To witness and not to ‘preach’

Fr Valeriano Barbero, SDB,, pioneer missionary to Papua NewGuinea, completed 48 years of life as a Salesian priest. He reflects on his experience of faith and mission
recalling incidents that have made him think.

Fr Valeriano Barbero, SDB, is honoured by his community in Papua New Guinea.

Fr Valeriano Barbero, SDB, is honoured by
his community in Papua New Guinea.

In my early years in the Gulf province, I remember going to a village. I sat down near an old man. I spoke to him about religion. He listened for a while and then said: “Enough! Do not come here with your crucifix. Even if you do not know or understand my language, just sit down, be close to me, then I will understand your Christ and I will accept your crucifix.”
This simple lesson helped me to go to the people not as a preacher, but just as a witness, by showing the great love of God. Since that encounter 35 years have passed. Let God count how many people were touched.
I cannot judge, but I feel that the Church has entered Kerema diocese not by alluring people with a promise of a better kind of life. The superficiality of the approach never gave room to a life of faith.
A man came to see me accompanied by his wife with this request, if not a complaint: It is 42 years that we have been baptised. When is the Pope going to pay for us? And this continues in
many other different forms.
Of course, not all is negative. I was on my way walking on a bush path towards the school when I met a person coming from his garden who was openly angry. I stopped and I asked for the reason for the anger. I would never have thought that I was indirectly the cause.
“You bloody missionaries: I caught three thieves in my garden, but I could not kill them because of what you teach. You see … I am a Christian and you do not allow us to do what our fathers would have done.
I meet from time to time some of the past pupils who once seemed to be hopeless cases and now cover positions of importance. They proudly present themselves and state their names and
recall the time of their youth in the school even to the minutest details.
What a memory! During any encounter with these boys, now men, I say to myself: How many of them would write to me what a mountain boy once wrote: “Every time I think of you, I feel joy in my heart!”
I do not know what to say about the future of Don Bosco in PNG. I know it is the land of the unexpected. I also know that Don Bosco has to be constantly present and that is what I wish it should always be: a family, where children feel to be at home and individually loved and even more loved when they are in trouble or cause trouble. These, after all, without looking into many other projects, are the poor entrusted to our care.
As in Antioch, the followers of Christ became known as Christians by the love they shared. How beautiful if here in Papua New Guinea the Salesians would be pointed out as people whose main
concern is the da mihi animas, by being messengers of joy, care and hope.
This country needs our Salesian charism not as a future dream, but as a constant present.

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Michael Otto

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