The Italian missionary arrived in Bangladesh in 1974. In the Asian country he made "a living experience of Providence", setting up several PIME missions. “I thank the Lord because he took me by the hand,” he said, “and I let myself be led despite my limitations. I dared only trust his help.”
Dinajpur (AsiaNews) – Fr GianAntonio Baio, a missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) in Bangladesh, has followed a simple guideline, a series of "yes" to the will of the Father. He spoke to AsiaNews about his life, vocation and mission.
“It all started when I was 15 with a provocation by the pastor of the church I attended. After confession, he said to me once: ‘Why don't you become a priest?’ If he had slapped me, I wouldn't have suffered so much, thinking about the responsibilities I had in my family. Still, that thought never left me and, in the end, at 18, I gave up. My mother, to whom I confessed that I wanted to enter the seminary, answered me with moved eyes: ‘If it is Jesus who calls you, go."
On the eve of his 75th birthday, on 29 September, Fr Baio looked back on his life, entirely dedicated to "doing Christ’s will".
"Thank God I was born in a Catholic family in Isola Vicentina, Veneto. We were very poor, so my dad decided to move to Lombardy in 1953 looking for work." Here the family grew, to eight children (two girls and six boys). Three of them dedicated their lives to the Church.
"I am a missionary, my younger sister is a Benedictine nun, and my fourth brother is a parish priest. Last year on San Giulio Island [Novara], where she lives, we celebrated together my 45 years of ordination, my brother's 40 years and my sister's 25 years of perpetual profession.”
Ordained in 1973, Fr Baio arrived in Bangladesh the following year. From there his mission began, a series of "yes" to the demands of his superiors. The first destination, at 29, was as parish priest in Bonpara and headmaster of a Catholic school, with 1,800 poor students, mostly Muslims.
In 1979 he became parish priest of the cathedral of Dinajpur and principal of the St Philip school. In 1981 he moved to the mission in Rohampur (Rajshahi), an area inhabited by ethnic Santhal. In 1989, the then archbishop of Dhaka asked PIME to set up shop in the capital. Then too, he said "yes".
In addition to the house, he built the adjacent St Christina Church, which takes its name from an Italian girl who died at the age of 19 in a car accident. "Her grandmother gave us the money for the construction," he said.
In 1993 the clergyman founded a church in Mirpur, which was given to the diocese in 2018. After 20 years of mission, PIME asked him to return to Italy, where he remained for ten years. In 2004 he was back in Bangladesh where he founded another mission in Kewachala.
In 2017 he became the rector of Our Lady of Pompeii shrine in Raja Rampur, among the Orao, a famous pilgrimage site and an important place of worship even for Muslims. "For me, coming here was a grace".
"All the ‘yes’ I pronounced were the will of the Lord,” he explains “God’s plan came into being in various ways. In prayer, reflections and meditations I recognised that it was not on a whim, but a choice. So, I trusted my superiors’ proposals."
Looking back, he notes that "I have a deep sense of gratitude. Despite my shyness and my limits; by the grace of the Lord, I was able to make myself useful."
"Every step I took, I felt a deep sense of inadequacy. ‘Lord, why did you choose me?’ I’d ask, knowing that it is not my will but his will, his call to vocation. This is what makes you brave.”
“Today I live at the shrine and I thank the Lord because he took me by the hand, and I let myself be led despite my limitations. I dared only trust his help. Faced with weakness, the Lord says: ‘Trust me, I am always with you’."
Speaking about his mission in Bangladesh, Fr Baio says that "When you come here, you fall in love with the people and do all you can for them: hostels, dispensaries, schools. When you see such poverty, you take it on, i.e. you take charge of it with the knowledge that it is the Lord who sent you.”
"I gave it my all,” he says, as he looks back at the 35 years dedicated to this country. “I was the go-between of so many benefactors who made themselves available to help. I had a living experience of Providence in this country. I gave my time and energy, and I receive from them a feeling of inner peace, joy, and brotherhood.
"I feel like one of them. If you live with people, you can only share everything in life: little food, the huts full of mosquitoes, poverty, suffering, limitations. In conditions of sickness and pain, being able to restore hope to them fills the heart with gratitude for the Lord.”