In Pace Christi
Fr. Modonesi Alberto
Luogo di Nascita: Dello/Italia
Voti temporanei: 09/09/1963
Voti perpetui: 09/09/1966
Data Smierci: 08/02/2018
Miejsce Smierci: Castiglione delle Stiviere/Italia
“Thank you Abuna Alberto – wrote Superior General Fr. Tesfaye Tadesse, the day after his death – for all I received from when I first came to know you, in September 1995, when I arrived in Cairo to study Arabic at the Dar Comboni Centre of which you were the director. Thank you for your missionary life in Italy, Egypt, Sudan and South Sudan and for your presence in Middle Eastern countries, for your deep knowledge and appreciation of the peoples to whom you were sent. I saw you in Cairo among Egyptians, Arabs, South-Sudanese, Eritreans, Ethiopians, Americans and Asians. I saw you among the Nuer and Leer peoples in South Sudan. You had the ability to embrace everyone and go beyond differences. Thank you for being a friend to so many people”. And many were struck by the beautiful last letter that Fr. Alberto wrote (published in the MCCJ Bulletin No. 274) before Christmas, almost a testament that well reflects his great humanity before the final encounter with the father that the doctors predicted for Christmas, 2018: “I greatly desire to make this leap into his arms”.
Fr. Alberto was born at Corticelle Pieve, in Brescia Province (Italy), on 4 May 1942, the sixth in a large family of thirteen children, five boys and eight girls. He joined the Comboni Institute at Gozzano and took first vows on 9 September 1963. In 1964 he moved to the Apostolic School in Brescia, then to Venegono where, on 9 September 1996, he took perpetual vows. He was ordained priest in his home town on 1 July 1967 and, in October left for Lebanon where he stayed until 1969 to study Arabic. He went to Sudan in 1970, appointed to the cathedral of El Obeid as curate and vice-superior. In 1971 he moved to El Fasher, moving between El Fasher and Nyala.
It was during that period that he met Fr. Luciano Perina who, on the very day Fr. Alberto died, wrote “A letter to Fr. Alberto Modonesi, an unforgettable friend, on the day of his ‘leap into the arms of the father’", from which we take some passages for this obituary.
“When we met for the first time we were in Sudan towards the end of the seventies. You were at El Fasher and I was at Nyala, hundreds of kilometres from each other. We were both living alone. Each of us formed a community with himself even though this caused some perplexity for our superiors who would have preferred us to live in community. On our part, we thought this concern for the rules was excessive, considering the concrete situation: the Christians were not many and were all from the south of the country … nevertheless, even though the Christians were few in number, there was no shortage of work: evening school, football teams and visits to the small Christian communities scattered about the desert which kept us up to our ears in work. I remember how we even discussed so much about the usefulness of ‘wasting our time’ with Moslems. It seemed to me, to tell the truth, that we, as Catholic missionaries, ought to have busied ourselves more with our own Christians. Your point of view was somewhat different. I remember that day when I challenged you to your face ‘But do you really think the Koran is inspired?’ Your reply was immediate. For you there was no doubt whatever that God had given them their book, just as he gave us ours”. During that time, while on one of his journeys between El Fasher and Nyala, Fr. Alberto was bitten on the heel by a desert viper: “What a cursed day that day was when, while you were walking in the sand of the El Daein desert, a snake, disturbed by your step, bit you on the back of your foot. I do not remember what sort of snake it was but everyone said its bite was fatal. That bite was the beginning of your end. You came to Italy, the doctors prescribed the proper treatment and they even changed all your blood. Somehow you survived but only you know how much you suffered that day; So many doctors and so many tests! So much medicine for years and years! And yet you never lost your smile, you witty or facetious remarks, your ability to laugh at everyone at everything, even yourself”.
From 1979 to 1986 Fr. Alberto worked as a teacher at Comboni School in El Obeid. Fr. Perina continues: “For some years we were together at our school in El Obeid. You were the headmaster and I taught English. How nice it is to remember how serious you were with the students! You who were usually quite funny, lively and bright but with the students, in your role as headmaster, you were another person, serious and exact. The students respected and loved you … it was obvious that your only concern was for their good and the good of everyone, both Christians and Moslem. As superior of the community you were inclined to de-dramatize. One day, Bro. Enrico Ceriotti informed you that the beer in the store was almost finished and asked you to get some more since there were only two tins left for Sunday. You went to the market and bought so much that Bro. Enrico, the bursar of the house, was surprised and made some remarks about poverty. You, tactfully, respectfully and gently answered that there was no cause for alarm, ‘We, Brother, are not here for the sake of poverty but for the good of the people. If a couple of beers a week helps us to work better, then the beer is more than welcome’”.
After his holidays in Italy in 1986, Fr. Alberto passed through Zaire to meet his brother Fr. Renato, also a Comboni, who had worked there for years. Coming back from Sudan, he was assigned to El Nahud to open an orientation centre to help our local pastoral agents, especially the new arrivals, understand better the local language and culture in Sudan. The following years saw him engaged in Khartoum, then in Cairo as director of the various schools, then back in Khartoum in ministry. From 2006 to 2007 he was in the parish of Old Fangak to study the Nuer language. He then returned to Helouan, Sudan, also as local superior and in the unified Egypt-Sudan Province where he stayed until the end of 2016. In January he was diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas and from then on he stayed in Brescia for chemotherapy. Again quoting Fr. Perina: “When I met you again little more than a month ago, at our house in Brescia, your smile and sense of humour were just the same. You were still the same Alberto, serene and, as always, full of the joy of life, even when your life seemed to be slipping away. It was a sad moment when I said goodbye to you. But the memory of you, my dear Alberto, though in many ways it makes me sad, also fills me with gratitude for the many marvellous experiences of humanity, simple, sincere and down-to-earth that we lived and shared along pathways and tracks in the desert of Sudan and along the pathways and tracks mong the forests of South Sudan. The memory of your prayer life, simple and profound, as shown in every line of your Letter for Christmas 2017, is like a balm that sweetens the bitterness of the news that you have left us. Ciao! Arrivederci!”.
Fr. Alberto died on 8 February 2018, at Castiglione delle Stiviere, at home with his family where he spent the last weeks of his life.
The following is a passage from the funeral homily by the Bishop of Mantova, Mons. Marco Busca: “Sharing was his life. Divine Providence had it that Fr. Alberto died on the day of the liturgical feast of Saint Josephine Bakita who was very dear to him as a native of Sudan and particularly of Darfur, the first mission where he was sent fifty years ago almost as a pioneer, ‘to see if there were any Christians there’”.