COMBONI THAT DAY

In Pace Christi

Fr. Ravasio Pietro

Born: 24/05/1932
Luogo di Nascita: Bergamo (I)

Voti temporanei: 09/09/1951
Voti perpetui: 09/09/1957
Ordinazione: 01/03/1958

Date of Death: 03/06/2017
Place of Death: Milano (I)

“I consider the circumstances of the death of Fr. Pietro as a special grace in the year in which we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Comboni Institute, considering how the life of Fr. Pietro, lasting 85 years of which 66 were spent in consecrated missionary life and 59 as a priest, represents an important legacy for the love and esteem in which he always held the Comboni Family and for his missionary history and the conviction that, in that history, there are still values to be discovered to revitalise our missionary presence.

I have come as one sent by the General Administration of the Institute and the different communities of the general Curia where Fr. Pietro lived out some of the more significant years of his missionary service, first as Secretary General of the Missions, from 1973 to 1978,and then as Archivist and Librarian from 1993 to 2015.

If I were to sum up his life, I would describe it as a long life spent busily serving the mission wherever he was sent by obedience, even in prestigious posts. He was gifted with a deep sense of the Institute, lived as a qualified family within the mission of the Church to be loved and admired, a family like a community of persons in whose closeness and in whose light one could live by grace a common faith and ideals, in a fecund interaction between the memory of the past and drive towards the future. Despite his somewhat sharp character, it was a joy to him to live in community where he was attentive to small freely made gestures and, at the same time, was able to welcome in it outstanding people as a gift from God, not only to be admired but also as a stimulus towards the future.

Perhaps you will be surprised, as I was, to discover his understanding of the Institute as the sum of many characterised faces, a communitarian place which God had chosen to prepare him to be a convinced proclaimer of the Word. I am basing this on a re-reading of his life he made during his Golden Jubilee of priesthood in his human and missionary journey.

He was born in Redona, in Bergamo province, on 24 May, 1932. This is how he remembered his beginnings in the family and parish community: ‘For me, the first great gift was that of the family where they taught me how to pray and where, with my grandparents and siblings I had my first experience of community. The parish, too, enriched as it was by the two religious communities of the Montfortians and the Sacramentine Sisters, involved and inserted me into an experience of the Church. In the spring of 1943, Fr. Luigi Villa spoke in the parish about Africa and made a vocational proposal’. His vocation came to birth, therefore, through the grace of a community recognised as the womb of the beginnings of a story of the generosity that was his.

What does he remember of his years of novitiate formation at Gozzano (where he took first vows on 9 September, 1951), or of his philosophical and theological formation in Verona and at the Pontifical University of Propaganda Fide (from 1951 to 1958)? He remembers in Verona the concrete community of the people who formed him also with their simple but meaningful presence: Fr. Antonio Vignato, General Emeritus and Fr. Otto Huber, both pioneers and witnesses to our tradition. Of Propaganda Fide he remembers the ‘friendship with companions from all over the world. This life in common – he writes – contributed to my formation’. Ordained priest on 11 March, 1958, he was immediately assigned to Ethiopia to teach in the Alexandrian Ethiopian Rite Seminary and then in the Comboni College, Asmara, as director of the primary schools and professor, from 1959 to 1966. Here, too, he shows awareness of having been made part of a community project of the Institute dedicated to the work of formation but always within the framework of first evangelisation and transformation according to the Comboni motto “Save Africa with Africa”. He recounts – also in his memoirs during his fiftieth year of priesthood – ‘After a voyage by boat from Naples to Massawa, I went up the plateau on the ‘Littorina Breda’ that reached over 2,000 metres. The dreamed-of mission presented itself in a completely different form. The city of Asmara was modern and clean and the meeting with the young seminarians, over a hundred of them, immediately brought me down to earth and I realised that that, too, was truly mission’. Then, as assistant to the Pro-Nuncio Mons. Giuseppe Moioli at the Addis Ababa Nunciature: ‘I learned – he wrote – to consider with respect the diplomatic service of the Holy See: almost always hidden, of great support to the local Church, the inspiration and executor in all projects of human promotion and pastoral activities’. Later, looking back at the College, after its nationalisation in the eighties, he concluded positively, ‘We may say it was not time wasted. The former students are present in many key posts and bring with them the values they received from us’.

In 1973, he left Ethiopia and was recalled to Rome, to the General Secretariat for the Missions where he stayed until 1978. Again, there were two events in the Institute that he considered especially meaningful. The reunion with the Comboni confreres of the German branch and the opening of the Institute towards Asia. These were communitarian events that resonated in his feelings of belonging to the Institute. He was allowed to participate in both: in the first as a silent spectator and in the second as a note-taking.

It would have been easy to pitch his tent in Rome. Instead, in 1978 he reached South Sudan, assigned to the diocese of Tombura-Yambio among the Zande people (1979-1990): he was first superior at Nzara and then in charge of the National Catechetical Centre. Again he was in the front line, performing qualified services.

The General Administration had further and delicate posts in mind for him. Knowing him and his lucid intelligence, one passionate about the history of the Institute and its sound traditions, rigorous and convinced guardian of the living memory of the Institute, they appointed him to be the General Archivist and Librarian in the Curia, from 1993 to 2011. After spending eighteen years as General Archivist and Librarian, at the good age of eighty years, he was allowed to stay at the Curia (until 2015) to devote himself to the study of some notable figures doing ‘historical research into confreres, important facts, experiences and sound traditions’.

As he departs from us, Fr. Pietro leaves us a task and a stimulus for the new generations of Comboni Missionaries: we are not simply to be transmitters of past experiences, ‘we already have an immense amount of literature on almost every aspect of our life’, he wrote. There is, therefore, something else to be said, without repeating ourselves, especially in unveiling those pearls of great price that have remained hidden and which may move us towards a new configuration of the Institute so as to be faithful to the missionary charism. (Fr. Arnaldo Baritussio, mccj)