On Oct. 5, the Pope John Paul II and the Vatican will canonize Bishop Daniel Comboni of Verona, Italy. Comboni founded the order of priests, brothers and sisters in 1872 in an effort to spread the gospel and Catholicism throughout Africa. He died in 1881.
Throughout his life, Bishop Comboni preached widely against the slave trade at a time when others not only accepted it, but also profited from it. His mission work also was revolutionary in that he hoped to evangelize Africa — not through traditional witnessing by European clergy who often left after a few years, but by building African Catholic communities where the people would want to continue the mission on their own. And the Comboni Missionary Sisters were the first women missionaries to go to Africa.
“One becomes a saint when one has an extraordinary life,” Sister Teresa says. “He was the prophet for Africa.” And to become a saint one also has to perform a miracle. The sisters say Comboni’s miracle is that he healed a sick woman from Sudan.
These days the stately provincial house on Lakeside Avenue and the two-story residence behind it is abuzz with anticipation. It’s home to 12 Comboni Missionary Sisters who have come from Italy, Portugal, Mexico, Brazil, Latin America and Peru to spend years, decades even, in Richmond.
Whether spreading the gospel in Lusaka, Zambia, or crossing racial lines in this city, the sisters’ mission is to serve communities that need them most. They came to Richmond in 1950 to help lead the way to integration. They fed the hungry, cared for the sick and educated the poor in Church Hill, Fulton and Swansboro. Today, among other community work, the sisters run the Holy Angels Day Care Center.
On Oct. 5, the day Comboni will be canonized, the sisters plan a special celebration in their chapel. “This is very important to us. We’ve been preparing for a year,” Sister Teresa says, adding: “The Brandon Walters
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