Lily Razafimbelo, a researcher from Madagascar, involved in the struggle to build true democracy in her country, played an active role at the Lubumbashi workshop. Here she pays homage to the insight and spirit of initiative that enabled Sergio to build up an international network of social change agents.
When I was asked for my contribution to this homage to Sergio, I did not hesitate for a second because we have a duty of memory to do justice to a person who has done an enormous amount to build humanity and fraternity in a world that has so often lost its way. And in order not to add to the burden of our omissions, it is up to us to make known our gratitude to a man who, like a baobab, or a moon detached from the starry sky, has illuminated the route of our personal and collective histories. Because he consecrated his whole life to the building of a more solidary, more just, simply a more human world.
It's less a matter of piling up the praise or useless compliments to a man who really does not need them than of reminding the present generation that there are heroes, true heroes, those who possess that rare gift of making you feel important. Sergio, with his radiant smile, his gentle voice tinged with an irresistible accent, was one of those people. He did not take it seriously, his humility keeping him calmly serene, while he went about everything seriously and rigorously. The lightness of his words, his know how, his know how to be, his art of conversation were so enjoyable and comforting that one always had the impression of a genuine closeness, a real fraternity. He was one of those persons who help you to see things not just as they are but also to feel the need to dream about how things could be and to ask why not? His unbreakable optimism led you irresistibly towards the good and the elevated.
A partisan of humanism
Sergio was one of those beings who mark the life of those who had the good fortune to cross paths with him. I was one of those people. If humanism is defined as the “philosophical position that places man and human values above other values” (Larousse dictionary), then, Sergio was a profound “partisan of humanism”. In effect throughout his life he never deviated from the values and principles of rectitude, integrity and moral strength placed at the service of the human, men and women who tirelessly seek a little humanity and endeavour to remain upstanding.
All his actions in favour of the process of human development remind us that the greatness of a person is measured by his tranquil strength. A strength that he always refused to compromise with those who act for money, power or the spectacular and ostentatious. Above everything else, Sergio placed the interest of the most disadvantaged and the notion of justice and solidarity.
From everything which has been said about Sergio I would like to highlight three points:
- The necessary spiritual dimension of his involvement in all the battles in which he took part, in the questions, in the searching, in his words and actions in and with communities. He knew how to remove encumbrances in order to focus on the essential, namely human fraternity;
- The strength of his discretion and his humility had no need for recognition or honours. There are people who, like cedar, are strong and firm, who resist the assaults of pomp, glory and time and who never allow themselves to be affected by the decadence of a society and a world that so often drowns us in signs of decadence;
- This freedom generated in him a spirit of non-submission to stifling tradition, to institutions that imprison, and to a past that stifles the present. He made a point of proposing new forms of knowledge in order to acquire different ways of thinking and being society. In this perspective, he led us towards hope for well-being and well-living for all. One could say that he was a builder and advocate of political freedom and the rights of the person, an architect of a society in which the individual and the citizen interests converge.
Among all the battles and involvements to which he committed his whole existence, all his energy to the point of losing his life and leaving us far too soon, I would like above all to remember the “international network of social change agents” of the Centre Lebret. A “network of 200 men and women of various religions, coming from every continent, belonging to grassroots organisation, churches or academic milieux, and animated by the secretariat at Rue Glacière in Paris”. An associative space that showed international solidarity and the interdependence of peoples, with two thirds of its Board of Directors coming from outside Europe.
It was within this framework that we followed a common path, even though I had first met him during his time at CCFD. This international, indeed universal dimension animated his whole vision of relations between persons, nations and continents. For him, there were no borders, no religion or race to provide an obstacle to human solidarity, to meetings and to building links and dialogue.
Everything was good, everything needed to be invented in order to create and strengthen “interreligious and intercultural dialogue”. Before these notions became fashionable, he had formidable insight into the strategic issues of networking to build synergy between actors working for the development of “the whole person and of all people” based on Fr Lebret's formula in order bring to life his ideals.
Through the Centre international Lebret-Irfed, he animated a space of meeting, sharing, experience and analysis, and dialogue between civilisations for sustainable human development and above all to build peace. He knew how to build up lives, emotions, hopes amid the multiple and varied combats from all directions, all continents and disciplines but which converged in the same direction, namely the search for justice and greater harmony between peoples and people through the Centre and its international network. In Madagascar, people would call him a man of fihavanana (an untranslatable term which means roughly “fraternity-friendship” in justice and respect for the rights of the person), in other words a person committed to justice and with an apt soul which knows how to live with others; careful to take into account the conception of the person and society; translating a will to be and to build together that could be the basis of common action and of harmonious living together.
For Sergio, the Centre Lebret only made sense through the existence of this international network that he carried. In effect, in spite of the permanent and throbbing worry of financial precariousness and the never ending search for finance, Sergio showed a faith and an optimism that defied time and all kinds of resistances. Thus, I was always fascinated and grateful for his creative strength in finding the necessary finance for the organisation of meetings and the search he led with the members of his network. He had a visceral concern to make a space for shared words that would enable people to identify problems in order to better work out the elements of an action response. All this process needed to be anchored in the realities and experiences in local territories.
I was fortunate to be able to work with him in the networking dynamic, particularly on the theme of civil society – public authority relations, which enabled me to take part in the Lubumbashi workshop on access to potable water in that city. I was able to experience how this adopted by actors and to see the effectiveness of the local dimension of development of which Fr Lebret spoke and which Sergio made his own. The holding of this workshop – after so many difficulties – illustrated the dedication that he brought to giving life to the network in order that social change agents could meet and seek together to become full promoters of their own development.
A prophet of modern times
In this perspective, Sergio based his whole approach on intellectual honesty, never ceasing on one hand to develop a critique of existing reality in both word and writing in the name of freedom, and on the other hand raising awareness among individuals in such a way that, finally, a change in the system becomes not only possible but inevitable.
Sergio is certainly one of those men of honour who awaken and will awaken individual and collective consciences for a long time yet. And it is not out of place to assimilate him to a prophet who claims and reclaims for the rights of others, which cries out for others and who makes heard voices that have been driven from the public square, voices forgotten by political debate. This word of a prophet who reacts first to the unacceptable, the unbearable, the injustice, lies, forgetfulness was indeed the word of Sergio.
He was that word of the prophet who criticises in order to build. In effect, Sergio always sought to build, not in order to provide solutions to the problems he denounced but above all to hold accountable those whom he addressed, namely the powerful, those who could influence the future... It is indeed here that Sergio, as a prophet, has become a force for change who questions and intervenes, who builds a bridge between the powerful and the poor who are oppressed. He opened up another future, another hope. This is why we are in his debt.