I shall try to tell the story of Modena Terzo Mondo’s 12-year existence, even though I find it truly difficult to retrace the past, just as it is difficult for me to talk about a future which is yet to arrive; I like to live in the present, with what we are given in life… Thus I shall begin right here to recount our wonderful story: a story full of people with faces and smiles, problems and mistakes.
I hope you will forgive me if my memory causes me to forget someone or something…
Everything began with our first trip to Joaquim Nabuco in 1991, in the State of Pernambuco in mythical north-eastern Brazil! Three nuns from the order of the Divine Love had been working there, Maria Grazia, Leila and Carmen, for three months. This was our first contact with what is called in the West the ‘Third World’, an experience to be recommended to everyone, because it is one thing to hear about the southern hemisphere, but another thing all together to live it, even if only for a while, and gradually you realise that the world becomes a weave of people, of faces watching you, of hands shaking, of feet walking.
From this weave of people you realise that the images shown by the mass media are a far cry from reality – the tragic numbers become real people, hearts that beat, men and women who together dream of a better, fairer, more united world.
On my first trip I understood that I was not alone in dreaming about all this, I was not the only utopist, and that in actual fact there were lots of us and even if we were not exactly making the news, I finally understood that although there is always good news around in the world, it is always the bad news that makes the headlines.
From that first trip onwards I had the desire to unite everyone with the same dream in order to build a different world, where everyone could live with equal dignity in the north and in the south, a world in which everyone could eat breakfast in the morning, lunch at midday and dinner in the evening, where everyone could study and play, where everyone could love and be loved.
We then discovered that there were so many people in the city and province of Modena who were already sharing their lives with the less fortunate, who were far away geographically, but walking side by side metaphorically with those who have been forgotten by the West, or even worse, excluded from our way of life. And we met so many good-hearted people: we cannot forget the late Sister Maria Paola, the Mother Superior of the nuns; with whom we got to know the city of Mariana in the State of Minas Gerais, where we still support the projects underway in the Cabanas neighbourhood, which are now under the watch of the nuns of the Beneficenza Populare in Mariana.
Then we came across the ‘Severino Fabriani’ Institute for the deaf-and-dumb on the outskirts of São Paolo, which represents a hope for so many deaf-and-dumb children living on the periphery of the big city. Then our first trip to Goiás… What an incredible surprise! It was in 1993 and we were the 30th group of people to come from the Church in Modena to the Diocese in Goiás for the exchange between our two sister churches, a practically unknown experience in our city and province.
In the 12 years of Modena Terzo Mondo’s existence our experiences with these people (that I deliberately want to call “men and women of God”), have been so important for so many of us, and I want to thank our “Aunt” Anna Maria Melini and our many “Uncles”, from Arrigo to Francesco (Chico), Eligio, Maurizio, Isacco, Giuliano…
Continuing the story, we arrived in São Paolo in the Diocese of São Miguel Paulista, where the Figlie della Providenza nuns are at work, and in the Diocese we found not only Father Gianni Michelini and his community, but also the work carried out in Casa dos Meninos I and II and the kindergartens of the Saveriani missionaries in the Guaianazes district. We also saw the Young Brazilian Craftsmen’s Cooperative grow with their now famous “bonequinhos” (illustrations) and the welcome house built next to the Casa dos Meninos II. And we particularly want to thank Father Giorgio Gagliana, who passed away in the middle of 2003, for all his hard work.
The next important step was meeting Father José Antonio da Silva, the then parish priest of Sant’Anna de Itaquera and in charge of the Fé e Alegria Social Centre: with him we began incredible journeys into understanding the Brazilian reality and thanks to him we met many others who, like us, believe in this exchange and who work humbly and simply to build a new world. Today Father José has replaced the Saveriani missionaries in Guaianazes and Father Olavo has taken over his role in the Fé e Alegria Social Centre, and in his wonderful way he continues the work started by Father José.
As I write I realise I am forgetting so many important things, but remembering everything and everyone is proving so difficult. However I certainly cannot forget Father Luigi de Rocco, Joaquim Nabuco’s parish priest for so many years and our main, big (in more ways than one) travelling companion. So much of what we have achieved up until now is due to him! He humbly tells us of the Church of hope, the Church of our dreams, which is Christ’s Church, the Church that walks side-by-side with the men and women on this earth, sharing joy and pain.
This is the Church we have got to know in these past few years and of which I feel proud to be a part, a Church which commits itself to the poor, to those who the world leaders have erased from their world map and from history, as they lead a lifestyle that allows the developed world to consume 80% of the world’s natural resources and leave only 20% for the rest of the world.
Because of this we decided from the very beginning to support Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a man who has personally experienced poverty and injustice and who, now that he has become president of his beloved Brazil, knows what has to be done to ensure that everyone in his country and the whole world can live with more dignity, without the ghost of hunger and poverty. Like him, we believe that politics should go back to being about the good of everyone, rather than about the few more fortunate, thereby excluding the weak and the marginalized.
As I have already mentioned, this story is very incomplete: everyone of us at Modena Terzo Mondo has their own individual story to tell that differs from the others. From the very first trip we realised that a little can go a long way and everyone can do something to change the world: from this stems our insistence on involving everyone we meet in our aid efforts which are the basis of our association.
International aid efforts change so many people’s lives, they help to build a different world, they give so many children the possibility of a better future. Over the years we have allowed more than 15,000 children to have a slightly better future and all this is thanks to the people and the families that have supported and continue to support us. These hundreds of people are the driving force behind our association and it is them who have made possible everything that has been and will be achieved.
All these people, young and not so young, who every year go to experience up close what we are doing in Brazil, above all getting to know the people who carry out the work, to provide aid and justice, are so important. These experiences in Brazil, Africa and other places are important as they represent the first step towards awareness, understanding and sharing.
Our story is made up of so many encounters with people and associations that like us are helping to build a better world: Brother Betto, Dom Tomás Balduíno, Dom Eugenio Rixen, Rigoberta Menchù, Father Luigi Ciotti, Gianni Mina, Marina Silva, Padre Alex Zanotelli, José Graziano, Carlyle Vilarinho, Flavio Botelho, Leonardo Boff, Father Marcelo Barros, Luis Badilla Morales, Don Albino Bizzotto, Antonio Vermigli, Julio Lancellotti, Celso Carpenedo, Father Arturo Paoli, Celso Anghinoni and so many others.
I deliberately have not written our names in order not to forget someone who deserves a mention. Over these years, which for so many of us have been the best and also the most intense, we have made so many friends, who everyday continue to make it clear that if we all did our bit, this different world that we aim for would not only be possible, but it would become reality.
As far as I am concerned, we only have one life on this earth and I believe we should use it to do something important and because of this, I am not prepared to give up on my dreams, never forgetting that mankind should not prioritise well-being over materialistic possessions.
And to finish I would like to highlight the most important point in our history: having given names and faces to the people to which the mass media sadly only attributes numbers. We want to show the men, women and children that like us, but in other parts of the world, are part of this story.
It seems appropriate for me to dedicate this last line to all the men and women who have given their lives for these dreams and ideals, and who regrettably continue to die everyday: it is our job to never forget them and to continue on their path.
For Peace and Justice.