I salute you Abba Antonios Valdmeri.
“But Wisdom delivered her servants from their ordeals. The upright man was led by her along straight paths. She showed him the kingdom of God and taught him the knowledge of holy things… She brought him success in his labours and gave him full return for all his efforts. She entered the soul of a servant of the Lord, and withstood fearsome kings with wonders and signs. To the holy people she gave the wages of their labours; she guided them by a marvellous road, herself their shelter by day — and their starlight through the night.” (Book of Wisdom, 10: 9-10, 16-17)
I came to know Fr. Antonio Valdameri, when I was about 17 years old when he used to come to my parish in Addis Ababa, some time in 1986. Fr. Antonio was serving as a Provincial Bursar and the Local Superior of the Provincial House. I have had the chance of knowing him since my days as a young man aspiring to be a Comboni missionary. We have lived in the same compound of the former Addis Ababa Postulancy for some years. Once he has finished his service in Addis Ababa, he was asked to come to Rome and serve as Procurator General and Local Bursar, by one of his former scholastics and the then-Superior General, Fr. David Glenday. This gave me the possibility to meet him so often because I was a Scholastic in Rome and have been living in the same house for some years. Here are my words of gratitude and eulogy, taking into consideration some of the particular qualities he has had throughout his long life.
Joy about his vocation: – Fr. Antonio has clearly witnessed in his many years of life as a Comboni Missionary priest. His joy has been a contagious one. He had clear ideas about what a call to missionary and consecrated life means. He used not to like, not clear things and doubtful situation, so he would wish to clarify things even with unexpected decisions, like sending back someone from the Scholastic ate to repeat part of the Novitiate. When he was serving as Procurator General, he was invited by the Formators of the Scholasticate of Rome, to come and give us a conference about “perseverance in one’s Comboni call”. We listening to him remained astonished of his clarity of mind and his humorous way of narrating about vocation journey and daily temptations in a life of young religious. He had decided not to be highly theoretical or deeply Biblical, but very practical and down to earth with examples from Religious and Priestly life. More than anything in his daily life once can see that he has been joyful, serene and comfortable with his call to be a disciple of Jesus and a Comboni Missionary Priest, serving in Africa.
Man of prayer: – Fr. Antonio was faithful to his personal prayer and he sued to prepare well his homilies and animation during communitarian prayer. It was very normal to see Fr. Antonio daily reciting the Holy Rosary walking around the house. May be at times he was not taken highly to the heavens, it can happen that he has to tell something to the watchman, he would do it and be back to his prayer and continue for a long time his prayer, doing things for the glory of God.
Practical Wisdom: – Fr. Antonio has shown through out the many years of service, that God has given him the particular gift of “practical wisdom”. Needless to say that he has learnt from his life many practical things of administration, leadership and pragmatism. He has shown energy and readiness to implement and execute decisions taken. He would not waste time.
He has served as a Comboni Missionary in many capacities in different provinces (London Province, Uganda Province, Ethiopia, Eritrea-Ethiopia, Italy, Rome-Curia) one can learn from him many things and see how he has been serving with joy, dedication and passion. He has had a strong sense of belonging and love to the Institute.
He has shown capacity in risking to do things and throughout many years his decisions have resulted in assets, blessings and seeds of a greater success. It is better to risk, than to remain idle and be blocked, because opportunities do not wait for you. If you have to buy a land, you do it as soon as possible. Mgr. Joseph Gasparini mccj, RIP, the Comboni Missionaries in Ethiopia have taken a lot advantage of the administrative capacity of Fr. Antonio.
Hospitable and tension diffuser: – in many years of his service as Local Superior the Comboni Provincial House in Addis Ababa, he has shown a lot capacity in welcoming confreres, guests and people in the provincial house. When confreres come to Addis for shopping, business or rest, he would take care of them well. In case some one comes tired and with some tension of the mission in his heart, Fr. Antonio used to give hand by listening and giving some practical advise. He would indicate to you on how to take care of the issue and possibly try to resolve things, but above all how to take it all to the Lord. He was a good tension diffuser and will invite you with a warm heart for a walk, for a beer or take you out for supper. He was very human, not sophisticated intellectually, simple and strong in faith.
Simplicity and Humility: – the smart and the good looking Fr. Antonio was a simple approachable man. He was a very practical man full of wisdom and ready for action. Fr. Antonio would go ahead with decisions made and he used to act, if he has decided to cut a tree, it is almost sure that the tree will be dealt properly according to the plans done. It happens that if you do work, you may commit some mistakes about the way and the timing of the execution of the planned thing. When things used to go wrong, I have seen that Fr. Antonio had the capacity to admit openly with humility and sense of humour his mistakes and he would do something about how to repair the broken thing or relation. He used to try to get wise to the issue out of his possible mistakes. He can be fast and hot in reacting, but also ready and available to say sorry and cool down things.
Man of Charity: – Abba Antonio has been lover of poor people in our missions. He has shown a lot of respect and love for people especially needy women and children. For many years after his departure from Ethiopia, our two elderly watchmen in Addis Ababa, when they used to see someone who has arrived from Italy, the first thing they used to ask was about the wellbeing of Fr. Antonio. Many needy refugees and displaced people in Addis Ababa used to get a lot of help through the kindness of Fr. Antonio. As he used to give a hand for Sunday Holy Eucharist in Addis Ababa among the English speaking group he had become a known priest to the South Sudanese Catholic community in Addis Ababa. He was instrumental in facilitating many of the needs of “Combo’s sons and daughters from South Sudan”
Ethiopia in his heart: – Fr. Antonio immediately after his ordination served in the London Province for 9 years and then went to Uganda where he remained for 6 years. He cane for the first time arrived in Ethiopia in 1968 and when he was asked to go London to serve as Formator in the Scholasticate where he remained for almost 6 years, he was not happy because he was just starting to love the people, the country and the mission of Ethiopia and learn the language of the Sidama in Fullasa where he returned to in 1977. He remained in Ethiopia till 1992 when he was asked to come to Rome to serve as procurator General. Well even after coming to Rome he did not stop to belong to Ethiopia. He continued to work also for the missions and the Local Church in Ethiopia even in Rome. He had a good eye to see capable Ethiopian men and women and do something good with them. One of the good examples is that a good number of the Ethiopian Sacred Pictures we have around in our Comboni communities, on walls, in magazines or post-cards etc…. were drawn by a local artist who was contacted, helped and encouraged by Fr. Antonio. He worked for the promotion of the sacred works of art of the famous Ethiopian Artist Zeleke Ewunetu.
Fr. Antonio used to follow the situation of Ethiopia from Italy through contacts, visits and mass media, and when he used to meet a comboni missionary who comes back form Ethiopia or hails from Ethiopia, he would spend a long time to listen and update himself about the Ethiopian province, the Local Church in Ethiopia, the people- the country her served and loved. Dear Abba Antonios, May God reward you, with what you deserve, BLESSINGS of ETERNAL PEACE.