An open letter presented to Br. Sereno Baiardi, OFM

An open letter presented to Br. Sereno Baiardi, OFM on the occasion of his departure from Queen of Peace Friary, Burlington, WI, U.S.A.

Ciao Fr. Sereno,
When we talk about “Good-byes,” we also talk about memories. Well, if we recalled all the memories, I guess we would be here for another 45 years! Because that’s the number of years you spent working at the office of the Franciscan Missions and, believe me, those years were packed with all kinds of work and projects.

You came here to this immense country when you were not even 30 years old, with no knowledge of the English language – except for (as you often said) 2 words: “Thank you” and “Coca Cola!” With almost nothing in the office apart from a typewriter and some office supplies, most directors would have been discouraged – but not you.

The weekends were spent driving by car, mostly for journeys of more than 1,000 miles, going to Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, and even as far as Florida. You slept in the car in rest areas along the freeways and ate at truck-stops until you reached your destination. Then you would preach, celebrate Mass, hear confessions and return home late on Sunday night so that on Monday morning you could be ready to work in the office. And that work frequently consisted of taking phone books and writing down the addresses of Italian, Polish and Irish people in order to build up a benefactors’ file.

And little by little, from that little center in Bonher’s Lake, Wisconsin, a horizon was opened up which connected with places all over the world. You visited every continent, bringing joy and hope to a lot of people.

People suffering from leprosy received the gift of cattle, which for them was a great relief because they had something to look after and consequently they would think less of their dreadful disease. They also received goats, pigs and even cats, which were very useful to scare the mice away because rodents would chew the limbs of the lepers while they were sleeping. Some of them had a chance to receive treatment at a hospital that you helped to build, and you also helped to build a village where they could live when they were discharged from hospital.

Schools began to be built in different parts of the world and there were kids who for the first time had the chance to hold a piece of paper and start looking forward to a brighter future for themselves and for their families. And the joy of seeing them flocking around to say, “Thank you, Father!” Among them were a very special group of children who were HIV positive or who had AIDS. They were probably feeling lonely because they felt abandoned by people close to them, and they looked forward to meeting someone who had travelled from far away – because he loved them and wanted to help.

Then there have been the innumerable houses, and even villages, built for people in need. There was great emotion, with tears of joy, when people received the keys of their new home because for the first time they could have a decent house of their own – a real home.

But the jewel in the crown of all the good done for people was, without doubt, the hundreds of churches that were built, most of them in remote parts of the developing world. For most of these people, including priests, it was their first time to have a beautiful little church where they could go to pray and gather together for worship and receive the Holy Sacraments. For this they were thankful and proud because they could now offer the Good Lord a little better place for Him to come among them.

There also were seminaries, clinics, dispensaries, and hundreds of containers full of medicines, clothing and non-perishable foods……

Even people here in the United States have benefitted from all these accomplishments. So many people have come to know about the work of Franciscan missionaries through newsletters and other means of communication. Thousands of families have nativity sets and booklets on the life of St. Francis in their homes. I am sure they have come to know St. Francis better as a lover of nature, and as a saint who is still sending thousands of his followers to spread the Good News.

How has it been possible to accomplish all this humanitarian work? Through hard work, passion, dedication, and seeing life and work as a mission and an adventure. And, of course, on this adventure you have not been alone. Firstly, there is the Good Lord who has inspired, blessed, guided and accomplished all the good that has been done. Then there are the benefactors from all over the United States. Some, who have been extremely generous, are here present today and they can be happy and proud for having helped their brothers and sisters all over the world, even without knowing them. There have been a lot of workers who have worked diligently and have felt themselves part of this adventure. And let us not forget the Franciscan Province of the Assumption, because they accepted having the Office of the Franciscan Missions here among them, and helped in many ways – above all with Mission Appeals.

All that you accomplished is a treasure that you will carry with you wherever you go, in a place that cannot be ruined or stolen, as the Good Lord says in the Gospel.

Boy Scouts, before breaking camp to return home, sing a song that says that leaving is a little like dying. But in the Good Lord we are living; in Him we remain close to each other. The adventure is in his Name and helping goes on no matter where we are.

So long,
from Fr. Sante DeAngelis, OFM
Companion for 45 years,
And also from Fr. Ponciano Macabalo OFM, who joined the bandwagon about 12 years ago!

Burlington, WI, October 29th, 2015