Legacy of Fr. Gaetano Nicosia (1915-2017) SDB - Italian Missionary in China
The full text of the interview (January 2007)
Interview about the personal experience of Fr. Gaetano Nicosia about “Da mihi animas, cetera tolle’
92 years old – CHINAPROVINCE: interview in Macau – China, 2007
“Da mihi animas is all my life! – Jesus, the Youngsters, the salvation! I’m telling to Jesus every day (greeting him) that I love Him! “I love you Jesus!”
1. What would like Don Bosco say with the ‘Da mihi animas’?
DB has founded the Oratory and our Congregation. His main motivation for this was the salvation of the youth, all his work was for the salvation of souls. In his life he said, we would dare to climb the Superga hill/mountain with leaking ground with his tongue…” If we like to be a true sons of Don Bosco, we need to search with all our means the souls! It was true in the former diocese of Bishop Versiglia of Shiu Chow. And even more important in the schools after 1950, when in Macau and Hong Kong – they were full of students! First – we were free of communism, second – there was a moral education also for the non Christian (pagan!?) students; third – the standard of our studies was high! Our students did pass the government examinations always with the best score! Fourth – in the Catholic schools there was a true Catechism, we did use that of Mons Morrow, SDB ‘Catholic Faith’ (Credo – Commandments – Sacraments). The boys were enthusiastic and did asked us spontaneously “I want to be a catholic”, “I like Jesus” (ad literram), there were many catechumens! We can see the Register of Baptisms (maximum in 1958 with about 200 that year! – 10 teachers and 190 students), the average was 150! Of course that time we had in St. LouisSchool about 24 confreres and all of us were involved in the Catechism class, or in English or in Chinese! Each Salesian had his own group of catechumens, and the Baptism was 3 times a year! There was a real flourishing of Christianity. There was a communication with the parishes, we were in touch with the parish priests for the Sunday Eucharist participation (signature after attendance) – and they did persevere also after the baptism. There was a daily Mass for the Catholics in the schools and two weekly Masses for all.
2. The secret of the worldwide Salesian success story?
According my personal experience it is to be convinced of the precious value of each soul’. How can we save the souls, as was saying Don Bosco, if not through making the young people feel our love. All the young felt, they are especially loved by DB! In the past we talked again and again ‘After this life, where do you go?’ Since we have talked about the SOUL. The boys did think and have answered!”
Another point – a personal Salesian contact with the youth in the missions, or in the school. These souls are in our hands! Even now, the last four year I’m going every week to the local prison to teach catechism one to one! We are called to ‘make from the pagans true Christians’! For the whole of my life, the catechism was for me not only the teaching, it was the goal of my life: Jesus in my heart - and I want to give Him to every youngster! Not only the Bible study – we need to communicate Jesus to the youth! We need to make them friends through the personal contact! In the school to make them feel ‘Jesus loves you’ – its true, its true! Where is Jesus, there I am too! I have God in my heart (Fr. Nicosia is beating his breast with strong motion!!) I did distribute the movie ‘Life of Jesus’ to many of the young and they start to pray, after school graduation in the past, now after leaving the prison where I teach, they ask the baptism! They feel they are loved, and I try to follow them one by one visiting them often.
Dangers for the Salesian mission?
a. External dangers: The society has changed a lot. In the past only black and white TV, now the youth is involved in all different means of social communications and we see the consequences. In the past times there was no forbidden newspaper even in the pagan chinese countryside. Now in Macau and HK there are too many! Digital and video games!
b. Internal dangers: But we lack the zeal, the enthusiasm to make new Christians! That’s more dangerous and has the direct impact on our mission! All our school textbooks for ‘religion or value education’ are no anymore about ‘Catholic faith (3 parts of the catechism), when the boys little by little get to know the grace, sin, supra-natural life and Jesus! Who is now talking about Jesus? Our lay teachers don't’ give their heart into this teaching as the Salesian who loves the youth and lives for them. We can’t hear as before ‘Christian’ also around us! In our diocese of Macau are living about 150 sisters and 60 priests, but we have only 150 baptism a year! And in YeutWahCollege (our Salesian school founded in 1941) there is still the catechesis going on, thanks to the community, and another old missionary fr. Rescalli (92 years old) effort we have still 20 baptisms a year! [this year there are 30 catechumens – DNT: translator’s note]
c. DB was saying ‘give me the souls’ since he was deeply aware about the precious value of each one youth soul! Now we don't’ lack competitions, authority, we lack the means for attraction to Jesus, not only to attract to our school! Every boy, young people with us is a big opportunity! After school graduation there is already only a little chance to make taste the Christian life, the basic value system of the youngsters is fixed already. To think, that every soul is an immeasurable treasure – nobody in the world can buy it – and this soul is in your hands in our school!
It’s important to expose the confreres to the Catechism teaching. Now in our community with 7 confreres nobody does teach in the school! But we are now teaching only the ethics! Now we offer only some songs, some conference, but we don't’ talk about the eternal truth – about last judgment, about paradise, about the baptism, about the beauty of friendship with Jesus! I did see so many notes in our catechism, but nobody takes the Bible! Nobody talks about the Merciful God. We are called to follow more the Scriptures in our teaching and life!
WHAT ABOUT CETERA TOLLE: It’s difficult?!
I dont’ know, what it is for! I pray daily 3 hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament! I read the Bible in Portuguese, I pray from the “Salesian prayer book’ (Madras,1998), its wonderful time with Jesus! We are for the young! I have not even time to think about the cetera tolle! Now, when all the newspapers are talking about business, our selfless attitude is the most credible and talkative!
My ordinary day
Raising up at 5 AM with a cold shower, open the door of the village chapel, 5:30 a round walk around the village praying the rosary, than the Lauds and meditation. After the Eucharist I bring the Eucharist to the sick Hansenian patients. For the breakfast I go the nearby community house (6th floor without any elevator!) in the Bishop Luis Versiglia School (ESLV). In the morning go to visit some patients in the nearby hospedal, or go to the prison to teach the catechism to the catechumens – 2 ½ hours – meeting them one to one. Some of these abandoned youth are even our Bosconians (past pupils from Salesian or other catholic schools)…
We didn’t talk about ‘Da mihi animas’ for very long time, I’m very happy about the theme of GC 26
Nobody did talk about mortifications, at least to avoid the superfluous things. Don't’ waste, like some of us, changing the use of some rooms in this, that building every few years, spending money for the latest media gadgets! We need more evangelization! During the DB 100 in China there were many not really necessary spendings accordino me! I have Jesus in my heart, Jesus is my all, now and for ever! If we have Jesus in our hearts we can give him to the others! Jesus is my all, Jesus for the young! Jesus is over all! Not just talking! What can we do for the SOULS – with our deeds? Let’s be inflamed with the fire of evangelization in our hearts! Look at HK diocese, they spend two years for the ‘evangelization campaing’ and had more than 500 catechumens than the ordinary years! Jesus in my heart! Love the souls, go to heaven!
When I was five years old, enter the Salesian orphanage – boarding school. When I was
a small child, I did see a picture of a hansenian patient, it was for me a impulse for the whole life! Jesus was scolding me – to do something for them! I did kiss that photo. Now I don't’ kiss the photos, I kiss the lepers! In this way my missionary vocation did start! I did study in the Salesian schools, as a printing section vocational trainee I did tell to my rector “I will become a Salesian!” I didn’t like to rest in Italy, so I have entered a missionary aspirantate! Than I was sent to HK, worked in the Canton province, but my idea was to work for the lepers! Finally 30 years later, in 1963 I was allowed to enter one abandoned lepers village in Macau-Coloane island with the permission of Fr. Zigiotti. The school for their children developed later on, than handed over to the FMA sisters.
I have been teaching catechism to them, at the half of the school year start to ask me: “Father, I love Jesus, now can you prepare me for baptism?” My conviction was simple: If I will loose the occasion, they are not saved!
If I see the souls to be saved, I can’t stay in peace! For the souls I work seriously, not for the children! What will happen, if the youth will die tomorrow (without knowing God, without our help of catechism?) Now we lack the evangelization, to do the catechism! Also in other catholic schools of Macau there is no catechism now, only some ethic class!
So, I can’t stop to teach it! I teach the catechism, the life of Jesus, the way of prayer in the prison. When they live the prison, they are able to continue their own way of believers!
Now we not even talk about the proclamation of faith, of Gospel proclamation! (only about evangelization!?) If the lay people are not well prepared, there are few baptisms. The problem is the catechist!