Homily for the Funeral Mass of Fr. Graziano

Father Massimo gave this homily at the services for Father Graziano. We have Michael and Sandrina  Range to thank for the wonderful translation from Italian to English:

Homily for the funeral Mass of Fr. Graziano Rota, PIME

Botta di Sotto il Monte (Bergamo, Italy), Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Is 25, 6-10a; Sal 22-23; Fil 4, 12-14, 19-20; Mt 22, 1-14.

We are gathered here to pay the last respects to Fr.  Graziano and to accompany his body on the last journey to the cemetery where he will rest with his parents.  Now we celebrate the Eucharist with him for the last time, while he enters the eternal liturgy of heaven.

The presence today of so many people who have known and supported Graziano in his mission immediately makes us understand how much he was well-liked and loved in this country.

This celebration, the coming together, listening to the word of God, praying for each other, the remembrance of his memory, in reality, rather than him, serve more us, who are still overwhelmed by sadness and dismay for his sudden death that really nobody expected at this time when everything seemed to go well after so much suffering and so much struggle for life.

I believe these are the feelings of all of us, first of all of the family to which we want to be close to as they lose a beloved brother.  But also of many of the PIME fathers and priests, whose presence in large numbers gives testimony of the bonds of esteem and friendship that Graziano had with many of them. Today we, too, want to greet a brother and a beloved friend.

Joining together with us at this time are the many people who knew him, but that cannot be here: the brothers and people in Brazil, where Graziano worked until 2000, and the brothers in Mexico, where he spent the last 13 years of his missionary life. I am sure that if the people of the parish of Cuanacaxtitlàn would have been able to, they would have come to greet their pastor according to their indigenous custom, filling the church with flowers and candles to signify that now he is in the place where life flourishes always and the light never goes out.

Just this morning Father Damiano told me that the people of the parish do not know what more to do to remember him.

The Superior of the missionary nuns who work with us in Mexico wrote to me saying “We greet, in the glory of God, Father Graziano, a true missionary priest who has always worked to help the last ones.”  It is really them, the last ones, the poor that now welcome him into the glory of heaven.

I have chosen for this celebration the readings of the Mass of last Sunday, because I believe they can help at this time to support us in sadness, giving hope, and reading once more the life of Graziano according to the fundamental understanding of mission that gives meaning to every single event, even and especially to the most difficult and painful, and that explains why Graziano has always fought with so much energy and determination against adversities – of which his heart problem was only the last, certainly the most difficult one – to always return to the mission, his mission.

It feels good to listen and remember the ancient promises of the prophet Isaiah: “will eliminate death forever.  God the Lord will wipe away tears from all faces, and they will say in that day: behold our God, in Him we hoped to save us, the Lord will prepare for all peoples on this mountain a feast of rich food, a banquet of fine wines, of delicious food, of refined wines. ”

It is a great and mysterious God, whom more often than not we struggle to understand and that always amazes us with His desire to connect with us, to be with us to celebrate.

This is how the parables of the kingdom in Matthew’s Gospel present him to us: He is a God who calls us to work in his vineyard, and who pays all generously, and He is a God who invites everyone to the wedding banquet of his son, an invitation that you cannot decline.  Especially the image of the party, the music and the dance is the one that best describes the Father’s house.  We often find it hard to imagine how the eldest son of the parable of the merciful father, who does not understand, finds it hard to imagine that in his father’s house there can be so much joy to celebrate with music and dance.

Graziano knew this and believed it so deeply that he made it his own raison d’être: to work in the vineyard of the Lord to announce to everyone, beginning with the last ones, that only in Christ there is fullness of life, joy, and real celebration.

He always did it just like those servants in the parable that we heard: with obedience, with perseverance, with loyalty in good times and bad, until the gift of life. These virtues, which are the virtues of the missionary, he never lacked.

His is therefore a life that does not end in sadness but in the joy of the feast. I told Deodato by telephone on the day of the disappearance:  Graziano has left us while celebrating, because his was a life totally dedicated to others, to mission, to the Church.

Of this I can speak with knowledge of the facts, because I have lived and worked with him for twelve years.  I had the opportunity to know his strengths and weaknesses.  He had his very own way to always arrive five minutes late, whether it was time to leave, or to sit at the table, but he also was a very tolerant person who never imposed his ideas, and who left room for everyone.

We started together in Mexico in 2000, he came with the experience of Brazil, and I recently ordained.  I can say that he has taught me much, not with words – Graziano was not an intellectual – but by example. He taught me what it means to be a pastor always at the service of his people. Especially the early years in Cuana were not easy: there was a steady stream of people at the door of the mission who came to ask for help, but mainly to look for someone who would listen. This Graziano had understood, and he was always available, around the clock, to listen, to console and help.  There was so much violence and injustice.  How many times did we go together, encouraging each other, to pick up the body of someone murdered because people were afraid to do it, or to take a sick person to the hospital at night in spite of assaults?  It even happened that we went to negotiate the release of kidnapped people.  These are simple gestures, normal for a missionary, that do not end up in the newspapers, but that today I cannot not remember.  These are gestures of someone who wants to give testimony of the love of God and of his presence, just when hope falters.

Graziano did all this always with a smile, without ever losing peace and serenity, just as he worked with dedication to organize the life of the parish, from the catechism for children, to visits of the sick, to pre-marriage courses, to social works.

In the early days every now and then he scolded me because he said I wanted to do too many things; in fact he was the one who had started or continued many services for the people: adoptions, the well and the drinking water, the cooperative, the clinic and pharmacy.

Like the servants in the parable, Graziano also met with refusals and insults that hurt like beatings, but in spite of this he never turned back, and in spite of this he has never thought of leaving.  In this context I am reminded of the cooperative project in which he firmly believed and that cost him a lot of work and effort.

For him one can repeat the words of St. Paul: “I am trained in everything and can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”  The strength of Graziano was the love of Christ, for Christ, and for his mission.  Otherwise one cannot explain how a disease like this did not not bend him, did not make him pull in the oars of his boat. Of course he wanted to feel good and he cared for his health, but not for himself, he did it because he dreamed that one day he could return to Mexico in that mission he believed in deeply and to which he gave his whole self.

Now the time has come to say goodbye, Graziano.  I am happy to do so in person and on behalf of all the PIME fathers, and especially of those who are in Mexico, and to say thank you: thank you for the gift you have given us with your life, with you PIME loses a missionary of great humanity and value, we lose a brother and a friend; thank you for your example and for your guidance, for us you were a secure point of reference on which we knew we could always count; thank you for showing us that life is earned by giving, and that mission is the most beautiful vocation.

Without you it will not be easy, but we want to continue with the same courage and love that you have shown us, knowing that you now, wearing the wedding dress, have entered the banquet of the Kingdom.

Thank you.

P. Massimo Segú

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