From ski instructor to Comboni missionary in South Sudan

The story of Father Stefano Trevisan

(Freely translated from an article in AVVENIRE)

Why should a young person who has succeeded in fulfilling the dream of his life and became a ski instructor on the mountains of Northern Italy choose to go to South Sudan, among the villages where everything is missing and where the greatest dream of people is to be able to have what it takes to live? The answer is perhaps a mystery, as mysterious is the human heart, always moved by passion but perhaps not always the right one. Understanding the reasons of those who seem to renounce themselves for something greater that is not measurable and quantifiable would mean being able to grasp, for example, that spark that at this moment in Italy is leading more than five thousand seminarians (including diocesans and religious) towards priesthood. And still thousands of other boys and girls to undertake a journey of discernment towards religious life.

The answer, indeed the answers, each different and unique, in fact, lie above all in the story of those who made the choice and are living it, with all its emotional loads, with all its potential, with doubts, hopes and the enthusiasm of feeling drawn into something greater. And Fr. Stefano Trevisan, a newly ordained priest, a Comboni missionary, Ladin by tribe, former ski instructor, felt drawn into something truly “world-wide”. He is 36 years old and is destined to live his apostolate as a witness to the Gospel, a religious and a priest in South Sudan. Originally from San Vigilio di Marebbe, in Val Badia, Stefano tells his personal story with the calmness and reserve typical of his land, but slowly it turns out that his vocation has roots well planted and really combines all the passions breathed in the home from an early age. Starting from that “globalization” that his father Adriano showed him for years, with his work on the sea sailing around the four corners of the planet. The meeting between this Piedmontese sailor, originally from Biella, with Patrizia, a Ladin from San Vigilio di Marebbe, takes place in London. Stefano is their first child, then Chiara, their younger daughter.

«As a boy I loved skiing and competed in the Ski Club of my village – says Fr. Stefano -. Once I was 18, I took the exam to become a ski instructor and thanks to training with my uncle I was able to pass it. It was a great joy and I liked that job and still like it a lot. I spent the years of my youth in my village, the only exception being the middle school in boarding school in the abbey of Novacella, near Bressanone. After high school in Brunico and Bolzano, I enrolled at the university in Bologna, but after a year I returned home because I saw that it was not my way. In the summer I did some odd jobs as a graphic designer, bricklayer, lifeguard, secretary, working in a pasta factory; various activities that have made me grow and mature ». In short, things were going well for Stefano, there was no shortage of opportunities, his land offered him something to live on and fed his dreams. But something was working inside him. “I had a job, friends, money, fun, everything I needed to feel good but nevertheless I felt restless and not completely fulfilled”.

Accustomed to look at the world, Stefano does not remain insensitive to the images that came to him through the media: “I saw and heard of many people who were forced to live in difficult conditions of poverty and degradation, situations at the limit of humanity . This is how I decided to have a volunteer experience in Africa. I contacted the missionary center of the diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone and the then deputy director, Paola Vismara, gave me the opportunity to go to South Sudan, to Lomin, on the border with Uganda where a Comboni missionary from Rio di Pusteria worked: brother Erich Fischnaller ».

In the three months that Stephen spends in the heart of Africa, Africa entered his heart: that life among the poor opens up a new perspective for him. The vocation begins to give the first signs and the idea of ​​the mission as a life choice appears in his life. But even this in reality is not enough, because in South Sudan, in addition to meeting people, Stephen also meets “a Person in particular” by whom he feels loved and called, as he himself reveals: “Jesus made himself present when I did not expected it. It was a meeting that changed direction in my life and once I returned home I told my parents that I wanted to become a missionary ». Thus began the journey, slowly, at the beginning without too many jolts, but with a radical choice on the horizon: “That winter I still worked as a ski instructor and once a month I went to Padua to see the Comboni missionaries where for a year I did my vocational discernment». It is a first experience of raising awareness of the themes of mission, vocation and commitment to the least: “I used this time to deepen the experience I lived in Africa and to reflect on the call to missionary life. The following year, at the age of 26, I entered the Postulancy in Padua where I stayed for two years, completing my two-year philosophical studies “. Then it was the turn of the novitiate: two years in Portugal “to deepen the life of prayer, the history of our founder, St. Daniel Comboni, and the charism of the Institute. It was a great challenge – reveals father Stefano – also because during this time I never went home and also contacts with the outside world were limited “. On 24 May 2014, I did my first religious profession in the Comboni Family. Then Stefano is assigned to the scholasticate of Naples for theological studies. In the Neapolitan city, the Ladin Combonian stays for five years, living in a international community: 18 people from 14 different countries.

Alongside the study, which brings him to the themes of the encounter between faiths and cultures, Stefano carries out pastoral work in Castel Volturno, where the percentage of foreigners, especially from Nigeria and Ghana, is high: among them for 20 years the Comboni Missionaries have run a parish. The most delicate work, in reality, is next to the children of African immigrants, the second generations: “They have never been to Africa and they cannot help but deal with their own roots”. In this Campania suburbs, Stefano has already found a piece of his Africa, but the journey cannot be stopped, because the poorest of the poor continue to make their voice and their request heard.

And so also Stephen’s journey continues arriving, on 21 July 2019, at his perpetual vows and, a week later, at his diaconal ordination: these are the most concrete signs of the definitive yes to God. The restlessness born in the middle of the ski slopes, in the midst of the boundless beauty of the mountains of Val Badia, has finally found an answer, the answer of Stefano. The young Ladin priest, son of a land enriched by differences in culture and language as well, knew how to treasure this wealth by offering it to the least of the last, even though he knows that the journey in the heart of God always reserves surprises. Like the hitch of the postponement of priestly ordination due to the coronavirus emergency. Finally, on 28 June, the bishop of Bolzano-Bressanone, Ivo Muser, consecrated him as a priest. A dream that comes true? Perhaps it would be better to define it as a dream that continues as Father Stefano Trevisan, after a period in Ireland to refresh his English, will join hands with the mission in South Sudan.