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Tuesday 18 December 2012

Peace and Solidarity Award for Father Kizito

Father Renato Sesana, known to everybody in Kenya as Father Kizito, has received a prestigious award assigned every year in December by the Lombardy Region in Italy for “Peace and Solidarity”.

The motivation reads :”With over thirty years of intense work done in Africa struggling for justice, human rights, democracy and peace, he is committed to supporting constructive dialogue and mutual respect among peoples, and to assure that everyone can have a dignified life”.

Last December 13, in Milan, Father Venanzio Milani, who in the past had been Vice Superior General of the Comboni,  collected the award, with goes with a 10,000 euros cash (something more than a million Kenya shillings) on his behalf, since Father Kizito was the same day in Tone la Maji, one of the homes for former street children he has started around Nairobi, as usually busy with new projects and programs. That is where we met and interviewed him.

Father Kizito, what does this award mean to you?

It is important to me because it is given by the Lombardy Region, the region of my people, of my parents, of those who have taught me with their daily example the values of dedication, work, sacrifice, honesty and simplicity of life, generosity, respect and service the weak and the poor. On these values I have built my life, when Jesus, on the shore of the lake of Lecco, my town of origin, invited me to follow him "to the ends of the earth." While aware of my shortcomings, I have not ever regretted it. Even in the darkest moments, I always thanked God for calling me to be open to others, to the world, and to work humbly, along with millions to others, for the growth of a new people.

Looking back, how do you see the years you spent in Africa? Was time well spent?

The recognition of the validity of the roots from which I come would be a foolish attitude if incapable  of recognizing the values I have leaned form my African friends.

With them, I learned to be a brother to all, and with joy, when I visit Italy, I recognize as my brother the African immigrant in Lecco. We did the opposite journey, affirming in different ways the same right to be at home anywhere in the world. Our shared humanity unites us well beyond the things that could divide us. When I return to Lecco, and I happen to catch a train early in the morning to go to Bergamo, Brescia, Milan, I feel to be back to when I took the train to go to work to the motorcycle factory at the time of my youth. Today on those early morning trains there are people from all over the world who make work the economy that was built up by my grandparents. There is continuity and a communion which are invisible only to those who do not want to see.

But immigrants in Italy are often regarded with suspicion, if not with hostility...

Solidarity is not such if it is not open to everyone, always and everywhere. The boundaries of solidarity are the boundaries of humanity. The economic crisis that we are experiencing in Italy cannot possibly be read as an invitation to live more fraternally, leaving the position of privilege, and exploitation of others, in which history has put us? Today we have to accept that if we really want justice and solidarity we must have them for all the people of the world, without boundaries.

You are well known also for having brought the attention of the world to the Nuba people, about fifteen years ago. Are you still engaged in that area?

Certainly. Now we have registered a Koinonia Nuba in Juba, South Sudan. Koinonia is the name of the community I have already established here in Nairobi and in Zambia. Now we want to assist the Nuba refugees who were forced to flee to South Sudan.

What are peace and solidarity?

If we start giving theoretical definition we will never end and we will get more confused. Instead in recent years in Nairobi I have learned that if I want to grow, I have to let the children teach me the way. They at times seem to live in a dream world, where only to love and be loved count, but then they are capable of extraordinary concreteness. Yesterday I asked a group of children just rescued from the  streets of Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi, who are now living in a house of first asylum, what is the time of day when they feel more at peace. I told them that their response would serve to explain to people who live far what peace means in Nairobi. The response of Ismail, aged 7, was: "When we eat together, and we must not fight to grab a little more food. There is food for everyone, and we share it. This is peace." That is the best definition of peace and solidarity I ever heard.

You are a priest. How do you link your spiritual mission with your charitable work?

You see, in Ismail's answer there is the whole mystery of the incarnate spirit that is the human person, his present, and the eternity that is already in him. With Ismail and others like him you understand the meaning of communion. The goods are meaningful only if they are signs and instruments of fraternity. Only in this way life is lived in truth: a gift shared with others. Jesus must inspire us all on how to attend to the needs of the whole person. Don Primo Mazzolari, a spiritual guide to many priests of my generation in Italy, once wrote: “We have to give everything, and fast, because the day is short and the creatures are in such need of a little love”.

Can you tell us how you will use the million plus Kenya shillings you have received?

No secret. Everything will go into scholarships to the youth who grew up in Koinonia homes around Nairobi and have completed form four a few weeks ago.

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