Rome (Italy). On 3 June 2022, in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, in Rome, Cardinal Vicar Angelo De Donatis presided over a Eucharistic celebration on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Foundation of the Comboni Missionary Sisters and the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians.
Participating in the Celebration were: the Superior General of the FMA Institute, Mother Chiara Cazzuola, with her Council; Mother Yvonne Reungoat, Mother General Emeritus and USMI President; the Provincial of St. John Bosco Province (IRO), Sr. Gabriella Garofoli; the Provincial Council and the Animators of the Communities of Rome; the Vice-President of the World Confederation of Past Pupils of the FMA, Mrs. Olivia Furlan; the Novices of the International Novitiates Sr. Teresa Valsè Pantellini of Rome and Mary Help of Christians of Castel Gandolfo; various FMA from the Generalate (RCG); the Communities of the Preprovince Mary Mother of the Church (RMC); and by the Communities of Rome of the IRO Province.
The Mother General of the Comboni Sisters, Sr. Luigina Coccia and her Council, some Sisters of the Communities of Rome, and some members of the ongoing General Chapter of the Comboni Missionaries participated.
Also present were the Superior of the Preprovince of Mary Seat of Wisdom of the Salesians of Don Bosco, Fr. Maria Arokiam Kanaga, representing the Rector Major of the Salesian Congregation, Fr. Ángel Fernández Artime and the Rector Magnificent of the Salesian Pontifical University (UPS); Fr. Andrea Bozzolo, Director of the “Migrants” Office for Lazio and the Diocese of Rome; Msgr. Pierpaolo Felicolo, Superior General of the Fathers of Holy Spirit Congregation; Fr. Alain Mayama and other confreres; the Superior General of the Xaverian Missionaries, Fr. Fernando Garcia; the Superior General of the Consolata Missionaries, Sr. Simona Brambilla; the Superior General of the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Anne, Sr. Francesca Sarcià; various SDBs and priests.
Card. De Donatis began the homily by taking up the words of the responsorial psalm, “Bless the Lord my soul” (Ps 103) as an expression of the profound sentiments of gratitude present in the souls of those present at the Eucharistic celebration. He then highlighted the bond of profound esteem and friendship that bound St. John Bosco and Fr. John Comboni, “Their charisms transmitted to you are like two tongues of fire from the Holy Spirit penetrating their hearts, igniting pastoral and missionary ardor. Mutual esteem and admiration manifested itself on various occasions”.
“Now from heaven the two Saints cannot but rejoice in seeing their spiritual daughters sharing the joy for the journey traveled up to now and also eager to go forward with the same ardor because they are united by the same esteem and friendship”.
He went on to underline some aspects of the Word of God from the Liturgy: gratitude, the courage of witness, the dynamism of following, and expressing gratitude to the religious, “My wish is that you continue in your commitment, enriching the Church of Rome with your energies, your gifts, and also allowing yourselves to be enriched by the life of this local Church which has the Pope as its bishop”.
The celebration was a testimony of communion and synodality, of fraternity and celebration.
At the end, after the Cardinal’s blessing, the two Mothers General greeted the assembly, recalling some key moments of the friendship between St. Daniel Comboni and St. John Bosco:
St. John Bosco and St. Daniel Comboni met more than once. From their correspondence, we can understand that between the two there was a beautiful and intimate friendship. In November 1864, Comboni left Verona to go to France and first stopped in Turin, where he was hosted at the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales. There he met with Don Bosco and his young people, and spent time until 20 December. We know that in that period Comboni inflamed both Salesians and young people with a missionary spirit (cf. MB VIII 825-826). We deduce this from the only letter found from Comboni to Don Bosco dated 3 July 1870:
“I come to ask you a question, which requires an answer as soon as possible. Would you be willing to put together two or three young priests of yours, with four or five of your skilled artisans and catechists, to be available to me so that I can take them to Cairo of Egypt into my male Institute? These would be part of my Institute under my jurisdiction, and I would take care of everything for travel, food, clothing, language instruction, and all else. But at the same time, I would give them a suitable autonomy, so that over time, helped and increased by others of your Institute in Turin, my Institute in Cairo would lead them to the point of being able to direct a special mission in Central Africa, to be entrusted exclusively to the D. Bosco Institute in Turin”.
It is clear that St. Daniel Comboni also wanted Don Bosco’s charism to reach the heart of Central Africa. From oral tradition, we know that at the moment Don Bosco was unable to give a positive response to Comboni’s request, also because he had not yet obtained the approval of the Constitutions from the Holy See. But after 150 years, if we consider the innumerable presences of women and men who are today in Africa and express the Salesian charism, a mission so dear to St. Daniel Comboni, we are certain that Don Bosco, with the Co-foundress St. Mary Domenica Mazzarello, is responding generously to that invitation.
From the very beginning, our Institutes have lived the communion of Charisms. Our Founders witnessed to us that in the Church, either we are in communion, walking in synodality, or we are not in the mission of the Church. Today we celebrate with gratitude our Holy Founders, great prophets with a big heart and open to the world, to the universal mission of the Church, far from small protagonist and self-referential claims. Their missionary charism has vibrated for 150 years in the heart of our communities and continues to contagion many young people and lay people in sharing the mission ad gentes and inter gentes.
What does the meeting of our holy founders say to us today, the Comboni Missionary Sisters and the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians?
Above all, they invite us not to be afraid of cultivating great missionary dreams together, inspiring each other and reciprocally supporting each other in daring to go to distant lands, impelled by love for Christ and for the weakest and most fragile subjects of our time.
In the celebration of this great jubilee, which has offered us one more occasion to meet, to celebrate together our gratitude to the Lord for the wonders accomplished in these 150 years in our Institutes, we want to strengthen our beautiful fraternity, and place ourselves together in listening to the cry of humanity, of young people, of the poor, of women, and of the earth.
We can, together and networking with other religious families and with other Institutions, make evangelical, courageous choices from the point of view of integral ecology, to dream together of new missions, and to start again, continuing to build that dream which our holy Founders believed in and gave to us.
On the eve of the Solemnity of Pentecost, let us invoke together with Mary the Virgin of the Upper Room and motherly guide of our Institutes, the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that He may continue to give the Church the charisms necessary for the holiness of the people of God and for building the Kingdom of peace and universal fraternity.
Photo: Flickr FMA