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Fr. Havasi, SDB (1929-2019)

By Bro Geza Nadurvari, SDB
Provincial Secretary - UNG province

Budapest, Hungary, 8 June 2019 -- As we know, Fr. Joszef Havasi ( Provincial Hungary1991-2008) was the precursor of Project Europe launched by Fr. Chavez during the GC26 in 2008. He asked all communities and lay people to pray for the incoming missionaries already in 2004. Thanks to his farsighted vision some inspirations of the charismatic Project Europe were anticipated in Hungary through prayer, welcoming and accompanying of the first Vietnamese and Indian missionaries before 2008. Fr Havasi passed away on 5 June at 90 years of age, 72 years of Salesian religious life and 59 years as a priest.

The death of your former provincial Fr. Havasi was unexpected?

I have just read with tears in my eyes the kind letter of the Rector Major, Fr Ángel Fernandez Artime. He is right, Fr. Havasi was full of power and willingness to live for at least another 10 years. Nobody really expected his sudden death. But he was hospitalized due to his knee pain, so I went to take care of him, going 3 times a day, always seeking how to ease his suffering, also asking different confreres to accompany me. Everyone could talk to him with joy, optimism and laughter; he was very clear of mind up to the last minute. He was always so active, he could not bear any period without being busy.

How do you remember Fr. Havasi, when you joined the first Salesian community as an aspirant?

In the early 1990s, the Hungarian province had just restarted life under the guidance of Fr. Havasi, so I feel privileged to have witnessed it. I met the very first post-novices, the second term novices, and the whole province being rebuilt from ruins. Fr. Havasi was very kind and determined, he was really a good guide, and he was one of the youngest among all Salesians, who came together after 40 years of communism. He never bothered about criticism, he had an enormous power, being strong in spirit, and a willingness to restart everything. Later I learned his deepest motivations.

After 1950, when all Salesian institutes were taken and Blessed István Sándor was executed, the SDB provincial just escaped prison, broken in body but strong in spirit. He told young cleric Havasi: “Joe, we will restart everything one day!” Fr. Havasi didn't know that he had to wait for another 30 years to realise it. We can only imagine how optimistic they were, when a strong province with more than 200 confreres was broken and without any hope that communism would come to an end one day.

Fr. Havasi was a true father for all of us young Salesians who entered the Congregation after 1991. I always experienced his personal fatherly caring and love, and I felt privileged whenever I had the chance to talk and spend personal time with him. He was known as being strict and quick, always with clear vision, so my companions always wondered how I managed to talk with him for at least an hour.

Was Fr Havasi happy with your application for the missions in Africa?

After the province restarted a new life, each year God blessed us with 4 or 5 novices. My batch was the strongest, we were nine! So even if the province needed growth, I was allowed to pursue my missionary vocation. Fr Havasi didn't really agree, but let me go. We just hoped that more Hungarian vocations would come to rebuild the province. Because Fr Havasi lived most of his life in Austria, I would join the newly born mission in Ghana, entrusted to the German speaking provinces. In this way I would remain somehow closely attached to Hungary. I always hoped he would visit me in Africa together with the German and Austrian provincials, but he never came. As I am now the provincial secretary, I have discovered that he kept all my letters that I wrote to him, in the provincial archives. We tried to maintain frequent communications.

In some way was Fr Havasi also the precursor of Project Europe?

When I returned to Hungary in 2000, there were no more vocations for several years, elderly confreres slowly came to the end of their lives, so only a few young confreres remained. We were always fewer in number. So it was a great and wise gift from the Rector Major Fr Pasqual Chávez, that he sent not just one but 6 missionaries to our devastated and lethargic province. So everyone became very enthusiastic, since we saw we again have hope and future in our province. Although at the beginning Fr Havasi was afraid of how the elderly Hungarian confreres would welcome them. But later on the elderly turned out to be the most enthusiastic, they were teaching the Hungarian language and introducing the missionaries into our culture. Also, because we started to pray more, and our youth saw what the Salesian spirit really is, new local vocations started to arrive. We continued to receive new missionaries, so Fr. Havasi could very well strengthen all communities of the province with them.

I felt a little bit more competent to assist the new missionaries. With my missionary experience I knew very well how ones feels in a completely different culture and country. Maybe God wanted it that way, that I had to return from Africa to help other missionaries at home. So I was the one responsible for helping them settle into our province. Maybe that is the reason why Fr Havasi sent me to that welcoming community.

Funeral services and Eucharist will be held Monday 17 June at 15.00 in Péliföldszentkereszt, Hungary. I wish you God's abundant blessings on the Feast day of our dear brother, Blessed István Sándor.

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