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from issue no. 12 - 2003

An unedited letter by Daniele Comboni

Can. Johannes Crysostomus Mitterrutzner

Chartum 13 January 1875

Dulcissime Rev.um, First I beg your forgiveness for my long silence. Although I have a hundred reasons that have prevented me from writing to you, first friend and father of central Africa, to many distinguished benefactors, to the benefaction societies, and to my own father, there is still no excuse for keeping silent with you so I ask your fogiveness; peccavi tibi and I am certain that your apostle’s heart will forgive me.
After setting up the mission in the Cordofan, on 17 November 1873, I left with Father Stanislao for Chartum. On the 25 in the middle of a forest full of trees and stones I was thrown to the ground, and literally broke my arm and the bones of my hand. I stopped, I was suffering unspeakably, then in atrocious pain I mounted the camel, that caused me spasms with every step. Having reached the Nile the steamboat of Ismail Pasha the governor general came to pick me up and take me to the mission. I spent 82 days between bed and arm tied to my neck: but since I had made a novena to Saint Joseph, my steward, for this trip, to make him happy, not having made him happy by breaking my arm, I condemned my steward Saint Joseph (the true father of Negritude) to pay me within a year as many thousand francs as days I would be forced to carry my arm slung from my neck without being able to say mass. Having been 82 days, I sent an order for 82,000 francs to the bank of my steward in heaven, and I demanded payment. The poor fellow paid before the due date, and I became convinced that even in heaven Saint Joseph is the King of the gentlemen. The moral is that I was able to build the nuns’ house (it’s identical to our grandiose male establishment built by Gostner... the nuns are well installed with the schools, quarters for the slaves, etc.); and after well maintaining the two houses in the Cordofan and the two in Chartum with all the personnel of Catholic usage, I don’t have either in the vicariate, or in Chartum, even a penny’s debt with anybody. Further, I have managed the expense of two caravans from Cairo to Chartum and headed for the Cordofan.
You see how precious are the graces of our dear Saint Joseph. Further I have maintained the two houses in Cairo, and supported at my expense the two Institutes in Verona, because the Charity of the Good Shepherd produces little, as you know.
After the departure of Father Stanislao, though often sick, especially in the Karif [desert wind, ed.] I have supported by myself the burden of the administration, of the buildings, of relations with the Government. On the 8 of December excellent Don Pasquale Fiore superior of the mission in Chartum and parish priest, having read in solemnibus the Gospel in Arab and intoned the Creed, spurted blood, came down from the altar, and I led him to his room. In three days he vomited more than 8 liters of blood: on the11th I communicated him with viaticum and gave him the Holy Oil. For 20 days he was in deep waters, but then the Novenas, the Queen of Negritude, Saint Joseph and the continual care of the nuns from Marseilles, led him to convalescence, and I hope that in three or four months he will be better than before: he is taking great strides toward recovery. He is 35 years old. He was parish priest in Corato and canon and had 32,000 souls under him. He is a treasure of a parish priest. In the midst of that incident you can imagine my desolation. ... I have had immense crosses, but Jesus Christ, Mary, Joseph and Pius IX are my comfort. As greater comfort to my frailty then came the letter from Propaganda, in which the Most Eminent Prefect Cardinal Franchi, after ordering me in the name of the Sacred Congregation to open of course the mission to the Nuba, after giving me instructions on slavery and other things, closed the letter with these words, that were manna to my frailty: «For the rest I have the pleasure of informing you that my Most Eminent colleagues praised the industry with which you have begun the arduous enterprise of evangelizing those barbarous peoples; and they encourage you go on with it without being dismayed at the obstacles you will encounter, counting on the requisite help that certainly will not lack...». In secret I then tell you that the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda has generally agreed to the idea of naming me Vicar Apostolic with character of bishop; but will refer it to the Holy Father only after the setting up of the new mission to Gebel Nuba. I am altogether unworthy of it, but am inclined to accept, when the aforesaid mission is well on its way and that of Chartum and of Cordofan quite robust. ... From the bed where I lie ill I send this scrap of letter. If I’m well, I hope to write you with the next mail.
Daniele Comboni
Provic. Apost.

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