COMBONI THAT DAY

In Pace Christi

Fr. Grifoni Valeriano

Born: 05/05/1921
Luogo di Nascita: Massarosa-Bozzano (I)

Voti temporanei: 29/06/1948
Voti perpetui: 22/09/1950
Ordinazione: 19/05/1951

Date of Death: 29/06/2017
Place of Death: Milano (I)

I first met Fr. Valeriano in 1966 when I arrived in what was then the Apostolic Prefecture of La Paz, in Lower California South, Mexico. Following the practice of the time, we took care of as many villages as possible. For this reason, most missions had just one missionary. The first experience of the newly-arrived was one of solitude, of being lost in the desert, of being scattered, both in the geographic and human meanings of the word. It was Fr. Valeriano’s lot to work in the most difficult and desolate area. He was sent to be parish priest at La Purisima, a community located 300 Km north of La Paz. There were not many people there and they were scattered throughout a vast cactus area with uncertain or non-existent means of communication.

Fr. Valeriano went to those desert lands of California in late 1951, in the strength of his thirty years, newly-ordained, with the chrism still on his hands and, in his eyes, the verdant image of his native Tuscany in Italy. All these helped him to take a leap in the dark as a missionary: “Leave your land and go where I will show you” (Genesis 12). Valeriano saw that land and lived there for many years sowing the seed of the Word in hope and waiting patiently for the harvest to bud and ripen.

He also worked in a number of other missions of the Prefecture such as Santa Rosalia, where he left his deepest mark, among the miners. In that place he put to work all his talents as a military veteran of the Second World War, a member of a battalion of the Italian army that brought the madness of Hitler to Greece through the Balkans.

The Republic of Mexico experienced his activism and his missionary zeal in the seminaries and the mission of Chinantla, especially at Tuxtepec where his pastoral policy clashed with the winds of change that blew from the Vatican Council generations. However, his theological position remained stoutly faithful to the teachings of the Church.

In 1987, almost seventy years old, he was invited to work in what is now the Province of Central America. He worked well in San José, the capital of Costa Rica, at the parish of Sagrada Familia, in the outskirts of the southern zone. His pastoral activity was closely connected to a day centre for the elderly.

From San José he went to San Salvador with Fr. Vincenzo Turri, who had started the Comboni presence in El Salvador, renting a house in the Satélite zone. Besides assisting the parish pastorally, Fr. Valeriano took charge of a quarter that was, from the religious and social point of view, abandoned. Using all his experience, he threw himself into creating a pastoral rectory and it cost him dearly to leave it when Archbishop Rivera y Damas, at our request, entrusted to us the parish of Cuscatancingo.

Fr. Valeriano crowned his apostolic activity with the construction of a chapel to the Sacred Heart, in a quarter of the parish of Nuestra Señora de los Milagros, Guatemala City. It was a marginalised zone with people who were distant and indifferent and where Protestant groups were very active. It was there that his pastoral dedication reached its apex. Wherever he went, he organised what may be described family twinning. For each poor family of the area he found a family in Italy prepared to adopt them and help them financially. All the aid from one family to another passed through his hands. This created some problems for him even if it solved others. He used to say that charity must be concrete and visible.

Fr. Valeriano was a peaceful character, humble and jovial. He was a good man and this endeared him to the people and made him tolerant towards the shortcomings and defects of others. Well identified with his missionary vocation and the Comboni Institute, he demonstrated a spirituality lived in tolerance and fidelity. He spent the last years of his life in his native Italy where God called him to himself at the age of 96. (Fr. Gianmaria Piu, mccj)