Father's Day

Image: George Desipris
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By LEONARDO BOFF*

I dreamed of talking in heaven with Plato and Aristotle, arguing with Saint Augustine, listening to modern masters and being among the wise.

Slender, with an elegant figure, always smoking his haystack, he was a brave trailblazer. When the Italian settlers no longer had land to cultivate in the Serra Gaúcha, they, as a group, emigrated to the interior of Santa Catarina in lands full of pine forests, Concórdia, today, headquarters of the slaughterhouses of Sadia and in the surroundings, of Perdigão and Seara .

There was nothing, except for some caboclos, survivors of the Contestado war and groups of kaigan indigenous people, despised and always defended by him. The pines reigned, superb, as far as the eye could see.

The German, Polish and Italian settlers came, organized in caravans, bringing their teacher, their prayer puller and an immense desire to work and to make a living from scratch.

He had studied for several years with the Jesuits in São Leopoldo, at Colégio Cristo-Rei, in Rio Grande do Sul. He had accumulated vast humanistic knowledge: he knew something of Latin and Greek and read in foreign languages. He had come to enliven the life of that poverella people.

He was a schoolmaster, a figure of reference and highly respected. He taught classes in the morning and in the afternoon. At night, he taught Portuguese to settlers who only spoke Italian and German at home, which was forbidden, as it was the time of World War II. Alongside this, he opened a small school for the smartest to train them as bookkeepers (accountants) to keep track of the wineries and sales in the region.

As adults had special difficulty in learning, he used a creative expedient. He became a representative of a radio distributor in Porto Alegre. She forced each family to have a radio at home and thus learn “Brazilian”, listening to programs in Portuguese. She would set up weathervanes and small dynamos where there was a waterfall so they could recharge their batteries.

As a schoolmaster, he was a Paulo Freire before la lettre. He managed to assemble a library of over two thousand books. He forced each family to take a book home and read it. On Sunday, after praying the rosary in Latin, a circle would form, sitting on the grass, where each one would tell in Portuguese what they had read and understood.

We, the little ones, laughed as much as we could, at the clumsy Portuguese they spoke. He didn't teach the students, just the basics of the entire school, but everything a colonist should know: how to measure land, how the angle of the roof of the barn should be, how to calculate interest, how to take care of the riparian forest and treat the terrains with great slope.

At school he introduced us to the rudiments of philology, teaching us Latin and Greek words. We little ones, sitting behind the stove because of the freezing cold, had to recite the entire Greek alphabet, alpha, beta, gamma, delta, theta...

Later in seminary, I took pride in showing others and even professors the philology of certain words. At eleven children, he urged us to read a lot. I memorized phrases from Hegel and Darwin, without understanding them, to give the impression that I knew more than others. I always wondered what Parmenides' phrase meant: “being is and not being is not”. And to this day I still wonder.

But he was a schoolmaster in the classic sense of the word because he didn't restrict himself to the four walls. He would go out with the students to contemplate nature, explain to them the names of plants, the importance of water and native fruit trees.

In those interiors far from everything, he worked as a pharmacist. He saved dozens of lives using piniscillin whenever called, often late at night. He studied in a thick medical book, the symptoms of diseases and how to treat them.

In those unknown depths of our country, there was a person concerned with political, cultural and even metaphysical problems and wondering about the fate of the world. He even created a small circle of friends who liked to discuss “serious things”, but more than anything to listen to him.

With no one to exchange with, he read the classics of thought such as Spinoza, Hegel, Darwin, Ortega y Gasset and Jaime Balmes. He spent long hours at night glued to the radio listening to foreign programs and keeping up with the progress of World War II.

He was critical of the Church of the priests because they did not respect the German Protestants, already condemned to the fire of hell for not being Catholic. Many students looked at those blonde, pretty, Lutheran girls and commented: “what a pity that they, so beautiful, are going to hell”. My father was opposed to this and harshly dealt with those who discriminated against bold and os spuzzetti (the “negrinhos” and the “fedidinhos”), sons and daughters of caboclos. We, sons and daughters, were obliged to sit at school always beside them to learn to respect them and to live with those who are different.

His piety was internalized. He gave us a spiritual and ethical sense of life: always being honest, never deceiving anyone, always telling the truth and trusting unconditionally in divine Providence.

So that his eleven children could study and reach university, he sold, piecemeal, all the land he had or inherited. In the end, he was left without his own house.

His joy was boundless when his sons and daughters came on vacation, so he could discuss hours and hours with them. And she beat us all. He died young, aged 54, exhausted from so much work and selfless service for everyone. He had a presentiment that he was going to die because his tired heart weakened day by day. And he only took passion fruit as a medicine.

I dreamed of talking in heaven with Plato and Aristotle, arguing with St. Augustine, listening to modern masters and being among the wise. The children inscribed their life motto on his tomb: “From his mouth we heard, from his life we ​​learn: whoever does not live to serve does not serve to live”.

He died of a heart attack at the same time, on July 17, 1965, when I was boarding a ship to study in Europe. It was only there, a month later, that I found out about his crossing. This creative, restless schoolmaster, servant of all and wise, far from the centers, questioned himself about the meaning of the path in this land. The reader has surely already guessed who he was: my dear and dear father Mansueto, who, on this Father's Day, I remember with affection and infinite nostalgia, my true master.

*Leonardo Boff He is a theologian, philosopher and writer. Author, among other books, of Inhabiting the Earth: what is the path of universal fraternity? (Vozes).

 

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