Sunday, October 28, 2007

To a great person, the most humble amongst the humble.

Don Gaetano Villivà, born in Terranova (Reggio Calabria).
He came to the parish of S.M.Assunta, from Santa Giorgia, on May 5, 1946, as a church steward.
On November 20, 1952 he became the vicar of the church.
He died on April 2, 1981, at Delianuova.

A short biographical history of a great man.

``You became a communist``, he said to me, when as a university student I found him, one day, on the top steps in front of the church. It was his usual place to be before mass.
A surly man, with businesslike manners, but always with a smile on his face. With a historical memory of our town and secrets of the confessional.
Always wearing a black tunic, with white collar. An infinite number of buttons that, for me, still remain a mystery as to how long it took him to button in the mornings.
He saw to the upbringing of many generations, including mine, with reprimands, sometimes a snap of the fingers, but always happy to have us with him. He was the most honest and earnest man I ever met. I was very lucky.
Always a handkerchief in hand to dry the sweat from his forehead that was always plentiful, especially during processions.
On most winter evenings, and in other seasons as well, we found ourselves in the oratory, a large hall with a ping-pong table and soccer game. His lodgings were next to the hall.
In our exuberance, typical of children, we produced a deafening chaos.
But only on rare occasions did he enter to silence us. He understood our desire to have a good time. When he came, it was because we had exceeded the tolerable limit.
He always came, wearing his black tunic, speaking few words, but his presence was enough, and we all became quiet.
We had enormous respect for him.
His masses were the mirror image of himself, frank, of little words and great humanity, without ever being redundant. Their brevity was a pleasure and filled with great intensity.
His car, a FIAT ``500``, was always clean, used only to go to school, or to run errands in other towns. It saddens me that I never had him as a teacher.
I remember, as an altar boy, the interminable hours of the processions, in particular of the feast of the Madonna Assunta, on August 15. Us children were lined up in rows of two, there were many of us, and with him behind us, watching and at the same time performing his tasks of clergyman. Some of us would hide food in our pockets, due to the length and slowness of the procession. He would smile and pretend not to notice.
We had nothing, but it was a pleasure having him as our Priest.
Easter was a wonderful time for us altar boys. He would give us the Easter lamb, made of marzipan. A delicacy that many of us could not afford, it was ``the gift``. The only one that we would get. To carry that lamb into the house was like having a trophy.

He was not flashy, he never went overboard, and he was one of those people who commanded respect with his single presence. Our church group was composed of many people, and behind the scenes our Don Villivà supervised, like he did our daily lives.
As altar boys, in the vestry, there was always a fight to see who would control the bell. Arguments between children. He was calm, never taking sides. There did not exist rich or poor for him, only people.
There are no words to describe a man, who was for us, and our parents, a moral guide. Large in his simplicity, kind in his surliness and generous with those who had nothing.
He helped so many of the poor, with discretion and in silence, as great men do.
He was a part of our lives and our secrets.A man who will never be forgotten, and who remains within us.

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