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don Enzo Boschetti
THE COMMUNITY: “CASA DEL GIOVANE” RELATED BY FATHER ENZO
In 1964 I was serving as a curate at the Parish church in Chignolo Po and was later moved to Pavia at the “SS Salvatore” Parish church, in charge of “St Mauro’s Parish church playground under the guide of the vicar Giuseppe Borgna. The Parish had been extended especially in the “Ticinello” area, new big blocks of flats were built and many youngsters came to live there, since quite a lot of young families had settled there.Most of these families were not used to going to SS Salvatore’s marvellous church, let alone St. Mauro’s parish playground, which at that time was located at 37, via Riviera.
The Parish playground was much attended not only by teenagers but also by the young people living in that old, shabby area.
In wintertime only one small room was heated up, yet the playground used to be full of lively people, arousing great joy in the vicar G. Borgna who was so fond of the playground.
In 1965, the day when the Virgin Mary was being celebrated, 50 years after St Mauro’s parish playground foundation: Mr Edgardo Castelli and Mr Fortunato Bianchi were regular attenders.
The commemorative event was a real apotheosis for the great number of former attenders and the many youngsters, the official commemoration was held by the Jesuit Father Piersandro Vanzan: a long-lasting friendship was started, which is still important now for “La Casa del Giovane”.
My great concern, which troubled Vicar Giuseppe Borgna as well, was that by then he had not yet met most families living in “Viale della Libertà”, and in the side streets; most of these families would go to the Cathedral or to “the Carmine Church” which were nearer to their homes, instead of attending their own parish church much further away from their homes.
That was a big problem for the Sunday school attendance as well as for the Christian education of the teenagers who used to wander off anywhere, without any reference phase. All that was a serious concern, for their Catholic upbringing was compromised.
It is to be remembered that they were all new families who did not know their second family at all; that is the Parish Church and the playground.
Unexpectedly, after long praying, Providence opened up a tiny gap: Miss Giulia Del Vecchio, who lived in “via Vittadini", owned an unused garage in “via De Pretis”. I thought it was a miracle, the Vicar consented to it and by early May, we started up a small playground for afternoon activities. In the large hall, football was played, bike-rides were taken and later Sunday schools were held and at the end the rosary was recited by the parents too.
It was a promising beginning full of simplicity, poverty and prayers.
The teenagers were over the moon and so was I. Late in the afternoon I went back to St Mauro’s playground for the different tasks I set myself to, included the prayers to the Virgin Mary, along with the chants.What was still not there in that poor place was a statue of the Virgin Mary, which would definitely create a religious atmosphere in that garage where songs were sung and prayers said.
No sooner was that idea given than the teenager boys started to make donations to buy a statue of the Virgin Mary for the chapel built in the garage.
People were very happy: unfortunately the sum of Lit 187.000 intended for this purpose was immediately taken away by a very busy parish playground which turned out to be.....”cleptomat”.
The future mayor of Pavia, now district-councellor Mr Sandro Bruni managed to find out about it thanks to a certain device....
When everything was discovered, the teenagers in that area made further donations, so that we could go to Milan to buy a statue of the Virgin Mary of Fatima at the Artigianelli shop. This statue is now in the Sacred Heart Chapel.
To her we trusted our intentions and dreams, lovingly and affectionately.
Towards May 20th, we got a letter from the apartment administrator in “via De Pretis” saying that it was no longer possible to gather the teenagers in the hall and in the garage, since it was dangerous for cars driving in and out and the boys got even so much noisier that they disturbed the tenants.At the end of the letter they were kindly asking us to find another playground for the teenagers; another solution to this noble cause. While I was coming back from via de Pretis, very sadly, I ran into Mr Gino Messina - from the building society Messrs Messina-Pagani. He was very sympathetic and understood my determination: we both put up with the eviction from the garage but we couldn’t take away the statue of the Virgin Mary: we couldn’t “evict” the Virgin Mary and all the good that was done there, along with all those enthusiastic boys (the brothers Gerli, Mario Martinotti, Mario Canevari, Carlo Ferrari, Mario Raina, Mario Salvadeo, Riccardo Magnaghi etc.) who were the greatest supporters: Mr Puccio Brunetti was the leader. Mr Gino Messina, a true and faithful gentleman, undestood what that eviction meant for the families living in “Viale Libertà- Ticinello". I was sure the Virgin Mary would have helped us and only her.
Mr Gino Messina, full of joy told me about a basement in via Privata Faccioli that had been empty for two days. He would rent it out to us at a reasonable price. Vicar Father Giuseppe was happy since he had been looking for a playground for years and that was fine for all the members who did not come to church.
By then the committee “Pro Nuove Chiese” whose leader was the far-sighted and entrepreneurial Father Luigi Gandini, came to give us a hand.
Our kind-hearted Bishop was informed about all that, I would say a very righteous man, likely to become Pope, whose name was Carlo Allorio. A new committee came into being and was made up of skilled lay men who pleaded for a new church in the “Ticinello area”.
Someone suggested building a new parish church, since the distance between “Libertà-Ticinello area” the Parish church in via Riviera was too far to walk.
Bishop Carlo Allorio and Senior priest Luigi Gandini were very much in favour of this solution, the vicar Father Giuseppe did not consider it wise to separate the Parish church. Consequently, some kind of incomprehension and differences cropped up, in spite of everyone’s serious and good will. I found myself between the devil and the deep blue sea. Fortunately time and dear father Giuseppe Ubicini’s exceptional kindness, who succeeded Father Giuseppe Borgna as Vicar at St Salvatore’s parish church, settled everything.Slowly the whole parish became only one family again. It was a hard time for me and I suffered quite a lot.
But everything is given by God! All nice things, God’s things always arise from hardship and suffering. Jesus reminds us: “if the seed of corn does not fall onto the ground and does not die, it does not bear any fruit".
These sufferings and incomprehensions started just when our dearest bishop Carlo Allorio left the diocese and retired to Trecate. Some very tense moments and almost six bitter years followed. they were the years when the “Casa del giovane” (The House of the Young”), was started: a new reality which slowly and secretly unfolded since we all were in a block of flats with precise rules.
The tenants started a juridicial enquiry which prevented the youngsters from attending “the Ticinello area” at day time, most of them were from southern Italy and used to come there in the evening. These teenagers got gradually involved in local crimes, since they had not been taught to lead a honest, free and christian life.
Others problems came from my Superiors who judged my work too difficult and dangerous to carry out. It was not easy for anyone and not even for the Bishop, to understand the world of the outcasts, despite all good will from 1968 to 1974. Father Giuseppe Ubicini, Father Vanzan, Mons. Bruno Mascherpa’s help never failed; they were real priests who could understand and encourage me, most of all Father Giuseppe. The primitive chapel stood where today the playground lies.
Shortly afterwards, however, it was not big enough to hold all the people who used to attend the two holy services on Sundays, (later on they were four).
Fortunately the large warehouse next to the small church was emptied out.
Mr messina, a very generous gentleman, who cared so much about our needs, let us the whole building basement at 23, via Libertà for a very small amount of money. That meant from about 230 to 250 people could attend the masses.
We immediately grasped the opportunity, so that we could turn the old church into a dormitory for the homeless and now also for the no EEC residents. Some priests came to help us hear the confessions; (Father Valentino, Father Claudio Chiolini, then Father Bassi, Father Mariani etc) Father Lino Ambrosetti came later on and he is still very helpful and committed to the growth of our work and the spiritual needs of the Community.
On 24th May 1968, the day dedicated to the Virgin Mary, our Bishop - Mons. Carlo Allorio was celebrating the first Mass in the new chapel called “Sacred Heart Chapel”, (it had been transformed from a warehouse into a chapel in the space of twenty-seven days by Messrs Messina-Pagani and they did that very quickly). We were all very happy. Then the Bishop - Mons. Allorio - looked for a priest suitable for the new chapel (I still was a curate at St Mauro’s), but he couldn’t find a priest ready to come to the “Sacred Heart Chapel”, since they said the rent was to be paid for, the flat was in the basement and there were other problems to face.
On 28th October 1968, the Bishop told me I would have to move from St Mauro’s Parish playground to the “Sacred Heart Chapel” and I was supposed to live there. I did not hesitate to go there because that was a good way to watch over the boys in that area at daytime until 10:30 p.m., but at about 11:00 p.m. I could let the homeless in and some of those who had started injecting themselves with drugs, as well as making use of heroin.
Mons. Allorio also asked me to take care of the gypsies who were wandering about in the area. I was partly busy teaching, partly helping at St Salvatore’s Church, the gypsies and the playgound for the boys in the area and in the evening, very quietly the youngsters came to sleep there. Since there were no beds to lie on, but many happy and simple poor people, down-and-out youngsters only longing for a real friend, they only asked for a place to sleep, even if they had to put up with some blankets on the billiard table.
We got a great help from the nuns at St Giorgio’s who gave us what we asked for. In the evening those youngsters came to my home for dinner, (the same home where I used to live and still live, namely the flat through the chapel belonging to St Salvatore’s chapel). When I went to see Father Piersandro Vanzan, he told me I should have a word with the Jesuit Father Molin.: a strong-willed man with a good knowledge of young outcasts. After I had told him what I had been able to do for these teenagers for the evening, he told me I should rent a small house even if it was in poor condition.That was the only way to get out of the very bottom of young people’s assistance and start talking to them very sincerely and responsibly so as to help them find a job. Very soon I convinced myself that was the way God wanted me to run; I had no doubt - we must help the poor by giving them their dignity back and a good job is a part of this dignity.
Since I had been all on my own and totally inexperienced, I could only very slowly start a friendly and christian relationship. The idea of renting a house was worrying me, I had not enough money to pay for the rent. One day I happened to be at St George’s school and talked to Sister Paola, who at that time was the headmistress of that school. She too encouraged me to look for a small house, possibly close at hand, and gave me all that she had just received: Lit. 10,000. The following day I met Mr Gianni Blondet who was the owner of some very run-down houses. He advised me to rent a four-room flat with Wc and a small kitchen at 29,viale Libertà. Not very far from there, there were the Tadini garages and other families living in very poor physical and moral conditions.
In the evening there were gangs of bad youths and morally unacceptable situations. The advantage, however, was that no one talked about it and they were not amazed at that morally unacceptable behaviour that those youngsters of the Community had brought with their coming and going.
There was not yet any precise set of regulations but only verbal agreements which were more or less observed especially for the “night return time”.
They used to come to my house for dinner together with those who still slept in the Parish youth club. Some kind-hearted people, like Mrs Maria Marchesi were of great help; and with her the very first group of “stepmothers” was born: first of all Mrs Cristina Perelli De Nicola, a courageous elderly lady who spurred and involved other people, such as Mrs Ida Guangiroli, Mrs Giovanna Martelengo, Mrs Carla Gallotti, Mrs Adriana Gibelli. There were gentlemen as well; such as Mr Renato Piccoli, Mr Giovanni Tessera from the job centre office, Mr Terruggi from Milan and Mrs Vittoria Cagnoli from Milan as well. Among the first to be involved there were Mr Sandro Bruni, Mr Roberto Spelta and Mr Fortunato Bianchi. Others must be remembered; particularly those who set up the “Piccola Opera S Giuseppe” and the housing cooperative later on. The founder-members of the “Piccola Opera” are: Mr Rinaldo Vecchi (who was the first Chief of staff and precious involver), Mrs Ragione Spada, Mr Franco Dell’Era and Mr Ernesto Ramaioli, Mr Francesco Maggi ( a cousin of Col.Viani who donated the house in via Folla di Sotto, the so-called “Casa Madre”), Mrs Giulia del Vecchio, Mrs Maria Baglio Busnelli (who donated Lit.6,000,000 for the purchase of the “Focolare” in valle Cima), Mr Luigi Raina, Miss Gabriella Sacchi, Mr Vittorio Trezzi,Mr Celestino Abbiati, Mr Ernesto Gallotti and myself.
This association was ackowledged as a non-profit body after eight years.
This Association “Piccola Opera” needed to be constituted so that we could inherit the house at 19, via Folla di Sotto from Col. Viani that he had inherited from his wife Mrs Maria Cani. We would have had this house on two conditions: we were to pay Lit. 15,000,000 (a sum due for his wife’s inheritance tax) the house was to be owned by the Association after Col Ubaldo Viani’s death. The Association “Piccola Opera” was set up because no Church or Civil Body was willing to receive Col Viani’s donation to hand it over to the rising Community. Unfortunately all efforts made by Mr Ernesto Raina to find a set up body, failed. Col Viani died on 5th October 1972 and his will came into effect. The first partners in “Piccola opera” did not want me to pay that amount of money (Lit 15,000,000), since they feared the Colonel might change his will, but it was given to me for that purpose; I trusted him and gave that sum to him. The Colonel was not quite sure about the legacy located in via Folla di Sotto, but everything went very well thanks to Sister Paola’s and Sister Gabriella’s patient efforts from St George’s school in Pavia.
Eventually we were able to buy the house in Valle cima for Lit. 14,000,000 thanks to the generous offer donated by the Pope Paul VI and Mons Antonio Travia’s help; the Holy Father’s almoner. Other sums were donated and along with Mr Luigi Raina’s help, our dream came true. This house was called “Focolare Mater Carmeli” and it was to take in the roundabout attendants’ schoolchildren. We were going to start on a Wednesday, but on the following Monday we still had not found anyone to run the business or welcome the dearest gypsies’ children who were anxiously waiting. I happened to meet Mr Piero Morando who enquired about my worrying condition; I told him that in two days’ time (the next Wednesday), some gypsy-kids were due at the “Focolare” located in Valle Cima, but nobody was there to run this educational institution.
The gypsies were proud of this initiative because their children were bound to receive a humane and christian education.
Mr Piero Morando took my worry seriously to heart, went back home, told his wife Emilietta Mocchi about it (they already had two daughters and now they have four and are running the Community called Contigliara in via Mortara in Pavia with Angela). The very generous couple, Mr and Mrs Morando, very courageously, were willing to move to Pavia from their home and two days later offered to welcome the dear kids at “Il Focolare”.
Mr Enzo Salina and Mr Rinaldo Minghetti, who were roundabout attendants, used to come to “Il Focolare” to give a hand, from their experience, to the generous couple Mr and Mrs Morando, who, having so much faith in God, had decided to do all that in the space of an evening.
Would “La Casa del Giovane” ever have been born without them? Personally I was quite glad to get the christian lay people to take part, since that was what the Second Vatican Council intended to do in the Church.
The Association “Piccola Opera San Giuseppe” was started by the solicitor Mr Ernesto Gallotti on 4th October 1971. After some renovations in the house owned by Col Viani, we took hold of it on 19th December 1972.
On 20th April 1972, our Bishop Antonio Angioni came to consacrate the House at 39, viale Libertà owned by Mr Gianni Blondet and with the help of God and our Bishop’s permission, the tiny, weak seed started to grow.
We must not forget that on the opening of the “Sacred Heart Chapel” and the Mass celebrated by Bishop Allorio, a group of worshippers (boys and girls), was formed. They met twice a week in the Chapel vestry to worship the Gospel. It may be said that “La Casa del Giovane” has its roots in the prayer group and in the motherly help of the Virgin Mary. In August I went to the Sanctuary in Oropa to help as a priest. Bishop Allorio asked me to go there and I took the whole group of kids with me. Until 11 a.m. I heard confessions and later on, in a large hall where the kids of the Community were staying, I made lunch.
The large hall was laid out as a dining-room and a dormitory and in doing that, I was helped by Mrs Maria Marchesi.
We were helped by Providence, although we were having a hard time.
In March 1974, Mrs Angelina Beretta arrived there: she was 71, but very strong-minded; all her good will and readiness made her look 30. Mrs Angela had been very important for us! “La Casa del Giovane” opened 16 Communities without spending any money for laundry, cutlery, mattresses and pans: She managed to supply everything. On Saturdays the waste paper and other recycling material were collected; from that collection she could find and keep everything. Her working day ended at midnight and sometimes at 2 a.m..
Angelina was present everywhere, always showing her loving heart to the kids in the house: she was really great. Late March 1974, Miss Giuseppina Locati, a friend of Angelina’s came, came to the house. This lady was another great one, she cared so much about the poor, was hard working and thrifty. Poverty, prayers and joy were very important in those years.
From 1975 onwards, other generous people came to help, but it is not possible to mention all of them, other communities were started up with the aim of being courageous and trustful in God.
In Biella, all through the first winter, we slept with blankets hanging over the doors because the house which had been given by Mr and Mrs Rosa, had nodoors; not to mention the New House with a chapel having boards instead of walls: we were in the middle of winter. The same sad beginning fell to “La cascina giovane” in Samperone; the heat was unbearable, but everyone was in high spirits and had faith in God.
“La casa del Giovane” took much more care for the younger ones who were at risk: precautionary measures were taken into great consideration. Therefore the community got so much worried about the homeless and the no-EEC- residents. These are the poorest among the poor. In memory of the twenty year-old Opera, (even though origins go back to 1968), with the help of Providence, of friends and the active concern from our Bishop Giovanni Volta, we wish to build a House for the homeless and the no-EEC residents, at the place of the one located in via Libertà.
We wanted to be grateful to Jesus Christ, the only Creator of the story of “La casa del Giovane”. This year, three boys in the Community, who attend our seminary, will finish studying theology (the whole course lasted 6 years), and they are going to be ordained by our Bishop. Others are entering the Church while they are attending our Seminary, they make the “Opera” stronger.
Our work and fulfilment are blessed by our Local Church.
PRESENT SITUATION - JUNE 1991
The residents, namely those who have definitely to stay in the Community, they are twenty-one; five of them (boys and girls), are experiencing either their time of knowledge or their time of education.
In the Community there are four families, four priests, twelve voluntary workers, six masters and about ten collaborators. Three houses are about to be renovated, but the projects and needs are more and more urgent and striking.
The poor people’s number is going up, or rather destitution is rising.
With the help of God and our Bishop as a leader, the “Casa del Giovane” is bound to commit itself to the loving and caring for the young people who wish to redeeem themselves from the evil of drug, together with the younger ones at risk, the girls, the homeless and the immigrants. With so much love and trust.