A Samaritan of our times who in the wake of St. Camillus de Lellis dedicated a large part of his life to relieving the sufferings of those in need, above all the most disinherited and alone, even going out to search for them in order to give them a point of reference in this indifferent society.
Brother Ettore Boschini was born on 25 March 1928 in the hamlet of Belvedere of the commune of Roverbella (Mantua) to a family of well-off farmers.
But at the age of five the economic situation of his relatives changed. Because of a major crop failure his father was forced to leave the farm of Belvedere and moved the family to the area of Malavicina where he tried to begin all over again.
The boyhood of Ettore was spent with the economic difficulties of his family and on becoming a teenager he had to leave school and work in the fields and stables, being employed by small peasant proprietors. This work was so hard given his young age that it caused him violent backaches which tormented him virtually for the rest of his life.
When he was twenty-four years old the vocation to the religious life which he perceived within him became more emphasised and thus he decided to enter the Order of the Camillians, being welcomed into it on 6 January 1952 and pronouncing his temporary vows as a brother on 2 October 1953.
The Order of the Ministers of the Sick, popularly known as the Camillians or Camillans, was founded in 1582 by St. Camillus de Lellis ((Bucchianico, Chieti, 1550–Rome, 1614); its members, both men and women (the female branch was founded in the nineteenth century) have dedicated themselves to assistance and care for the sick, for people wounded in war, above all in hospitals, which thanks to them, from the sixteenth century onwards, were completely renewed and thus every patient could receive the necessary care and treatment.
Brother Ettore was sent to the Camillian religious house at the Lido of Venice where he stayed as an industrious and well-regarded brother for about twenty years.
In the early 1970s he was sent to Milan, to the St. Pius X Clinic of the Camillians where, while working, he managed to obtain the middle licence and a diploma in professional nursing.
In the capital city of Lombardy he discovered the forms of abject poverty which were hidden in the metropolitan life of great cities and he began to help those most in need, being based first of all in the St. Camillus Clinic and then from 1979 onwards, with the permission of his Superiors, welcoming them and giving them a point of reference in Via Sammartini. Wanting to be near to the most disinherited, tramps, people from outside the EEC, the homeless, people on their own without emotional support, he created ‘refuges’, places of welcome organised to help in the best way possible, first on his own and then with the help of volunteers – sensitive souls attracted by his Camillian charism.
The first ‘refuge’ was that in Via Sammartini in Milan. This was a hallway under the bridges of the central station, a very singular place, with a roof which shook when trains passed and with the shunting of carriages which deafened those who were there. These were people in a desperate condition who nonetheless were able in their thousands to find over the years human warmth, being welcomed with infinite love by Brother Ettore Boschini who saw them as his brethren who had the same dignity as any other man or woman.
The fact that so many people, from different social backgrounds, little schooling, made ugly by need, of different ages, in need of everything, from food to bathrooms, from beds to personal cleanliness, and from clothes and clean underwear to the need to speak with somebody, came together generated an effervescent and promiscuous situation which often led to arguments and reciprocal intolerance. Brother Ettore, in a patient and humble way, intervened to restore peace and calm, and said prayers of thanksgiving ‘without constrictions’.
The ‘refuge’ of Milan was dedicated by him to the ‘Friends of the Immaculate Heart of Mary’. In time this was followed by the ‘Bethany House’ centre in (MI), the Village of Mercies in Affori, Milan, the ‘Our Lady of Loreto’ House in Collespaccato, Bucchianico (Chieti), the Grotius Village of Grottaferrata (Rome) and the Community of Nazareth in Bogota in Colombia.
All were help centres created with the help of Providence and of a very large number of benefactors and volunteers who, powerfully drawn towards the real and singular witness to the Gospel of Brother Ettore, tried to support him and help him in his very difficult mission of being a modern Samaritan. However his work, in addition to generating admiration, also, unfortunately, generated a great deal of misunderstanding.
With his frayed black cassock, with a large red cross on the front, the typical habit of his Order, he went up and down Milan looking for the needy, especially those most ashamed of their miserable condition, and with humility and tenderness he extended the hand of his practical and spiritual help in order to raise them out of isolation. He carried in his pocket the crowns of a white plastic rosary and on every occasion he distributed them, inviting people to raise their souls in prayer, saying a Hail Mary to Our Lady, to whom he was greatly devoted. He was not a religious closed up in his charitable milieu; indeed, with his special friends he was often to be seen in outside expressions of religiosity, and to such an extent as to be defined as a ‘folkloristic’ type, going round the streets of the city in an old white Fiat with a statue of Our Lady of Fatima well screwed onto its roof, searching for his unfortunate brothers. Or engaged in hours of prayer spent on his knees in the Piazza del Duomo of Milan during the First Gulf War. And then there was the building of the entrance to the Bethany House in Seveso with its crystal chapel like the one built in Fatima for the apparitions of the Virgin, of whom he used to say: ‘Without her help I would not have been able to achieve anything’.
To his young volunteers he taught the difficult Gospel of the streets, the Gospel lived by the homeless and abandoned, the sons most loved by
God, as Brother Ettore called them. Because he was convinced that every man, even if poor, dirty and miserably dressed, has his own dignity and has to be respected; even the poorest of the poor were creatures of his God and God himself wanted to demonstrate to them His love through us.
He overcame infinite difficulties, incomprehension, ill-treatment and with time he became the symbol of a true and difficult solidarity of our tortured, consumerist and indifferent times.
Brother Ettore Boschini died on 20 August 2004 at the age of seventy-six in the Camillian St. Pius X Clinic in Milan; at the end of that summer the city was shaken by the loss of that ‘inconvenient’ witness to the love of God. Indeed everyone knew him and some people said that he was mad, but the news of his death created a terrible void in the Milanese. In fact Brother Ettore was a man, a religious, who was difficult to understand in this epoch of widespread selfishness, but he was needed and effective in reawakening the consciences of those people who knew him.
During his funeral the Superior General of the Camillians, Father Frank Monks, said, ‘He, as St. Camillus said, understood well that the poor do not need a sermon on the love of God but, rather, they need to experience that love through our care, provided with ‘more heart in those hands’.
His coffin rests in the chapel of the ‘Bethany House’ in Seveso; in the same chapel also rests one of his young volunteers and co-workers of the early years who died prematurely at the age of thirty-five: the Servant of God Sabatino Jefuniello (Sarno, (Salerno), 19-12-1947–Milan, 30-8-1982), whose cause of beatification, introduced in 1996 in Milan by the Camillian Fathers, received the nulla osta of the Holy See on 14 December 2002.