Lay Movement Supports Salesian Missions in Andes

Interview With Father Hugo de Censi

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By R.F. Conkling

BALTIMORE, Maryland, NOV. 8, 2010 ( In his 40 years of work among the poor in the Andes Mountains, Salesian Father Hugo de Censi saw the need for the support of a movement of lay people.

Thus he started the Operazione Mato Grosso (OMG) to support the artisans of the Don Bosco woodcarvers cooperative in the Andes of Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador.

ZENIT spoke with Father de Censi in Baltimore at Our Lady of Pompei parish, where he was gathering support for his South American missions.
ZENIT: The relics of Don Bosco recently were in Washington, D.C., before leaving the United States for Asia. In what ways are you and OMG a legacy of Don Bosco?
Father de Censi: I spent time in the presence of the relics myself in Peru. I am an 87-year-old Salesian priest. I have known Don Bosco ever since I was a child in Italy, even though he was deceased over 50 years before.

Today we continue the Oratorio every Sunday, in the same manner of Don Bosco. We have several thousand children and adolescents between the ages of eight and 21 who meet every Sunday for Mass, play, work and to attend to the most needy. I can say that Don Bosco is my father.
ZENIT: What have you learned after spending almost 40 years in the Andes of Peru?
Father de Censi: All that matters is God. God alone is enough.

The youth of Italy who give of their work in order to help the needy, whether in Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, or Ecuador where OMG has volunteers, have the desire to help the needy, to make things better. But many do not believe in God.

Today, preaching is not sufficient. It is when the youth decide to give what they have to others, without receiving any monetary reward in return, that they begin their own path to God.
Zenit: The Italian youth are willing to pay their own way to Peru to volunteer?
Father de Censi: Yes. The Italian youth and all OMG volunteers pay their own travel expenses. We provide meals and lodging.

Some come for a few months, other for a few years. Some volunteers have stayed 15 to 20 years and even married and are living with their families here.
ZENIT: How do the poor receive what the OMG volunteers give away?
Father de Censi: The poor do not understand it. Some think that I am a rich man. But they accept all that we give them gratefully.

It is not until the youth decide to give away some of what they have to those who are needier that they then experience God’s goodness.
ZENIT: In other interviews, you have been stating that you are building an organization based on five key elements: the poor, the youth, manual work, capillarity, and universal openness. What do you mean by capillarity and universal openness?
Father de Censi: By capillarity I mean that in OMG, all people are engaged on a one-to-one basis. Modern technology is keeping people physically away from one another.

By universal openness, I mean that in OMG, we are open to all volunteers, of all confessions and even those who profess no faith in God. If they are willing to give sincerely of themselves to the needy, in my view they have started down their own road to God.
ZENIT: What are OMG’s greatest needs today?
Father de Censi: OMG has a constant need for volunteers. I have seen in Italy, where there are over 2,000 youths working to support the OMG volunteers in Brazil, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, that the youth are interested in making things better.

Here in Baltimore, with the help of the community of Our Lady of Pompei Catholic Church, we are seeing that local youth are also interested in making things better.

Our other need is for professional volunteers such as medical doctors, as OMG offers free medical attention and hospitalization to thousands of people in our health posts and in our hospital “Mama Ashu,” which means Virgin of the Assumption, who is patroness of Chacas, Peru.
ZENIT: What about material needs?
Father de Censi: OMG’s most pressing need now is for basic foods such as rice, flour, cooking oil, pasta, sugar and powdered milk — what OMG needs to ship to the missions. We distribute food on a regular basis to the poorest people in our missions.

Although we have been successful in developing better ways to harvest food, which is not easy given the conditions of the soil at over 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) above sea level, daily, men, women and children come to us looking for a meal. And we never turn away any person or family who asks for food.   
ZENIT: How do you hope to get more food to the people of the Andes?
Father de Censi: From Italy OMG ships over 150 containers of food every year to the missions. We hope that people in the United States will donate the six kinds of food so that OMG can ship containers from here to the missions in Peru.

It costs about $4,000 dollars to ship one big container and we hope to ship more than one. OMG has shipped a container before from Baltimore.
ZENIT: How can donations of food or money be sent to OMG in the United States?
Father de Censi: Donations of the six basic kinds of food, or money to purchase it, can be sent to Our Lady of Pompei Catholic Church here in Baltimore. The person to contact is Father Luís Cremis, associate pastor at Our Lady of Pompei. OMG can also accept contributions if sent directly to the parish’s account for aid to Peru.

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