Father Pier Luigi Maccalli, SMA, a year later.

Fr. Pier Luigi Maccalli, SMA, in his mission of Bomoanga
Fr. Pier Luigi Maccalli, SMA, in his mission of Bomoanga

It is a year Fr. Pier Luigi Maccalli was kidnapped in Niger. We remember him with this article Fr. Mauro Armanino wrote a month ago. We believe he is alive, kept away from our eyes, but spiritually united to us in a silent prayer.

Eleven months of Pier Luigi Maccalli captivity.

Grandfather held his grandson’s hand and pointed to the mighty trees of the boulevard.
He said nothing is more beautiful than a tree.
– Look, look at the trees as they work!
– But what do the trees do, grandfather?
– They keep the earth attached to the sky! And it’s a very difficult thing

Pier Luigi had passed me a paper with this story of the trees in his community of Bomoanga in Niger, after my catechesis on the family compared to a tree.

We both have always loved symbols. And Gigi often used symbols in his homilies and formation classes, both in Italy, and in Niger. In ‘his’ basilica dedicated to the Holy Spirit everything was symbolic. From the front door to the windows, from the barn to the altar; nothing but symbols to discover and celebrate. Now the symbolic tree is Gigi.

A tree that, as the story goes, keeps the earth attached to the sky. Never before like now, he is rooted in the sand of the savannah for years, because after his absurd abduction, he is a tree that does everything to hold the earth, this crazy and dramatic land of the Sahel, attached to the sky.

We call them branches at the top and roots at the bottom. They’re the same thing. The roots open their way into the ground and in the same way the branches open a way in the sky. Either way it’s hard work!

Gigi knows this and lives it like his first day. Well rooted in the sandy ground of his people and with the branches, his arms always open, to the encounter with the hopes and sufferings of the poor. He knows that much depends on him and others who, like him, have solid roots and branches to hold together the pieces of this fragmented world. Gigi is doing just that in his captivity, resisting the temptation to let go of the fight and lower his arms. He won’t because he’s not alone.

– But grandfather, it is more difficult to penetrate the ground than into the sky!
– Oh, no, my baby. If that were the case, the branches would be beautiful straight.
Instead, see how they are twisted and warped by effort. They seek and toil. They make tormenting attempts more than the roots.

In the church of the historic center of Genoa, St. Mary of the Castle, there is a Christ placed on the cross and almost sitting between two branches in the shape of a Y. There is the custom of putting leaves around it for the Easter period, as a sign of life, a life that is born like a bud from the cross. It’s the first tree that continues to hold earth and sky attached. Just what Gigi has been doing for eleven months in a unique way and is not the only one to practice it. It’s a struggle shared by others in the Sahel and elsewhere where you stretch your arms and hands.

– But who does all this hard work?
– It’s the wind. The wind would like to separate the sky from the earth
But the trees are hard. For now, they’re winning the battle.

Mauro Armanino, Genoa, 17 August 2019

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