Albiate (AsiaNews) - This year's Vittorino Colombo Award ceremony was held in the beautiful setting of Villa Campello in Albiate. Fr Bernardo Cervellera, PIME missionary and AsiaNews editor in chief, was the 2012 recipient. The award was established in 1997 in memory of the great Catholic statesman Vittorino Colombo who dedicated many years of his life to social issues and who built bridges of friendship and cooperation with China, pushing Beijing to guarantee greater religious freedom for Christians and other communities.
Albiate Mayor Diego Confalonieri handed over the prize in the presence of many Catholic cultural and business leaders from Lombardy. Vittorino Colombo's sister, Tina, was also present.
Now in its 16th edition, the award was given to other important figures, like the late Czech President Vaclav Havel, Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, Card Agostino Casaroli , and Card Angelo Sodano.
Fr Cervellera dedicated his prize to three Chinese bishops, Mgr Thaddeus Ma Daqin, auxiliary bishop of Shanghai; Mgr James Su Zhimin, bishop of Baoding; and Mgr Cosma Shi Enxiang, bishop of Yixian, who have been banned from their ministry or have disappeared in police custody.
Before the certificate was handed over, Prof Angelo Caloia, president of the Fondazione Vittorino Colombo, read out the motivations for Fr Cervellera's choice. Here is his address:
This year, the Vittorino Colombo International Award goes to Father Bernardo Cervellera, editor in chief of the news agency AsiaNews, a PIME missionary passionate for his mission, a journalist faithful to the truth, appreciated around the world for his reports and in-depth analyses of the vast Asian continent and its problems.
A passionate communicator, he brought recognition to the organisations he led or worked with (from Mondo e missione to Fides), bringing to the world the tragedies and suffering of Christian communities but also their extraordinary prophetic strength that have enabled them to proclaim the Gospel with courage and abnegation, including in indifferent or openly hostile places.
With an in-depth knowledge of the specific features of many countries, from China and India to Lebanon and the Philippines, he has analysed their social and political problems with earnestness, making him an unchallenged authority at a scientific level.
Although inflexible in condemning human rights violations and religious persecutions, his style and analyses, which are never violent or offensive, show a balance and moderation appreciated even outside the Catholic world.
Today, AsiaNews is a point of reference for hundreds of thousands of readers, as well as newspapers, magazines and news agencies that pick up its articles to offer a reliable voice on the Asian continent.
Father Cervellera's background is also worth mentioning.
Born in Grottaglie (Taranto) in 1951, he graduated in philosophy from Milan's Università Cattolica in 1975, and was ordained priest in 1978.
Known to the general public as an able journalists and columnist, he wrote for Mondo e missione, a PIME publication.
Between 1997 al 2002, he was the editor in chief of the Vatican agency Fides, whose authority and professionalism he boosted.
Currently, he is in charge of the news agency AsiaNews, and collaborates with the Italian Catholic daily Avvenire as well as other newspapers. He is often a guest speaker on TV.
He has had important experiences in the field of mission and education. Between 1995 and 1997, he lived in Beijing where he taught the 'History of Western Civilisation' at Peking University (Beida).
His ten years as editor in chief of the Asia-oriented PIME agency AsiaNews is his best known and most challenging experience. Through it, he has sought, and still seeks, to live up to the John Paul II's often repeated exhortation: "Asia: that is the mission we all share for the third millennium." From a few hits in the beginning, after ten years his agency has become a place of dialogue between Asia and the world.
In the words of a confrere, "What makes AsiaNews special is its sharing in and attention to the human person from Asia and above all the fate of this continent's Christians. 'Man,' John Paul II used to say, 'is the way of the Church.' AsiaNews does not hide its Christian identity. For this reason, it is appreciated by openly secular voices and newspapers. They know with whom they are talking. They rely on its undisputed professionalism."
In other religions, its work is also appreciated. Buddhist monks in Burma and Tibet hold the award winner and his collaborators in great esteem because they feel they and their "demands" have been understood, that the former are close to their tragedies, conscious that their interest is not economic."
As he pointed out, his work is rooted in his mission and vocation. "Our Christian identity helps us find greater sympathy and acceptance in our journey towards Asian peoples. Through such compassion, we can go beyond economic-centred stereotypes that only see Asia as a market, a pawn in political games or a social disaster to be kept at bay."
Father Cervellera thus comes across as the type of person Benedict XVI had in mind when he described during the current Synod those who should be involved in the new evangelisation. "Four, then, the characteristics of the evangelizer of today: courage, that 'quiet courage' of St. Maximilian Kolbe and Mother Teresa of Calcutta; being in communion with the Church and united with her pastors; the capacity to announce God's message with joy; understanding that this mission is 'too important' and that 'there is no time to lose'."
In the jury's opinion, Father Cervellera expresses and lives the essential values that Vittorino Colombo strenuously defended.
Senator Colombo saw how urgent the survival and support for Christian communities in difficult if not openly hostile contexts were. He was particularly concerned about the fate of Christians in China. Born out of extraordinary preaching activity and intelligent enculturation in their ancient culture, Chinese Christians have shown themselves capable of bearing witness in a special way, including martyrdom and persecution. We are certain that he would have supported the courageous struggle for their rights.
The jury is honoured by the presence of someone who lives an intense vocation that benefits the world, who is the "voice of the weak" who too often cannot be heard.
It is a great joy to have him here on the occasion of the 16th award, knowing that we can draw on his hope for a world that is more just and respectful of the rights of the defenceless.