Fr. Berton: The Missionary with a Big Heart

Xaverian Missionary, Fr. Joseph Berton worked for many years in Sierra Leone, West Africa and was founder of the Family Homes Movement.

June 25, 2013-June 25, 2021: 8 eight years have passed since Father Guiseppe Berton – also known as Father Bepi – left this world. Yet; despite the passing of time, his memory remains alive in the hearts of many Sierra Leoneans. As every year, on the anniversary of his death, a mass is organized by Family Homes Movement (FHM), the main association created by Father Bepi during his lifetime to materialize his dream. Today’s mass was presided over by the Archbishop of Freetown, Edward Tamba Charles and concelebrated by two Xaverian missionaries and a diocesan priest from Makeni, Father Daniel Koroma, one of Father Bepi’s former children.

1. A missionary with a big heart

According to the Archbishop of Freetown, the great feature of fr. Bepi was the one of his heart greatly open. Even if fr. Bepi had begun his apostolate in Bumbuna in northern Sierra Leone and that he had really fallen in love with people from Bumbuna, once in Freetown, noted the Archbishop, fr. Bepi had quickly shown himself to be the missionary at the service of all, without distinction of tribes or regions. Even more, the greatness of the heart of fr. Bepi revealed himself a lot when he created the Family Homes Movement. This movement he wanted it to be opened to all without distinctions of religion. Today members of FHM are Christians and mostly Muslims.

Indeed, after the civil war in Sierra Leone, fr. Bepi was the only one who wanted to welcome child soldiers, even though they were rejected by the whole of society. And one of the goals of the Family Homes Movement was precisely to offer these rejected children a family environment where they could rebuild a new life for themselves. The Archbishop of Freetown remarked today that the greatness of the heart of fr.Bepi was driven by the conviction that every human being was a child of God who has a dignity that nothing could take away from him. That is why, alone against all, fr. Bepi was convinced that child soldiers, despite their sad past, were still loved by God and that they should be given a second chance. Once again, by this gesture, fr. Bepi showed greatness of heart. The invitation was extended to all the members of the Family Homes Movement to keep alive this spirit, that of a love that excludes no one, a love that Pope Francis also speaks about in Fratelli Tutti.

2. From one to several father Berton

Today’s celebration was above all an opportunity to thank God for what He has achieved thanks to the hands and heart of fr. Bepi. In his homily, archbishop Edward T. Charles did not fail to recall that fr. Bepi was an Italian Xaverian missionary who spent much of his life doing good to sierra Leoneans. Thanks to this one man, he said, God touched the lives of many other people and especially the members of FHM. That is why the Archbishop invited all those who received assistance from fr. Bepi to become in their turn fr. Bepi for others. In this way, it could be said that God has no longer given to Sierra Leone a single Berton, but several Berton.

This is a wish that was well received by the audience. Because in his words of thanks, the executive director of Family Homes Movement, Mr. Ernest Sesay, son of Berton, indicated that there is now a good group of former children of fr. Bepi who contribute to the activities of FHM as a sign of thanks to fr. Bepi. This is to say that a Berton is dead. But he remains alive in the charitable actions that his successors carry out according to the spirit of fr. Bepi, a missionary with a big heart and whom all affectionately called: our Dady.

Fr. Luis Bira, sx | June 25, 2021

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