As a child I remember the rare occasions when my uncle would return from mission. He was a Franciscan of the Third Order Regular, and he lived and worked in India and Brazil for a total of 32 years. I would sit at his feet, enthralled by his stories, and would ask many questions. I kept in touch with Father Alex over the years, and how ironic it was that when his congregation brought him back to the U.S, I started my own mission work overseas. Every time I would return to the U.S., one of the first persons I would go to visit would be Father Alex. He understood me and I understood him. We would reminisce for hours on adventures and stories from our missions.
Over the years, Father Alex slowly declined until at almost 99 years of age, he passed to heaven. I cried because a kindred spirit had left me and I felt lonely. I went to Loretto, Pennsylvania, to pay my last respects and close out some loose ends with the congregation. They knew me as I had often visited and spent time with Father Alex over the years. As his health deteriorated, the last several visits I made were simply sitting by his bedside, holding his hand, and praying. I often told the nurses and the friars that I prayed God would grant me a portion of his spirit just like Elisha asked of Elijah ( 2 Kings 2: 9 ).
The friars had a tradition that I learned of only after my uncle’s passing. Every missionary was given a crucifix when they first went overseas. It was called “The Mission Cross.” They carried that crucifix everywhere they went. Then at the time of burial this crucifix is placed in the coffin to rest with the missioner forever.
What I did not expect was for the Provincial Leader of the TORs to reach into the casket just before closing and take it out. He then presented me with this crucifix. I was stunned. He told me that all the friars knew how special our bond was, and they knew I was going into mission and that Father Alex would have wanted me to continue the tradition of carrying his crucifix back into mission. Tears flowed from my eyes, my throat dried up and my hands were all sweaty as I took this most precious gift.
I looked at it and saw that the body of Christ had been broken and reglued together. How appropriate. The Body of Christ was broken on this cross and I felt broken too. But somehow this defect reassured me that I would be able to carry out my mission even as I am filled with weakness and failings. Now I will carry this cross with honor into my mission as my most prized possession.
I know a portion of the spirit of my uncle, Father Alex Bombera, TOR, will be with me wherever I go.