Gregory Fidel was born in the north of Somalia, Somaliland today. His father had converted to Christianity in the early 1900. He was from the tribe of Issak, and of the clan of Habarjelow. He worked for years at the "Somali airlines". Then he worked in UNICEF as treasurer.
He was married to a Somali Christian; they had two daughters and a son, however later got separated. But he never wanted to divorce, never liked to break the bond. He was known for his righteousness.
I remember him attending the Mass in English that at the end of the 1980 we celebrated at the Sacred Heart Church in Mogadishu. At the end of the Mass, he always offered his car to take two or three Indian sisters who were living a few kilometers away. He had always remained faithful to his Somali clan, despite being a man open and ‘modern’. Probably he inherited this loyalty from his father, Fidel. He himself told me that despite being a Christian (which can be treated as a betrayal as well as a falling away in a monocultural and monoreligious country) his clan would always protect him against anyone, just for his "fidelity" that he had "inherited" from his father. I remember he was faithful to the Mass, unless he was absent or ill. Though he was a man of silence, he was faithful to the Christian faith and morals.
When civil war broke out in Mogadishu, between the end of December 1990 and January 1991, he (like the rest of us foreign missionaries) also had to leave Mogadishu, because he belonged to a “northerner” tribe. He was able to save himself and his daughter Hilda, who lived with him. But he lost his house!
Hargeisa, the capital of the North was almost completely destroyed when I visited in February 1991. After a few months he was able to get my address: I had taken refuge in Nairobi, Kenya. He told me he wanted to do something for his people and in particular for the "Somaliland" that was destroyed because of the rebellion in April 1988 and during the civil war in 1990. In fact, in May of 1991 it has already declared "secession" from the rest of Somalia, taking the name of "Republic of Somaliland" (not yet recognized internationally).
We met at Berbera on the coast of the Gulf of Aden, I think in June, 1991. Fidel, with the support of our Caritas, started a series of humanitarian projects. While remaining in Nairobi 5 or 6 times a year I used to go also to Somaliland to see the different projects that Fidel was implementing. We had started to rebuild two elementary schools in Berbera. Then he moved to Shekh (about fifty kilometers from Berbera) even there we rebuilt a school and an eye hospital. Then he moved also to Burao (about seventy kilometers from Shekh): even there we rebuilt a school, made some contributions to make a way to the sea. Finally, in the late 1990s he moved to Hargeisa, capital of Somaliland: there he repaired a part of the city hospital. Thanks to Gregory we could take back the Church dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua and the adjoining house: around our property, he built a wall.
February 14, 2008, while I was visiting Baidoa (Southern Somalia) I received the news that he was dead. For years he saw very little and was suffering from various ailments. After a couple of weeks, I managed to go to Hargeisa: his body was buried next to the Church that was recovered and restored. He had left the keys of the church to his Muslim cousin.
I remember above all the confidence with which he moved: he was not afraid to show he was a Christian; all those who knew him, officials or civilians, had a great respect for him: he was a man "faithful". In fact more than Gregory, he was called "Fidel".
During the last years, not being able to attend Mass, as he was in Mogadishu, he recited the prayers from an old book of devotions and followed some religious radio programs, including Vatican Radio.
His tomb is still there next to the church in Hargeisa that he had repaired and restored.
Mgr. Giorgio Bertin