07/10/2014, 00.00
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Marcello Candia, the industrialist for the poor

by Piero Gheddo
From successful businessman to lay missionary in the Brazilian Amazon. He cared for lepers and the poor; supported contemplative monasteries and hospitals. The Vatican has recognized his "heroic virtues", one step closer to beatification. In 1975 he was named Brazil’s “Person of the year”.

Milan (AsiaNews) - The Congregation of Saints has promulgated the decree on the recognition of the heroic virtues of the Servant of God Dr. Marcello Candia, a lay missionary in the Brazilian Amazon from 1965 to 1983, where he spent his life and all of his energies as a volunteer among the poor and the lepers.

Marcello Candia (1916-1983), son of a Milanese industrialist, was born in Portici (Naples), inherited a carbonic acid factory from his father which he successfully managed for 18 years, establishing three new factories.

But God was calling him to be the "industrialist of charity". As a young student (three degrees in chemistry, biology and pharmacology), he divided his time between his father's industry and works of charity in his native Milan: the " mother and child village", helping refugees from German concentration camps, a free medical clinic for the poor, helping the slum dwellers of the suburbs of Milan (where as a his young mother Louise brought her five children on Sunday afternoon), the "Overseas students College" wanted by Cardinal Montini.  

He never married in order to be free to do good and always felt a profound call to missions. He founded the medical school for missionaries (in the University of Milan) and supported the first lay missionary bodies in Italy.

In 1949 he met Msgr. Aristide Pirovano, a PIME missionary and founder of the diocese of Macapa at the mouth of the Amazon, who invited him to go with him to found a hospital for the poor. Marcello travelled to the Amazon and discovered a passion for the people there, but only in 1964, at age 49, was he able to sell his thriving industry and go to Macapà with the PIME missionaries, where his life became his work on the mission.

In the 19 years he spent in the Amazon (he died in 1983 of liver cancer) was a race against time to create and fund many charitable works: Macapà Hospital, then the largest and most modern in the Brazilian Amazon, reconstruction of the Marituba leprosarium (which housed 2,000 lepers), in the forest near Belem, community centers and houses for the poor, nursing schools, aid to all the poor missions in Brazil who came to him for help.

When he first arrived in the Amazon he had more than a billion Italian lire (in 1964).  He spent every penny and then funds began to arrive from his former, his friends and many others who were aware of his adventure. Marcello sent photos and letters and returned one month a year to Italy to respond to invitations to conferences and for interviews. Having also sold his house in Milan, Italy he was host of the PIME, who organized the meetings and interviews with newspapers, radio and television.

The greatness of this "saint" of our time, who is a model for lay missionaries, is found in his profound life of faith, his piety and his charity. He referred to himself  as "a simple Christian" he did not belong to any association or movement; a free man with a deep but elementary spirituality, who has sanctified us with the prayers of the "Handbook of the good Christian". He was the saint of charity, the saint of the Cross and of joy.

At the time of dictatorship in Brazil, the military were highly suspicious of this wealthy man who came and spent all of his money in a region on the borders of the country and who chose to live in poverty. They kept him under close surveillance, obstructed him and humiliated and he bore it all with patience.

The military governor of Macapà demanded of Mons. Giuseppe Maritano: "Can you explain this mystery to me?  I see that Dr. Candia only cares about the hospital and spends all he has on the poor .. But when I talk to him he seems like a normal person". Bishop Maritano testified:" He wanted the hospital for the poor, this was the only reason he built it. He said: 'If there is a poor person who is sick and a rich person who is sick, accept the poor person first and then, if there is room, the rich person, who always seek treatment in a government hospital. I want a missionary hospital for the poor and therefore it has to be passive. If it is active it means that it is no longer missionary and for the poor '. Marcello paid all expenses and liabilities".

The mystery of his life comes from an intense life of prayer. He prayed a lot, a simple and continuous prayer, his thoughts were always turned to God and he brought the Carmelites of Florence to Brazil, building two convents.  He would say, "Prayer is the fuel of good works."

I accompanied Marcello on a visit to different lepers. He knelt beside the bed, kissed those sick and told me: "Jesus is in every patient". It was a life of great sacrifices and sufferings, even to visit all his works in Brazil for the poor (when he died he was funding 14 charitable works). In Brazil, he suffered five heart attacks and heart surgery, he was advised against going back to the Amazon, but he was faithful to God's call.

In 1975, the president of Brazil  bestowed the nation's highest honor on Marcello Candia the "Cruzeiro do Sul" and the most important illustrated weekly Brazilian, "Manchete" in Rio de Janeiro, dedicated an article to him entitled: "The best man in Brazil", which began with these words:" Our country is a land of conquest for Italian financiers and industrialists. Many come to us to invest their capital in order to earn more. Marcello Candia, a wealthy  Milanese industrialist, has lived in the Amazon for a decade and has spent all of his wealth there, with a very different purpose: to help the indigenous, the caboclos, the lepers, the poor. We have elected the best man in Brazil for the year 1975".

 In 1982, a year before he died, Marcello Candia established the Foundation to continue to keep the works he founded going; Today, the Foundation funds even more works than those created by Marcello. Address: Dr Marcello Candia Foundation- Via P. Colletta, 21, 20135 Milan, tel. 02.546.37.89. Ask for DVDs and movies, postcards and the newsletter "Letter to Friends of Marcello Candia".

To learn more about Marcello Candia: Fr. Gheddo, "Marcello dei lebbrosi", the biography that is an adventure story and his "Letters from the Amazon," a fascinating and moving read. Ask for these books at Piero P. Gheddo, PIME, Via Monterosa, 81-20149 Milan - Tel


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