In Pace Christi

Fr. Menegatti Cornelio

Born: 09/02/1924
Luogo di Nascita: Segonzano (I)

Voti temporanei: 07/10/1943
Voti perpetui: 24/09/1948
Ordinazione: 11/06/1949

Date of Death: 06/11/2017
Place of Death: Castel d'Azzano (I)

His father’s name was Albino Menegatti, whom everyone called Baffo because of the large Cecco Beppe handlebar moustache he wore in his youth. He was a jovial and peaceful man, relatively well off and, in 1920, he married Assunta dei Ciatini. The marriage was fruitful and produced a beautiful family of four children: Ernestina, Remo, Cornelio and Gabriella, a family where there was harmony and the fear of the Lord. Albino had opened a bakery in Saletto that would fill the village with the smell of freshly baked bread. Little Cornelio, who was born on 9 February, 1924, grew up in the warmth and harmony of a very religious family; he served Mass and was very bright in school. He may well have been affected by the example of other boys, some a few years older who had already chosen the path of the priesthood. Encouraged by the new parish priest, Fr. Daniele Sperandio, Cornelio never doubted he would become a priest and missionary.

In the autumn of 1936 he entered the seminary of the Combonis at Muralta. That was the start of a long and laborious journey of formation and intellectual and spiritual preparation; during the war, he also suffered hunger in Brescia. He finished secondary school and proceeded to the Florence novitiate and then to Verona and Rebbio di Como for theology; he took temporary vows on 7 October, 1943, and perpetual vows on 24 September, 1948; at last the dreamt-of day arrived and he was ordained by Cardinal idelfonso Schuster on 11 June, 1949, in Milan cathedral. Among the faithful, in the seats reserved for relatives were his mother Assunta and father Albino who followed with deep emotion each stage of the ceremonies. The following Sunday, all of Segonzano was in festive mood for the celebration of his first Mass.

After a short holiday, Fr. Cornelio was sent to London to perfect his English and stayed there until 1952 when he was at last allowed to leave for the missions, destination Eritrea, at that time part of Ethiopia.

Fr. Cornelio went to Asmara where the Combonis had founded a college for the education of secondary and high-school pupils. For almost twenty five years he worked, spurred on by his lofty ideals, at his task of teaching and forming the youth. Then, in 1975, there was the revolution and social disruption: the Negus was deposed and imprisoned and Colonel Mengistu took power, heading a Marxist-inspired dictatorship. Fr. Cornelio was forced to return to Italy, full of anguish for the bitter experience of seeing so many years of work and commitment wiped out and destroyed. After a period in Rome as librarian, in 1980 he was able to return to Ethiopia, to the southern region of Sidamo. There followed twenty more years of commitment to first evangelisation, dedicating himself generously and with conviction to the service of the people, especially to the education of the children, the future of the country, to helping the weakest and poorest families, bringing them the comfort of Christian love and keeping the lamp of hope always burning brightly.

Fr. Giuseppe Cavallini remembers: “I met Father Cornelio for the first time back in 1979, a few weeks after I was ordained. He was on holiday from Ethiopia and visited me at home to see me since he had recently heard that I had been assigned to his province. He was quite short, bald and stout. He told me how Ethiopia was going through difficult times: there was no end in sight to the conflict with Eritrea but that with Somalia had been resolved in favour of Ethiopia only after Russia and Cuba intervened. The dictatorship of Mengistu Hailemariam was gaining strength now that the red Negus had eliminated all opposition, leaving Russia free to create an atheistic and communist society. He also spoke of the deep spirituality of the Ethiopians who would never renounce their faith and of the satisfaction given by the work of evangelisation in the south of Ethiopia where the Catholic communities were growing and thousands of people were joining the catechumenates.

I heard no more of him until, after spending three months learning Amharic in Addis Ababa, I met him again at the mission of Shafinna where I had been assigned and where I initially worked along with him and Fr. Bruno Maccani, co-founder of the Sidamo mission. Like Elio, Fr. Maccani was a Trentino, staid and stubborn like the rocks of their homeland. Fr. Elio placed me in charge of the primary school and, in a short time, he began to take me with him to celebrate Mass in distant communities, negotiating sometimes impossible roads. We were separated when Fr. Elio was assigned to the community of Tullo where he worked for a number of years. Our paths again crossed when, in the nineties, we found ourselves together in the community of Dongora, where he was curate and I was director of the Pastoral Centre of the Vicariate.

Fr. Menegatti’s main qualities were, besides a deep Comboni spirituality and a great love for his vocation and the mission, his absolute exactness in registering all the details of the catechumens and the Catholic families – something of great benefit to the parish even today – and the care and attention he applied to the liturgical celebrations. Since he had many benefactors and received a great amount of aid, he felt duty bound to assist tirelessly those he saw to be in need, saying that one day God would have demanded an account of him: he never once failed in his commitment to helping the poor. Despite his rather remote and apparently inflexible style, due to his personality, he had a great affection for the Sidama people and I saw many of them weeping at his passing. Fr. Elio spent his last years of mission at Hawassa, the centre of the Vicariate, having had an operation to remove a tumour on his vocal cords that left him unable to speak. When he had to leave Ethiopia, he suffered greatly and it took him some time to accept to continue his mission in sickness, but then he understood that God was asking him to continue his missionary commitment in a different way. I last saw him about two years ago at Castel d’Azzano, still lucid, even if he found it almost impossible to speak”.