Fr. Luigi Zanotto was born at Povegliano, not far from Verona Italy, on 21 November 1940, one of eight children in a family of sound faith. After the novitiate in Florence and the scholasticate in Verona, he was ordained on 30 June 1968.
Immediately after his ordination he was sent to Sulmona as formator at the minor seminary and then to Rome where he studied for a year (1972-1973) at the Gregorian University, where he was awarded a BA degree, specialising in pastoral theology.
On 11 April 1973, he was appointed to Mexico to work among the indigenous people.
His first mission was that of Chiltepec (Oaxaca), a small parish in what is now the diocese of Tuxtepec. In September 1975, as we read in a letter of his, he began the construction of parish buildings that should have been finished by Christmas. Right from the start, Fr. Luigi showed his ability to work and his interest in improving the structures of the mission, even though he saw it as most important to understand the reality of the indigenous world with that pastoral concern he always showed, as Fr. Enrique Sánchez G. says.
In May 1976, Fr. Pini Giampiero suggested that he be part of a missionary group that was then starting pastoral work in the colony of Virgencitas, in the outskirts of Mexico City, “an urban mission experience”.
In December 1977, while still at Chiltepec, he let it be known that the Archbishop of Oaxaca had asked him to stay at Tuxtepec to accompany the youth and begin the opening of a parish but he stayed there until October 1979 to oversee the works and hand over to his successor. In fact, he had been granted permission to return to Europe to continue his studies in Pastoral and Catechesis, as he had requested.
He spent about one year in Puerto Limón, in Costa Rica, an area inhabited by people of African descent where, at the request of the bishop, with his usual lively and creative spirit, he collaborated in the renewal of the local clergy, coordinating them and holding “conferences, retreats and courses for committed lay people – as he himself wrote – for communities and leaders of communities. We can well be proud of the appreciation and esteem of the bishop and priests for us Combonis. There are always times of trial but this is only to be expected considering our specific role of motivation in the development of a local Church”.
Eventually, in September 1981, he was able to go to Spain for a course in catechesis and stayed there for four years. He then returned to Mexico with a doctorate in Pastoral and Catechesis and it was proposed that he returned to the diocese of Tuxtepec to take charge of managing and organising the Institute of Papaloapan. He set to work with enthusiasm and dedication even though he did not always feel either supported or understood.
During that same period he also took on the national secretariat for evangelisation and catechesis and strove to continue the project of creating a branch of the Ibero-American University at Tuxtepec for the formation of the laity.
After a year spent studying English, in 1992 Fr. Luigi went to the United States for a two-year period of service which was later extended on his appointment to the NAP on 1 January 1993.
The second phase of the missionary life of Fr. Luigi began in the Afro-American parish run by the Combonis at Compton, in California, to the south of Los Angeles. After an experience of adaptation to life in the NAP at the parish of St. Albert the Great, he was placed in charge of the administration of the Spanish-speaking parish of St. Cecilia. Here, too, he once again showed his ability to ‘think outside the box’ and to identify the needs of the people; by giving each group the possibility of following their own religious and popular traditions, he not only brought life to the parish but also favoured the unity of all.
In 2006, after taking a Sabbatical to finish writing his three volumes on catechesis, Profundizando y Madurando Nuestra Fe, he was asked to move to the east coast of the United States and assume a new ministry in the sector of justice and peace. The agonised decision of the NAP, in 2009, to accept the commitment of Saint Lucy, Newark, New Jersey, a multi-ethnic, originally Italian parish, gave new life to the community of Montclair, NJ. Fr. Luigi was asked to stay at the parish for a year.
It was there that he was struck by the disease that would lead to his demise, an aggressive brain tumour. However, he still had enough time to renew the dilapidated structures and to approach and bring together people from the most varied of backgrounds.
Fr. Luigi returned to the Father on 17 March 2018. His funeral bore testimony to his priestly life given for the people and this was highlighted by the active participation of the police and fire department of the city of Newark, of which he had become the beloved chaplain.