Comboni Missions

Comboni Missions 2020 Fa l l

Poverty Meets Pandemic Ecuador Rises to the Challenge

Suffer the Children Those Spared the Illness Still Suffer Ill Effects

The Mission Goes On Returned Lay Missionary Still Sharing the Gospel

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From the Editor’s Desk


The Comboni Missionaries have celebrated more than 150 years of service to the poorest and most abandoned people of the world. St. Daniel Comboni had a dream for Africa, for the Gospel, and for the future of the Church that would lead him far from his home in Italy and the culture and comforts he cherished. He knew that the scourges of slavery, exploitation, and colonialism failed to respect the human dignity of the peoples of Africa, and of the poor and marginalized in every corner of the world.

EDITOR Kathleen M. Carroll Send Letters to the Editor: Volume 58, No. 3. A $15 annual donation is greatly appreciated. Comboni Missions (ISSN 0279-3652) is an award-winning publication of the Comboni Missionaries and a member of the Catholic Press Association. Published quarterly. The headlines worldwide are still dominated by a single story: COVID. The virus is casting its dark shadow over mission work, too. While the work of spreading the Gospel has not changed in two thousand years, the way in which it is spread changes minute by minute. Some are already prepared to hear the Good News, and our missionaries are there to share it. Others, though, may be too weak from hunger or illness, too distracted by war and want. In such cases, we try to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and give shelter to refugees in the hope that spiritual formation may soon follow. Sometimes the Gospel starts with a bowl of rice or clean drinking water. Sometimes the Good News starts with just a kind word. The Comboni Missionaries are trying to meet this crisis head-on by assisting in health care and education to combat the virus on the front lines. But we are also continuing the quiet, everyday work of mission, bring- ing the presence of Christ to a world in desperate need. Your prayers and support make our work possible. Every life saved, and every heart changed, is a credit to your generosity. Thank you for being an essential part of the Comboni Missionary Family!

He founded two Institutes of religious life, for men and

women, and today inspires lay missionaries and people around the globe

to share in the noble mission of bringing the Gospel—and the peace and justice of

the kingdom of God—to all who have never heard it, and to those who need to hear it again. Today, the Comboni Missionaries serve in more than forty countries in Africa, America, Europe, and Asia. True to St. Daniel’s vision “to save Africa with Africa,” the missionaries themselves come from all reaches of the earth, working together in a common cause. They have been working in North America for eighty years, focusing on pastoral work among African- Americans, Appalachians, Native Americans, and Hispanics, seeking always to adapt their ministries and their methods to the people they serve.

PUBLISHER Comboni Missionaries EDITORIAL OFFICE Comboni Mission Center 1318 Nagel Road Cincinnati, OH 45255 (513) 474-4997

E-mail: Web:

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8 Poverty Meets Pandemic in Ecuador

Refugees “Graduate” to New Lives Little Ecuador is setting a big example for managing refugees.


How the hardest-hit country in South America is rising to the COVID-19 challenge.

From Slavery to the Priesthood Fr. Daniel Deng Sorur was typically Comboni — a trailblazer.


13 Suffer the Children Children haven’t been the face of this pandemic. But they could be among its greatest victims.

5 Meditation

6 Around the World

20 Supporting the Mission 21 Around the Province 23 Vocations

18 The Mission Goes On


Cover - Unicef. 4 - photo Adobe Stock. 5 - photo Adobe Stock. 6 - stories CNA, photos CNA and Pikist. 7 - stories Human RightsWatch photosVOA and HRW. 9 - photo Pikist. 10 - photo UN. 11 - photo UNHCR/ Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo. 12 - photo UNHCR/Ilariia Rapido Ragozzino, infograph UNHCR. 13 - photo Adobe Stock. 14 - infographs and story elements via UNESCO. 15, 16 - photos via DACB 18 - photo courtesy of May family. Back cover - Adobe Stock.

Former Comboni Lay Missionary Ralph May is still finding ways to serve.

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Letters to the Editor Dear Editor,

Your summer issue was beautiful! I always enjoy hearing about the many missions that the Comboni Missionaries are undertaking throughout the world, but it is somehow even more touching in this difficult and uncertain time of illness. To think how hard it must be for someone to keep clean or even wash their hands when even their drinking water is dirty and contaminated! It is much easier for me to suffer the small inconveniences of my life when I consider how difficult this time is for others. I hope that all the missionaries will stay safe and healthy as they do their work. I always pray for you! OCTOBER The Laity’s Mission in the Church We pray that by the virtue of baptism, the laity, especially women, may participate more in areas of responsibility in the Church. NOVEMBER Artificial Intelligence We pray that the progress of robotics and artificial intelligence may always serve humankind. DECEMBER For a Life of Prayer We pray that our personal relationship with Jesus Christ be nourished by the Word of God and a life of prayer. The Pope’s Prayer Intentions J. Burgess Cincinnati, Ohio

To the Editor, Please keep up the great work. The stories and pic- tures are wonderful. I am sending a donation to help with water filters. I hope it can supply many families, especially the women and children who need it most. My parish is praying for the missionaries in a special way this year. [name withheld]

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

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MISSION MEDITATION Understanding what God is saying to us at this time of pandemic also represents a challenge for the Church’s mission. Illness, suffering, fear and isolation challenge us. The poverty of those who die alone, the abandoned, those who have lost their jobs and income, the homeless and those who lack food challenge us. Being forced to observe social distancing and to stay at home invites us to rediscover that we need social relationships as well as our communal relationship with God. Far from increasing mistrust and indifference, this situation should make us even more attentive to our way of relating to others. And prayer, in which God touches and moves our hearts, should make us ever more open to the need of our brothers and sisters for dignity and freedom, as well as our responsibility to care for all creation. The impossibility of gathering as a Church to celebrate the Eucharist has led us to share the experience of the many Christian communities that cannot celebrate Mass every Sunday. In all of this, God’s question: “Whom shall I send?” is addressed once more to us and awaits a generous and convincing response: “Here am I, send me!” (Is 6:8). God continues to look for those whom he can send forth into the world and to the nations to bear witness to his love, his deliverance from sin and death, his liberation from evil.

Birthplace of St. Daniel Comboni, Limone sul Garda, Italy.

—Pope Francis

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Around the World

UNITED STATES Supreme Court rules that school employees are ministers

ITALY Priest killed by man he was helping

A 51-year-old priest was stabbed to death near his parish in Como, Italy. Fr. Roberto Malgesini was known for his devotion to the homeless and migrants in the northern Italian diocese. A 53-year-old man from Tunisia admitted to the stabbing and turned himself in to police shortly afterward. The man was understood to suffer from some mental ailments and was known by Malgesini, who had let him sleep in a room for the homeless run by the parish. Malgesini was the coordinator of a group to help people in difficult situations. The morning he was killed, he was expected at a breakfast for the home- less. In 2019, he was fined by police for feeding people living under the portico of a former church. A diocesan statement said “in the face of this tragedy, the Church of Como is clinging to prayer for its priest Fr. Roberto and for the person who struck him to death.”

In July, the Supreme Court delivered a long- awaited religious liberty decision on the right of religious schools to hire and fire teachers. The court found in favor of two Catholic schools in California, ruling that a “ministerial exception” to government interference applies to teachers in reli- gious schools. The ruling came in the consolidated cases of Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James Catholic School v. Biel. The justices ruled in a 7-2 decision that teachers at Catholic grade schools qualified for the “ministers excep- tion” established by the court in the 2012 Hosana Tabor case. “The religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito for the majority.

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Around the World

PHILIPPINES Killings up 50 percent in Duterte’s war on drugs

TANZANIA Repression increases as election approaches

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte administration’s bloody “war on drugs” worsened during the COVID-19 lockdown, according to the government’s own statistics. Police killed 50 percent more people between April to July 2020 than they did in the previous four- month period. In total, since Duterte took office in June 2016, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) has officially recognized 5,810 persons killed as of the end of July 2020. Human Rights Watch analyzed the government’s statistics and found 155 persons were killed in the past four months. Before the COVID-19 crisis, police killed 103 persons from December 2019 to March 2020. The number of fatalities in these raids, in which the police routinely claimed that the victims fought back, jumped dramatically from the 26 deaths recorded by the PDEA in five months from July to November 2019.

Tanzania authorities have stepped up repression of opposition parties, NGOs, and the media ahead of the country’s general elections on October 28, 2020. Since mid-June, the government has arrested at least 17 opposition party members and critics of the government, suspended a rights group and canceled the license of another, and blocked other major rights groups from observing the upcoming elections. The authorities have also imposed new restrictions on the media, revoking the license of a newspaper affiliated with an opposition member and restricting some news outlets because of their reporting on COVID-19, which President John Magufuli says no longer exists in the country. The government has arbitrarily arrested and briefly detained members of opposition political parties on such grounds as “endangering the peace” or unlawful assembly.

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Poverty Meets Pandemic

Residents of the impoverished neighborhood of Cooperativa Bastion Popular, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, are pictured during the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic, on May 9, 2020. The graffiti reads, “Jesus alone is our salvation.”

Photo by JOSE SANCHEZ/Afp/AFP via Getty Images.

Poverty Meets Pandemic in Ecuador

In March and April, Ecuador was a nightmare. Among the hardest hit by the pandemic in the region, it struggled to keep up with the health emergency. For months, it failed. Especially hard hit was the nation’s economic hub, the Pacific port Guayaquil. Comboni Missionary Fr. Jose Barranco describes the impact there as “catastrophic.” Victims of the virus died at home by the hundreds — and that was not the worst of it. Makeshift morgues soon filled to capacity and then, as journalist Blanca Moncada reports, things got worse. “There are bodies stacked in freezers, corpses lining the corridors, even stacked outside the hospital,” she reported in April. “We are living in hell.”

Kathleen M. Carroll

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Poverty Meets Pandemic

The wealthier streets of Guayaquil are still quiet, but once again clean.

Social media was flooded with images of the untended dead in the streets. Despite assurances from President Lenin Moreno that the situation was not as dire as those images reflected, more than 1,000 bodies were collected from public streets and private homes in one two-week period. When the country ran out of caskets, the government began issuing cardboard boxes. When fearful funeral homes and beleaguered cemeteries stopped accepting bodies, people got dangerously creative. A military checkpoint stopped one vehicle leaving the city with a corpse propped up and masked in the back seat, disguised as a sleeping passenger. There were four other people in the car. Ecuador’s health system was immediately overwhelmed by coronavirus cases. Medical staff worked double shifts, but the contagion was so swift and widespread that there was no chance to get ahead of it. All eyes

fell on Guayaquil as a bellwether of the virus’s impact on South America.

he says. “Three, four, or even five people live together, and there is little food.” Food scarcity often means daily trips away from home in search of something to eat. At least one member of the family must leave the house and when they return, they are just inches away from the rest of the family. “What are they supposed to do?” asks Fr. Jose. Faith and Hope Fr. Jose shared how the Church has responded to the crisis. A hospital run by the Archdiocese of Guayaquil was not equipped to help those with coronavirus, but it expanded its services to other patients and provided a telephone service to dispense medical advice. This took some of the pressure off the hospitals and staff struggling to manage the COVID crisis.

“What are they supposed to do?”

—Fr. Jose Barranco

Fanning the Flames At first, the spread of the infection was blamed on a slow government response and an unwillingness of the people to quarantine or take precautions — a situation that any country might face. But here, there were more challenges. Fr. Jose explains that quarantine, while inconvenient for wealthier countries, is all but impossible here. “The houses are only one room,”

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Poverty Meets Pandemic

was strictly enforced with violators subject to a $60 fine and public servants, such as bus drivers, liable for penalties up to $200. Along with food distribution, mobile medical clinics helped keep infected patients from traveling for diagnosis and care. A researcher at the Universidad San Francisco in Quito, Bernardo Gutiérrez, told the Associated Press, “the merits of Guayaquil specifically lie in their efforts to organize and coordinate efforts between the Guayaquil’s success in combating COVID-19 has been a gift to the capital of Quito, where the outbreak visited a bit later. Guayaquil has been able to share resources and medical staff with Quito and small towns throughout Ecuador.

local government and different civilian actors.” Back on Their Feet The intervention worked. While the virus stubbornly persists in Guayaquil, cases have plummeted to such an extent that the city is sharing its supplies and medical staff with Quito and more rural areas. Critical patients can now safely be sent to hospitals in Guayaquil, which now have the capacity to treat them. The public health crisis of bodies in the street (which officials continue to suggest were overreported) has been eliminated. NBC News reported a story emblematic of the city’s rebound: On July 25, [mayor] Viteri marked Guayaquil’s foundation by Spanish colonizers in the 16th century with an emotional speech on Carmen hill, which overlooks the city. “We were simply left to our fate” at the pandemic’s peak, she said. But, the mayor said, Guayaquil residents got back on their feet.

The Catholic parishes in the area teamed up with the government on a program to feed the hungry. The churches are accessible to more people than the government buildings, so they became centers for collecting and dispersing donations and government- provided rations. Along with his other ministries, Fr. Jose is the director of National Catholic Radio in Ecuador’s capital, Quito. Radio-based liturgies and prayer services help to keep the people connected to the Church and one another, sharing “faith and hope” with listeners. Ecuador is no stranger to contagion. Yellow fever and malaria are constant concerns in its tropical climate, but in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, no one knew how bad it would become. Once officials understood the extent of the crisis, they took action. A Dramatic Turnaround The cooperation between government and private charitable groups made for a dramatic turnaround. Large gatherings were prohibited — an especially harsh burden in a culture that turns every baptism and wedding into a community celebration. Mask-wearing

The small group of invited guests — masked, their chairs spaced well apart — clapped. ■

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Refugee Graduation

Carmen Cercel é n’s hostel in El Juncal takes in about 20 Venezuelan refugees each night. “Now this lady is like our mom,” says one grateful guest.

Refugees “Graduate” to New Lives Record Unemployment Fails to Dampen Ecuador’s Hospitality Kathleen M. Carroll

reclaim their home and property were futile and their resources limited. They spent all their remaining money on bus tickets to Ecuador. Along with their children, they spent the next week at the bus station in Quito, out of money and with nowhere to turn. Ecuador has taken in nearly 400,000 refugees from Venezuela, nearly 10 percent of the estimated 4.8 million migrants and refugees of its South American neighbor. With its own staggering employment crisis, Ecuador is poorly positioned to extend such generosity, but a small legend is growing up around those who are going the extra mile to help their neighbors in need. Carmen Cercelén opened a tourist hostel in El Juncal, just over the Colombian border. Since early 2018, though, her guests aren’t travelling by choice, and they aren’t paying. She noticed that each day there were more people walking past her hostel, carrying children,

Nearly 85 percent of Ecuadorans are in “precarious” jobs or without employment altogether, according to Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman. An economy based on tourism and oil exports was especially hard hit by the pandemic. Newman quotes restaurateur Ronny Coronel, “I know loads of people who are unemployed and who were forced to updated their contracts and work for half or 80 percent less — if they’re paid at all.” The figure is shocking, yet thousands of Venezuelan refugees, fleeing the economic crisis at home, are flocking to Ecuador in search of a better life. Venezuelan auto mechanic Osmar and his wife, Valeria, a hairdresser, did not leave home willingly. They returned from an overnight visit with family to find that squatters had taken over their home. Their efforts to

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Refugee Graduation

dragging suitcases, and pushing strollers. Once she opened her doors to the refugees, the flood did not abate. El Juncal has a population of about 2,500 people; about 8,000 people have stayed at Carmen’s hostel. The poverty of her own childhood has helped Carmen reach out to others. “I grew up in the streets,” she says. The people fleeing Venezuela are “good people, mothers and fathers. They are engineers, workers, carpenters. They are people like us,” she says. The generosity of the people of Ecuador is helped along by assistance from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. It has established a refugee integration and poverty prevention program called the Graduation Model. Osmar and Valeria were rescued from the bus station in Quito by UNHCR and given slots in the program.

Program graduates Osmar and Valeria are looking forward to their new business venture. “It’s my biggest dream,” says Osmar.

The program strives to help the most vulnerable refugees — large families, single mothers, and those with no local support network. It provides vocational training, small business grants, and mentoring to help refugees get established in their new country. It also offers psychological support services to those suffering from the trauma of forced relocation.

“Graduation” from the program means that a family’s income is above the poverty line, that they have three meals a day, that they can save 5 percent or more of their income, and that they have established a local support network. Osmar and Valeria graduated after 18 months in the program and are excited to begin their new business as the local economy recovers. Another program success story, a woman named Deilys was able to purchase an oven, refrigerator, and commercial mixer to establish a food business. “This process has given us the tools for us to subsist, survive, and make headway,” she says. “We don’t have everything, but we are living well. We have no debts and we’re never behind on the rent, and when birthdays roll around, we have enough to buy gifts for our kids.” ■

The growth of the Graduation Model for refugees in Ecuador.

Story elements courtesy of UNHCR and Al Jazeera.

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Children at Risk

Suffer the Children

While Less Likely to Get the Virus, Children Are Not Immune to the Consequences of the Pandemic

Kathleen M. Carroll

Children have not been the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. But they risk being among its biggest victims. Women and children generally bear the brunt of large catastrophes. They are most likely to become refugees, suffer disproportionately from famine, and are left far behind in times of economic downturn. While children seem to have avoided many of the direct health effects of COVID-19 — at least so far — the crisis is taking its toll on them nonetheless. All children, of all ages, and in all countries, are being affected, in particular by the socioeconomic impacts and, in some cases, by mitigation measures that may inadvertently do more harm than

good. This is a universal crisis and, for some children, the impact will be lifelong. But the harmful effects of this pandemic will not be distributed equally. IN FOOD-INSECURE HOUSEHOLDS, THE DESPERATE MATH IS SIMPLE: FEED THOSE WHO HAVE JOBS TO GO TO. They are expected to be most damaging for children in the poorest countries, and in the poorest neighborhoods, and for those in already disadvantaged or vulnerable situations. As business shut down, some higher-paid employees and executives have been able to rely

on savings to weather the storm. For entry-level workers, the loss of even one paycheck was devastating. Even as some areas began to reopen, workers with young children have seen drastic shifts in their day care and schooling options. If in-person schooling was not an option, parents faced dire choices. Should they leave their children unattended? Or should they stay home, lose their jobs, and as a consequence, lose unemployment benefits? And this was the situation for workers in the U.S. Food Insecurity In small villages in Africa, Asia, and South America, markets were closed by government mandate. In some areas, a single market can be a significant element of the food- supply chain. Even those who had a

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Children at Risk

Daily net income in Bangladesh, and many low-income countries, has fallen precipitously during the pandemic.

little money put aside quickly found that they had nowhere to spend it. In food-insecure households, the desperate math is simple: Feed those who have jobs to go to. School meals that have been a support for low-income families have disappeared as well, and children who fall behind in key nutrients during childhood may suffer deficits that last a lifetime. UNESCO estimates that 42 to 66 million children could fall into extreme poverty (less than $2/day income) as a result of the pandemic, adding to the 386 million already living at below subsistence level. Educational Delays Solving the school equation has been difficult even among wealthier nations. Globally 188 countries have closed all public schools for some period of time. Most of them

have established distance-learning platforms, but in low-income nations, just 30 percent have taken this step. Of course, even web- , radio- , or television-based coursework relies on access to these media — often well out of reach for the poor. The number of children affected by this education gap approaches 1.5 billion. Even if a vaccine is approved tomorrow, what will the long-term impacts be? No one can say with certainty. Other Health Impacts Children who don’t get coronavirus can still get polio, malaria,

typhus, and a host of other treatable or preventable diseases. The shutdown threatens access to vaccines and healthcare for everyone, especially low-income children. The UN has forecast that years of progress in reducing infant mortality could be erased by the pandemic. Exposure to Violence Lockdowns and shelter-in-place measures come with heightened risk of children witnessing or suffering violence and abuse. Children in conflict settings, as well as those living in unsanitary and crowded conditions, such as refugee and IDP settlements, are also at considerable risk. Online platforms for distance learning carry an increased risk of exposure to inappropriate content and online predators. As far as science knows right now, no one is immune from COVID-19 and no one is immune from its wider effects. As usual, the youngest and most vulnerable will bear a disproportionate burden in dealing with this crisis. ∎

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From Slavery to the Priesthood

Terence Walz From Slavery to the Priesthood Daniel Deng Sorur

The UN Sustainable Development Report for 2020 shines a spotlight on global inequity. As Fr. Alex mentions, developed nations use far more than their fair share of resources, thwarting the growth country of South Sudan). He was a member of the Jur, one of the Dinka groups then occupying the western bank of the White Nile and the southern side of the Bahr al-Arab River that borders on southern Kordofan province. Farim’s name m ans “the saved one” and it was given to im because he was born on a day when the “Arabs” attacked the Dinka. Daniel Sorur was born Farim Den[g] in 1859 or 1860 in a homestead he called Wen de Meren in the Bahr al-Ghazal province of the Egyptian Sudan (now the Daniel Sorur, a former slave who converted to Christianity, became the first Dinka to be ordained a Catholic priest. He was destined for a brilliant career in the Catholic missionary movement in Africa at the end of the nineteenth century. The great hope of his Comboni missionary mentors was that he would be the agent for the evangelization of his people and other black Africans. Unfortunately, poor health undermined and curtailed his activities, eventually cutting short his life before he could fulfill his promise. Roots in Sudan

His father Piok Den[g] died in a hunting accident in 1868 when Farim was perhaps eight or nine, and following the Dinka custom, his mother Aquid married Piok’s older brother, Akhol. Farim’s older (and only) half-brother, Kog, died a year later (1869), making him the nuclear family’s sole surviving son. Despite losing his father and elder brother, and despite periodic illnesses, occasional cattle-thieving, and the constant need to seek fresh pasture land for the herds, Farim considered the early years of his life uneventful. In an unpublished manuscript he wrote about his people, he recounts several early adventures leading to his gradual understanding of the world. One recounts a journey with a cohort of Dinka herders to the farther reaches of the Bahr al-Ghazal River where they encountered the Baggara. He was startled to realize that not all people were as black as the Dinka were. They bartered spears, grain, and sheep for metals and metal- based goods. Enslaved Farim was captured by Baggara in 1871, when he was eleven or

twelve. Thus began a brutal new chapter in his life, resulting in a journey he could never have imagined as a young boy. What he relates of his capture is typical of the enslaved narratives that the Comboni missionaries collected and published in La Nigrizia, but the particular details are nonetheless deeply moving. The family’s house was located not far from the river, which herdsmen and tillers used to cross in order to tend the land on the opposite bank. They were also not far from the dry grasslands, and in times of emergency, men and women and their children used to flee into it in order to escape slave raiders. In the months leading up to their enslavement, the Dinka had escaped or fought off several marauding groups. St. Daniel Comboni pictured with Fr. Daniel Sorur, the first among his people to become a priest.

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From Slavery to the Priesthood

never to be seen again. Aquid knew the slavers didn’t like keeping mother and children together, but she persuaded her slaver to trade one of his young captives to Farim’s slaver in exchange for her son — without letting him know they were related — so that at least the two of them could face the bleak future of enslavement together. which additional Dinka clans (the Twic, among them) were attacked and enslaved, Farim and Aquid arrived in El Obeid, the capital of Kordofan. They were left in the compound of Assemani (Uthman), an agent for the principal slaver who was named Abdallahi. Assemani treated him and his mother relatively well. It was Assemani who gave him a new name, “Surur” (Sorur), which means happiness. It was a common name given to slaves at the time. Sorur remained enslaved for two years. He served his enslaver in a variety of capacities — shepherd, doorman, shopkeeper, tailor — and was often entrusted with special duties. Assemani and Abdallahi decided to return to the South Sudan on a new slaving expedition, and Aquid volunteered to go as the cook on the chance she might find her daughters and bring them back. Assemani didn’t agree with this idea, and so both she and Farim remained in the camp. However, shortly before Assemani and Abdallahi were due to return, After an arduous trip from the Bahr al-Ghazal region, during

Farim or Sorur (as he was now called), was accused of a minor crime and threatened with a harsh punishment. He feared for his life and decided to escape, either into the grasslands to die or to the newly established Comboni mission house in El Obeid where he understood that slaves were given refuge. (He also feared he might be eaten, as this was rumored about whites among Sudanese slaves.) He opted to take his chances with the missionaries. He was welcomed into the house by then-Monsignor Daniel Comboni, who was then in El Obeid and later repeatedly protected Farim against his former owner. In a dramatic scene, Assemani brought Aquid to the mission in an effort to persuade him to return to servitude. Farim refused, and Aquid angrily turned her back on him, saying in harsh terms that she would never see him again. Indeed, he never saw her again and no doubt their last scene together could never be forgotten. Joining the Mission Sorur started learning Italian and Arabic at the Catholic mission in El Obeid, and also began catechism classes. He was baptized by Comboni himself in 1874. Comboni had become his mentor and had given him his name; henceforth he was known as Daniel Sorur. He studied for a further year at the Khartoum Mission School, and then was selected in 1876, along with Arturo Morzal, a formerly enslaved man from Darfur, to be sent to Verona for further studies.

The day of his capture, the men folk of Farim’s family were away tending the herd and the women planting a crop when they were surprised by Baggara and Jallaba on horseback and quickly surrounded. Fearing enslavement and being separated from her children, Aquid, whom Farim portrays in his writings as a strong and fierce woman, gathered the girls around her and put up a struggle. However, she was wounded by her attacker and all of them were soon captured. In a panic, Farim ran into the grasslands and climbed up a tree to hide. However, the tree was already sheltering another Dinka boy, and both were spotted by the Baggara horseman who was pursuing the fugitives. They were brought back to the encampment where Farim and his mother caught sight of each other. Though hoping to stay together, Aquid and her daughters wound up with different enslavers, and eventually were separated,

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From Slavery to the Priesthood

Comboni petitioned Pope Pius IX asking that both be admitted to the Collegium Urbanum, Rome, and his request was granted; both boys entered the college in 1877. Sorur studied philosophy and religion in a course of studies that would lead ultimately to the priesthood; Arturo dropped out, opting instead to study medicine. By the end of his formal studies, Sorur had not only shown considerable intellectual capacities, but was also fluent in Italian, French, German and English. He had established himself as a spokesman for the conversion of Africans to Christianity, a role for him that the Comboni Missionaries must fervently have sought. In 1883, however, Sorur fell seriously ill and was sent to recuperate in the warm and dry climate of Cairo, where the Comboni mission had constructed a new church and two mission schools in the new and fashionable quarter of the city known as Ismailia. After seven months there, he was deemed well enough to finish his studies at the Jesuit University in Beirut, which he did in 1886. In the summer he went to Ghazir, a village in the Lebanese mountains, to undertake further studies in Arabic and to teach French and Italian. Return to Africa Later in 1886, he returned to Cairo, where he was ordained the following spring by Bishop Francesco Sogaro at the Sacred Heart Church in downtown Cairo. According to his autobiography, his ordination caused jubilation among the city’s Catholics and Sudanese, being the first “black” to become a priest. With his studies now completed, Sorur was kept busy in Cairo teaching Arabic to Sudanese and other Africans while the Comboni Fathers decided what to do with him next. Trained as an evangelical priest, they wanted him to begin work in the Sudan. However, at this time only Sawakin and the eastern Red Sea coast remained free of Mahdist control. In late 1887 he was posted there and put in charge of its mission school. Although his stay was short, it was a highly eventful time.

Fund-Raising Sojourn in Europe Sorur spent only eighteen months in Sudan. The mission in Verona seems to have realized his value as the spokesman for the Combonis’ work in Africa and they brought him back to Europe in 1889 to participate in a major fund-raising trip for the mission to raise money for the Central African Mission’s institutions in Cairo and for the construction of churches. Fluent in French as well as in Italian, German, and English, Sorur enjoyed great success as a speaker and proved especially popular in Austria and Germany. His ability in languages and his gentle demeanor won him many friends. Many Europeans had never seen a black person before, and were often stunned by his appearance. Return to Cairo and Final Years Ill health was probably the reason for his return to Cairo in 1891, where Sorur remained during the final period of his life, teaching at the mission schools in Cairo and later Helwan, where most of his students were Egyptians or sons of Europeans. Sorur died in Cairo at the Abbasiyya Hospital on January 11, 1900. He is believed to be buried in the common grave of the Comboni brothers and sisters in Helwan, but in fact his name is not mentioned in the plaque in the mausoleum. A brilliant career as an evangelical among his people eluded him. After he died, the Comboni missionaries were able to return to the Sudan, and in 1930, his autobiography was translated into English, though never published. Clearly the missionaries believed the truncated career of this unusual man deserved to resonate with their new converts. ∎

TERENCE WALZ is an independent scholar working in Washington, DC. He is the author of Trade Between Egypt and Bilad as-Sudan, 1700–1820.

This is an abridgment of Terence Walz, Sorur, Daniel Deng, Dictionary of African Christian Biography, stories/south-sudan/sorur2-daniel/. Used by permission.

Fall 2020 17

Comboni Lay Missionaries

venture with his father. He and his father eventually built their partnership into a successful 1,100 acre farm. At the same time, Ralph was very involved with their local Catholic parish, and also got involved in Cursillo, a Spanish lay community founded in 1944. In 1997, Ralph heard about a Catholic orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico, that was in dire need of aid — a building falling apart, and many children suffering from disabilities and various illnesses, including a few that were HIV positive. While many people of good will might be moved to pray or donate to try and help, Ralph had other ideas. He remembers thinking at the time: “There’s no other choice. We have to go.” As soon as the school year ended, the whole May family, including the kids, drove down from Idaho to Tijuana, working for five days at the orphanage doing as much as they could to help. When they left to head home, Ralph said they vowed to come back the following October, which they did, leading an extensive renovation of the entire orphanage upon that second visit. Along with his wife, Theresa, Ralph May was a Comboni Lay Missionary from February 2005 to December 2010, but his service to the poor continues at home in Boise, Idaho. (Photo of May working in Trujillo, Peru.)

The Mission Goes On Former Comboni Lay Missionary Ralph May Finds NewWays to Serve, Right at Home

Jonah McKeown

For Ralph May, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul of Southwest Idaho, helping the poor is a task in which he finds great joy — and one which has brought him and his family to some of the most poverty- stricken areas of the entire world. “I’ve always been driven by the Gospel message of ‘Loving your neighbor as yourself.’ It’s just been a driver in my life, and I have felt inadequate at times, not even being able to come close to fulfilling that. But I’ve always been able to feel and touch God through other people, and particularly the poor,” he told CNA.

“That’s a tenet of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul — that we need the poor to teach us, that we need to be taught and understand God through the poor. I guess I’ve felt that strongly from the very beginning, and I’ve been blessed to have had the opportunity to do something

about that at times.” “We Have to Go”

Ralph is a cradle Catholic, born and raised in the small town of Wendell, Idaho. After getting a degree from the University of Idaho — where he met his wife — Ralph returned to Wendell to start a joint farming

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Comboni Lay Missionaries

Ralph even worked out a deal to bring the sisters and kids from the orphanage to Idaho for Christmas one year. He estimates he made nearly 30 trips to Tijuana

He started a ministry for men and women coming out of prison — a ministry he had never done before, but which he very much enjoyed. In 2017, SVDP applied for a major grant to get an executive director for the southwest Idaho council. Ralph was selected to serve as the region’s first executive director. “We Can Do Something about This” Ralph says even though he has been away from South America for five years, his experience working with the poorest of the poor there has given him valuable perspective. When he approaches the poor in the United States, his knowledge and experience from working in Peru “allows me to continue to roll up my sleeves and say OK, we can do something about this.” The poverty he encountered in South America is “so much graver” than the poverty he generally encounters in the US, he said. In Peru, there are fewer resources available in the communities, and it is much more difficult to make a real difference. In contrast, there are many good people and nonprofits in Idaho that are willing to answer SVDP’s pleas for resources. That simply didn’t exist in Peru, he said. “I have never felt despair here, working with the poor. There’s a lot of poor, and in their circumstances it is grave. But I think that perspective has been a very strong thing and a very good thing in my life.” Despite the continued challenges of the coronavirus and changing demographics, “we’re on a great path these days,” he said. ∎

over the next six or seven years. “A Beautiful Experience”

It was around this time that Ralph realized he had the heart of a full-time missionary. So he left his farming partnership with his father, and he and his wife, Theresa, set about changing their career paths. Ralph and Theresa moved the family to Bolivia in 2003 for a three-month intensive language course. Eventually, they landed in a very poor area of Peru, near the large city of Trujillo. The area was very dangerous at the time, with high crime, no paved roads, most houses having only a dirt floor, and water available only once a week. In terms of the Catholic community, there were 180,000 people living within the local parish boundaries, which had one main church and five small chapels spread throughout the area. Ralph started building gardens at all of them, and Theresa did a lot of youth ministry and music ministry work for the parish. Eventually Ralph paired up with another Catholic to form a nonprofit in Peru. He would go house to house to figure out the most critical needs for each poor family, and then recruited services to come in and help the poor neighborhoods. He also liaised between university students who wanted to do service and the poor neighborhoods that needed their help. A New Start Family matters led the family to come back to the US, to Boise, in 2015. There, Ralph volunteered with the Red Cross, helping with disaster assistance, rising to the position of logistics manager for the region. Then, in 2016, Ralph started doing some special projects for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) for the area.

JONAH MCKEOWN is a staff writer and assistant content editor at Catholic News Agency.

Fall 2020 19

Supporting the Mission

Joe Foley Some of you may remember the story of a little boy named Moses who was nearly buried alive with his deceased mother, because the villagers had no resources with which to care for him. We covered this story in a previous issue of Comboni Missions. This little Moses is doing well and living with a new family, thanks to the care provided by the Moyo Babies Home. So Many Boys Named Moses

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When we visited last year, we asked about Moses. One of the Sisters introduced us to another little boy there, at Moyo, who was likewise abandoned. He suffers seizures. His name, too, is Moses. You might think the sharing of the name Moses a coincidence. Actually, there’s more to it. The first little boy, rescued from the grave, never had a name. The second little boy didn’t, either. That’s the reality in this part of northern Uganda. So many children don’t make it, or aren’t expected to. So they don’t even get a name. And that’s why, at the Moyo Babies Home, there are lots of little Moseses running around. It’s because that’s what the Sisters have named them. They have been rescued as infants, in the face of great odds, just as the first Moses was lifted from a basket set adrift on the Nile. Your support means life-saving help for these children, who would otherwise lack medical care, or might perhaps be consigned to a fate of becoming a servant to their families, or much, much worse. The first Moses grew up to change the world. He helped his people go from suffering and servitude to the Promised Land. Thanks to you, and the Moyo Babies Home, we know that these little boys fulfill their own promise and have a brighter future. ∎

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JOE FOLEY is a grant writer for the Comboni Missionaries, North American Province.

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Around the Province

A few blocks south of the Tijuana River, just across the US/Mexico border is a small, charming parish — Parroquia Inmaculada Concepción. This parish boasts a large, faithful community of Catholics led by Father Jesse Esqueda, OMI. Father Jesse just happens to be the brother of Ana Maria Rodriguez — a longtime friend of the Comboni Missionaries in Covina, California. It is through this family connection that we became aware of the poverty and need within Tijuana. That’s how in late 2019 the Father Ambrosoli Project was born — a ministry from the Comboni Missionaries Covina Mission Center dedicated to supporting those in need at Parroquia Inmaculada Concepción. Several times a year, donations are collected at the Covina Mission Center — toys, blankets, food, tarps, money, clothes — and then delivered to the parish. Back in January 2020 the ministry was able to collect enough donations to fill 10 vehicles. Comboni Lay Missionary Rossie Patlan was one of several volunteers who made the two hour journey to Tijuana to deliver the gifts. “Thank you all for all your donations and generosity… Most importantly we were able to put a smile and great joy on the faces of over 200 families… May this beautiful movement continue throughout the year and for the rest of our lives!” Rossie said in a Facebook post on January 6. Reaching Across the Border to Lend a Hand Parish to Parish Lindsay Braud

The Father Ambrosoli Project brings ten carloads of donations to the small Tijuana parish.

She described how families most wanted tarps and blankets. The tarps are often used for roofs, which is especially important in the cold winter months. The generosity from friends and volunteers of the Covina Mission Center has continued throughout and despite the pandemic. In September a group delivered another round of donations. Comboni Missionary Father Jorge Ochoa is grateful for those involved with the Father Ambrosoli Project. He recently thanked the volunteers saying, “We as a community of the Comboni Missionaries want to express our gratitude to each of you for making these donations possible so we can help the poorest of the poor.” ∎

LINDSAY BRAUD is communications specialist for the Comboni Missionaries, North American Province.

Fall 2020 21

Around the Province

Upcoming Events Our parishes and mission centers have had limited availability to the public due to the pandemic, but our many ministries continues. Daily, weekly, and monthly Masses are celebrated online — as are book clubs, youth group meetings, and more. As the country slowly opens back up, our ministry online continues. Visit for a full list of upcoming events. California Rosary Night: We invite you to join us in praying the rosary every Tuesday night at 6 p.m. PST via Zoom. Noches de Rosario y Oracion: Los invitamos a nuestras Noches de Rosario y Oración semanales. Actualmente se están iniciando a las 6 p.m. (PST) en español cada martes a través de Zoom. ¡Todos son bienvenidos! Holy Hour — Hora Santa: The First Friday of every month at 7 p.m. PSD Father Jorge Elias Ochoa broadcasts The Holy Hour. We invite you to join us on Facebook Live and YouTube @Padre Jorge E. Ochoa, mccj. La Hora Santa se transmitirá en vivo a las 7 p.m. PSD cada primer viernes del mes con el Padre Jorge Elias Ochoa, mccj. Te invitamos a que nos acompañes en Facebook Live y YouTube @Padre Jorge E. Ochoa, mccj. Young Adults Night: Every month, the Comboni Missionaries host the “Hearts of Worship” young adult night led by Father Jorge Elias Ochoa. The meetings are bilingual, and we welcome all young adults ages 18 to 35. Call our office at 626-339-1914 for more information. Cada mes, los Misioneros Combonianos organizan la noche para jóvenes “Hearts of Worship,”dirigida por el padre Jorge Elias Ochoa. Nuestras juntas son bilingües, Around the Province

y les damos la bienvenida a todos los jóvenes de las edades 18 a 35. Llame a nuestra oficina al 626-339- 1914 para obtener más información. Cincinnati First Friday Mass — Misa del Primer Viernes: First Friday Mass will be celebrated the first Friday of every month at 8 a.m. EST — live from the Cincinnati Mission Center. We invite you to join us on Facebook Live: Comboni Missionaries - North American Province. Comboni Book Club: The third Thursday of every month, the Comboni Mission Center hosts a book club — all are welcome. To be added to the book club email list, please contact Lindsay Braud at communications@ Please join us for our next Comboni Book Club at 7 p.m. EST, October 22, when we will be discussing The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis. Mission Mondays: Please sign up for our email series celebrating mission all month long at www. Chicago Daily Mass: Mass is celebrated daily on the La Grange Park Comboni Mission Center Facebook Page. Mass in Spanish is at 9 a.m. CDT. Mass in English is at 6 p.m. ∎ Be sure to follow us on Facebook for all our latest news and events.

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