I’d like to share with you a testimony which has been with me these last few weeks.
Father Fulvio Cristoforetti was my vice rector in the 1st and 2nd year of secondary school in Carraia (Lucca). He had already been in Uganda few years when, in 1983, during the civil war, he was ambushed by guerrillas. He was seriously wounded from 5 bullets, one in the leg, in the arm, thighs, lower spine and head.
Attracted by the shots, members of the regular army arrived, recognised him, load him on an plank and with their heavy tread in full combat gear carried him, bleeding profusely and in much pain to the nearest control point, where they entrusted him to the civilians. A former catechist improvised a stretcher made up of sticks and strips of rubber tyres: it was a race against time, lighter now running bare-footed in the grass of the savannah. They met a military lorry, placed him onto the bare floor of the truck and drove bumping up and down, running breakneck over chicken nests and rocks until they reached the mission station at Kasaala: he was suffering terribly from pain and the wounds and was on the point of passing out. The mission lorry took him stretched out on a mattress to Kampala along with another missionary. Five long hours had passed since the initial attack; so they stopped at the first hospital they found in the outskirts of the capital.
Urged to give a XR statement, the nurse refused: Never for a dead body; the doctor on duty also refused to take him in: Take him rather to the Comboni missionaries who can administer him the last rites and give him a burial. But the director of the hospital, an Irish nun, interrupted: You, get the operating theatre ready as quickly as possible, you take all the X—rays necessary. And to the priest who’d brought him in, she commanded: Find the donors who are all in good health, as we haven’t the time for blood tests. In 15 minutes everything was ready.
For father Fulvio there now began a new struggle: long hours every day in the operating theatre over the next 10 days, bits of gangrenous bone to remove, tendons to renew, muscles to reconstruct and wounds to clean deeper and deeper. Against all hope and expectations, he survived. He returned to Italy to recuperate. After a whole year, he was able to go back to his mission station: he met up with those who’d wounded him and forgave them; those who’d helped him he thanked, and continued with his work. Yet something was not right, perhaps an African virus. Repeated blood tests showed that the blood he’d received as a transfusion, given in an act of love, was carrying HIV.
So now there begins a new calvary: repeated in and out of hospital interrupted his missionary work; he accepts to be a guinea pig for new procedures and new medicines both in Uganda and Italy, always with a smile, at peace. He managed to celebrate his 50th anniversary as a priest, but in a hospital bed ravaged with illness whilst a solemn mass of thanks was celebrated in his village church.
Whoever met him and knew about his past was always amazed: Where does he draw his strength and serenity from? Father Fulvio once hinted an answer while preaching on Christ’s passion. Pierced, a container lets out what's within inside the body. It’s the same for the heart. The one of Christ pierced on the cross says that it’s all just a question of love. His favourite song thus was Hail, cross, you are the only hope. And he joked about his name, saying Don’t call me Fulvio Christo "foretti" (keyhole saws in Italian) but Christo "pierced.”
My Lent time for this year consisted of only one continuous race: to finish the preparation for the seminary on the subject of Land Grabbing; to go to Peru for an intensive 10 days course over 140 academic hours; to briefly visit Lake Titicaca to discover the famous floating islands inhabited by the Aymara people who fled from the Inca invasions centuries ago; to visit the Chulpas, the tombs of the noble Incas and see, how even in death, those who think themselves richer and more powerful stupidly demand privileges in art and beauty; to return to Newark in order to speedily prepare a new trip; a short stop-over in Italy to renew my driving licence as well as to arrange various other things and get to Tunis, only a few days after the Islamic state attack, so as to be present at the World Social Forum; during the WSF to meet up with other members of the Comboni ‘family’ as well as with the numerous organisations attending from all over the world in search of how to build another possible world, since the one we’re in is in the process of been destroyed. There we brought as well our contribution by meetings about religious dialogue, the trafficking in persons, the climate change, whilst at the same time trying to transmit the Kingdom values; then to return to Italy for a couple of days to preach some concluding thoughts on the Way of the Cross Spectacle in the streets of my village and after all that, the long trip home so as to arrive in time and participate, in the rain, the Way of the Cross demonstration defending immigrants in the streets of Newark.
Lying in front of the altar in a humility attitude during the concelebrating ceremony of Good Friday, I found myself in thought. Is my life, like that of Father Fulvio’s, one of a complete question of love? He was a missionary of the old school, dedicated to catechism, confessions and the Eucharist. Today, mission has different connotations. Faith is called on to reach into and affect politics, society and the economy, and the passion of Christ echoes out in the ones of the poor whom the powerful crush, in the same way as they did to Christ. Since they cannot accuse him of other things, even with false witnesses, the grand-high priest asks: Are you the son of god? And he is accused of blasphemy. The religious motivation merely serves to cover up the political reasons of power and prestige because what the priests and the Jewish & Roman leaders wanted above all was to defend their privileges against a Word proclamation that would bring in a religion as a strength of change to equality and justice. And Jesus accepted to die, not only to re-unite the lost children of Israel, but also the ‘children’ of the whole world, into the one people of God's children.
Of course, I thought while in that attitude of humility, even if I am immersed in a different type of mission, it would be good to have an integrity of life, a transparent heart, simple but deep motivations as those of Father Fulvio, because in the end of everything the essential point is that everything should be a complete question of love.
Then I thought further: in breaking the rock that claims to keep us a slave to death, the risen Christ tells us that there, where our limits do not reach out, there comes in the power of life and of love of the Father of us all. That is our hope.
Best resurrection wishes to all.