Saturday, 13 February 2016

Gregory Fidel
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

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Padre Pietro Turati
Franciscan Martyr in Somalia
(1919 – 1991)
Padre Pietro Turati was born on October 19, 1919 and named Francesco Turati. On January 1, 1935 he entered the “collegio serafico missionario’’. He joined later the ‘Convento di Rezzato’, taking the name Frate Pietro on August 15, 1940 (Assumption of our Lady). The formators, from the Seraphic missionary College of Saiano, to the novitiate and the study of theology in Busto Arsizio… remark: “The young Turati is good, obedient and humble” ... “has strong character, obedient to superiors, charitable towards his companions, diligent at work.” Padre Pietro completed his theological studies in Milan; and was ordained a Priest on June 27,            1948. 

Vocation as Missionary:
During the final year of theology in 1947, on February 13, Padre Pietro wrote a letter to his Provincial Minister, wherein he admits “being a missionary is my vocation.” And during 1948 May, in a letter to his Provincial he writes – After my ordination, I am willing to go for mission, preferably to Somalia.
            Very Reverend Father Provincial, being next on the day of my priestly ordination, and therefore  also to a more decisive orientation for my apostolate tomorrow, I will renew again the question of going to the Mission, preferably in Somalia, demand already submitted in writing in February of last year, 1947”.
In Somalia:
In 1948, in the beginning of August, he began his voyage to Somalia and arrived to Mogadishu on August 21. Initially he was appointed as secretary to Bishop Filippini; for 3 years he served as secretary to the Bishop. From the year 1951 he was transferred to many mission stations in the territories of Somalia like – Merka, Brava, Baidoa, Beled Weyn…
Service as Missionary:
In March 1951 Padre Pietro was appointed Head of the Mission of Merka where there was a boarding school for orphans; along this he took care of the spiritual needs of the Italians and helped local people as well.
In 1952 he was made responsible for the mission in Brava where there was a small college which served the children abandoned by their parents. He enlarged the mission and continued caring for the poor.
In the following years, he served in Baidoa, Moofi, Ng’ambo; in 1965 he became responsible for the mission in Beled Weyn. After this, due to political instability in the country, he was appointed the director of the boarding school for boys “Nuova Somalia” during the year 1968. As the political instability continued, from 1969 Padre Pietro encountered difficulties in mission.
From 1973 he took charge for the mission in Gelib, Kisimayo. He could then pay special attention to caring for the orphans, abandoned children, lepers and the poor as well as teaching in schools. He served in this ministry for nearly twenty years.  Each week he travelled one hundred and seventeen kilometre to Kisimayo to celebrate Mass. 
Padre Pietro was an expert in stonework.  He was also an electrician, plumber, mechanic and painter. He was called to restructure the Sacred Heart church and the Cathedral at Mogadishu in 1974.
In the end of the 1980s civil war broke out and in the 1990s the situation in the country was severe. At the Cathedral on the 29th of December, 1990, a meeting was held for the priests of the Diocese by the Apostolic Administrator of Somalia, Padre Giorgio Bertin.  Padre Giorgio had been appointed the Apostolic Administrator for the Diocese of Mogadishu after the assassination of Bishop Salvatore Colombo the year before.  Padre Pietro just happened to be in Mogadishu that day.  He had arrived the day before, the 28th of December, with the body of an Italian who had died a couple of days earlier.
Padre Pietro had to return to Gelib; there was no choice to be made. He could not abandon the three Consolata Sisters, the orphans, and his leper friends.
Padre Pietro was left alone in his mission and was martyred/murdered on 7th February, 1991. The last words of Padre Pietro: “Tell Padre Giorgio Padre Pietro is dead”. 
Santone bianco:
Every week Padre Pietro and the sisters took food and medicines donated by Caritas to the lepers.  These people called Padre Pietro the “Santone Bianco”.
Bishop Salvatore Colombo, who was Padre Pietro’s companion for more than 40 years, says that he was a “holy man”.
The superior of the Sisters of the Consolata wrote to the Provincial Minister of the Franciscans in Milan: “... Padre Pietro was a true Franciscan, because he gave all that he received. For him, he did not take anything, his joy was in giving.”

This year being the 25th year a special celebration will be held at Virle, his birth place, near Brescia, in Northern Italy.