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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…..as 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