Sr. Teresa Dalle Pezze

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.

Fr. William Nyadru

Through many years of preparation, William willingly followed the faithfulness of God who had called him to the priesthood. And with such powerful help, he fulfilled desires and hopes he had nourished since his youth. The day of his ordination is briefly described by his brother Alex ljjo: ”I stood in the same row with Deacon William, my mother Katerina and my uncle Arkangelo nga, who represented my deceased father. Monsignor Frederick Drandua the Bishop of Arua Diocese in Uganda ordained William to the priesthood on 20th August 1988 in an open air Mass in the mission of Moyo.” “The presentation of William by his parents to the Bishop was not done in the long procession that was then becoming customary and popular. William walked with long and confident strides to the altar when the bishop called him. His mother and uncle followed closely behind”. ”There were several people for the Mass, maybe because William’s father’s clan is situated just behind Moyo mission. The occasion passed on smoothly. The choir was good and people were visibly happy and hopeful. in the afternoon during the presentation of songs and plays to mark the occasion, William joined the ”kore” traditional dance and made people laugh by his enthusiasm and funny way of dancing.”

William’s first Assignment

Although Fr. William had been asked to work with ’Leadership Magazine’, he was quite happy to start his priestly activities with pastoral work He was appointed to work in Morulem Parish in Kotido Diocese Uganda. Administratively, the parish depends on Kotido District, where the Karimojong people are the majority. Morulem itself is the centre of the Labwor, a Lwo speaking ethnic group. William was very familiar with Lwo languages, so he did not find it difficult to start his pastoral work and he put all his energies into it. After his death, different people witnessed to his successful ministry. Fr. Klement Otim, a native of Morulem, the then Vicar General of Moroto Diocese wrote: ”I do not know what particular problems Fr. William faced as a priest, but one thing I know is that, whenever I met him, he expressed to me as a native of Morulem, his concern about the Labwor people as his people. In other words, the problems, the sufferings, joys and frustration of the Labwor among whom he worked, were his problems. No wonder he was so dear to them! My own experience of Father is of a kind-hearted, good and intelligent person.

I saw him listen to those who came to see him. I read compassion and understanding, love and concern in him. Where he had to be firm and say no, he did it respecting the other person’s dignity. l was impressed; it reminded me that Jesus must have been something like that, even if this was only a shadow. I found Father Willie to be a prayerful man. To me this was his secret; he was able to integrate his faith, his learning and his African roots in an admirable way.

I believe that Fr. Willie’s contribution to the Church is the example and witness that his life was and is. This remains a challenge for his institute as missionary in the world of today. For the faithful among whom he worked, he certainly was a taste of God’s goodness and love. The general refrain when he died was, ”Why did God take away such a good person?” Many expressed aloud the irony that ”Good people often die soon.” Whatever value one can give to such sayings, it showed who Willie was to his parishioners, and how they missed him. ”

The Sudden End

When people die after a long illness or in other similar circumstances, people around them come to know at least something about their attitude towards death. In the case of Fr. William, we can only interpret a comment he made about death that may reveal his attitude. He was in Kampala when Bishop Caesar Asili, relative of his, died after a short illness. ”In the late afternoon, we went to Nsambya Hospital where the body of the Bishop was. i was struck by the serenity with which Fr. William looked at the whole reality. We returned for the celebration of the Eucharist where he was the presider. William told us that in the three months after his priestly ordination, this was his third funeral Mass. He began the homily by stating that: ’Right from the beginning of the history of humanity, death has always been a threatening reality. But for us Christians, we have hope in life after death by hxing our eyes on Jesus our Saviour, who died and was raised from the dead. Without this hope we would continually be crashed by this threat.’ These words remained as a souvenir of my beloved William seeing how his faith helped him and others to face realities in this world.”

However, this attitude is explained in the clearest way possible in the quote he chose for his ordination card, a quote from the writing of St Daniel Comboni himself”. ”The happiest of my days will be when I shall be able to give my life for you.” As it turned out, he met his death as he was travelling by motorcycle for the sake of his ministry among the people entrusted to him by the One who had called him. The details of his death were given in full by the Comboni Sisters of Morulem Parish, ”His sudden death is a great loss and at the same time a great asset. If Africa is saved through sacrifice (and in Christ and Comboni’s perspective, we cannot think otherwise!), an African Comboni Missionary has now given his blood contribution in Uganda.” (Fr. L Carraro).

The ultimate Sacrifice

On Friday 25th October, 1991, around 9 am, Fr William told Brother Gregori that he was about to go to Moroto by motorcycle, a distance of 120 kilometers, to pick up the tithing forms that had to be distributed in church the following Sunday. It was quite common for the missionaries of Momlem to cover that distance by motorcycle and be back before dark. Nothing had ever happened along that road and no one had ever even been robbed there. However, by evening of that day, William was not yet back and everyone was worried. During the 20.30 radio call appointment, various missions were asked about William, but no one had seen him. By then it was dark and nothing could be done until the next morning when another call was made but to no avail. At that point, search parties set out on three different roads. Fr. Ciapetti led a party from Matany, Fr. Grandi one from Moroto, while Sr. Silvia, Bro. Gregori and four orderlies set out from Morulem. At about 1 1.30 am. the parties from Morulem and Moroto met. At 12.00 Fr. Ciapetti sent word that he had found nothing.

A short time later, the two parties saw skid marks that could have been made by the braking of a motorcycle. To the right, the six-foot tall grass was bent as if someone had walked through it. Sr. Silvia, Fr. Grandi and two men followed the tracks through the grass. After about 50 meters, they found the motorcycle properly parked on its stand and undamaged, so much so that the engine started at once. Not too far off, they found William’s helmet. Sr. Silvia, Fr. Grandi and the two men exchanged shocked, desolate looks, as they sensed that something ‘had gone terribly wrong. Sr.Silvia, unable to hold back her concern, began to call out, “William! William!” About ‘ 100 meters from the road, they found William’s body, lying face down in the grass. He had been stripped, except for his underpants. His arms and hands were crossed to support his head. It looked like a position taken deliberately, carefully, serenely, even though imposed by others. That is how he was found, and that is how he was laid on the stretcher and carried to Morulem! Everyone who saw him noted the serenity of his face. The memory of that face will not fade.

At his supreme moment, William had prostrated himself on the ground and laid his forehead on his crossed hands as he had done on the day of his ordination. The calm of his face leads us to surmise that he was aware of his sacrifice, and that he had offered it with Jesus to the Father, for the good of many. His heart was transfixed by a bullet, shot through his back and the ground below was still wet with his blood. There were no friends to witness his sacrifice. Fr. William died like Jesus, the Good Shepherd whose Heart was pierced! The sacrifice was consummated. William has carried out the command of Jesus: ”Do this in memory of me.” Priest and victim, Missionary of the Gospel, martyr with Christ for his brothers and sisters, now William is a priest forever for eternity thank you, William. Thank you for the joy that you have left us as an inheritance, to better serve our brothers and sisters.