The Cross is part and parcel of every Christian vocation. For each Christian, the sharing in the Cross of Christ takes on a different form. For some, the identification with Christ’s sufferings reaches the point of giving their lives as in the case of those Comboni Missionaries who wished to remain faithful to their missionary vocation ‘until death’ as taught by their Father and Founder, St. Daniel Comboni.
The following excerpt is from Supreme Witness: Comboni Missionaries Killed in the Line of Duty, an account of the lives of 25 Comboni Missionary priests, brothers, and sisters who died in the service of the Gospel in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Brazil and Mexico. You can find the book onlinehere.
Father Luciano Fulvi – a life dedicated to the youth
In June 2003, Father Luciano celebrated his Golden Jubilee of Ordination in his home town of Uzzano in Northern Italy. On the souvenir card for the occasion were the words, “Thank you Lord for having loved me, for loving me still and for allowing me to walk with you in the mystery of your love. With immense gratitude I thank all those who have accompanied me down the years.” Yet, before leaving again for the Missions in September 2003, Father Luciano had a sense of foreboding. He told his sister, Daniela, herself a Comboni Missionary Sister, “You should know – I will die there in Africa but do not be afraid on my account. I am not afraid.”
Father Luciano was born in Uzzano on May 15, 1928. After primary school he went to the local Diocesan Seminary in Pescia. While there, he realized he was being called to be a missionary. In one of his letters he wrote, “Already, I felt the desire in me to become a missionary. This desire had become stronger and stronger but the Rector was against it and would not let me leave the Seminary, as I was still too young.” His family, too, disagreed, but Luciano had made up his mind. In another letter he wrote, “God wants me to be a missionary and I will follow Him no matter what the cost. Day and night I can think of nothing else but of joining the Comboni Missionaries. Despite this, I am still afraid and I sometimes feel this call is not from God, but rather mere ambition on my part and then I start doubting. It seems to me that I will have to leave my family, my mother and everything else familiar to me; but the very idea of being a deserter and a traitor makes me tremble in fear. In addition to which, the missionary life is hard: full of sacrifices and the danger of death. Even though I would love to be a martyr, such thoughts worry me and make me afraid I may give up the call.”
Realizing his dream In October 1946 Luciano entered the Novitiate of the Comboni Missionaries in Florence and after two years took his First Vows, “moved by the desire to serve my God faithfully and to consecrate myself entirely to the Missions.” On May 30, 1953 he was ordained a priest in Milan by Cardinal (later Blessed) Ildefonso Schuster. The newly ordained priest was then sent to England to study English and obtain the necessary qualifications to allow him teach in Uganda, to where he had been assigned. However, his Superiors appointed him to a teaching position at their Junior Seminary at Stillington in North Yorkshire to train future missionaries from Britain and Ireland. It was three years before he was at last allowed to leave for Uganda. Although his official role was one of a teacher and school chaplain in the Secondary School of the Mission of Nyapea (in North-western Uganda), Father Luciano spent all his spare time in direct pastoral work among the local people. He was helped by a bright and cheerful disposition – gifted as he was with a wonderful sense of humor and an ability to make friends with anyone.
After eight years working in Nyapea, Father Luciano returned to England, where he worked initially as Spiritual Director at the Junior Seminary (1965-1974) which in the intervening years had transferred to Mirfield in West Yorkshire; then as Vocations Promoter and Superior in Ardrossan in Ayrshire (1974-1980); Vocations Promoter and Superior in Glasgow (1980-1982); Superior in Mirfield (1982-1985); and Vocations Promoter in Glasgow (1985-1990).
Return to Africa It was not until 1990, after twenty-five years of service to the future missionaries of England and Scotland, that he was appointed once more to Uganda, where he would again work with young people at Ombaci College as Chaplain and Vocations Promoter (1990-1995). The following year he had a multiple heart by-pass operation, but in spite of this major health set-back, he agreed to go to the capital, Kampala to become the Vocations Promoter of the Comboni Missionaries in Uganda. Responsibilities continued to increase. In January 2002 he was appointed Superior of the Mission in Layibi, Chaplain of St. Joseph’s College Layibi and Youth Chaplain of the Archdiocese of Gulu in Northern Uganda.
Foreboding sadly realized Two years later, on the night of March 30, 2004, a night like any other with its tropical heat and the constant buzz of mosquitoes, Father Luciano said goodnight to his confreres at around 9:30 p.m. and went to his room. His murderers were waiting for him. In all probability, they came through the neighboring eucalyptus grove, scaled the wall and entered the grounds of the Mission. There were bruises on his face and arms showing that he had struggled to defend himself, but the tragedy must have taken only a few seconds as the confreres in the nearby television room heard nothing. Going to their rooms, the confreres saw that the door of Father Luciano’s room was ajar, but thought nothing of this because it was often left open due to the difficulties he had sleeping with the stifling heat. The light was not on and so they thought he was already asleep, and they retired for the night. It was only in the morning, when Father Luciano did not come for Mass, that Brother Joseph Dalle Mulle entered his room and made the shocking discovery.
Father Luciano was on the floor: his throat cut and lying face down in a pool of blood. The police were called and within a matter of days had arrested six individuals for the appalling crime: five were young men between twenty and thirty years of age and the sixth a former soldier in his early fifties. From the police investigation it would appear that three of the gang including the former soldier had entered the room of Father Luciano and lay in wait for him, while the others remained around the compound of the Mission to raise the alarm if necessary. The real motive for the murder, apart from apparent robbery, was never discovered. The Missionaries involved in the case were of the firm belief that the assailants were in fact only ‘hired killers’ and that those behind the violent death of Father Luciano were being protected by the Authorities in Gulu.
The six suspects were subsequently transferred to Luzira Maximum Security Prison in Kampala, and two years later were tried in the High Court there on a charge of capital murder. The three assailants who entered the room were sentenced to death by hanging for the killing of Father Luciano, while their three accomplices were acquitted on the grounds that they were not directly involved in the murder. The death sentences were subsequently commuted to life imprisonment.
A fitting tribute The Funeral Mass of Father Luciano took place at Gulu Cathedral in a very emotionally-charged ceremony presided over by the Papal Nuncio to Uganda, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, with the participation of thousands of young people from all over the Archdiocese. During his homily the Archbishop repeatedly asked the Congregation: “Why? … Why? … Why?” before reminding his listeners that “the blood of the innocent bears fruit in time.” Sister Daniela, Father Luciano’s younger sister, commented: “Luciano went to Africa to bring the Gospel, to help the people who loved him so much. He knew the dangers, but went willingly and with enthusiasm. It is only right that he should repose in the land he loved so well.” Father Luciano is buried in the cemetery adjacent to the Cathedral where many Comboni Missionaries and Comboni Missionary Sisters are laid to rest. A monument was erected to his memory in his home town of Uzzano.