On the 3rd of January 1985, a Comboni Sister, Teresa Dalle Pezze, was travelling from Carapira mission towards Nacala in Mozambique. Rebels attacked the army convoy in which Teresa’s car was traveling. She managed to come out from the car and hide in the tall grass. The exchange of fire between the soldiers and rebels lasted one hour. During a moment of ceasefire, Sr. Teresa heard a soldier who was nearby calling her saying: “Mama, can you give me your pullover? My wife is expecting a baby and in the night she feels very cold. We have nothing at home”. YES, Teresa answered and while removing the pullover raised her head. She was seen, thus becoming a very easy target. A bullet hit her in the head.
This was the last YES with which Sr. Teresa sealed her life: a Yes of love for the people to whom God sent her as His missionary. The last Yes of a series of Yes-es Teresa said to God in her life with joy and determination.
Saying Yes to God
Teresa hailed from the little village of Fane near Verona in Italy. She was born in 1939. She was the -third born in a family of seven children. At 18, Teresa, like two of her brothers. decided to go to Switzerland for work. She found work in Baar, Canton Zug. in a textile factory. She wanted to help the family before choosing her state of life. In Baar, she found accommodation in a hostel run by the Holy Cross Sisters and it was there where, listening to the witnesses of missionaries passing by, she perceived that God was calling her to missionary life From that moment her YES to God’s call was steadfast and without turning back. She started a straight journey without curves or shortcuts.
in 1961, Teresa went home before the usual holiday time. Her intention was to inform her parents, Giovanni and Giuseppina, of her decision to join the Comboni Sisters and go to Africa to serve the poor. Her parents gave their blessing and she started the formation journey which was crowned on 3rd May 1964 with her first religious profession in the Chapel of the Comboni Sisters Novitiate in Cesiolo, Verona, surrounded by her relatives. She was now very happy and dreamt of going to her beloved Africa soon.
Sr. Teresa, a mother and teacher
After two years of training in child education and two years spent in Viseu, Portugal to learn the language, she received with great joy her destination, Mozambique. In a letter sent to the Superior General she wrote. ”Before leaving the Mother house, i wish to express my gratitude for having chosen and sent me first to Viseu and then to Mozambique”. And in a letter of July 1968 to the family she wrote: ”i am finally arrived to the Land of my dreams”. She was assigned to the community of Netia where her field of work was in education as a teacher and then as the head of the school. Her love for people was genuine and respectful; she loved to go to the outstations around the mission and pray with the people and suffered when the apostolic activities were forcibly limited. She always found the way and the time to listen to her students and to the people turning to her for help or advice.
Being a missionary in difficult times
Teresa worked in a crucial political moment of the country. Seven years after her arrival to the mission, in June 1975, Mozambique gained its independence from Portugal.
People could have now started to enjoy their freedom, live in peace and reconstruct their country. Unfortunately, it was not so. A civil war started between Freiimo (the current ruling party) and the Renamo (Liberation Front). People had to flee from their country to neighboring countries thus giving origin to refugees’ camps in Malawi, Tanzania, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
The new government assumed the ideology and the form of a Marxist state with the nationalization of schools, hospitals and industries. The mission schools became educational centres where the missionaries could continue to work but were not allowed to teach religion.
in 1976, the Government appointed Sr. Teresa to teach science and manual work. She was the only woman teacher in the old mission school of Netia and she was also given the responsibility of caring for the students’ health. This gave her a possibility of a direct contact with teachers and students.
Ready for Martyrdom
The new social situation required a new type of mission and a great love for the people. As Teresa said: ”At the beginning, it was very hard to get used to the new style of life and many could not continue” …… ..”We needed even greater courage to witness to Christ. in spite of the materialistic propaganda, the sense of God is stronger and the faith of the Christian communities is deepening. The faithful come to ask for the Eucharist secretly. They pray and receive communion in the chapel all alone.”
Teresa lived with faith, courage and solidarity in the situation of growing suffering, violence, insecurity, sure that God was present even in that chaos and that through those events ”Africa is writing its history”
She did not hide to herself the risk of a tragic death, but she was strongly determined not to ”abandon the maple now when the need is greater: it will be like betraying them”.
And the African soil received the blood of one who, like Comboni, loved its people more than herself.