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Sep 23, 2021

ZAPPA Mario (Father)

Triuggio, 10 April 1940 (Italy) – Bouar, 14 June 2021 (Central African Republic)

ZAPPA Mario (Father)

This piece does not aim to be a page of memories intended to fade with time. No, Father Mario is a continuous presence; he is and always will be with us.

Father Mario was a true man of God, as he was a man of prayer before anything else. When I went to Bouar, if I didn’t find him in his room, I only had to pop straight across to the chapel. He was always there, in front of the Lord. His faith was tremendous.

Fr Mario loved to read and study. He always had a book or a journal in his hands. His main concern was to be able to receive his philosophy periodicals that he loved so much, such as the “Catholic Civilisation” which he read from cover to cover. He taught for many years in the seminaries of the diocese and the convent schools. He loved this work and considered it a real mission. No sooner had the June exams finished when he immediately began to prepare for the following year’s classes. Even if it was for lessons he had been teaching for 15 years, he always had something new to deliver to his pupils. Additionally, in our diocese of Bouar, he was much loved as a confessor and preacher of spiritual exercises.

Fr. Mario loved Betharram, our religious family. He was certainly one of the religious who best knew St Michael Garicoits and the history of the Congregation that he had always served to the best of his ability, dealing incidentally with important duties. For several years, he was responsible for the formation of lots of Italian Betharramites. This evening, many of them will be inundated, no doubt, with memories and will feel like sending him a huge thank you. When we wanted anecdotes and interesting facts, he always had a suitable story to tell us, to which he added a colourful commentary.

Fr Mario lived out the vow of obedience to the end. When we suggested to him, in 1994, to come to Central Africa, he accepted straightaway. Here too, he changed communities several times, always giving the best of himself, for he was a religious who loved the brothers who lived with him.

Fr Mario was always a curious man - not that sort of curiosity that takes pleasure in gossip. Rather, he wanted to be kept informed, to know how things went. When he came to Niem, he always asked me how many ill and hospitalised peopled we had and how many women had given birth. He asked Fr Arialdo, his seminary and ordination companion, how the village schools were and – I can’t help smiling – he went as far as asking the number of hens we had at the mission, when he didn’t count them himself.  He was interested in everything.

But beyond these character traits, Fr Mario was a charitable man. It was his most beautiful quality, the most precious, the most authentic. His heart was simple, huge and generous. Always ready to help, particularly the poorest. In Bouar, he went to the neigh-bourhoods to find himself among the people he loved, and when he happened upon a sick person who had no means to care for himself, he got him into the car and drove him to hospital, taking care of everything. Did he have to redo a poor widow’s thatched roof? Mariò, with the emphasis on the ‘o’ as people here pronounced his name, was there. He was a man of charity in the little things, the every day kind of charity which perhaps does not change the state of the world but which has an immense value in the eyes and heart of God; he really put into practice the works of mercy.

Fr Mario loved Central Africa and Central Africans. He especially loved going to celebrate mass in the most remote villages, taking tracks impossible to cross... I confess that I had been surprised when his sister Pinuccia told me, while he was still in good health, that he wished to be buried here.

Then there were these two last months lived out with him. The illness which sneaked up on him. A little after Easter, Father Mario started to display strange symptoms. We decided therefore to have him return to Italy for a period of rest and for medical examinations, but the situation took a turn for the worse suddenly. It was impossible to leave. And a few days later came the diagnosis of Covid-19... Together with Brother Angelo, we spent a month at the Covid Centre in Bangui, the capital of the Republic of Central Africa. He was put on oxygen for 24 hours a day. Then there was a slight improvement; Father Mario started to breathe on his own again and the doctors told us they had done as much as they could do and it would be best to take him home. We went back to Bouar but unfortu- nately Father Mario refused to eat. We tried everything but nothing could be done. Here, parenteral feeding does not exist. He would always say that everything was ne and he would eat later... so, we arrived on Monday 14th June. In the morning, while we were setting up a drip, he told us in Sango, the local language: “Aita, awe!” which means “My brothers, that’s enough”... Then towards 8:00pm, the Lord called him home and he went to Paradise.

Dear Father Mario, I would like to have you read and listen to the messages that your loved ones have sent during this period and which you already understood, but that you can now enjoy in Paradise. We could sum them all up in one simple phrase, the most beautiful, that which each one of us would always like to hear. “Good-bye, Mario, we love you lots”. Your sister, Pinuccia, on behalf of all your loved ones, told you so a thousand times during this period. And I am sure that this is the thought of all those who are here to say goodbye this evening.

And by these words, I too pay tribute to you: Goodbye Father Mario. Thank you for having been a real example for us, for all the affection you have shown us. And now in Paradise, pray for all of us and, in your way, continue to protect the poor that you loved so much and for whom you gave your life.

I embrace you always.

Fr. Tiziano Pozzi scj
Regional Vicar

 

Member of the General Council from 1987 to 1993 together with Fr. Mario,Mgr Vincent Landel scj remembers:

“Before 1987, I did not really know you too well, other than that you were an Italian brother about my own age, who was involved in the formation of our youngest brothers. But it was in 1987 that for you and for me our roads converged. For six years, we worked along with Father Terry Sheridan scj (then Superior General, here below inthe picture with Fr. Mario) for the communion of the Congregation, living in Rome as the General Council. You had been elected by the General Chapter as the first Assistant General, and it was then that we got to know each other.
At the General Council, as Terry was of fragile health, you had the role of replacing him o en, especially during his stays in the hospital.
With you, one of our first activities was to organise an annual meeting of the General Councils of the Daughters of the Cross and the Servants of Mary. We wanted to demonstrate in this way the im- portance of these two Congregations for our existence as religious.
And then, we re ected together on our foundation in India, following the commitment of the General Chapter. Even though I went (to India) on my own, you were still beside me. You meticulously followed this foundation, even in those difficult times.
You were content to be in the background, and it was thanks to Indian nuns that we were able to move the project forward.
And then it was with you that we re ected on the future of the Congregation in Thailand. And in order that you could be by Terry’s side in those di cult times, you asked me to go and receive the first vows from the First ai religious. These were pronounced in Thai, but it seems that the Holy Spirit understands all languages!... A new chapter of the Congregation was opening.
Thanks to your knowledge of how things worked in the Vatican, we were able to obtain subsidies from the PMW (Pontifical Missionary Works) to build our seminary at Adiapodoumé. Again, it was as if a new door had opened, even if we had been knocking for some time.
You also had a care for South America and became the linchpin of our youth gatherings in America.
Thank you Mario! By your discreet presence you worked tirelessly to make the Congregation what it is today.
Mario, we are so proud of what your presence at the General Council has meant for the future of the Congregation.”

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