in the queen of virtues, charity, without which, according to the Scriptures, holy lives, prophecies, miracles and holy works, are worthless.”
What he wrote from Africa, in the last two months, revealed a man who already looked at life at a distance. What is depressing is the meanness of the ecclesiastical world. He put in writing bitter and heavy expressions: “Here i am exposed to death so as to serve Jesus in the midst of suffering and crosses, happy to die to save the Africans and in fidelity to my arduous, difficult and holy vocation… i am simply amazed at being treated like this, and to hear how i am thought of, at Verona, by my greatest benefactor.” He felt abandoned even by Canossa. He didn’t omit heavy remarks which, usually, were not put in writing within the ecclesiastical world. to Cardinal Simeoni: “He has never given a single cent to Africa, or anything to anybody, because he left his rich inheritance to his noble family, when he became a Jesuit: and he lives today on his income as a bishop, and, what is left over, he wisely distributes to the poor and good works of the Verona diocese.” –
He uttered very unusual words, for the optimistic man that he was. As in a letter to Sembianti: “this cursed world is truly totus positus in maligno (wholly rooted on evil ground). Certain mad pinheads in Verona do not understand… in the course of my hard and wearisome enterprise, it has seemed to me more than a hundred times, that i have been abandoned by God, the Pope, the Superiors and all men… finding myself so deserted and distressed, a hundred times i had the strongest temptation (even suggested to me by pious and respectable men, but men without courage and trust in God) to give up everything, hand over the work to Propaganda fide.” – He found himself in the grip of ingratitude, anxiety and lack of appreciation.
In front of him was the mystery of Africa, around him a few dwindling missionaries, behind him a very much indifferent Church. only massaia was with him who wrote: “i received several letters of yours to which i answered… your mission is difficult… but don’t get discouraged… your successors will do the harvesting. … for the time being we don’t expect, not even the gratitude… you are in my heart and prayers. thinking of the good time when we were together in Paris and rome… How much i would like to be able to embrace you.” for such a man, those words can be seen as a true echo of the last ones of Jesus on the Cross.