Fr Giancarlo Politi, a missionary who fulfilled his vocation
The PIME missionary, who passed away yesterday, worked on evangelisation in Hong Kong, developed ties with the Chinese Church, was the editor of AsiaNews and Mondo e Missione, and served as spiritual guide to seminarians. Fr Luigi Bonalumi delivered the homily at his funeral.
Rancio di Lecco (AsiaNews) – The funeral of Fr Giancarlo Politi (1942-2019), who passed away yesterday, took place today in the chapel of the retirement home of the PIME missionaries in Rancio di Lecco. It was led by PIME Superior General Ferruccio Brambillasca, in the presence of many PIME missionaries living at the home and many others from other parts of the world. Hundreds of friends of the late clergyman were also present as was a representative of the Diocese of Milan, Mgr Maurizio Rolla, vicar for the Lecco area. Luigi Bonalumi, rector of the PIME seminary in Monza, delivered the homily that we publish in full below:
Dear missionary Brothers, dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
as we celebrate the funeral of Fr Giancarlo, we cannot forget also Bianca, his beloved sister who also passed away yesterday. Brother and sister, united by the same passion for Christ, served the Church with devotion in different ways, with faithfulness and dedication, and have now returned to the Father's house.
As we prepare to celebrate the mystery of the Word made flesh, we feel wrapped in the Love of God who, in mysterious ways, and only known to him, guides the personal history of each of us.
I chose the liturgical texts from the Scriptures for Fr Giancarlo’s funeral that could somehow help us understand his character as a Christian and a missionary.
The Gospel reading presents us with one of Jesus’s parables, which Matthew collected in chapters 23 through 25. These are Jesus’s last remarks before his passion and death on the cross. In this parable, Jesus spoke of the importance of being vigilant, [when he said]: “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Certainly, the issue of vigilance is central, but today I would like us to pay attention to the one the ten virgins were waiting. Who was expected? For whom or for what should we stay awake? We are explicitly told, in the text, that the groom is expected, the beloved one, i.e. the one to whom one wants to give oneself forever, completely.
I believe the image of waiting for the groom can help us describe Fr Giancarlo’s attitude towards illness and death. I remember a walk in the mountains, in Hong Kong, with a nice group of confreres. I had just arrived and followed with interest what these seasoned missionaries were saying.
During the lunch break, the discussion turned to the Christian way of experiencing the moment of death. We talked about the fears, doubts and hesitations we all have when we think about the moment of our final passing. I remember him very vividly. Fr Giancarlo said: “I am not afraid of death, because I know it will be the meeting with a person whom I began to know and love quite a while ago. [However,] suffering does frighten me. "
In his later years, he did encounter suffering, but I’d say Fr Giancarlo knew how to deal with it with serenity and intelligence. All one has to do is listen to his interview with Dr Silvia Vitali, when talking about his illness, Alzheimer the intruder. Addressing those who are in the same situation, he said "one is father, mother, brother, sister even when one is ill. Don't weep for yourself. Drugs are only part of life. What matters is the beauty of existence.”
Yes, during the years of his illness, Fr Giancarlo showed us how we can wait and prepare to meet the groom, the one he "had learnt to know and love quite a while ago”. In an interview with Credere magazine, he said that the cross "will sooner or later pass into one’s personal history. And the cross [. . .] is to live for Christ.”
Friendship with Jesus
Fr Giancarlo nurtured and deepened his knowledge and friendship with Jesus through diligent, I would say, long-lasting constancy, by studying the Word of God, and practising the Lectio Divina. Already as a young missionary in Hong Kong, but especially when he was parish priest in Yeun Long – one of the parishes in the New Territories close to the border between the former British colony and mainland China – Fr Giancarlo worked hard to educate Christians as if it were something urgent, a priority over many other things.
For this purpose, he devised and wrote a biblical path to catechesis, also producing a text written in Chinese to educate catechumens and parishioners. The young people he trained in Yeun Long parish – this is what Fr Pasini who was his coadjutor told me yesterday – remember him with gratitude for that journey of faith.
Within his busy week, Saturday mornings were set aside for prayers, lectio on the Word, and care for the homily. I remember him that way when he was in Hong Kong, living at the PIME House, while working for AsiaNews. The same was true in Rome. When he went to work for Propaganda Fide, he got Saturday free to do that.
In Monza, where he served as spiritual father for nine years, he began the Hour of Speech, a practice that continues to this day, and led it personally for more than eight years. The godmothers remember very well his lectures and meditations.
Gabriel da Costa, who was in charge of the seminary in those years, witnessed the passion for the Word and the importance he gave to regularly studying the Word for the education of young missionaries.
As Fr Mario Marazzi might have put it, for us Fr Giancarlo "was a Christian, enthusiastic about his faith and friendship with Jesus, and well versed in Scripture.” Fr Marazzi lived with and guided Fr Giancarlo in his first years in the mission in Hong Kong’s Tsuen Wan parish.
Fr Giancarlo had grown up in faith in the Christian community of Castelletto – the same as F Giancarlo Bossi’s – and began his education at the Seminari Milanesi (Milan Seminaries). After he felt a calling for the missio ad gentes, he moved to PIME, where he was ordained in 1966. His story as a missionary, as he used to say, resembles the story of many of us PIME missionaries. Bound for the mission in India, he had to change destination because his visa never arrived, and so landed in Hong Kong, where he set deep roots in Chinese life and culture.
Network of relationships with China
Fr Giancarlo worked in Hong Kong from 1970 to 1993, except for a short stint with the Institute at the missionary centre in Milan. During his stay in Hong Kong he worked initially in the New Territories, in Tsuen Wan parish, followed by Yuen Long parish.
From 1986, he began to work in media, as a correspondent for AsiaNews, which allowed him to engage in full-time research and develop contacts with the Church in China. These years were marked by long trips, sometimes adventurous ones even, into the mainland, looking for men and women, priests, bishops, and nuns, and Christian communities who had survived Mao’s cultural revolution.
He patiently developed an important network of relationships, which allowed him to rebuild the line of succession with dedication and painstaking precision, thus upholding the validity of the ordination of bishops, both underground and not, and thus ensuring, for the Holy See, that the apostolic succession was never broken.
In an article published in 2011 in Tripod, a publication of the Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong, for the 30th anniversary of underground ordinations in China, Fr Giancarlo gave an account of the precious work he had done in those years. Thanks to his knowledge of people and places, of the history of Christian communities in the People’s Republic of China, Fr Giancarlo was considered one of the greatest experts of the Church in China of that time.
From Hong Kong, he helped many priests and nuns leave the mainland to study in universities all over Europe before bringing them to Rome. Representatives of the Holy See listened to and respected him. At that time, they also opened a study mission in Hong Kong.
Brought back to Italy in 1993 to head Mondo e Missione (World and Mission) and later the Missionary Centre, Fr Giancarlo continued to be interested in the Church in China, despite his many commitments to the Centre and the magazine.
At the beginning of the summer of 2001, the new prefect of Propaganda Fide, Card Sepe phoned PIME Superior General and asked for Fr Politi to work for the China office of the Roman congregation. He remained there for only two years, until 2003, when he was appointed spiritual director of the seminary in Monza.
The two short years at Propaganda Fide – I was in Rome with him at the time – were years of inconspicuous yet methodical and innovative work within the secular branches of the Roman dicasteries. Yesterday morning I phoned Mgr Rota Graziosi to inform him of Fr Giancarlo’s death. Fr Graziosi headed the China Office at the Secretariat of State for decades.
Upon hearing the news, he told me that Fr Giancarlo was behind Benedict XVI's Letter to Chinese Catholics in 2007. It was he who in the two years spent in Rome launched the idea of a declaration by Rome to clarify the complex situation of the Church in China. The concern for the Church in China did not wane in the years of his presence in Monza. In 2006 he organised an important international conference in Triuggio on the Catholic Church in China.
Father Giancarlo faithfully fulfilled his missionary vocation, living according to the charism of PIME. Like Peter in the Acts of the Apostles, which was read at the beginning of this Liturgy of the Word, he bore witness to God’s great works among the nations and peoples. With Parrhesia, which sometimes seemed harsh, he tried wholeheartedly to pass on the liberating experience of the encounter with the risen Christ.
And now we entrust him to the Father's merciful arms, and ask him to continue praying for the Church of China, for the seminary in Monza, and for the whole Institute.