Born on June 13, 1922, in Verbania, the Feast Day of St Anthony of Padua, on the shore of Lake Maggiore, north-west of Milan, Italy, and about 40 km from Locarno in Switzerland, Fr Antonio Bianchi is the oldest Consolata Missionary in the world having clocked 101 years in 2023.
Fr Bianchi joined the Consolata Missionaries 84 years ago at the age of 17.
“I didn’t know 83 years ago that I would meet so many people around me celebrating with me a life which I chose to live. I was 17 years old when I entered Consolata 83 years ago. Well, I got sicknesses in every bone but I have always been happy. I found superiors who are very understanding and very cooperative, supplying for my weaknesses,” says Fr Bianchi.
He was ordained a priest for the Consolata Missionaries on August 15, 1945, after the end of World War II in Europe. He has worked in different countries notably Portugal and Kenya, and currently resides at Consolata Kenya/Uganda Regional House in Westlands, Nairobi.
Fr Bianchi arrived in Kenya in 1955 aged 33, during the country’s struggle for independence. He had initially been posted to Ngandu, Murang’a, at the time a volatile active ground of the Mau Mau fighters but was later, recommissioned to Ichagaki in Murang’a.
“It was a very beautiful place with mountains and plains. Plenty of people, mixed races and natural coexistence. We were going around on foot seeing people and addressing challenges. I enjoyed it fully,” Fr Bianchi reminisces.
In 1956 he returned to Ngandu where his greatest contribution was to girl child education, which had been ignored. For the three years he worked there and with “little contribution” saw the establishment of a girls’ secondary school, the present-day Bishop Gatimu Ngandu Girls High School.
The soft-spoken Italian Consolata Missionary says learning the local Agikuyu language earned him the pass to better concentrate on his pastoral work in the Central Kenya region: Rumuruti Parish in the Catholic Diocese of Nyahururu and Makima Parish in the Catholic Diocese of Embu.
Fr Bianchi says he has watched Kenya thrive through the years, from the struggle for independence through the second liberation and subsequent historic moments in the country.
“A priest is a priest because he grows with his people, not only prayers, not only religious activities but every activity is intended to perfect the life of the people… Kenya has been thriving over years despite the challenges of tribalism and corruption. I urge Kenyans not to stick to this private conditioning but instead concentrate on issues that affect people in communities. To support schools, and construct more colleges and universities,” he said.
Source: CISA News