St Daniel Comboni

(entered heaven this day in 1881)

Dear Dan,

I can’t seem to read the last sentence in your note.  It looks like hieroglyphics – must have run into some digital splotches on its way.  I can’t figure out if it says, “We are giving up our plans for evangelizing college culture” or “We are lifting up our prayers for evangelizing college culture.”  The context leaves room for both possibilities: nothing but failure and opposition and lack of interest is plaguing your Compass chapter. So you can do one of two things, give up or forge ahead.  You know which one you should do, but maybe you need some encouragement. Today’s saint can provide it.

St Daniel’s parents had eight children, but he was the only one to survive into adulthood.  They were close, and they worked hard to fend off the heavy blows of poverty. He had to go away to school – they couldn’t afford to send him to the local schools.  But while he studied under the gentle guidance of the priests at the Mazza Institute, he discovered his vocation: the evangelization of Africa. He entered the seminary, finished his studies, consecrated his life to the spiritual good of Africa, and soon after his ordination accompanied five other missionary priests on his first mission to Sudan.

It was hardly a cakewalk.  It took them four months just to get there.  Then they were bowled over by the dereliction, by the climate, by the disease.  He watched half of his little group die off, one by one, conquered by the harsh demands of the work.  Kind of like what you are facing with your Compass chapter. And do you know how he reacted? I let you read it for yourself.  Here’s what he wrote to his parents after seeing another one of his companions die: “We will have to labor 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.”  And he stayed true to that mission. He returned to Europe to gather more missionaries and resources. He crashed the first Vatican Council to encourage all the bishops to engage in the urgent project of evangelizing and saving Africa. He visited Rome and prayed for this intention at the tomb of St Peter, where he received the inspiration for a whole plan to develop and evangelize sub-Saharan Africa, a plan that he encapsulated in the pregnant phrase: “Save Africa through Africa,” treating Africans as fellow adults in need of a hand, not as children in need of a handout.  He visited nobles and bishops and workers all over Europe enlisting their help. He founded two congregations of missionaries, men and women, and publications to recruit members and money. He made eight more trips to his beloved continent. He tirelessly battled the despicable slave trade… Such was his zeal and determination that in spite of vehement opposition that included denunciation and calumny (even from fellow clergy), he was eventually ordained bishop and named Apostolic Vicar to Central Africa.

He face more setbacks than successes, but he never doubted the power of God’s grace to penetrate souls and societies through his prayers, sacrifices, and sufferings, and as he lay dying, only 50 years of age, he prophesied, “I am dying, but my work will not die.”  And he was right.

Do you see the parallel?  You know that Compass is a project inspired by the Holy Spirit, and you know that morally and spiritually the students around you are as starving and abandoned as the refugees in Africa are physically.  So you just have to decide: are you willing to follow Christ’s way to the cross, or find a wider way instead? Keep St Daniel’s words in mind as you pray about it: “The missionaries will have to understand that they are stones hid under the earth, which will perhaps never come to light, but which will become part of the foundations of a vast, new building.”

Your devoted uncle, Eddy

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