02/06/2010, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Kandy, Christian faithful and peasants mourn the death of Italian "Fr. Gandhi"

by Melani Manel Perera
Yesterday, the funeral of Pastor Angelo Stefanizzi took place in Lewella, central Sri Lanka. The priest has spent 58 years in the island, working with farmers in the area. Provincial of the Jesuits: "a big heart and a profound education."

Colombo (AsiaNews) - Many farmers in the province of Kandy in central Sri Lanka, attended the funeral of Italian missionary Fr Stefanizzi Angelo, who died February 3. The funeral of "Fr. Gandhi" - this is the nickname given by the faithful - took place yesterday in Lewella. The remains of the priest, who spent 58 years in the country, were buried in the Jesuit house, the order he chose when he entered the novitiate August 1936.  

Fr. Gandhi spent the last period on a wheelchair because of arthritis, treated with affection and devotion by his confreres. He lived the disease with serenity and presence of mind, without ever losing his missionary zeal, his devotion to prayer and the Eucharist.

K.s.s.a. Francis, director of the organization Foliseb Sri Lanka based in the town of Hatton, remembers him as a "saint of our times" and "a thorough and excellent guide for all workers of the earth”. He stresses the special attention shown by Fr. Stefanizzi for the poor farmers of the province and his commitment "to try to talk to them and help them solve problems, so we called him affectionately ... Fr. Gandhi.  

His secret, says K.s.s.a. Francis, was his ability "speak both the Sinhala and Tamil fluently, although he was a foreigner", a special gift that enabled him to "win the hearts of people" who could "approach him without encountering barriers or obstacles."

Fr. Mary Anthony, provincial superior of the Jesuits in Sri Lanka, told AsiaNews that "we have lost a long-time missionary with a big heart and a profound education." "I liked to call him the man of the poor," continues the brother, because "he was ready to work in the middle of every difficulty. He was not interested in an easy life, he just wanted to be close to poor farmers”.  

Fr. Angelo Stefanizzi (pictured) was born in the town of Matino, in the province of Lecce, October 2, 1919. He entered the Jesuit order as a novice in Naples in 1936 and studied philosophy in Gallarate, in the province of Varese (northern Italy). In 1949 he left for India, where he studied theology, Tamil language and was ordained priest on 21 November of that year.    

In 1952 he moved to the island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and also embarked on studies of the Sinhala language. His missionary life was spent in contact with the population, with particular attention to the poor farmers of the land. Until his death on 3 February.

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