Reflection Group of French Speaking Africa
In obedience to the directives of the 16th General Chapter (CA ’03, 61,2), the provincials of Central Africa, Congo, Chad and Togo-Ghana-Benin asked Fr. David Arturo Esquivel Hernández, Fr. Giampaolo Pezzi, Fr. Norbert Rangu Mogoro and Fr. Ramón Eguiluz Eguiluz to put together a group that will do theological reflection on mission and on ongoing formation. The group held its first meeting in Bangui (CAR) with the participation of Fr. Fernando Zolli, secretary general of evangelisation, on 27-30 January 2004.
On 27 January the group attended the assembly of the French speaking provincials who, together with the assistant general in charge, Fr. Odelir José Magri, clarified the nature of the reflection group, its duties, its contents, its relations with other existing provincial secretariats and other practical questions.
Following that, the group got down to work. The group has come up with a series of themes and proposals to help promote the sharing of reality as it is lived on a daily basis by our missionaries and to elicit reflections that will contextualise the needs of mission in the French speaking provinces. Among other things, the group has proposed that the following be examined: a deeper understanding of the Chapter Acts in view of the creation of the “Ratio Missionis;” an analysis of reality and the reading the signs of the times; how to speak of God and to proclaim Jesus Christ in a context of war, violence, transition, return to paganism, political corruption and deterioration of the most basic life conditions, loss of identity and of traditional values; mission and inter-religious dialogue; the need to establish a new theology and practice of the economy; missionary methodology; community life as a prerequisite for evangelisation; Comboni charism and spirituality for mission; how the Comboni charism enriches the local Churches and is enriched by them.
Besides the preparation of study aids, the group has shown its availability to help provincial secretariats and provincial councils in their effort of animation and ongoing formation of the communities.
The group will meet again in Cotonou from 21 to 27 June 2004. The agenda will include the search of avenues of exploration of the Chapter Acts, an analysis of reality, mission and dialogue, themes of spirituality and of formation for Comboni Missionaries in their various phases.
Assembly of Comboni Mass Media of Europe
The editors and administrators of Comboni “mass media” of Europe gathered in Verona from 27 to 30 January, for the year’s annual assembly: Além-mar and Audácia (Portugal), Mundo Negro and Aguiluchos, but not Vida Misionera (Spain), Comboni Mission (London Province), Kontinente (DSP), Misjonarze Kombonianie (Poland), Raggio, Nigrizia, PM, FATMO, Missionari Comboniani/Azione Missionaria (Italy), Comboni Press (Rome). The assembly, prepared by the staff of Nigrizia, was coordinated by Fr. Jaime Calvera Pi, secretary general of mission promotion, Fr. Martin James Devenish, of the LP, continental coordinator of mission promotion, Fr. Francesco Antonini, provincial of Italy, who brought the welcome and the greetings of the Italian province.
The exchange of information between the editorial teams of the various publications was followed by a day of study on “marketing and communications” which underlined the importance that each publication has its own clear identity (the “mission” as it was called by the experts of the University of Verona who facilitated the activities of the day) and it presents it clearly in order to involve the readers and its promoters, namely the Comboni Missionaries and the Comboni Missionary Sisters.
Stressed once more was the need for cooperation among the different publications (exchange of articles and pictures) and from confreres and sisters who, in their activities of mission promotion, should feel involved in the distribution of our magazines. The Assembly once again urged that in all editorial teams, together with an editor and an administrator, there be someone in charge of promoting the magazines.
The next assembly will be held in Warsaw on the last week of January 2005.
Assembly of MISNA
The assembly of MISNA took place at the PIME headquarters in Rome on 30 January. It was attended by representatives of the General Councils of the four Italian Missionary Institutes, of their Italian provinces, of CIMI and of SERMIS.
The financial report of 2003 (which is not in red) and the budget for 2004 were examined. It is hoped that there will be an ever growing sharing and participation of all the Institutes (including personnel) in the running of MISNA. Several other Institutes and organizations would like to join as partners. Each case will be evaluated separately.
According to the latest statistics, the readers are about 140/150,000 per month, with a daily average (work days) of 5,000 readers. However, taking into account that behind every hit there is more than one person, it is safe to say that MISNA is visited by about 250/300,000 people per month and 8/10,000 per day.
Fifty % of the users are in Italy, 20% in the USA, 5% in Belgium. The remaining are in Africa and Latin America (especially in Brazil). Each visitor reads an average of eight new items per day. MISNA is watched attentively and quoted (a by-line is not always given) by the foreign desks of many newspapers and by Italian and foreign news agencies (Ansa, Agi, Adn Kronos, Reuters, Afp, Lusa, Associated Press, Times, Guardian, Le Figaro, La Croix, etc.).
The book of Fr. Giulio Albanese (Il Mondo Capovolto, Einaudi publications) is having its second edition. It has enjoyed a great success with reviews on important weeklies, radio and TV, beside the missionary publishing world. Congratulations.
Fr. Converset John has been appointed as member of the provincial council of South Africa, effective from 22 January 2004.
Sch. Raimundo Nonato Rocha dos Santos (BE) Elstree (LP) 30.01.2004
Sch. Tabaranza Raul Baluma (A) Elstree (LP) 30.01.2004
Sch. Vizcarra Edgardo Alfonso (A) Elstree (LP) 30.01.2004
Sch. Asfaha Yohannes Weldeghiorghis (ET) Innsbruck(DSP) 08.02.2004
Sch. Kambo Paul Kithuku (KE) Innsbruck(DSP) 08.02.2004
Sch. Radol Austine Odhiambo (KE) Innsbruck(DSP) 08.02.2004
Sch. Mayik Nyok Jervas Mawut (KH) Chicago (USA) 21.02.2004
Sch. Megnihoue Codjo Bernard (T) Chicago (USA) 21.02.2004
Fr. Antonio Furioli, Ai piedi di Gesù (a short school of prayer), Ancora 2004, 160 pages, € 10.00. Introduction by Antonio Gentili. It contains very useful theoretical as well as practical suggestions.
A French version of Una vita per l’Africa. If you want one or more copies, request them from Fr. Franco Noventa at Issy-Les-Moulineaux (Paris). € 15,00 per copy, plus shipping.
Fr. Giuseppe Scattolin, Quattro saggi sull’Islam (L’Islam and globalisation; God and man in Islam; Spirituality of Islam; Islam and dialogue), EMI Publications 2004. Request copies directly from EMI.
Sem Fronteiras: an end or a beginning?
The provincial council has decided, effective the end of December 2003, to discontinue the publication of the magazine Sem Fronteiras. Several factors contributed to this decision: on the one side, financial problems, but also and above all the progressive drastic decrease in subscriptions; the lack of trained personnel; difficulties in distribution; changes in society caused by the new technologies that are causing a major crisis in the editorial market; the resurgence of traditional religiosity in the Church.
It was a difficult and painful decision for the provincial council to take. On the one end, it felt that it had to take action; on the other end, it asked whether there were other alternatives to be considered. At the end, it opted to discontinue its publication in order to begin to reflect, calmly and with serenity, on the difficulties the magazine experienced. We think that we must have some means of communication, especially for mission and vocation promotion, but these must be more resilient, of greater popular appeal and possibly clearer in their objectives.
Sem Fronteiras was published for a total of 31 years. Its long history earned it a good degree of notoriety and respect in all of Brazil, both within and without the Church. It also received two highly significant awards: one in journalism for the quality of the product, the other in the field of human rights, for its commitment to the defence of life and of the less privileged members of society. In the mind of many people the Comboni Missionaries are “the missionaries of Sem Fronteiras.”
Openings and closings
After having closed two communities in 2003 (the parish community of São José do Rio Preto and the vocation promotion community of Lages/SC), in February this year the province opened two new communities: the first is in Indaial, near Blumenau, in the State of Santa Catarina, an area with a strong German background; the other is in San Paulo, where specific activities in the field of Justice and Peace will take place. With these two new communities the province is attempting to take a significant step in the re-qualification of commitments and in having a more qualified presence. Other openings and closings could take place after the provincial assembly which is scheduled for September.
The community of Indaial will work in three areas: pastoral work, mission promotion and vocation promotion.
Only dialogue will bring peace to Uganda
Rome, 17 February 2004. Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu (Uganda), president of the Acholi Religious Leaders’ Peace Initiatives (ARLPI), accompanied by the retired Anglican Bishop Rev. Ochola of Kitgum, briefly addressed the Comboni Missionaries in the Chapter Hall of the General Curia.
“Enough with war in Northern Uganda. After 18 years of useless suffering, to think that the crisis can be resolved by armed conflict means to continue to waste time. We, the religious leaders of this war area, have the duty to promote peace, love and reconciliation, aware as we are that further military activities are not the solution. You can’t put out a fire with petrol!”
Archbishop Odama and Rev. Ochola, are the leaders of a Ugandan delegation, that includes six other personalities from civil society, among them some Acholi chiefs, which is currently doing a series of advocacy visits on behalf of North Uganda. The delegation is in touch with the UN and with the governments of USA, Canada, England, Germany, the European Union and Italy. It asks for a greater involvement of the UN and of those governments that have some influence over the warring parties (LRA, Sudan, Uganda) to urge them to choose dialogue and mediation as the only way to peace, to accept an international monitoring system that will defend and protect children (a struggle against abuses of human rights and the use of child soldiers), to reduce the reasons for conflict between these parties and to take positive action for a peace process.
At the end of his presentation, Rev. Odama thanked the Comboni Missionaries and the Comboni Sisters for their commitment to the Church in Uganda. “Some of your confreres have been killed. We pray for your dead and offer you our condolences… People who visit Pajule often take time to visit the grave of Fr. Raffaele Di Bari, as a sign of love and esteem for all of you.”
Ongoing formation for local superiors
For two full days, 9-11 February 2004, the local superiors of the DSP gathered in Josefstal for an ongoing formation workshop. The topic was “Local communities: how to guide, lead and accompany them.” The moderator was professor Dr. Scharer from Innsbruck.
First we dealt with the tension between pastoral and practical life. We realized that in our communities there is still a gap between theological principles and practical behaviour, between personal life and local culture.
For communities of elderly confreres, we asked ourselves: “What is the difference between a Comboni community and an old age home? How can we apply theological principles to or speak of God in our every day life?” The largest part of our living together consists of liturgical celebrations, eating, drinking and working under the same roof. Even when we are rather familiar with one another, to a large degree we always remain strangers to one another: just observe the different stress in the use of the words “I” or “We”. Besides, our communities have to face the challenge of learning how to offer our services to the Church as well as to society without creating tensions.
Three key words have to be underlined when animating and guiding others, namely we must walk in front of, with and for others. To walk in front of others means first of all to be well informed and to make information available; to walk with others means to take part in the journey the community has undertaken; to walk for others means to avoid being the only protagonists.
We, then, reflected on leading others “to pass through death with our eyes fixed on the reality of Easter.” In our duty and service as leaders we have always to stress that God’s work can never fail: just as Jesus did not fail, in spite of appearances, as he arrived at the Eastern triumph.
Inauguration of St. Daniel Comboni chapel in Borbón
On Saturday, 24 January, in an enchanting location called “El Picadero,” that can only be reached by boat on the Santiago River, the new chapel dedicated to St. Daniel Comboni was blessed. The chapel overlooks the river bank and is visible by all who sail on the river by canoe.
All the inhabitants of the area are Afro and, with a lot of efforts and sacrifices, the community started five years ago to work on building this chapel. The work was completed recently with the help of Fr. Juan Benjumea Ramos. Together with the chapel we blessed the new crucifix and the painting of Comboni, who was proclaimed the protector of the Santiago River. In his homily the provincial stressed the love of Comboni for the Blacks and, in particular, for the inhabitants of this little village. After the procession we all enjoyed a good time in typical Afro fashion.
On Sunday, 1 February, as we do every year, we held the gathering of relatives, friends and benefactors of our communities and confreres. The gathering took place at the “Centro Juvenil Daniel Comboni” of Carcelén. This year, following the canonization, the event was very intense and an occasion of Comboni spirituality. About 220 people attended. After a missionary prayer and the witness of Fr. Fernando Eduardo Flores Avila, the first Ecuadorian missionary to work in Uganda, Mass was celebrated. During the Mass the provincial stressed in particular the missionary service of lay people and their involvement in the distribution of our publications. He encouraged the people in the audience to commit themselves to the propagation of the Comboni missionary ideal so that more and more people will embrace it with enthusiasm. The gathering closed with an entertainment provided by our postulants.
Another mission returned to the diocese: La Bramadora
Keeping in mind the current priorities of the province, the effort to find new and meaningful ways of evangelisation, recognizing time limits as part of our missionary service and work methodology, we have handed over to the diocese another section of the large mission called “Manga del Cura,“ El Paraiso - la Catorce, already separated from El Carmen.
On Saturday, 21 January, in the presence of the Archbishop of Portoviejo, of the Comboni Missionaries of El Carmen and La Catorce and of representatives of its over 80 Christian communities, the parish of La Bramadora was entrusted to the new parish priest. He is a Manabita, the fruit of the pastoral work done in the mission of Honorato Vásquez, which we handed over some years ago. There was ample recognition of the work done by the Comboni Missionaries who built chapels, schools, created new Christian communities with their own leaders and ministers, organized them in individual pastoral areas. Thus, out of the one mission of Nuestra Señora de El Carmen, taken in 1976, three more were born: Nuestra Señora de la Paz of Paraíso - La Catorce, San José of at the km 40 and the Bramadora. The last two are now in the hands of the diocesan clergy.
Comboni Celebration in Alexandria
A Mass of thanksgiving for the canonisation of St. Daniel Comboni was celebrated in the Latin cathedral of Alexandria on Friday, 13 February.
The Mass was celebrated in Arabic in the Latin rite, the main celebrant being the Vicar Apostolic Giuseppe Bausardo, SDB, assisted by the Coptic-Catholic Patriarch, by Cardinal Stehanós II Ghattás and by the Apostolic Nuncio, Bishop Marco Dino Brogi, OFM, and about 20 Comboni Missionaries, Franciscan, Lazzarite, Salesian and Jesuit priests.
The church was filled with Comboni Sisters and Sisters of other Institutes, plus a large number of people including many Sudanese.
The songs, in Arabic, English and French, were executed by the cathedral choir and by the Sudanese musical team with their drums. Sudanese dancers and Egyptian girls dressed in Pharaonic attire danced at the Gospel and at the offertory.
At the beginning, Bro. Aldo Benetti gave an historical introduction that included a description of the interaction between Comboni and the city itself. The relic of the saint was exposed on the altar and at the end of the Eucharist was used to bless the people.
The apostolic nuncio had words of praise and thanks for the work done by the Comboni Missionaries and the Comboni Missionary Sisters in Egypt and in Alexandria in particular.
The Superior General of the Comboni Sisters, who was on an official visit to Egypt together with her vicar general, added words of greeting and encouraged everyone to live according to the spirit of Daniel Comboni. A moment of relax followed with a large number of invited guests.
The Comboni Missionaries and the Sisters who had come from Cairo also went to visit the elderly and sick sisters at Bacòs, in the house dedicated to Sr. Giuseppa Scandola.
Mission promotion and... the electronic age
With the help of his computer, Fr. Giuseppe Cruciani has produced some beautiful audiovisual aids on the first journey of Comboni, of Bishop Roveggio and of Sr. Giuseppa Scandola. They have already been shown in several parishes and Institutes and, more recently, at a gathering of all the Coptic-Catholic priests of the Upper Nile, gathered in Assiout, and also to Sisters and young people in Alexandria.
The seminarians of the inter-rite major seminary of Meadi have produced a very original play in Arabic on the life and spirit of Comboni. The play was very successfully presented twice in the seminary theatre, on 20 and 22 February.
Activities sponsored by St. Pancrazio, Rome
Beyond a few tears and a considerable amount of donations, the TV programme of 6 January has had a very strong impact in raising questions. Those who phoned in (and we are still receiving calls), having followed with extreme interest the situations and the explanations offered by the videocassette - there were many of them indeed, thanks be to God - were asking about the reasons behind these situations. The video was used for debates in many schools. Some universities have requested our help to discuss the ever changing situations of Africa also in relation to Italy and Europe. We acknowledge by mail all offerings we get and invite the people to know more about Africa (and the Comboni Institutes) by making known to them Nigrizia, Raggio, PM, MISNA and our many websites. This is the small contribution of one community to the work of mission promotion.
In connection with this TV programme there has also been the appeal “A great political enterprise for an Africa that wants to change” (see a sui generis comment by Zordan in the February issue of Nigrizia). The appeal has as promoters Italian NGOs, AMREF, Campagna Sdebitarsi, Chiama l’Africa, FOCSIV, Missionary Institutes, C’era Una Volta (Rai3), MISNA, etc. and has the support of people in the world of entertainment, politics and civil society. On 12 February the appeal was presented in the Sala Cenacolo of Parliament. On 17 February, the coordinating committee, with Fr. Venanzio Milani and Fr. Carmine Curci, met to refine the appeal, to better define its objectives and to agree on some short term activities. In some respect it looks like a continuation of “Break the Silence.” (Fr. V. Milani)
Seminars and rallies organised by the municipality of Rome
From April 15 to 17 Rome’s City Hall has organised three days of seminars and rallies on Africa. Various themes will be explored. Among them: relations between Europe and Africa, human rights and democracy, promotion of sustainable development, prevention of conflicts in order to build peace, etc. Various organizations, unions, associations, NGOs and embassies have been invited. The Italian Missionary Institutes, represented by Fr. Venanzio Milani, are also listed among the sponsors. These Institutes will prepare an exhibit on Africa and will moderate meetings at venues to be chosen. Thanks to the Missionary Institutes, political and civic authorities from Africa have also been invited. The programme of these three days will be defined in the near future. (Fr. V. Milani)
A martyr catechist in Kutum, Sudan
Among the participants to the “Trauma Course” organised by the parish of Nyala in February 2003 there was the young catechist Marko Makuec Shir, a Dinka from Gogrial and a father of three. The course dealt with overcoming traumatic situations, a feature very common in Sudan after nearly 40 years of war. Marko did not know that after six months he was to meet his last traumatising experience, namely his death by a bullet in Kutum, the place where he was exercising his ministry since 1998.
Kutum is a pleasant green town about 80 km north of El Fasher, at an altitude of some 800 m. above sea level. Life was going on peacefully in the town and the only thing that discouraged catechists from working there was its remoteness.
On 25 April 2003 things changed dramatically. El Fasher was attacked by the rebels who, when they withdrew with vehicles and armours, left behind destruction and death. Marko sent his wife and children to the safety of Khartoum, but he himself remained in Kutum to look after a dozen Christian families and the soldier garrison of 500 soldiers, mostly Christian. During the day he was working at the two street shops he owned, one called “kushuk” in the local language and another a telephone centre where people could make phone calls.
On Friday, 12 August 2003, the rebels attacked the town of Kutum by surprise and after a few hours of fighting they took control of it. When the battle calmed down, Marko went to hospital to check on a friend who had been wounded. There he met a rebel who asked him his identity card. While he was searching for it, a second rebel arrived and, suspecting him to be a soldier, immediately shot him dead. Marko was never a soldier, but he used to receive at his centre many soldiers for prayer. Perhaps he was wrongly suspected to be one of them.
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body” says the Lord. As a true Dinka, Makro did not fear to lay down his life for his brothers and sisters and for the Gospel.
A week of vocation discernment
A meeting of Comboni vocation discernment (pre-seminary) was held in the parish of Mangunde from 15 to 21 December 2003. It was attended by 3 young people from Tete and 11 from Sofala who had finished their 10th school year. Eight young men were admitted to the pre-postulancy: two from Tete and six from Sofala. The team that organized the meeting included Bro. Pietro Martin, Fr. Juan Ramírez Rubio and Fr. Antonio López García.
Among the topics discussed were the life and charism of our Father and Founder, St. Daniel Comboni, the history of his vocation, the presence of the Comboni family in the world and its mission. The day of retreat had a particular intensity. The realities of life in the pre-postulancy of Nampula were also discussed. The meeting concluded with personal discernment and individual commitment.
The week was spent in a climate of great serenity and responsibility, and with a ready disposition to discern God’s will. We were able to see how the spirit and the charism of Comboni continue to attract young people to the Comboni missionary life and, at the same time, call us to be faithful to our own vocation and mission service.
The availability and the witness of the missionary team of Mangunde contributed in a major way to the success of this gathering and of its objectives. To the missionary team and to all those who supported us with their prayers we offer our thanks.
The yearly provincial assembly of the Comboni Missionaries working in West Africa (Togo-Ghana-Benin) took place from 12 to 15 January 2004, at the hospitality centre of the Canossian Sisters of Lomé. In a climate of prayer and communion, the confreres attended this yearly meeting in good number.
On the first day, during his opening remarks, Fr. Saverio Perego, provincial superior, reminded us of the instruction in our Rule of Life on the necessity of revising and updating the provincial directory. Therefore, this year the assembly’s main task was the preparation of a new directory in the light of the 16th General Chapter.
The third day of the assembly was a very important occasion for reflection on our life in the province under all its aspects, and for acquiring a new awareness of the missionary challenges we are called to meet daily and in the near future. The active participation of all the confreres in group work and in assembly debates showed the desire and the availability of each one of them to examine and to renew themselves in order to proceed with clear ideas and enthusiasm on our missionary journey.
Following the reports of the secretariats and commissions, which also included observations and amendments for the revision of the provincial directory, the confreres moved on to establish the priorities in the activities of the province. Worthy of mention, among others, are the challenge of basic formation (the training of the future formators of our postulants and of promoters for our centres of mission promotion), without forgetting the ongoing formation of the confreres, the need to strengthen our presence in the capital cities and in the missions in the south of the three countries where we work. Taking into account the present situation, it is becoming ever more urgent that we extend our presence to the North, a fact that sooner or later will require a great effort and the willingness on our part to drop some of our commitments in the South.
In his closing remarks the provincial gave us a summary of the history of the province which, a few days before the assembly, had celebrated the 40th anniversary of its presence in the South (19 January 1964 -19 January 2004). He also invited us to praise the Lord for his fidelity and, paraphrasing the words of Fr. Teresino Serra, our Superior General, to look at the future with optimism based on hope, on brotherly love and on the passion for mission.
Massacre in the camp of Barlonyo
In the evening hours of Saturday, 21 February 2004, the rebels of the so called Lord Resistance Army (LRA) perpetrated a massacre in the camp for the displaced people at Barlonyo, 25 km North-East of Lira, a district capital in the North of Uganda. The massacre of Barlonyo Camp was reported to MISNA by Fr. Sebhatleab Ayele Tesemma (Fr. Sebhat), an Eritrean Comboni Missionary who has been involved in pastoral work for several year in the parish of Ngeta and its catechists centre.
About 40 bodies were also spotted in the grass 3 km from Barlonyo Camp. This discovery brings the total number of victims to 213, mostly women, children and old people.
Fr. Sebhat reported having reached the area where the massacre took place, near Ogur, the following morning: “I saw a sickening number of dead bodies, most of them practically incinerated inside the huts that were still smouldering. The attack started yesterday at 5.00 p.m. The LRA bombarded the camp for about 15 minutes, making the local militia retreat. Then the rebels entered the camp where 5,000 people lived, mostly women, old people and children. Unfortunately most people, instead of running away, took refuge in their own huts that were looted and torched by these cruel aggressors for about three hours. As of now there are about 70 wounded people, some taken to the hospital of Lira, others at the clinic of Ogur. Words fail me to describe what I saw in Barlonyo.”
Drawing from eyewitness reports, Fr. Sebhat reported that there were about 100 rebels, many of them pre-adolescents and adolescents. “Beside the people burned inside their huts, there are also many who were stabbed to death.”
Two weeks earlier the LRA rebels had perpetrated another massacre in Abia, also in Lira district, killing many civilians.
IN PACE CHRISTI
Fr. Nereo Farina (11.01.1927 – 17.02.2004)
Fr. Nereo Farina, the fifth of 10 children, was born into a deeply Christian and well-to-do family of Pianezze San Lorenzo, Vicenza, on 11 January 1927. His father was a tax collector and, even though he himself was exempt from taxes because of his 10 children, considering the poverty of his town, always paid them anyway.
On Saturdays, the mother gathered the town’s poor under the grape vines in front of the house and fed them minestrone soup and a thick slice of bread. The children grew up and learned in such a school the meaning of solidarity, charity and love for the less privileged. Every morning, at 5:30, the whole bunch, led by the eldest sister, marched a mile to church in order not to miss the appointment with the Lord.
When he had already finished grade school, Nereo met a missionary who used to visit periodically the neighbouring parishes, and the spark of a missionary vocation turned into a healthy fire. From 1939 to 1943 he attended secondary school in our minor seminary of Padua. In 1944, while he was in Santa Giustina al Colle, the partisans had killed five German soldiers. Nereo was lined up with 20 other men to be executed by a firing squad. The parish priest and his associate, who had placed themselves in front of the soldiers to beg for mercy, were shot dead and fell to the ground in a pool of blood. At a certain point the captain of the SS, seeing that Nereo was wearing sandals, said: “If you don’t have shoes, you are not a partisan. Go away!” He was thus spared, but unfortunately he had to witness the death of the others, including his cousin Valentino Fiscon.
Between 1945 and 1946 he studied at the Brocchi School in Bassano del Grappa, but because he was not able to learn Greek, he had to drop out. His missionary vocation, however, was still there. “If I can’t become a priest, I will be happy to become a Brother,” he said and immediately applied to enter the novitiate. It must be said, however, that deep down he always hoped that some day he could become a priest.
In 1948, when he was 21, he entered the novitiate in Gozzano under the wise guidance of Fr. Giovanni Giordani from whom he learned – as he would say later – the wisdom of the heart, namely the ability to read the events of life in the light of God. While in Gozzano, in as much as his duties as a novice allowed it, he learned to be a printer. During a practical demonstration he saved the hand of a confrere who was working on the cutter.
He finished the novitiate in England where he stayed for two years after his first profession on 8 December 1950. In 1952 he went to Uganda, where he was first in Aduku and then in Gulu among the Acholi. Bro. Nereo became renowned as a maker of bricks and a builder of churches. In these assignments he turned into reality Comboni’s dream: to save Africa with Africa. In fact, he taught a trade to many young people. While working in the carpentry shop one day he cut off four of his fingers. Without too much ado he bandaged his hand and rode the 70 kms home on his motorcycle. His comments over this fact reveal his simplicity and the serenity of his heart: “This is the hand I saved for my confrere when I was a novice.”
Divine Providence finally arrived with Vatican II that lifted the obligation of classical studies for candidates to the priesthood.
From 1971 to 1975 we find Nereo back in school, first in Rome and then in Lucca. It was demanding and difficult work not without a degree of humiliation especially from those “intellectuals” who were seeing in those brothers who wanted to become priests a lowering of the cultural level of the new priests. The ideal of the priesthood, however, gave him strength and increased his determination. In 1974 he was ordained a deacon in the church of Molino di Altissimo where his brother was parish priest. His mother, who would die the following November, attended the ceremony. Then, on 15 March 1975, he finally saw the realization of his dream as he celebrated his first Mass in the beautiful church of Marostica.
Meanwhile, Uganda closed its borders to him. Mexico instead welcomed him. Fr. Nereo was stationed first n Mexico City, the in Sahuayo, La Paz, Bahia Tortuga, Las Pocitas (where he shared his missionary life with his former novice master, Fr. Giovanni Giordani) and Ciudad Constitución (also in Baja California).
In the year 2000 he began to have serious health problems: digestive difficulties, the onset of Parkinson disease and other setbacks. He returned to Italy and at first he stayed with his eldest sister in Pianezze, then he moved to Thiene, Arco and finally Verona. Even when convalescing, he never stopped helping out with ministry. A femur fracture was the determining factor that eventually led him to his death on 17 February 2004. Following the funeral at the Mother House, the body was taken to his native town, Pianezze San Lorenzo.
Let us pray for the deceased
THE FATHER: of Sc. Kouagou Kassa Aimé Noël (T); Alonso of Bro. José Nieto Parra (E).
MOTHER: Mary of Fr. Brian Joseph Quigley (NAP).
THE COMBONI MISSIONARY SISTERS: Sr. M. Egidia Figini; Sr. M. Secondina Chittò; Sr. Prudente Stefani; Sr. Gesuina Tremolada.