Foreword - François Bellec

Foreword

Sergio’s personality and peaceful strength of his convictions were not evident at first glance. His refusal to take centre stage was one of the main traits of his character.

It was also a deliberate choice because Sergio was conscious of the relativity of that which he undertook personally. On the other hand, he was very concerned to emphasise the action of the people and organisations with whom he worked. Moreover, the depth of his personality, the breadth of his influence and the extent of his influence can only be really appreciated by going through the main stages of his life and by listening to those who knew him and worked with him both here in the North and in the South.

Early on his life was marked by his involvement in the Young Christian Workers (YCW) initially in Switzerland, his country of origin, then with the European and International YCW (IYCW) where he later became one of the leading organisers. The education and formation that he received from this movement of young workers would be determinative in his choices and actions throughout his life.

Sergio was born on 4 November 1943 at Lugano in the Tessin region of Italian-speaking Switzerland. He never lost the accent of his birthplace but this did not prevent him from excelling in learning and speaking languages for which he showed an exceptional talent. A sign of his future international involvement. Sergio was also appreciated by all for his concern for others, his sense of welcome and smile that some characterised as an Asiatic trait learned undoubtedly from his longlasting closeness to Asia.

Early on he became involved in social issues. On his 20th birthday, he left his native village for Geneva where he joined the national secretariat of the Swiss YCW. In 1967, he was elected European Secretary of the YCW, which obliged him to move to Brussels in Belgium where the secretariat was located.

In 1973 he was elected to the Secretariat of the International YCW (IYCW) which was also based in Brussels. This new responsibility led him to make frequent trips to the various continents, often in countries at war or under military dictatorship. It was in this way that in 1973 he found himself in Saigon, South Vietnam, in the midst of the war in a bid to obtain the release of members of the National Teal of the Vietnamese YCW who had been imprisoned on the terrible island of Pulo Condor.

During this period which lasted from 1973 to 1977, he had the opportunity to become close to young workers involved in the struggle to improve their living and working conditions. Whenever possible he also met political and organisational leaders, Church leaders, intellectuals, etc. He consecrated much effort without sparing himself to make known the situations of injustice and violation of human dignity in the world in international institutions such as the World Trade Organisation (ILO), church and many other organisations. All this in the hope that these organisations would intervene at political and institutional level to defend and promote the rights of young workers.

In 1978, after he had already returned to Switzerland for a year, he was requested by the International Team to make a personal trip to South Africa. On his return, he assisted in the launch of one of the greatest solidarity campaigns ever launched by the IYCW to come to the aid of the leaders of the South African YCW who had been arrested and imprisoned by the racist apartheid regime.

During the period of his international responsibilities with the IYCW, Sergio found himself confronted by the internal difficulties facing the movement as well as tensions with the Church hierarchy which did not accept certain options taken by the movement, which was however faithful to its commitment to young workers. A man of dialogue, attached to the fundamental identity of the YCW, he nevertheless understood how to keep open to others, always careful to find a just solution to conflicts and crises.

At the end of 1983, after seven years back in Switzerland during which he worked in management, he was invited by the Catholic Committee against Famine and for Development (CCFD) to take up the post of project officer for Asia-Pacific. During this period which lasted until November 1994, he initiated and developed relations with a multitude of associations, groups and non-government organisations (NGOs) in this immense region. In particular, it was owing to his initiative that CCFD was able to open up relations with China.

During this whole time, his action took place in fulfilment of a long term political vision with an ongoing concern to build networks of regional and international relations allowing national partners to broaden their horizons and to develop their action. His support, together with that of CCFD, for countries under communist regimes, such as Vietnam, Cambodia and North Korea, earned him criticism from conservative and reactionary Catholic groups in France. This mud-slinging affected him deeply.

In November 1994, Sergio accepted the post as director of the Centre Lebret, a responsibility that he will held until 2007. He continued to build links with people and organisations around the whole world, always with the objective of creating and developing solidarity between peoples without distinction of culture, political orientation or religion with a permanent concern to contribute to the building of peace and fraternity between peoples.

François Bellec