The YCW years
1962 – 1978
Part 1: Switzerland
Testimonies of youthful friends
Sergio was active in the Swiss YCW and the International YCW for sixteen years from 1962 to 1978. These years were clearly decisive for his future. In order to appreciate these “YCW years”, we believe that it is best to hand over to those who knew and worked with Sergio and shared his dreams, convictions, struggles, failures... and friendship.
We have therefore included several personal or collective testimonies that allow us to grasp a decisive part of his personal journey as a YCW leader.
Re-making the Swiss YCW
Three former leader of the Swiss YCW, Lovis, Hubert Sciboz and Gilbert Annen, explain the circumstances of the 1960s when they experienced the taking of responsibility within the new national team. Their testimonies enable us to grasp the context of the YCW during those years when Sergio worked fulltime for the movement at the Geneva Secretariat.
It was at this time (1962-1969) that the team of regional and national leaders was reformed. We came from the four corners of Romandy (the French speaking region) and Tessin (the Italian speaking region) and our main concern was to give meaning to our lives as young workers and to seek to make a link between our conditions of life and our religious beliefs.
In Switzerland we experienced a great economic turning point. Swiss workers did not have a lot of problems to find work. On the other hand, foreign workers had great difficulty. At that time, they comprised around 25% of the workforce. Among them, seasonal workers experienced very difficult living and working conditions, including absence of families, barrack housing, low salaries and great difficulties of integration.
In this context, our reflections and actions involved raising awareness among young workers concerning their conditions of work and apprenticeship. We did this through enquiries that we organised on various themes such as money management, the battle against loneliness, leisure time pursuits, etc.
Thanks to the YCW, to our contacts, to our reflection meetings, training days and weeks, we developed our awareness and our sense of responsibility, listening, the search for relationships and communication. Our role as national leaders was to assist young workers on their path, to help activists to give meaning to their lives and to help them to take personal and collective action.
It was also during this period and in this context that we began our journey with Sergio. We remember him as a person of great tenacity in the involvement that he had with us. His lucidity in difficult times, his unfailing solidarity with the poorest of his generation contributed to make us, with us, responsible adults. It was in this way that at the end of this time together that we each took on roles in the worker world (trade unions, people's movements, etc.). As for Sergio, he continued his involvement in the European and the International YCW.
Before looking at Sergio's role in the European and International YCW, we need to step back and look at his earlier involvements. Several of his friends have spontaneously and unexpectedly shared their recollections of those times. Although their stories may appear a little long, their authenticity sheds light on Sergio's tenacious and attractive personality.
I was lucky to work with him
First, here is the story of Gian Pietro Milani, a leader in the Swiss YCW, who was invited by Sergio to work with him at the IYCW International Secretariat in Brussels to prepare various projects and to take part in several international events.
Sergio, Damiano, Stefano and I belonged to the Romandy YCW from the mid 1960s until the mid 1970s. Before that we had studied together at the Pius XII College in Breganzona and at the seminary of Lugano. At that time, it was not easy for working class families like ours to be able to study like that without some kind of financial aid.
Thus, from early on, we had a strong orientation towards involvement in society based on strong traditional religious convictions on one hand and on the spirit of renewal of the time on the other.
It was a period of economic boom as well as of Italian immigration, rising awareness of the problems of under-development and third-worldism... We also experienced the renewal launched by Vatican II. Students were passionate about democratising study and for the pacifist movements against the war in Vietnam...
In this climate, including the seminary itself where we had teachers who were imbued with the social doctrine of the Church, and who did not hide their own critique of the Church, or even their sympathy for socialism, we developed a “youthful sensitivity” to the problems and issues raised by the reality of the world in which we expected (or dreamed) of becoming involved. All the same, this did not prevent us from sometimes experience a feeling of foreignness or a gap between us who lived sheltered lives and the external world.
Other life choices
This was the context in which several of us decided to temporarily suspend our studies at Lugano or to leave the seminary, opting for other choices in life. Some of us opted for teaching, for trade unions or politics.
Damiano, one of our companions, who had joined the YCW earlier than others, kept us up to date of his discovery of the world of work, his rising awareness of his personal value and autonomy thanks to the “see, judge, act” method initiated by Cardijn, the founder of the movement.
All this background is necessary to illustrate the fact that there were already pre-existing factors which helped foster or even search an opportunity for a new involvement. We were also strongly influenced by and full of admiration of the accounts of the total commitment by the worker priests who had chosen to fully share the lives of workers.
During my university studies at Fribourg, I myself also wanted to get involved in one of those movements. Thus, initially I made contact with the YCS (Young Christian Students) where I did not feel totally at home since most students came from well off families and had an attitude that seemed quite different from my own.
It was these contacts with Sergio and Damiano who were then fulltimers in Swiss Romandy which oriented me towards the local YCW team which comprised several young local and migrant workers.
At that time the YCW organised groups who reflected regularly to share on the problems and difficulties of life and work, to analyse, to reflect and – perhaps sometimes a little naively – to envisage actions to take in order to modify these situations and to assume responsibilities. We also carried out enquiries on working conditions, particularly apprentices, sales girls, immigrants, etc.
We organised fundraising activities to finance the movement, e.g. by the sale of boxes of matches and the YCW magazine. All these activities helped raise awareness among young people of the worker world around us or at school.
The YCW also organised regional or national meetings, or summer camps, which were privileged opportunities to grasp the reality experienced by young people in various regions and their conditions of work, life or even of the world.
At that time there was serious repression of YCW leaders in Brazil which led us to organise a demonstration in front of the Brazilian embassy in Berne and to deliver a protest message to the ambassador that was signed by many YCW activists. This was my first experience of a “demonstration”, an action which was then still perceived as subversive and provocative even though the protest movement of 1968 was already unfurling across Europe.
Given the activist spirit that reigned over the world of young workers, I accepted the proposal that I should take charge of a YCW team in Bienne, a worker city at the foot of the Jura mountains. We were going to create a little “commune”, which was a widespread fashion of the time, borrowed from Germany and France. With Stefano, my former theology mate now working at General Motors, and Otello, a young Italian worker, we shared a mini-apartment and worked in the local factories.
My first contact with the factory
The example of the YCW leaders as well as the “heroism” of the worker priests inspired us with a deeply Christian motivation that favoured our choice to immerse ourselves in the life of work in the factories. It was not easy. In my first contacts with the factory, I resigned traumatised after a week of work at a watch case factory, sitting nine hours a day inspecting and cleaning parts.
A year later, I finally succeeded in lasting longer at a wire factory thanks to the fact that I was working with my flatmate, Otello. All the same, it was an interesting period, sharing hours, work, noise, dust, fatigue, the problems of piece work, understanding the calculation of salaries... All this greatly helped me, especially later, to put in perspective the demands of school life, and to better understand our worker parents, as well as migrants and their difficulties...
At that time we had a small YCW team that was formed mainly of Italian immigrants with whom we discussed working conditions and carried out our actions. We also took part in regional meetings in the Jura, where there were two or three teams and in Romandy meetings. We had less contact with German Switzerland where the YCW (KAJ) still bore the mark of a movement of specialised Catholic Action in the worker world. We closely followed the difficult moments experienced by the Tornos factory in Moutier and the experience of resistance and self-management at the LIP factory in Besancon.
Meanwhile, through common actions, we we came into contact with activists from other movements, e.g the free Italian colonies, small groups of marxists, trotskyists, maoists and others, war resisters, socialist and communist activists, etc. We took an interest in and educated ourselves on the history of the worker movement, trade unionism, enterprise commissions, salary sharing mechanisms, piece work bonuses, the reality of immigration, etc.
In this context I matured greatly and I opted to become a conscientious objector, refusing to take part in the army practice1. I was tried and condemned to four months prison that I endured at Witzil de Gampelen (BE). It was not lost time. I got to know a hidden human reality that deserves to be known and considered as much as any other.
The YCW also gave us opportunities to participate in international meetings of young workers in Italy, Spain, Strasbourg, France and elsewhere. These were formative experiences that enabled us to learn directly from committed, highly engaged young people about realities that raised many questions for us in Switzerland. Such occasions also strengthened our class consciousness and our discourse of involvement in the emancipation of the world of work, which was sincere but certainly not exempt from youthful naivety.
Moreover, it should be noted that several YCW leaders distinguished themselves in their involvement in trade unions, worker parties, as well as peoples organisations and movements.
Personally, after experiencing life in a factory for a year, I turned towards teaching, initially for the children of Italian immigrants and later in government schools. I was convinced that social reform and emancipation could be achieved thanks to more school education, convictions that were widely shared at the time in left wing circles that were enthused by the experience of the Barbian school, the Scuola 725 in Rome, the pedagogy and conscientisation of Paolo Freire in Brazil as well as the pedagogy of Freinet.
In Tessin, they went as far as introducing a single middle school (for students aged 11to 15), which seemed at the time to offer an opportunity for innovation and progress and which also provided equal opportunities to all students within a perspective of attenuating the effects of social cleavages. I worked there for 30 years including 23 years as vice-director and the final year as replacement director. At the same time, I worked with families, classical culture, singing and music, courses for adults, local politics in the Socialist Party, etc.
Sergio asked me to come and work at the IYCW International Secretariat in Brussels for a year and a half. I was lucky to have the opportunity to work with him in preparing various projects for the IYCW, as well as participating in an international meeting in Accra, Ghana in 1974 and in the IYCW International Council in Linz in 1975.
All this gave us many opportunities to keep in touch with Sergio's activities, his contacts and action in various countries of the globe. We also heard first hand about the realities experienced by the people that Sergio met. He shared all this and felt closely involved in all their projects.
From his letters, let me cite several lines that seem to express a little of his vision and the man he was. Following the Strasbourg meeting in summer 19721, Sergio wrote: “The conference showed me once again that we do have something to bring to other European countries with respect to research, analysis and concrete experience of action. I think that the majority of countries are open, particularly the “Germanic” countries. In these countries a movement like the YCW could be important for the whole working class. It was interesting and encouraging for me to notice that despite the few contacts that we had, we shared the same concerns. Each one makes his own, wherever he or she finds him or herself, but there are some very significant common points.”
Sergio touched me deeply
Another friend of Sergio, Damiano Scaroni, shares the questions and doubts that he experienced when he first met Sergio as well as of the moral support that he later received from him.
My first memory of Sergio is of an unexpected and surprising meeting in late adolescence or the beginning of adult life. I don't remember exactly what brought us together.
We first came into contact at the minor seminary of Lucino. He was with the older students while I was one of the younger one. Moreover, he left the seminary leaving us in that bizarre universe where one forced children to make premature choices for their whole life. Later he came back as an older brother who had gone off to explore the world and who had come back concerned for the future of his younger brothers who had grown up in the interim.
He came back to speak to us about a movement of solidarity between those exploited by the various powers of excess, including economic, ideological and religious powers. He showed us a method, namely group sharing, emotional sharing and awareness raising that led to a kind of affirmation and action for change.
However, the surprising thing was that in targeting the group, he knew how to speak to the individual. In fact, Sergio touched and helped me in my deepest being. I had inside of me a building site that was not going anywhere, namely my own self-development and identity. I felt an insecurity as well as a sensitivity that was almost too receptive but also a source of empathy with all those “suffering” in the world.
In the seminary, I was able to pursue my studies. Thanks to all those who enabled me to enter this world of culture to which my farming family background had not prepared me. Internally, however, I floated and I had to answer the expectations of the external mirrors (divine, familial, religious) and Catholic dogma.
Through sharing with Sergio and his friendship, I felt a change of priorities developing inside me. Moving from a priority to responding to and satisfying the desires, expectations, constraints and dogmas of others, I changed to the priority of remaining myself in the face of the other and of decoding, feeling their own sufferings, needs and desires. Also sharing with one's peers in order to carry out a common action. This priority now seems to me to be at the origin of the building of confidence in oneself, in one's peer and in the world, Sergio possessed that kernel of confidence and was convinced that the alienation experienced by people could be changed.
It was thus that along with Stefano, Gabriele, Gian Pietro and so many others, I became involved in the YCW that he led with such conviction. Thank you Sergio for having delivered me from my interior fog.
He never imposed himself
The YCW in Tessin (Italian speaking Switzerland) had previously had its partisans, notably Don Gobbi, who as a young priest at the beginning of his mission had brought together and motivated young people to act together in the spirit of Joseph Cardijn, founder of the YCW. A number of these young people later became involved in the Christian trade union (OCST). During the 1960s, the Romandy YCW had reconnected with Tessin with a view to relaunching teams of activists, particularly with the support of a chaplain, Armand Muller.
Among these young people was Gabriele Chiesi, a well known personality from Tessin. He was secretary of the train drivers union for 33 years. Then he founded and directed the Association of Patients. He is still active in the Socialist Party for which he was a candidate to the National Council in 1983. Currently, he is a communal adviser in Giubiasco and is still highly active in the social field.
My activism began with my experience in the YCW and thanks to the YCW. I recall very clearly that it began through contact with the YCW chaplain, Armand Muller, during the years 1965-66. It was a life changing experience. It was he who brought me to the movement, a priest unlike so many others and who placed himself outside the role of a religious operative and was attentive to the lived experience of people, young workers in particular, since he also had experienced worker reality in Valais, which had in fact motivated him to get involved in this area. At that time in Tessin, there were several priests who were concerned for the situation of the young workers with whom Armand had made contact and was trying to build a network.
Later I met Sergio who was then the national fulltimer in Geneva before he left for Brussels for the International Secretariat. From that time in 1965-66 there was also a YCW team in Tessin. Damiano, another fulltimer, also came to see us from time to time. This was the time of the great gathering “Paris 67” organised by the French YCW where the founder Cardinal Cardijn spoke.
Later I recall taking part in meetings in Swiss Romandy, at Fribourg, Valais, Montana-Crans, etc. I also remember Nicolas. Stefano, Mario, Jacky, Renee. The YCW experience was really significant, fundamental for me because I experienced a dynamism that later enabled me to achieve everything that I have done in my life.
The family milieu also probably contributed to the formation of my commitment. My father was always a socialist, although discreetly. He read Libera Stampa, the party daily, which made us attentive to social issues. My mother, who was a practising Catholic but also a fighter and very frank in affirming the truth without detour perhaps gave me her pugnacity.
At the basis of our involvement, there was certainly also a religious motivation but not the practice of an official religion or ritual with which we more or less disagreed with. Moreover, I remember that the YCW was not seen well by the official Church which regarded us as more or less suspect. When it came to taking a position, the Church was more inclined to roll over.
I met Sergio several times when he came to Tessin. He helped us organise. I remember him very well. We worked very well together. He did not impose himself or pressure us. It was pleasant to discuss and talk with him.
In conclusion, the YCW experience was decisive for me and for my later choices on the basis of a deeply religious motivation but in a broader sense that I would describe as more evangelical than practising the official religion that I had always been somewhat critical of, preferring to follow my own conscience rather than imperatives imposed in the name of the faith.
He built for the long term
Armand Muller, former YCW chaplain in Valais, a French and German speaking Swiss canton, contributed to the awakening of young movement leaders. He also learnt much from Sergio.
Sergio spontaneously evokes in me the sentiments of fraternity, humanity... a profoundly human being, fraternal, with a “universal” conscience, gifted in languages and contacts. I do not remember him having any partisan attitudes. An enemy of “the end justifies the means”, he built for the long term, respecting others, taking account of the limits as well as the possibilities to reach further.
It was thus that I owe to Sergio an awakening that went beyond cantonal, regional and national borders... At the time, as the canon chaplain for the YCW-CWM in Valais (1965-1969) I was invited visit Simplon to take part in the renewal of the YCW in Tessin and particularly to “support” (it sounds a bit pretentious but I can't think of another word) the priests that Sergio had contacted.
I will never forget that first meeting at Ravecchia (Bellinzona) with Pierino, Aldo and Walter that we organised together with Sergio. Gently he prodded me to start and eventually to express myself in rudimentary Italian of which I had learnt a few words in the construction sites of Grande Dixence.
It was the beginning of a long collaboration with local priests who helped start or restart the YCW in Bellinzona, Lugano, Val Blenio, etc. For them, the insistence on discovering the complex reality, the real experience of young workers became a requirement of their ministry.
One anecdote that comes back to me: during a training day in Lugano, I gave a “sermon” in … Italian! I can still see the hilarity that I provoked by speaking “pecore” with an accent on the second syllable! Well, one learns to express oneself despite one's limits...
Later, thanks to Sergio, I was able to participate in the development of the YCW in Italy, including regular meetings with chaplains in Pordenone, in Rome... and in the discovery of admirable leaders such as Lidia.
Sergio was a builder of men and women, a born educator, who helped the other – me in this case – to go at one's own pace, to refuse to stand still. Thanks to him I also was able to take part in several European meetings.
For Sergio, borders should not have existed. The European YCW should not content itself with “traditional” countries and thus he made contact with East Germany. It was thus that I came to accompany him in the middle of the Cold War to Leipzig where my knowledge proved very useful. I am grateful to him for having asked me to act as a translator in many international meetings. I am also grateful for the visit of the German YCW leaders at LIP, a watch factory in Besancon that was struggling to survive and which, turned to self-management at the behest of the militant leader, Piaget.
For Sergio, the YCW was the “property” of the young workers, not the chaplains! And while it was necessary to conquer one's fears, there was no question of convicting someone on their past. The process of self affirmation and development took place over the long term... It was a time when some YCW leaders had complexes with respect to extreme left leaders such as the Marxist Revolutionary League (LMR) and their political analysis. Certainly, the “judge” part of our “see, judge, act” method needed to incorporate the political and economic causes of situations of domination, exploitation, etc.
Nevertheless, leaders stayed present – faithful to the spirit of Sergio's YCW – at the grassroots, taking part in daily battles, assisting the development of men and women who stayed faithful to their commitments.
When Sergio finished his terms at European and international level, it was clear that he would not be satisfied with a career as a federal public servant in the Aged Insurance Fund (AVS) in Geneva. He was not made for an administrative career no matter how useful. Quickly, he felt stifled within the walls of our Helvetic Federation! Moreover, his experience, his awareness, his dreams, all destined him to pursue an international career. Which he did.
Sadly, in a life of such dimensions and intensity, there was no time for a well-deserved retirement. Thanks, Sergio!
Sergio opened me up to other countries and continents
Renée Sciboz describes her path in 1969 to the Swiss Girls YCW and the discreet but persuasive role played by Sergio in helping her open up to the world. She recalls the solidarity actions in favour of YCW leaders imprisoned in Brazil under the military dictatorship, including demonstrating outside the federal palace in Berne, vain attempts at intervention with the Pope in Rome...
The news made front page headlines in the Sunday newspapers. Girls YCW fulltimers resigned en masse in solidarity with the chaplains and their comrades who had married and refused the dictates of Church authorities. The issue of priestly celibacy made it into the public arena.
I was quite new in the YCW and the evening before I had taken part in a meeting organised to promote the movement in Valais, my native canton in Switzerland. There I discovered aspects of the movement that moved me deeply in my working class roots and in my life then. The news did not leave me indifferent but affected me differently from older members. Not knowing the principles involved, what concerned me was the life and action of the young workers.
I reacted at that time and no doubt that was the reason that I was one of a handful of young women contacted to continue with the movement. With Mireille, Ariane, Regine and other young women from Swiss Romandy, I took part in the relaunch of the movement and in the “marriage of the two YCW movements (girls and boys)”. The guys and girls involved in the two movements had joined to reflect on their living and working conditions. Some shared their experiences while others were touched by what they heard.
In 1969, we were still under the influence of the battles and actions of 1968 and that was the context in which I accepted to become a fulltimer for the movement. At the time Sergio was already on the European path and the opening up. It was he who encouraged me before I started as a fulltimer to discover the reality of young workers in Spain and Portugal who at that time had come to Switzerland in large numbers in search of a better life.
It was the first time that I had travelled so far and every day after hours of train travel I met the people who were going to welcome me and share their lives with me. In Spain, I saw the difficult factory work in the factories of Asturia, Burgos and in the poorer areas of Madrid. In Portugal, I didn't visit the capital but the mills in the mountains, accompanying the workers of Fundao and Braga. There I witnessed conditions much tougher than those at home and I met young people who battled to improve their working conditions and their free time. I still remember those moments of being together, the meals of local cuisine as well as the immense hope for a better life thanks to the actions organised under the slogan “By them, with them and for them”.
It was then that I participated for two weeks in the congresses of the Spanish and Portuguese YCWs. In those countries which were still under dictatorships, such moments helped the YCW leaders to learn democracy. The debates could be long and different depending on the country but they always reflected the life and social and economic analysis pertaining to difficult social relations.
A story. During the Spanish Congress, it took ten rounds of voting by secret ballot to elect a new national president and this all finished late at night. This was something totally new for a few Swiss spectators. But in Spain, citizens had little opportunity to take part in elections. The YCW movement gave them this opportunity.
On return to Switzerland, I was ready to take up my commitment. I left for Geneva and lived in community with the other fulltimers and embarked upon an adventure among friends. We met Sergio during his trips to Switzerland. We refined our analysis with him and we exchanged perspectives going beyond the borders. We also had the opportunity to take on solidarity actions with young people from other countries.
It was during this time that young people in the YCW began to organise in specific groups, e.g. apprentices, nurses, factory workers, immigrants etc. These distinctions were necessary for our analysia and enabled us to come together in action as well as to seek the human and Christian meaning of what we were experiencing.
We lived some very powerful experiences as well as certain moments of crisis and heartbreak. We agreed on the analysis but we were so far apart on what to do. Should we opt for revolution? Should we be in the avant-garde or should we lead mass actions? As a European leader, I believe that Sergio knew how to keep a distance as well as a link with each person respecting the choices of each one.
There were some challenging moments. The movement organised a solidarity action with leaders imprisoned in Brazil together with the Human Rights League and other associations that were active in this area. Together we went to Berne and we chained ourselves in front of the federal palace. It was my first demonstration! It was a milestone and we had to continue.
I took part in the meeting of European leaders that was held in Rome. Sergio was with us and we went to the gates of the Vatican to ask for a meeting with the Pope. The Church had to get involved in order for our Brazilian comrades to be freed. This was far from evident. I still see Sergio and Sonia knocking at the great door, discussing with the nuncio and coming back upset. It took several attempts before we could enter and ask for a short meeting where we could deliver our demand.
All these occasions were great to build links and to discover the similarities and differences of the reality of our lives. During the marriage of Sergio and Denis in Brussels, I made contact with some domestic workers – many of whom were Spanish – who were organising with Pepita to improve their conditions.
This period of my life deeply marked my family and social commitments. In the movement and afterwards, we had forged solid friendships both with Sergio and others. Over the years, we may only have met occasionally at a particular event or at a meeting or on holidays but we it was always a pleasure to meet again and share the essential of our lives.
The years have passed... the world has changed. Leaders now have wrinkles and white hair. Some have gone, others remain. The building of society is not yet finished. Solidarity in times of crisis is often abused. Associations no longer have the wind in their sails. Nevertheless, it is still necessary to continue to organise for a better world. Collective action is more necessary than ever today so that our associations and countries don't close up. Sergio initiated us militants of 1968 to an opening up to other countries and continents.
I have lost a brother, my best friend!
Stefano Colombo, one of Sergio's closest friends, was also a YCW leader in Switzerland. He never lost touch with a friend from whom he says gave him so much and stayed with him right to the end. Stefano now practises as a psychiatrist. Through his testimony, Sergio appears even closer to us.
While the recounting of facts is a reflection of reason, memories are a e a reflection of the heart. Incapable of filling out the formulas of supposed historical facts, they concentrate on the essential, namely experience, its marks and the force thus injected into the present. When you encounter a flower, you are captivated by its beauty and its perfume. How to share that? Clearly not by describing the number of petals or the wavelength of its colours and still less by the similarity of its perfume. The flower exists!
The seminary was shaped like a U, cut in the middle by the chapel which extended from the middle into the football field. At ground level on the north side there was a long portico where had the habit of doing the hundred steps in silence during our spiritual exercises, which were a kind of retreat meant to bring us closer to God... or to ourselves. This long corridor was also a meeting place with all the excitement of the main street of a deserted city centre.
I had done my high school at a boarding school at Altdorf in central Switzerland where I soon became the person of confidence of my comrades who were tormented by fear of failing in their studies, or by a heartache or one of the great existential questions of life. I was already practising psychiatry! At that time, I envisaged studying mathematics. At the same time, this art of listening a well disguised avoidance of daily life convinced me to study theology. The example of the Benedictine fathers, who were all teachers, also influenced me with the idea of educating the souls if not the spirits of people.
It was in the long corridor of the seminary that I first met Sergio and thus was was soon followed by other meetings during his visits from Geneva where he as a leader of the YCW (Young Catholic Workers but which became Young Christian Workers soon after). Why did he come? I do not know. What did we speak about? I don't remember. All I can say is that I remember Sergio. It was enough to remind him and immediately he would tell the whole story in impressive details and all the names, while he asked me “do you remember?”, all finishing with with a mix of smiles and knowing laughter.
I am sure that I shared my seminary experience with him, my experience of ecclesiastical fog, well protected by a group identity oriented towards the bishop, a person simultaneously both near and far, father and authority figure, tribal chief and distributor of blessings. That's how it was during the 1960s.
The meetings mostly took place at the Capuchin convent in Bigorio which was then directed by Fra Roberto, a Capuchin brother and painter who welcomed us with a totally Capuchin simplicity and joy. Sergio never gave advice. He listened and talked straightaway about the future, the possibilities. Sergio was outcome oriented as we would say today. He did it in the form of proposals or questions. “What if we held a meeting? Would you like to join? Let me know if others are interested.”
As a farmer sows the seed, Sergio let time do its work, confident in the fertility of the soil, in the watering of motivations, in the power of sharing. Then the nearly monk-like solitude of the seminary turned into a nightmare and pushed you to dare, to break out of the much too rigid framework of beliefs and mystical illusions.
The meeting with Sergio at that time changed my life. Or perhaps more precisely, he enabled me to open up my eyes on real life and to take part completely, one step after the other. Sergio was not a man for ruptures or revolutions in a day, or brutal and thunderous overturnings. He faithfully accompanied me on a path that always remained my own. He never sought to be imitated. His strength was in the shared values that developed in each person based on their own personality and their own economic and cultural context.
A new atmosphere, in fact, a storm!
That boats stay on course is not surprising! However, we still to know what the sea was like during the voyage. Thus, what the atmosphere in which we lived like during the 1960s?
John XXIII was elected pope in 1958. Three months later at the beginning of 1959, he launched the idea and decided to convoke a council, the Second Vatican Council. To what end? The answer of Pope John, il Papa buono, was the following: “I want to open wide the doors of the Church so that we can see what is happening outside and so that the world can see what is happening inside the Church.”
Three years of ferment, opening, exchange, experiences of life prepared the opening of the Council in 1962. A new air, a new wind, indeed a storm, blew over and under the black and red soutanes of the Roman curia and its representatives in our cities and villages. With the arrival of Paul VI in 1963, ardour cooled, and the Council ended with reforms of the liturgy. As for the rest.... In any case, the movement was launched. May 1968 followed.
During the dogmatics course, dogmatically delivered by Don Vitalini, I arrived in class with the books of Karl Rahner, a German Jesuit, who was part of a post-Kantian theological current, marked also by existentialist philosophy. Even if I had the brought Mao's little red book, the reaction would have ben the same. Karl Rahner continued to remain on my desk. A little like a sheet with straight lines that helps you to write straight. The meetings with Sergio helped to stay on track, to maintain a critical spirit and to remain in a movement of search and discovery.
A time of rising awareness
It was in such an atmosphere that concrete actions developed including the following examples.
There was a meeting at Bigorio with some other comrades and young people from elsewhere, workers, apprentices. Hop! My parents lived not far from the seminary and I was looking for my car to go home. It was a BMW that I received for my 21st birthday after UBS, the bank, bought out my parents' pastry shop, which was in any destined for demolition in a road widening. We took the BMW to the military base of Monte Ceneri to look for some blankets from the Red or White Cross and then headed for the convent. I remember that there were some girls who also took part because it was the first time that the boys and girls YCWs had joined together in 1966.
There we took part in exchanges concerning our daily life. Different worlds met together and got to know each other. We looked at the differences in order to better appreciate the similarities. We took part in masses that were a little different, where we shared ordinary bread, and not a host, all without asking authorisation from anyone. Some young Protestants also joined us, why not? Sergio had habituated us to hearing about young people who were not Catholic. Yes, they also existed!
It was a time of awareness raising about life incarnated in the daily reality of workers, young people, families.... Everything but the life that we led under the glass dome of the seminary.
Preparing for these meetings took time and organisation. This was often done with Damiano. In order to get by without being noticed, we had worked out a few unusual but inoffensive ruses, such as my father delivering 500 violets for planting in the garden. Since Damiano was a farmer's son, he understood very well how to plant them in the round flowerbed at the front of the palace. During this pretend work, we had a lot of time to talk without arousing suspicion. Sometimes we met at a long disused chicken coop.
A fog inside the walls
The spiritual father, who often saw us together and who did not accept this collusion that was out of his control, convoked us both to find out what were doing together. He went into a rage reproaching us for not going to confess to him. And he threatened us both with hellfire for eternity. Coming from a spiritual father, it is quite traumatising.
Personally, I never liked to go confess to him but I never knew why he failed to inspire me with confidence. I preferred Fr Albino, the confessor at the clinic across the road from the seminary, who let us go with a few Hail Mary's for sins that we had to invent. Well, you have to say something in confession, don't you?
Nevertheless, our spiritual father, who was responsible for the health of the souls of seminarians, was a strong personality, who was well known throughout Tessin as a brilliant and sought after preacher. The church of Sante Nicolao, a few steps away from the seminary, filled with enthusiastic listeners, both old and young, when he mounted the stand, thundering on about the duties of the faithful to their neighbours. I liked the content of those sermons. At the seminary, however, it was another story.
To illustrate his charism, even the police called him when there was someone who had attempted suicide. Dragged from the lake, the person wanted to see someone to be consoled. Then, little by little, the intra muros fog allowed us to pick up some indications. I remember a friend who turned up one morning with his face strangely and astonishingly scratched. What had happened? Was he not well? I did not understand much about the misfortunes of others. Quite simply I was affected, even shocked. I told the rector, a sympathetic little grandfatherly type, who would do anything to ensure that there was no conflict. He was a good man but also naïve. I liked him and I felt that I could speak frankly to him.
One day the sister of one of my high school friends came to visit. I welcomed her at the door and I spontaneously invited her to my room without a second thought. Our rooms were our only personal space for working, praying and sleeping. A table, chair and bed, a truly Spartan décor. The next day the rector called me in for a solemn reprimand! I was even more naïve than him!
But the poor man received his own shock when I heard rumours about “the quite particular therapies” practised by the “spiritual father” in his own locked studio. I then connected the strange episode of my scratched friend with a traumatic experience. Naive, I will admit, but all the same not blind. Sexuality was the least pronounced word, it belonged to another domain, invisible like carbon dioxide but present everywhere in every corner of the day and night. It took the form of in the guise of the sixth commandment: “You will not commit impure acts” and became word during the confession of “bad thoughts”, with the acts remaining in the arena of nightmares.
What to do? Too serious, completely overwhelming me, I grabbed my Hermès typewriter, the name of which referred to the pastoral divinity who protected shepherds and flocks. I left the shepherds and I took care of the flock as I had learnt in the meetings facilitated by Sergio. I wrote everything that I knew and sent it to the bishop in a long six or seven page letter. A couple of people tried to dissuade me. But I had made up my mind. As soon as I sent the letter, the bishop convoked me in person. Something quite rare!
He was an old style bishop with a car, chauffeur and violet robes. I had known him since childhood when I brought him a cake for the feast of Sant'Angelo that my father had prepared himself. He was a pastrycoook and very Catholic.
The audience took place head to head. I bowed, kissed his ring and held myself at a distance. He took the pages, his hands trembling. He wanted to speak to me but his voice would not come. His eyes filled with tears. The bishop was crying. In between sobs, he begged me: “My son, tell me that it's not true.” The next day the spiritual father was no longer there. In the press, someone raised a question about this “excellent disappearance” but no official response was ever made public.
The end of the tunnel
The route marked out by the YCW in which I was increasingly involved had enabled me to stay lucid in the midst of an earthquake. During this time (1967), I took part in YCW training days in Geneva. By Easter, I was ready to make the decision to leave my theology studies. In this regard, I will never forget my father's reaction. We were having dinner and I said to my parents:
“I have got something to tell you.”
“I have decided to leave the seminary.”
I remember very well the face of my father, who was stunned for a few instants. Previously he had firmly opposed my decision to begin my theology studies. With three sisters, I was the only boy in the family. He eventually accepted it and even began to cultivate some hopes for my future. Bishop Forni, the apostolic nuncio, knew my grandmother and once while having coffee at her place, he presented me some brilliant perspectives of a career in Rome in the Vatican diplomacy. My black soutane had already started to take on a violet tinge! And there, suddenly, the apple cart was upset again. My father looked at me and said:
“Son, when you told me you wanted to become a priest, you dropped a tile on my head but today it's the whole cathedral that has fallen down on me.”
He could not have chosen a better metaphor.
A change of scenery
In July 1967, I left for England to learn English. At first I was jack of all trades at a Benedictine Abbey run by Father Conrad and his charming secretary and a cook, Tina, of distant Italian origin and Scottish. Cleaning dormitories, doing the dishes, helping in the kitchen, looking after children during family week, keeping bar during meetings of the English bishops, and who gave me a hand with the dishes. No need for a Council for them!
After the deaths of two people in the village, the families wanted to bury them at the abbey. So there I was as the undertaker, digging the ditch, lowering the coffin, recovering it with earth, planting a cross! Amen! No-one else to do it!
Then to London to prepare my English diploma.
The worker world: General Motors
Coming back to Switzerland, after discussion at the YCW with Sergio, Nicolas and Gilbert, the national leaders, I decided at their request to go and live in Bienne to look after a local team there.
It was 1967, the hot years, the post-Council, the worker priests, a society on the move. In the Church, John XXIII had well and truly opened up the doors and windows. I can't tell you what a current of fresh air it was! May 1968 was around the corner. At that moment, the Church was ahead of its time. Also later but in reverse!
In February of the same year, I presented at the unemployment office. There was a little old man who nearly fainted when I told him I was unemployed! It was an almost unknown reality in Switzerland at that time. I told him that I was ready to work in the buses or as a gardener but keeping quiet about how old I was otherwise no-one would employ me: a dangerous student type! That was a bit suspect... But the human resources staff were not fooled.
One day, I turned up at General Motors (GM), the smallest car factory owned by the brand. I underwent psychological tests, as I later discovered. They asked me what I wanted to do. “Anything,” I said. But in fact I did not know how to do anything! A few days later, they wrote to me taking me on as a programmer. I had no idea what it was. General Motors had one off the first computers in the whole of Switzerland along with Omega and PKZ. The machine took up a whole climate controlled apartment and it managed the movement of pieces provided to garages throughout the country. We worked with “perforated cards”. There were already hard disks as big as an LP record, five long play disks one on top of the other, as well as magnetic tapes on which they stored orders and invoices sent to Swiss garages. At 11 a.m, they distributed files to workers in the central store who prepared the merchandise ready to leave Bienne at the beginning of the afternoon. By evening, the items had already arrived at the garages.
The ambiance among office staff was rather dominated by German Swiss, the workers on the other hand were mainly Italian. At Omega, the office staff were mainly Romand. I quickly made things difficult for myself because instead of eating with the office staff in a beautiful and comfortable dining room in a new concrete building, where we were well served and could read the papers, I preferred to eat in the wooden barracks with the factory workers who were not so comfortably treated.
The personnel manager did not appreciate this and even tried to make me feel guilty about it. Since GM subsidised the meals of the factory workers, he accused me of not paying full price for my meals and of benefiting from subsidies meant for factories, thus of exploiting them. No discussion possible and my meal reduction card was cancelled and I was compelled to pay full price. YCW commitment took form!
In the workers barracks, when one day at midday we noticed a table covered with a paper tablecloth and smelt the odour of fried chicken, we understood that someone had alerted GM about an inspection by the food police. A few officers of the said police as well as a few personnel ate there that day and that day at least we also were better served than usual.
Work is also for living. So my salary was shared by Sergio and me, a simple and direct form of commitment in the movement. With respect to salary, Sergio greatly appreciate what followed. We laughed about it every time. “Roba da matt,” “we were crazy,” he said.
At the end of the month, we had to collect our salary envelopes. In December, we also received a thirteenth month pay, 60% in the first year, 80% in the second year and finally 100%. This applied to office staff. But for the factory workers? It was a jackpot decided upon by Detroit in the USA, and was shared among the factory workers who received less than the office workers. At the end of December, they gave me an envelope and asked for my signature but I refused to take the envelope and sign.
Eyes and mouths wide open among the cashiers.
- Why? Is there something missing? We will fix it up.
- No, I will not sign.
- But why?
- There is too much money in my envelope. (Oops! A variety of somersaults among the questioners.)
- Too much money? How?
– I find the system unjust.
Then, for accounting reasons they posted me the money. I sent it back. It was a ping pong game that lasted several months. Exasperated, the head of personnel among the factory workers, a former police officer in another canton, invited me in for a grill, since I was interested in the conditions of the workers and I had so many ideas for their well being! We obtained milk to drink for the paintshop workers to counter the toxic effects of lead in the varnish. I refused the grill. Moreover, I never accepted such invitations to dinner, except the final one, that of my definitive departure.
Arrests in Brazil
Finally, I was there for the YCW. I had started to bring together several Italian workers at General Motors. It was not easy because it was suspect but all the same I managed to create a team. Soon after the girls joined us.
In the evenings we often held meetings. I travelled around the Jura in myy Mini Morris to visit the YCW teams there. A free evening? I used to help the Socialist Party which I had joined, or the War Resisters then directed by Arthur Villars, a socialist national committee member, who had supported our demonstrations in Berne against the arrest of YCW leaders in Brazil.
The news arrived at the YCW. Sergio had contacted me. We could not leave our committed comrades in political prisons. We made contact with a dozen organisations. I had confidence in the YCW and so it was full steam ahead. A secret meeting in a villa in Berne, preparations for a demonstration that was to take place on the day that Parliament opened. The place was decided: the Federal Palace. It was quite daring but all the same there was no fear of terrorism in those days. To attract attention to the event, we had decided that one person per organisation would chain themselves to the gates at the entrance to the Palace. A letter distributed to parliamentarians was to explain our action and to convince them to intervene by diplomatic means. Everything had to be spectacular but absolutely peaceful with no resistance and no violence.
To prepare, I had previously and discreetly visited Berne as a naïve tourist to measure the space between the bard and the windows of the Palace gates in order to buy the right size chains for people to chain themselves up and then to throw away the keys (although I kept a duplicate!). When the president of the Confederation, Hans-Peter Tschudi, I think, arrived on foot, I gave him an envelope of explanation. Courteous and committed as always, he asked me if I had an explanatory letter for each parliamentarian. Times have changed!
I also remember that I was going to distribute leaflets in the station at Bienne to Italians who were leaving to vote in Italy. Since they were unable to take part in political activity on the station platforms, which was Confederation territory, I did it in their stead. “Go home to vote, vote to come back!” the tracts said.
And in order to raise money for the YCW, matches and calendars in profusion to sell in the evenings or on weekends. All these activities in which comrades took part, Gian Pietro in particular, who had come to Bienne meanwhile to get involved in the worker world.
The government is watching us!
All these activities even left traces in the files of the federal police! When the scandal of the famous files exploded, I made a request in Berne for a copy. I was surprised to receive five complete pages where I could read all I had done: public sales of match boxes, YCW papers, the distribution of pamphlets at Bienne or Neuchatel, the peaceful participation in a May Day march and other things. Another great subject of laughter between Sergio and me! The government was really watching us.
And so we watched the government. My mail was already under surveillance and we wanted proof of telephone tapping. A phone to a mate.
- Tomorrow morning at 6a.m. at Bulova watch factory.
The next morning, I found myself face to face with a police officer in civilian clothes, with a dog, asking me for identity card. I expressed my surprise at such a request at 6 o'clock in the morning, and with a dog and a police officer as well. The high voltage alibi was as follows: “I always take my dog for a walk early in the morning.” 007 could not have put it any better!
The meetings with Sergio and the other YCW leaders turbocharged our commitment. Leaflets were one of the weapons that we used the most. One day I was distributing these leaflets in front of a church. We had to push a little so that people would take them. One man took one, left then came back and asked for a second one. Strange, no? I was surprised, nobody had ever asked for two. I had a good look at his trousers and I noticed a pretty vertical black line there under his raincoat. A police agent, evidently... in disguise. Respectful of his work and the time he had invested, I said to him:
- Just to tell you, sir, that I will go to St Joseph's Church to spare you the need to come and look for me there also. Please take note.
We did a similar test of surveillance by telegram. I sent a note such as this: “Sunday morning, Berne, 24 red roses.” A highly suspect message! Today they would call in the anti-terrorist team! I sent the message in the afternoon and it only arrived in the evening after a short detour to the police station where after being read by several curious hands, it came out very crumpled. The post office had to redo it!
Did you say politics?
During our meetings with Sergio and other leaders, voting was a central concern: the right to housing, apprentice training, quality of life, immigration policies.
My car, the famous Mini Morris (well used but still orange) made an excellent political platform. At General Motors, I took my car well draped with slogans for the right to housing. The sign, world size, covered the whole roof of the car. The windows served as showrooms. The GM management ordered me to remove my car from just in front of the building where I worked. The excuse? A car that was “not GM” was a problem. But my car was parked in a public space. I answered as follows:
- My car is parked correctly. If you move it, I will report you for theft.
The car stayed there throughout the whole political campaign. No manager got up early enough to take the place that I had.
The Swiss political environment became increasingly tense. It was the time of Schwarzenbach, a xenophobe right wing parliamentarian who wanted to slow down the “foreign over-population” by a popular vote based on the departure of a good number of immigrants. This meant that the efforts of the YCW had to increase even more. All forces had to be mobilised to fight this populist movement.
At Bienne, Schwarzenback (of whom we said « Der schwarze Bach besudelt die Schweiz » or “The black stream dirties Switzerland.”) had an office (comice). I could not miss such an opportunity. Before the beginning we had to present ourselves in order to take the floor. There was also the mayor of Bienne and probably a good number of representatives from Omega whom I had not noticed. When I took the microphone I said:
- I am very happy to see you among us, Mr Mayor. It is useful to note that the city of Bienne, a worker city, is an open city, that is not racist. General Motors has just opened a new restaurant for employees in its very beautiful new building where employees have a very clean dining room are well served by lovely young ladies where they can read the newspapers whereas the workers continue to eat in military barracks, disgusting meals... served by the ladle! And the housing is not much better.
No immediate reaction. The next day I was leaving for Poland with the European YCW fulltimer for a clandestine trip where we were followed the whole time by the Polish secret police. We had made an agreement with Sergio to send coded messages such as: “The chocolate is very good,” which meant that everything was fine. Similarly, if someone was arrested the plan was to communicate by such code. We knew that we could communicate about what was happening the whole time by means of some pretty postcards.
Upon my return, I was seated in my office. I had just been named as an analyst a short time previously. And I was the only one responsible for inventory and who knew how to operate the computer system. I had the knife by the handle. My neighbour said to me:
- You are lucky to still be here.
- True, I nearly had to pedal the old plane from Poland to stop us from crashing. But how did you know?
- Oh well, did you know that you were sacked?
- It seems that someone from Omega, after the comice, telephoned GM because it was unacceptable that an office worker defend blue collar workers and particularly in a public meeting.
Management did not wait a moment and they sacked me on the spot. But when those in the computer department heard of the decision they rushed to the finance director, another American, to warn him:
- So who will prepare the inventory for Detroit now?
I was the only one who knew how to do it and to make the eventual corrections... Once a year I worked on it two days and two nights running in order to get it all done quickly. I even slept in the office on a bench in the corridor. So they re-remployed me straight away without ever saying anything to me.
During my final year in Bienne I was working half-time. Management did not want to accept it but faced with the threat that I would resign, they accepted it because I still had a knife at their throat!
In Poland and Czechoslovakiea…
Sergio, who had recently started work with the European YCW in Brussels, encouraged me on these trips. After Poland, I went to Czechoslovakia, this time with him. We took my orange Mini Morris – a big mistake in a country dominated by the “Reds”! We went for two weeks passing through Cracow and Zlin where there was a Bata shoe factory.
During the two weeks of our stay we met many people, workers, apprentices and intellectuals. We had endless meetings. There were also moments of fear in my case and vague concern for Sergio. The police followed us. I remember coming out of a church basement and we found ourselves in front of two police cars parked there as if by chance. I immediately went back to alert our friends. But they were used to it and ignored the police.
When they were seen with foreigners they were supposed to report it to the police. In other words, they were supposed to turn informer! But there the people were used to it and the reality was less terrible than it had been depicted to us back home and the communists did not actually eat children.
We also had some funny experiences. Sergio had taken a white “non-iron” shirt, the nec plus ultra of luxury for people in the East. The shirt was meant for a young man who was going to wear it for his wedding. We also took another luxury item, namely some turtleneck sweaters, one white, one blue and one red. But we had to take the red one home... the tanks of the Red Army had just occupied Prague!
At Zlin, Sergio already had some contacts with young workers whom we had met in a bistro. Eventually, one of them said to me:
- Tell me once and for all, is Sergio a communist?
- Excuse me?
- He's wearing red socks!
The colour red was hated to such an extent there that on the last day of our stay, I found my Mini Morris with a broken windscreen cracked by a stone thrown by a young man. Miraculously, the glass had stayed in one piece. But I was so angry that I slammed the door closed and the whole windscreen fell in pieces at our feet. Rain started to fall, evening was approaching, not to mention that we had to be out of the country by midnight. We had to avoid embarrassing questions from the police at all cost. We cobbled together a semi-opaque plastic sheet and fixed it in place with string so that the air would not push it in. We could hardly see a thing. I drove while Sergio observed the road from the right window, saying from time to time.
- I can see a white line.
- A white line? Where?
- On my right!
We were completely on the left of the road! We eventually arrived at the Austrian border where we were able to replace the windscreen the next day, a Saturday. That was Sergio: no problem, always a solution, even a windscreen on a Saturday morning in an obscure garage on the outskirts of Vienna.
The beginnings of the Italian YCW
The same day we drove to Ljubljana where we slept. Then we crossed to Pordenone where Lidia, the Italian fulltimer, was waiting for us and we went to Vicenza. There we picked up Sonia and continued to somewhere near Florence, perhaps Colle Val d'Elsa or Poggibonsi, a beautiful place. A “marxist” priest with a fabulous parish met us there and hosted us. It was one of the first significant meetings of the Italian YCW (GiOC), which had separated from the Catholic Action movement to create an autonomous movement, distant from the intrigues of the Via della Conciliazone across the road from th Vatican. All the leaders took part.
The European YCW had asked me to take care of relations with Italy. I therefore had to look after a team at Alba in Piedmont. Then several of us took part in summer school camps for new YCW teams in Pordenone. The YCW, not to mention the charm of Sonia, were more than enough invitation to also commit myself to Rome.
The conciliar spirit for some, or commitment for others pushed me to several extravagances. Once to help with the birth of the Italian YCW which needed a copying machine – but who had the money? It cost around 1000-1500 francs. A fortune!
So I wrote a letter along the following lines to my uncles, who were wealthy traders in Lugano:
“The world is divided between exploiters and exploited. You are rich bourgeois, you could send us some money, of which you have too much, to these young people who have an urgent need. I will come to visit you and I ask you to help these young people. Please don't expect any thanks from me..”
It caused a scandal in the family. They demonstration their consternation and their anger to my parents for such a bold nephew! My father told me:
- Don't worry... who is it for?
- For the YCW, the Young Christian Workers.
- Christian or communist rather?
And he asked:
- How much does the photocopier cost?
He gave me 1000 francs for the cause. My father was like that, “brontolone et generoso” or in English “grumpy but generous”.
He swallowed all the snakes that I served him. My mother just said delicately: “As long as you are happy..”
A discreet and unbreakable fidelity
When I came to Geneva to take up my studies again, where would I find a place to stay? In the entry hall where Gilbert, Damiano and Nicolas, the national fulltimers, lived. Together we took part in demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, against Franco's repression in Spain, against the Shah...
Sergio also once invited me to Naples as a translator for a European meeting, and again for a meeting at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. When he went to Brussels, first to the European YCW secretariat and then the International Secretariat during the 1970s, Sergio stayed faithful discreetly but unbreakably. I had the opportunity and the honour to be witness for his marriage to Denise and later to be the godfather of Nicoletta, his second daughter. Friendships which last beyond time and borders.
Later, after a short stay in Switzerland, Sergio left for Paris where other great challenges awaited him. His discretion, the force of his convictions also accompanied me in later studies: sociology, clinical psychology, finally medicine and psychiatry. Currently, I work in cognitive psychotherapy and on application of medical hypnosis in various fields of medicine, and I take pleasure in teaching.
I changed my job several times but ultimately I have not changed much. In fact, I only exchanged the black soutane of a parish priest for the white shirt of a doctor! The only difference being that as a priest I would only have worked Sundays, but now I work every day! I am also better paid...
When I presented myself at the Faculty of Medicine at the age of 33 years, the study adviser thought he had a failed student who would warm another seat. When he learned that my studies had been completed, he exclaimed:
- So then, you have a true vocation!
- Yep.. I think I have heard that word somewhere!
Many turns but a single path
I did not change and yet everything changed thanks to meeting Sergio. He knew by his presence, his accompaniment, his perseverance in commitment, to give life values that last in any life position or situation.
The number of contacts at every level that Sergio had always struck me. He had built an impressive network around the world. And he kept and cared for them carefully. He was a person with a disconcerting facility for putting people in contact with each other. Was there a meeting in China planned? It was only allowed on condition that there were only Chinese and no other nationalities at the meeting. Sergio went and took people of other nationalities with him. How did he do it? I don't know. He just did it.
After his many trips to Asia, a presidential personality on official visit to Paris asked for a meeting with Sergio whom he considered as a friend. The protocol service of the French Republic did not know what to do. Contacts, phone calls, verification, organisation, security, etc. They finished by placing an official car at his disposal with a body guard, police, sirens, the whole works.
- Thanks but I have an old car and I will be there at the right time. If necessary, I will take the metro.
That was Sergio. Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand.. From Asia to Latin America, East Timor in particular, owes him a lot. The bishop taking part in the birth of a new state had a problem? A phone call or an email to Sergio, who would calmly put together the pieces of a puzzle that was incomprehensible to most people, and propose a few ideas for reflection or action.
Sergio was a very discreet person, never polemical. He knew how to stay balanced in his positions. He was not bound by preconceptions, for or against the bosses or the workers, or to certain decisions of French or European politicians.
He saw conflict situations, analysed them calmly, with a certain smile while searching for a way out. He always looked ahead, he did not use his rear mirrors like certain psychiatrists. If you had not succeeded to go four kilometres, he appreciated the fact that you had already made two kilometres in the right direction, to help the situation evolve, which helped the action to progress. Always lucid as well as positive and optimistic. Not an optimism searching for an improbable revolution.. No, quite simply optimist, even if in his final years I sometimes felt that like many of us he experienced a certain bitterness.
Even with his adversaries, he looked for the positive side on which he could find understanding or build something. He did create fear in anyone. He knew how to make himself heard and to love. He was a true diplomat in the best sense of the term.
He knew how to react in all kinds of unpredictable situations. Once he was stuck in Greece during the time of the coup d'état by the colonels. And he managed to find an American military plane to bring him back!
A few hours before his death, he shared a summary of his life: “We did a lot of things... We didn't ask how to do them, we just did them!”
Nearly time for retirement! Our projects with Sergio and Denise took shape. And the door closed brutally.. I have lost a brother, my best friend...