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Comboni and the Women of the Gospel

At the centre of the icon, Daniel Comboni blesses. The bulk of his portrait recalls the monumental work he undertook: the proclamation of the Good News of Christ to the peoples of Africa.  The missionary looked, thought and acted in the great ways that the Saints of God know how.

Comboni was in love with Christ Crucified, the Master. He has an intense gaze, without tensions, deeply immersed in the supernatural light of paradise.

His tunic is white, the colour of the tunic of the Risen and transfigured Christ. It is the tunic he was wearing when death struck him down in the midst of afflictions and struggles. He is wearing the Cross gifted to him by Pope Pius IX whose esteem he enjoyed and on his head the apostolic headpiece and around his waist his bishop’s belt. While he blesses with his right hand, in his left hand he holds his Plan for the Regeneration of Africa, fruit of inspiration from the Holy Spirit.

In this icon, he is surrounded by ten scenes which underline some fundamental dimensions of his understanding of missionary life: the importance of the woman in the Plan for the regeneration of Africa, his love for the Sacred heart of Jesus and the redemptive nature of the Cross.

Icona Comboni the women of the Gospel
Jesus the Good Shepherd with Mary and Joseph

Jesus the Good Shepherd with Mary and Joseph (top centre)

In the top centre icon, the three people most meaningful to Comboni are represented: Jesus Christ, since always and forever his model, Mary, star of evangelization, to whom he entrusts Nigrizia, then gentle Saint Joseph: ”Just remember that it is women and saint Joseph alone who will convert Central Africa”

Mary presents her redeemer Son to humanity. The tree by her side, which sinks its roots into the earth and entrusts its branches to the light of heaven, is a symbol of the connection between the material and the spiritual. Jesus the Good Shepherd leads the flock to heavenly pastures.

Saint Joseph, humble and submitted, has his hands covered in a sign of deep respect and submission to divine Authority. At his feet, the mystical myrtle bush symbolized his heavenly marriage with Mary.

The Crucifixion (top left)

On the top left, we can observe Jesus dying on the Cross in the act of entrusting humanity to Maria electing her as the Mother of all Peoples. The women at the foot of the Cross are moved and are aware of the great drama taking place of Jesus offering himself for humanity: “ God’s works must be born and grow at the foot of Clavary” (W.5281)

The more the Cross oppressed Comboni, the more this made him certain that he was going in the right direction and convinced that he was working for the kingdom of God.

In this scene, femininity capable of bearing pain is illustrated in the women who weep for Jesus, the sacrificial victim. “The same terrible corsses that oppress me are also the greatest consolation, because Jesus suffered, Jesus is a victim, Jesus chose the Cross. Jesus said, ‘those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy” (W. 1732)

Jesus crucifixion
The Deposition

The Deposition (top right)

The pain of Mary and the women is even greater during the deposition. While the body of Jesus is carefully laid to rest in the tomb, the women sustain Mary at the moment of definitive separation from her Divine Son. Comboni likened his Sisters to the women of the Gospel characterised by: total availability to serve, an unconditional sustaining of Jesus and his Church, unfailing strength in difficulties: “Christ was the one who gave dignity to women ad freed them from the ignominy to which they were reduced… (W.5032)

Resurrection of Lazarus (left under the Crucifixion)

Here we contemplate the encounter of Jesus with two women: Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus. They represent respectively, the feminine expressions of devotion and service. 

The two women confide in Jesus so that he brings to life again their beloved brother Lazarus who has been lying dead in the tomb for some days. Mary’s dress is red, symbolizing the nature of her passionate love for Jesus, while Martha’s is green, a colour linked to nature, the earth, to practical material things.

Both are prostrate at the feet of Jesus in an attitude of reverence and supplication, but the Master seems to have anticipated and granted their prayer. In fact, Lazarus, risen, is already freeing himself from the chords that bind him.

Resurrection of Lazarus

The Mirofere (right, under the deposition)

The Mirofere are an expression of the feminine dimension of the proclamation. They carry perfumed oils to anoint the dead body of Jesus and they express how the woman is attentive to both material and spiritual needs. “This is why in the apostolate of Central Africa, I have engaged the omnipotent ministry of the woman of the Gospel and of the charitable Sister who is the defence, the strength and the guarantee of the ministry of the missionary.” (W. …) An angel of light shows the women the empty tomb and tells them about his resurrection.

Mary Magdalen

Mary Magdalen at the feet of Jesus femininity redeemed and filled with admiration. The faithfulness and dedication of the woman, is rewarded by jesus with his appearance to her.  Jesus is wearing a robe with golden reflections of divine light but he shows Magdalen the signs of his passion. With the scroll, he entrusts to Magdalen the task of witnessing to and proclaiming redemption.

Samaritan woman at the well

The Samaritan woman at the well

The Samaritan woman at the well describes another feminine page of the Gospel. As Comboni has loved Africa, he loves this woman who represents the feminine expression of thirst. Jesus avoids any formal or seductive approach towards her, but he believes in her, recognizing her limits and potentiality and he pushes her beyond her errors giving her once again dignity and confidence At the well of Samaria, Jesus offers the Samaritan new water, and new vitality, with which the woman feels able to run and announce the word of life contained in the Gospel.

The daughter of Jephthah

On the bottom right we have another episode from the Old Testament with a female protagonist: the daughter of Jephthah. For Saint Danile holiness consisted in faithfulness, perseverance and total trust in God in the midst of Crosses. He had chosen to consume his life remaining faithful to the task entrusted to Him by the Lord of freeing and converting the Africans and he valued his missionary Sisters in virtue of their capacity for sacrifice.The daughter of Jephthah, after having welcomed her father returning as a victor from battle, goes up to the mountains with her friends and in the midst of music, dancing and tears, accepts to offer her own life as a sacrifice so that her father can maintain his promise to God.

The daughter of Jephthah
The women journeying towards the heavenly Jerusalem

The women journeying towards the heavenly Jerusalem

Some missionaries lead to jesus women and children of various cultures. At the head of the group, there are two sisters in black habits who present the Cross of Jesus. They represent the first Superior General, Maria Bollezzoli and Sr. Giuseppa Scandola. The three Sisters symbolize the martyrs: Sr. Teresa Grigolini, Sr.Liliana Rivetta and Sr. Teresa Delle Pezze. Jesus Christ is there, at the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem, eternal home for every believer and witness of the Gospel, to welcome them together with the peoples with whom they have lived.