Praises Salesian Fr. Ugo de Censi
and His Work in Chacas, Peru
(ANS – Chacas) – “Only in Chacas can the poor be sure of a plate of food, a bed to sleep on, and a doctor to visit them in time of illness. In the rest of the world where values that Fr. Ugo calls ‘diabolic’ are the order of the day, the poor die of hunger and people look the other way.” Thus wrote the Nobel laureate in Literature, Mario Vargas Llosa, in an article published in the Peruvian newspaper La Republica on April 7. He acknowledged the work of Salesian Fr. Ugo de Censi, and, as often happens in his writing, he mixes social criticism and poetry, but always with a strong dose of reality.
“Chacas and heaven” is the title given to the article, which begins with a description of the district of Chacas: “The extraordinary beauty of this place is not only physical, but also social and spiritual, thanks to Fr. Ugo de Censi, an Italian who came to Chacas as parish priest in 1976. Despite his 90 years, Fr. Ugo is tall, well-spoken, friendly, robust, and agile. His energy is contagious, and he has a will that can move mountains.”
The article speaks also about what is needed to bring young people to God: “The best way to attract young people to religion and to God, at a time when the rest of the world is trying to escape from God and religion, is to encourage them to live the spiritual life as an adventure, giving their time, their strength, their knowledge, and their whole life to combatting human suffering and the great injustices endured by so many millions of human beings.”
Referring to what Fr. de Censi said, the Nobel laureate stated: “Fr. de Censi’s ideas are very much his own and must often have caused anxiety to his superiors in the Salesian Congregation and in the hierarchy of the Church, not to mention economists and sociologists. He insists that money and intelligence are the work of the devil, that the contorted sermons and abstract ideas of theology and philosophy do not lead to God. They are more likely to lead people away from God. Reason is not of much help, either, in getting to know the Supreme Being. For Fr. Ugo, it is not a question of trying to explain God, but of desiring him, thirsting for God, and when one finds him, abandoning oneself in fear, to that exaltation of the heart which comes from love.”
Vargas Llosa details the work done by Fr. Ugo, but says, at the same time, that a mere list is cold and incomplete, that one needs to experience the reality in order to understand it. He has built two electricity stations and reservoirs that provide electricity and water to the city and many surrounding districts and villages, as well as several schools, a hospital with 60 beds and the most modern medical equipment, a nursing school, workshops for sculpture, carpentry, and furniture design, farming enterprises that use the most modern methods of cultivation while respecting the environment, a school for mountain guides, for carving, for restoring colonial works of art, a glass factory, and workshops for stained glass, textile factories, cheese factories, mountain refuges, hospices for disabled children, cooperatives for farmers and tradesmen, churches, and canals for irrigation. August of this year will see the opening of a university for the education of adults in Chacas.”
All this work would have been impossible without the support of many Italian volunteers, of whom he says: “At present there are about 50 volunteers in Chacas and 350 in the entire region. They live modestly, the single ones in community, and couples with their children in houses among the poor, and they take no stipend.” Many of them remain in Chacas with their children. The Noel laureate says of them: “It is amusing to see that crowd of children with fair hair and blue eyes at Mass on Sunday, together with local children, all singing in Quecha, Italian, Spanish, and even Latin.”
The article concludes by affirming the need for a world where there are many men and women willing to give their lives to help their neighbor: “It is encouraging to live in Chacas, even if only for a few days, and to discover that even in this selfish world there are men and women who give their lives to doing good and helping others, and who find in that self-giving and sacrifice the meaning and justification of their own lives.”
The complete article is available on the site of La Republica. In the section of the WebTV of www.sdb.org there is a video on the work of Fr. Ugo de Censi, produced by Missioni Don Bosco.
Editor’s note: Products of Fr. Ugo’s workshops are available commercially at Artesanos Don Bosco, 828 S. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21230. 410-563-4577