10/12/2017, 15.18
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The fire of mission ad gentes helps Gospel wonder re-emerge

by Piero Gheddo

Pope Francis’ Message for World Mission Day 2017 to wake us up from our indifference. The testimonies of missionaries awaken enthusiasm at home. The words of Card. Martini. The stories of  Giovanni Mazzucconi (Papua New Guinea), Sr. Ida (India), Clemente Vismara (Myanmar), Marcello Candia (Brazil) bear fruits of commitment and the desire to imitate them.

Milan (AsiaNews) - I read Pope Francis’ Message for the World Mission Day (WMD), which is celebrated on Sunday, October 22nd with joy. The title: "The Mission at the heart of Christian faith" is a trumpet call that wakes us up from our indifference. Pope Francis states that "the Church is missionary by nature; if it were not, it would no longer be the Church of Christ, but an association like many others, which would soon end with the end of its purpose and disappear. " In the Message, our dear Pope explains clearly and passionately the contents of the title and the responsibilities that result from it for all believers in Christ. Meditating and praying, I remembered Jesus telling his disciples: "I have come to set the earth on fire" (Luke 12: 49). True, the Church is missionary by nature, but who today sparks the Pentecostal Fire of about two billion people (in Asia, but also in Africa and Latin America) who have not yet received the first announcement of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of man and people?

Today Brescia’s Mission Festival begins (October 12-15, www.festivaldellamissione.it ), in which missionaries, men and women and ecclesial bodies of the Mission ad gentes want to communicate their experience, how those Pentecostal flames are ignited among non-Christians. Their example can also ignite the flames in Italy. Speaking on December 12, 1992, to PIME missionaries engaged in social communication, Card. Carlo M. Martini said, "We would like our missionary press always to have the communicative power of the Gospel, with news on the spread of the Gospel. The Christian people, by reading the missionary journals, should be able to exclaim: "How beautiful are the feet of the messenger of happy announcements proclaiming peace" ... Now I ask you: give us this amazement of the Gospel, give it to our communities, give it not only to mission lands, but also to us. Be like Saint Francis Xavier through the Indies, the far lands and the lands of Europe, so that this amazement warms the hearts of all. "

The martyr of Papua

In 1852, two years after the founding of the "Lombardy Seminary for Foreign Missions" (today PIME), the first missionaries left for two remote islands of Oceania, Rook and Woodlark, who had chosen (wanting to go to "the farthest and most abandoned peoples "!), while they could have chosen other closer missions proposed by Propaganda Fide. Blessed Giovanni Mazzucconi, martyred at Woodlark in September 1855, before departing from Milan, wrote and read "The protest of a missionary devoted to God for the conversion of the infidels": "Blessed that day I will suffer much to a cause so holy and so pitiful; but more blessed is that in which I am found worthy to shed my blood for it, and to encounter death among torments. " Mazzucconi died at age 29. But a century and a half later, the fire of his passionate love for Christ, recognized with his beatification in 1984 (there is a statue on the Duomo in Milan) and his biography, continue to arouse, in Papua New Guinea and even in Italy, numerous priestly, religious and lay vocations.

Sister Ida of the children

In 2005 in India, accompanied by Father Carlo Torriani, we went to Vegavaram and interviewed Sr. Ida Moiana, born in 1914 in Cislago (Va) who left for India in 1948, with the first expedition of the Missionaries of the Immaculate (the PIME) . Sister Ida was 91, but she was still young. We found her in the schoolyard for the children of lepers while she was playing ring-a-ring-arosey with them! She was the matron in Vegavaram for thirty years. Telling us about her life of sacrifices she said: "If a young man lacks the will to sacrifice himself and does not ask God for this grace, it is better not to enter even for us." She is full of joy despite the fatigue and discomfort (sleeping on the ground, an heat that reaches over 40 degrees) and the intense pace of work. She added, "If we think of others then it is fine, if we think about us, then missionary life is no longer worth it." Sister Ida received this example from her PIME fathers and brothers: "I can say that here in India I truly met saints." "The lepers, she says, at first frightened me, then I overcame this through prayer. When I was on the maternity wards, we had nothing and if there was need to give oxygen to a cyanotic child, I did so mouth to mouth. Who know hows many diseases I risked getting, but the Lord has always helped me."

Fr. Clemente, the 'non- choice' of the poor

In 1983, I spent 15 days in Burma (Myanmar), five with Father Clement Vismara (1897-1988, Agrate Brianza - Milan- beatified in 2011). I interviewed him several times. In 1924, the prelate of Kengtung, Msgr. Erminio Bonetta, took him on a six day ride to Monglin, in a mountainous and forestous region inhabited by animist and Buddhist tribes. He stayed with him a month and then left him in a mud shed (if it rained, he slept with an umbrella open on the bed) and said, "Clemente, expand." He expanded. He lived for six years in that shed, hunting for souls and tigers, to give his orphans meat. Then he began to build and set up a Christian citadel in Monglin, with some thousands of baptized and the Italian nuns of Maria Bambina. But what did he do first? This: "My line of behavior has always been this: to be happy with everything and to praise whatever they had, their food, their language, their huts, their customs, at least those that were not contrary to the law of God. Render happy the unhappy. Today we talk about "preferential choice of the poor" (I read newspapers and magazines coming from Italy). For me it was not a choice because I had no choice. I had to accept the poor or I had no one. I have hardly ever converted important and wealthy people, but the wastes of the world, the discarded: human wrecks, orphans, sick, humpbacked, crippled, widowed, miserable. My preference was always for the orphans. On these mountains, because of guerrilla wars, misery, hunger, illness, there are plenty of them. Birds without a nest, to whom I offered one. They are my sun, my hope, my future. It takes little to make me grateful: if they are well, I am content. " Clement had a great gift of God, his letters and poetic articles, adventurous, inflamed by the Pentecostal Fire, were and still are read and devoured in Italy and translated into other countries, generating numerous missionary vocations. When I was 16, in September 1945, I came to the PIME of Milan from the diocesan Seminary of Vercelli. For years I had dreamed about Clement's articles in the magazine "Italia Missionaria".

Marcello Candia and the lepers

In 1966, in Brazilian Amazon, I was with the most well-known and beloved missionary in Italy. He is a venerable servant of God and I hope soon beatified and canonized: Dr. Marcello Candia (1919-1983), a wealthy industrial worker dedicated to charity, who after several meetings with Msgr. Aristide Pirovano, founder and prelate of the diocese of Macapà, decides to go with him to found and fund a large hospital. He sold off his industry and in 1965 he left for Macapa, with the Crucifix of the departing missionary on his chest. In Milan he lived in a large and luxurious apartment, with several people serving. In Macapà he lived in a small room in a building under construction, with boxes, bags and personal luggage brought from Italy still in the corridor to be sorted. The toilet and the shower in the yard, and on the wall a tap to fill a jug of water, wash and shave. There was no bread every day, meat was scarce because there were no refrigerators, the cheese (which he loved) did not exist in Macapa. The basic food was: rice (when there was any) and boiled potato (which tasted of sawdust), chili pepper and fish of the Amazonian Rio-Mar. It was painful. He tells me: "When I am homesick for my house in Milan, I think of all the misery I see every day among the lepers and the poor of Macapa and I repeat: He who has received much has to give much. I have received so much, I begin to do something for these poor people who surround me and I have to give everything. "

Marcello, in love with Jesus Christ, saw in the poor and lepers the image of Christ: he knelt beside them, kissed them, loved to be with the humble people. He led me to visit some Macapà lepers, still in their huts (later he will take them to the leprosy clinic of Marituba). There is an old woman already disfigured by leprosy, cared for by his daughter in a hut where the stink of rotting flesh and pus takes your breath away. After a few minutes I have to go outdoors. Marcello kneels beside the old lady's bed, talks to her and prays with her.

When he leaves, I tell him I admire him for that spontaneous and heroic gesture. He answers: "See, if I did not strive to see Jesus in the poor I meet with the help of God, I would return immediately to Italy. Praying I always ask for this grace. It is not easy to live here, but this is the path that the Lord has shown me and I walk it with the joy that comes from God. "

One more anecdote. Every year in December, Marcello returned to Italy and lived with us in PIME or his sisters and brother. Father Giacomo Girardi, journalist Giorgio Torelli and I prepared meetings in parishes, cultural centers and interviews with journalists and radio-TV for him. I once brought him to Rai Uno's TV studios. The journalist presents him and says, "You are in love with the poor and the lepers, tell us about when you went to the Marituba leprosy clinic." "Excuse me," replied Marcello, "I'm not in love with lepers. I am in love with Jesus Christ, who helps me to see in every leper and every poor person Jesus on the Cross. That explains my whole life. "

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