Br. Ettore Bischini died at the age of seventy-six during the night of 26 August 2004, leaving behind in people’s minds edifying memories of him. Immediately after his death there was a great concourse of people, dignitaries and
men of the press to give him a final farewell and express feelings of gratitude for what he had achieved. In him one can see an ideal of humanity which everyone admires but which not everybody has the courage to put into practice. That courage which most do not have, Brother Ettore himself possessed. This is the secret of his appeal. It is not easy to act in conformity with the requests of the gospel. Those people who measure themselves by these requests know that they require self-abnegation, a spirit of service, and forgetting about oneself. Br. Ettore knew the gospel both with the joys that it offers and with the forms of foregoing that it asks of its disciples. He did not hesitate to sacrifice any hour of the twenty-four hour day to help and welcome those who were welcomed by none. Before him was the figure of Lazarus in front of the door that he found closed. During the night he went round Milan going to those places where the homeless congregated. He brought them together and offered them bread and a bed.
His example reminds us that no Christian can feel at ease as long as there are suffering people whose trials could be alleviated by a deed of altruism. One cannot enjoy the taste of bread and the quiet of rest as long as there are many people who do not have these things.
Br. Ettore gave completely of himself and he gave a great deal when one thinks in quantitative terms of the money that flowed out of his hands which were always open to receive and to give. But prior to money it was his heart that inspired his work. Educated in the gospel spirit and the school of St. Camillus he felt the suffering of other people as though it were his own.
The ideal of charity had limpid meanings and went beyond cultural mediations and institutions. His heart spoke in an immediate way and so he did not easily reconcile himself with the courtesies and institutions of co-existence, not even with those of the religious Order to which he belonged. It is not that he did not feel the need for them. He struggled a great deal to adhere to the rules both of a religious kind and of a civic kind. By nature he was averse to budgets involving incomings and outgoings; he was not fond of recording things, of bureaucratic formalities and of following legal rules. All of this was dealt with by other co-workers who made themselves available to him.
The means of transport that he used were not always in order. On more than one occasion he was found to have documents that had expired or other irregularities. The traffic wardens knew him and turned a blind eye, confining themselves to making suggestions. He brings to mind Mother Teresa of Calcutta who despite this being forbidden took sums of money over the border for the poor she cared for. No customs officer had the courage to
intervene. Prophets resemble each other. All systems and artifices crumble before them. The cause for which they fight body and soul is separated from the flat and horizontal character of habitual life and is interpreted by them in such an authentic way that every convention is disarmed.
The activity of Br. Ettore was marked by a nonconformist evangelical charge. It was expressed by a service performed with joy. To be able to sacrifice himself for others, to give something to those who were without, was his life’s purpose. When he ended his day, which made up of deeds of giving, he could only feel satisfied. He had performed his task and achieved his vocation.
As I have just observed: when he ended his day. But I should correct this. We should, in fact, ask ourselves, whether he really ended it. Just as he acted above the rules of imposed by social grammar, so did he live his day of surprises, without agreed hours, at times embarrassing his acquaintances or religious brothers at whose doors he knocked to ask for hospitality. He had an original and inimitable style – that of a prophet. It is a great blessing that such charismatic figures appear every now and then, but it is also advisable that they should not be many in number.
There is another aspect of Br. Ettore that deserves attention. In his initiatives and his speeches or participation in public events there was not the phrase which today is so fashionable – ‘to be against’. There was not the protest of a political alignment which would have put him on the pedestal of great notoriety, even though Br. Ettore did not disdain the mass media. Indeed, he had a weakness for the press. He read or listened to appreciations of his work with pleasure, he felt that he was supported; however he never succumbed to the temptation to tinge his movement with the colours of a political party. In him the charitable impetus remained pure and innocent; it was not stained by the equivocal games of politics. Perhaps the fact is that he did not have the cultural formation to do this. For his flag he chose the image of Our Lady, the model of service and humility. We do not rebuke him at all for not having understood the language of politics; however we are grateful to him for the lesson he left to us, reminding us that generosity is never unfashionable and that the poor – he frequently repeated this invoking St. Camillus – are the pupils and the heart of God.
Fr. Mario Bizzotto, M.I.