Eighty-five years of grace and joy
by Piero Gheddo
With, as his passion, the Christian message to proclaim as a missionary and journalist, Fr Gheddo is grateful to his parents and teachers. After 61 years as a priest, it is still great to be a priest. As he marks his birthday, he offers it as an invitation to young people.

Milan (AsiaNews) - At midday on 10 March 10, 1929, some 85 years ago, in Tronzano Vercelli where rice is grown, Rosetta Franzi Gheddo, gave birth to her firstborn child as the bells of the nearby parish church rang the Angelus. This child became a priest and a PIME missionary. I thank the Lord for letting me reach old age (with some inevitable aches and pains), still able to work, since I continue to receive many requests.

I also thank my parents, the servants of God Rosetta and Giovanni, who passed on to me and my brothers (Pietro, 1929; Francis, 1930; and Mario 1931) their faith and many good examples of Christian life, and prayed for my priestly vocation.

I also thank all the many priests and lay people who taught me, in Vercelli and at the PIME in Milan; the members of my great and holy Gheddo-Franzi family; and one missionary in particular, Fr GB Tragella, who directed me well towards the missionary ideal and journalism in ad gentes service and gave me, when I was a young priest, the very real meaning of prayer, obedience, renunciation, humility, austerity of life, total concentration on one's ideal, etc.

Today I reiterate what I often said in public. It is great to be a priest! Not for external reasons (health, money, fame), but because I always feel loved, protected, comforted and forgiven by God and I can still be helpful to others. This year I celebrate 61 years of priesthood (I was ordained by Blessed Card Schuester in 1953 at Milan cathedral).

PIME superiors assigned me to media and missionary action and I was able to visit many missions and see many situations ad gentes in all the continents. I grasped the truth of what the great Mother Teresa said, "The world is not only hungry for bread," or "peace and justice," but "all over the world people are hungry and thirsty for God's love." And, as she said about India, the "greatest unhappiness is not to know Jesus Christ".

Newspapers and TV stations do not say it, but this is the truth: the greatest gift we can give to others and to the world is the message of salvation in Christ and bear witness to it in our lives, especially through charity, trying to follow Christ's example. This is a journey of a lifetime; it starts each day with new enthusiasm, which keeps one young, and not hardened by suffering, misunderstandings, failures, sickness, and humiliation. That is why my life is peaceful and happy, even at 85. I feel useful to people because I choose to bear witness to and proclaim Jesus Christ, which all men and cultures need.

I have talked about the adventure that is my life in many articles and books. In Italy, the direct contact with many people in parishes, hospitals, prisons (for seven years in Milan's San Vittore Penitentiary, 1972-1979), media groups and associations, written press and TV, have confirmed me in my conviction, which I wish to convey especially to young people who are looking for something to fill their days and warm their hearts. Without an ideal worth living for, one cannot live well. Life is beautiful if it has meaning, purpose, if it is a journey towards an ideal.

The culture of our age offers earthly and material ideals -money, career, media exposure, sex, worldly glory, fun - that extol and delude for a few years, then decay and disappear. It is paramount for young people to choose a specific goal in their life, and pursue it in a spirit of sacrifice and with God's help. Hence, they are not tossed around by a thousand distractions, proposals, attempts, and illusions.

"Life is beautiful only if we give it to others", wrote the Blessed Clemente Vismara (1897-1988).  The Christian ideal is this: do not shut yourself away; open up to God and your neighbours, fight your natural selfishness in order to be true brothers and sisters to all others, especially the little ones and the poor, as well those who are the most isolated and marginalised. One cannot live without an ideal that transcends one's human weaknesses and pettiness, even one's death. Only Jesus Christ gives hope for eternal life, which, if it becomes an ideal and faith, can justify and help accept all the sacrifices of life.

For me, the ideal is to follow Jesus who called me to the priestly and missionary consecration, who has been the only passion of my life. When I was young, I used to ask God to give me the loyalty and enthusiasm needed for the mission, and the gift of emotion that could bring tears when I spoke and wrote about the priesthood, the vocation of the consecrated life. Now I ask God not to lessen the passion for the Kingdom of God that I have experienced so far.

Some friends phoned me to ask, "What gift can we give you for your sixty years of priesthood?"  I answered truthfully: "Pray for me, recite the Rosary, go to Mass and to communion for all the missionaries and their nations."

Praying for one's friends, in addition to giving life, is truly the greatest gift one can give. Today I clearly see what I have always known, that the only thing I need more and more is God's love and help.