Just a few days from the implementing decree of the reform of the "Good School" in Italy, it is right and proper to talk about Don Lorenzo Milani. Today he would probably smile because the result of his many battles, not free from humiliations and sufferings, begin to be looming on the horizon. Not only the consolidation of the right to study but also the training paths suitable for forming teachers for the school and not the opposite.

The 26 June 2017 will be the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Don Milani, the remembrance of the priest and of his teaching is more alive than ever. Current and fresh. A short life, he died at the age of 44 years, yet his messages, his writings foretold the times.

Agostino Burberi was one of the first kids, indeed the first, that the priest met when he arrived at Barbiana (Fi). He tells In Terris about the indelible memory and the encounter that has marked his life.

The fact that today the thought of Don Milani is still alive, means that he has influenced a lot.
"Fortunately yes. Don Milani had an impact on a generation, but not on the next one. He had some enemies even in the Church, but he always remained obedient even in suffering. It was the obedience and the humility that allowed him to carry on a great project, even if he was living in an unknown place he dedicated his life to the last, we were the last, the Africa of today".

When did you meet him?
"It was the month of December 1954, an evening in which it was raining a lot; Barbiana was not even on the geographical map, and Don Lorenzo did not even know where the parsonage was. He arrived alone, on foot, because there was no road. I was struck by his figure, I was a little boy, he was tall, I remember him with the tabard soaking wet with rain, it is an image that I will never forget. I was an altar boy, we were only two of us. It was not easy to be Catholic, the Mugello was red, communist. He celebrated his first Mass on the 7 December, I helped him, and he went around the village - or better- house by house, speaking with the parents and inviting them to send their children to the after-school activity. I remember that the class was the living room of the parish priest, a poor room and yet there was the world".

Before coming to Barbiana he had already experienced the school in Calenzano
"Yes. In reality he had first founded the school in Calenzano, it was open to everyone, Catholics and non. It caused astonishment but he really wanted to put everyone together, just like Pope Francis does today. When our parish priest went away, we thought that the Church would not send us another priest. Barbiana is in the mountains, there were only 130 inhabitants, we struggled to carry on, and indeed to survive. In the ten years in which Don Milani was in Barbiana the village depopulated further, we arrived to be only 25 inhabitants. Suddenly, unexpectedly the new parish priest came, and we said: ‘What has he done to be here?'. We understood that he was an 'inconvenient priest’, one that lived the Gospel seriously. He showed it immediately because he did his apostolate by opening the school, the one that would then become the institute of Barbiana".

You were in a few
"At the beginning we were in 6, then we arrived to be about fifteen. He made us grow in culture, he was tireless despite the illness, he founded a professional school of technical formation, for us to learn a profession, but in addition to the practical things he thought us the values of the Gospel; but without the Gospel it would not have been Don Milani".

How was your relationship?
"He had no secrets for us, he was open. Life for him started in the moment in which he entered the seminary, there was one life before and one after. He was our father, a father. He believed deeply in the culture that can change the lives of the people to walk in the world. When he became ill, we helped him with the younger children, he taught us that it is not important to be competitive, but helpful, exactly the opposite of what is happening today. The lessons would not go forward if everyone did not understand. We built a camera and he taught us the path to get to print the photos. An unforgettable experience".

How the encounter with don Lorenzo has influenced your life?
"I would say totally, I lived the formative years with him. He taught me everything: the love for art and nature, for life, the respect and the battles for the weakest, I became a trade unionist for this. He influenced me in social commitment, not to make a career, but to actually do something for the others for the most fragile ones, it was not easy to carry on the battles".

He did many battles, was he always calm?
"His was not an easy life, it was much hindered. The book 'Pastoral experiences' caused him many sufferings, we had to wait for Pope Francis for the restriction of the Holy Office which prevented its publication to be removed. For the 'Letter to a teacher’, it went better, he wrote it after having made a thorough analysis of the school and of its objectives. The last, the most marginalised people were the children of workmen, they were not educated, they hated the school, they were flunked and the 'reds' used to go to him. I remember that he was already very ill. For him consistency was the most important thing, he used to say 'it is not important how you do the school, but how you are to teach'".

Maybe he was scaring people...
"He was not an easy priest, he drubbed everyone, but he did so to evangelize, to convert. His cassock was worn, he gave all himself ".

They said so also about don Oreste Benzi
"He would have esteem him. He was a priest who gave himself for the marginalized people, for the kids, for the prostitutes, for the last ones. He also suffered."

His last memory?
"When he was at the end of his life he said 'a miracle is going to happen, a camel passes through the eye of a needle, he helped me to forgive my previous life'. It was evident that after having known and lived the Gospel he felt being another man. So far from the rich bourgeois from Milan who he was in youth".

Now how do you live?
"I dedicate my time to bear witness of the values that he taught me, to make them current in schools, working because the experience of the school of Barbiana is not exploited, but remains the one of Don Milani, poor and simple".

Photo taken from the archives of the "Foundation Don Milani"
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