Comboni Missionary Sisters (CMS).Founded by Comboni in 1972 with the name of Pious Mothers of the Nigritia (i.e. Africa), are an exclusively missionary Institute of women consecrated to God for the mission ad gentes, according to the prophetic intuition of Comboni who felt the need to integrate consecrated women in the evangelising mission of the Church.
They are present in Africa, Europe, The Americas, and Asia
They come from 33 nations, work in 30 countries in four continents and are over 1500.
For Daniel Comboni the hour of the woman in the second half of the 18th century, long before all the movements of women's rights and feminism. But from what perspective, and to what extent did this missionary, first Bishop of Central Africa, understand and envision woman's ability to have a role all her own?
For this missionary with a wide vision, there is no time to waste after his first impact with Africa and the mission. Everything is urgent. He announces firmly to the Bishops gathered for the First Vatican Council that the time for Africa has come; and in his Plan for the Regeneration of Africa, there is a place and a role for women. It is not a temporary role, nor a collaboration that is subordinate to male structures. It is the role of the woman, a ministry that is fully hers as young woman, mother, teacher, consecrated to God, missionary, African, European, Arab or any other nationality. It is the ministry of the Catholic Woman in a very special mission: the regeneration of Africa.
Isn't the Church a mother, called to give birth to and nourish the sons and daughters of God, in the midst of all the nations on earth? Is it not Mary Magdalen who is the Apostle of the Apostles, the first one who is sent to tell the good news of the Resurrection?
In his correspondence with Mother Emilie Julien, Superior General of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, the first missionary nuns to go into the heart of Central Africa, Comboni describes the ministry of the missionary sister for Africa as a true priesthood.
Women consecrated for a specific mission
Daniel Comboni called his Sisters "The Devout Mothers of Africa" bringing together in the name of the first female missionary Institute in Italy, founded in Verona in 1872, the element of the vocation, the mission and the quality of a "Comboni Sister" of yesterday and today.
To make it clear at the birth of the Institute, Comboni explained that his were not 'nuns', but missionaries, with a spirituality and formation intended for mission and shaped by mission, so "not with a head bent to one side, because in Africa one needs to hold the neck straight and be ready for lots of sacrifices and, if necessary, even for martyrdom." Women consecrated for a specific mission, and on a level of equal dignity and equality with the male missionaries. As the Founder stated: "What I say of the men's Institute must be practised equally in that of the Devout Mothers of Africa, whose novices will be educated in the same spirit".
Even though the mentality of the time might have reached a different conclusion, Comboni writes from experience: "In Africa a Sister is worth three priests in Europe. The sisters in Africa carry out all the Catholic works: religious instruction, school, orphanages, refuges for slaves, nursing the sick in hospital and at home, baptism in harems and in pagan families... The Sister in Central Africa is everything. Without Sisters, mission cannot be carried out in Africa. Indeed, a mission without Sisters is harmful to the priests. The Sister is a defence and a guarantee for the male missionaryā€¯.
His synthesis of the required qualities for women missionaries was: "Holy and capable" -- he wanted the best!
Without a warm heart, full of love, difficulties cannot be tackled or resisted, and without ability it is not possible to organise the struggle against slavery, famine, lack of education, leprosy, Aids, malaria, Ebola... If in the past the problems with the climate, diseases, the hard desert journeys cut short the lives of many young men and women missionaries, the Comboni Sisters today find themselves in situations of long wars, injustice, destruction and violence that force them to begin over and over again, and to stick with the people who are savaged and impoverished by international - and sometimes local - economics and politics, subjected to abuses and violations of their human rights.
Besides professional training, it is the power of this heart that is warm with the love of God, that the Sisters and the people stay on their feet even in the most desperate situations, ready to begin again always, and to rebuild with hope, optimism and determination.