Don Bosco Philippines South Province

Salesians of Don Bosco – Philippine South Province FIS

Cebu Alumni: Tribute to Fr. Zago

Don Bosco Technical College, Cebu City, January 7, 2018

[A Homily delivered during the 9:30 AM Sunday Mass at Don Bosco Technical College sponsored by the Alumni]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We have  come together today  in this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to pay tribute to a man of God who has touched our lives – Fr. Peter Zago. He died December 28, 2017,  in his hometown  in the residence of her only surviving sister Bruna, in Perosa Argentina, Torino Italy.  We could not believe the news at first because we know him as a  health buff who loved biking (he used to bike up north and south of Cebu island even reaching Negros), jogging the ten kilometer distance from Don Bosco  Tondo  up to Luneta or even up to Paranaque. Such indeed are the ways  and the surprises of the Lord.  He died of heart attack at the age of 82 –  yesterday was his 83rd birthday.   He must have gone to the Father in the cold winter   night of Perosa with the least of disturbance to  his equally elderly sister, Bruna. Two other sisters, Margherita and Olga,  who  helped him in his needs in the missions, have gone years earlier.

From  what he had expressed, he wanted to be  buried in Quetta, Pakistan where he labored almost  20 years of his life.  He pointed out to me the spot in the compound  where he would like to stay while waiting for the resurrection.    He could also have wished to stay in the Philippines, or in Papua New Guinea  but we were not  privileged. It would have been a singular honor for us. I must say though from grape vine  sources that he was working on his return to the Philippines for the  remaining years of his  life. Be that as it may here we are today  paying our humble tribute to this great Salesian priest and missionary

Reading through the comments, messages in the social media, we could  definitely say that  his life and mission have made a difference. Definitely a  good number of us have our own stories to tell that bespeak of this great man of God. I am sure that  given the opportunity  you would bear witness to his kindness, fatherliness, goodness and passion for the young and sensitivity  to the poor.

While it is the practice not to have a long wake,  the family acceded to a January 2 funeral and burial presided by Fr. Klement Vaclav, SDB, the regional councillor of East Asia – Oceania region,  where the two Philippine Salesian provinces  belong.  No one of us could  go there because it is practically  impossible  to get a Schengen visa within such a short notice. I am told though that Fr. John Benna, SDB and his  assistant Fr. Nestor Impelido, SDB were in attendance. Fr.  Benna was catechist here in Don Bosco Cebu and is now the Filipino chaplain  of overseas Filipino workers in Turin. Italy.There was also Mr. Giuseppe Rettore and his wife  Luciana.  He worked here in Cebu as in charge of the shop . He had an assistant  whom he helped settle in Italy who was also present – Mr. Selerio.

In his homily Fr. Klement,  attributed to Fr.  Peter  four   things  that he gleaned from the  reactions , comments  and testimonies of those who have known him.

  1. A model of a great Salesian Missionary

He responded to the call of a  deeper vocation of offering his life

To respond to the challenge of  spreading the Gospel in places outside his native land…At this time, to be missionary means  literally leaving home without  expecting to be back.

From 1935-2017  a good eighty two years, of which :

  • 54 yrs. as a Salesian priest
  • 52 yrs. as a missionary
  • 64 yrs. as a  religious

More than   half  a century in the service or two thirds of his  earthly life in the  service of the missions.

  1. Great availability as a Salesian missionary pioneering in difficult places.

The mission fields  that he had been sent  were not his choices but because the call has been made by the superiors for volunteers to offer themselves.  I  could bear testimony to the fact that when he was  about to end his term as Provincial Superior of the Philippines South, without hesitation,  he said yes when sounded off  to spearhead  the Salesian work in Pakistan and there he stayed for the last two decades of his life.

Fr. Valeriano Barbero, SDB a co-missionary in Papua New Guinea would say that now  we are reaping the fruits of  his labor   and we hold him in admiration for what he did  but we will never  know the difficulties,  the challenges,  the thorns that he had to go through. He was an indefatigable Salesian missionary.

  1. Great zeal to  promote and accompany  and preserve Salesian vocations

His love for the Salesian congregation also  manifested itself in working for vocations to the priesthood and the religious life… well as to the Salesian family:  Salesian Sisters, Don Bosco Volunteers,  the Salesian Cooperators. He exuded a   captivating aura that oozed with enthusiasm, joy and direction  . Aware of human weakness, he offered to journey  with his vocation prospects assuring  them of his personal touch and the ability to listen and empathize.  It also saved a lot of vocations.   In Pakistan, he left with two ordained Salesian Pakistani priests, 8 to  10 at various stages of their  formation  and the first salesian Pakistani sister. He really believed that  local vocations is the future of the Salesian work.

4.Great passion as  a  Salesian educator and preferential option for the poor and needy.

He  had a great heart for the poor and marginalized. When he was in Tondo, he saw the pitiful dwellings of people. In due time  he was  able to organize  a construction brigade  called Father’s club  giving  their Sunday to  construct houses  for the most needy—bayanihan style. In his  first  stint here in Don Bosco Labangon, he succeeded in getting  students to offer  their muscles and all for the construction of the shops  that are still standing up to now… he  told me that one  hot summer day, while doing this work,  Don Ramon Aboitiz, as he used to do, paid a surprise visit  . And seeing the boys working with a priest at the lead,  he  offered,  “I  will help. I will pay for this shop.”

We know how Fr, Peter  got involved in Cebu Juvenile homes, taking custody of those in conflict of the law.  This was the primogenitor of Don Bosco Boys’ Home  today in Liloan. He also got young offenders and  came up with a unique training center to train them for skills  while in custody. This was the BBRC (Bagong Buhay – or New Life – Rehabilitation Center).   He also reached out  to about 40 families  squatting in around Gotiaco building doing humanitarian work which in our  language  and understanding are works of mercy. He improved their dwellings even if they were transitional homes, followed up the children in their schooling, making sure that they get also the needed medical attention.

There was a time when I  would seriously ask him where  we would get the resources for the financial outlay needed for the expansion and development of the Province.  He  called me aside  into his office and showed me his secret:  his filial trust and confidence in Mary Help of Christians.  Underneath the  small statue  is  a list of  our financial needs for  our different undertakings.  He was correct all the time because we never got bankrupt.  The resources kept pouring in.

With all that he did during his lifetime,  he  manifested the love of God and bore witness to it.  In deed  our gathering is very opportune…  We   are celebrating the feast of the Epiphany  of  Jesus.  This holy child  was not only for the chosen people but to all   shown  by the presence of these wise men who sought Him out to  pay tribute to Him. This feast challenges us, the Christians of today  that having received the gift of faith  brought by this Holy Child,   we should  see to it  that we live honest to Goodness  Christian lives thereby  making ourselves, in the way we act and do, the epiphany of God  among those around us.

We take cognizance of the  great example of Fr. Peter Zago, our Salesian mentor and model  who gave his all to the Lord in his missionary ministry and  apostolate.


Dear Fr. Peter,  we do not  say  good bye, we  say rather  see you in the salesian garden. We are greatly edified by what you did.  Please accept  our sincere  gratitude  and appreciation for  a life  well lived and a job  well done. May there be more of us  who would follow your footsteps in our respective stations in life.

In the name of the Father + and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Fr. George Militante, SDB