Papua New Guinea – A Melanesian missionary rises into Salesian Garden: in loving memory of Fr. Valeriano Barbero, SDB

17 April 2023

(ANS – Port Moresby) – Fr. Valeriano Barbero SDB passed away peacefully on 14 April, 2023, the feast day of St. Valerian, in Novara, Italy. Father Val, as he was lovingly called, was born on 31 August 1938, in Novara, Italy. He made his first profession on 16 August 1956 in Pinerolo; and was ordained a priest on 18 March 1967 in Turin, Italy. After 10 years as a missionary in the Philippines, he served the Salesian mission in Papua New Guinea from 1980 until 2021, being one of the early pioneers of those presences and a tireless educator and evangelizer in those lands. He was a man with a large smile on his face, that hid away the tensions and the troubles that are always around the corner.  

On the occasion of his Golden Jubilee, Fr. Val expressed heartfelt gratitude to God and his many friends for the countless blessings he received during the past 50 years of his priestly life. He said, “Thank you, Lord, for choosing me to become a priest.” He reminisced about the 60 days he was in the hospital in Italy and considered them as blessings of what God has chosen for him. “The Spirit of the Lord has come upon me (Lk 4: 18-19) and I will continue to be a Priest Forever!” said Fr. Valeriano. “God has called us for special purposes in life and I will continue to serve the church and the people of Papua New Guinea. ‘Dio solo,’ Only God,” said the calm and relaxed missionary as he recalled the words of the first Provincial Superior and Servant of God, Fr. Charles Braga, SDB. 

“He is now with the Lord, whom he loved very much, and with Mary Help of Christians, whose devotion he spread around, not only with his talks, but also with beautiful churches,” writes Archbishop Francesco Panfilo, SDB.  

Archbishop Panfilo continues: “I have known him since I was a brother and he was a young priest and we became very close to each other. I can say that he was not only my confrere in the Salesian Congregation, but a true brother. We were all surprised when in 1980, he left the Philippines, where he had been Rector and Provincial Administrator, to start work at Araimiri, in Papua New Guinea. Jokingly, he used to tell me: ‘You have been a Provincial and are now a Bishop, but I am a Pioneer’. And he was right! In PNG, Fr. Val gave everything he had. When I made my provincial visitations at Araimiri, I spent hours talking with him, but when the time to leave came, I always left with a heavy heart, because I knew how hard and difficult the work was. When I arrived in PNG from the Philippines, in May 1997, he was building the new College (DBTI). We were together until September 8, 2001, when I was ordained Bishop of Alotau. In those four years, we prayed together, ate together, and worked together. In fact, when the time for pouring cement came, both of us joined the workers. People will talk about the buildings he erected: churches, classrooms, staff houses, dormitories, etc. Yet, what he leaves behind is that he was first a priest, a Salesian priest and he was proud of it. He was a man of prayer, and his reflections were spiritually deep. He handled millions of dollars in order to erect those buildings, but I can testify that he was detached from money and material things. He was poor and very frugal in his lifestyle."  

“Having worked closely with Fr. Valeriano Barbero SDB for 24 years in Papua New Guinea, I can truly say that he is a great man. His greatness is his humanity. Like the founder, St. John Bosco, Fr. Val was also a dreamer. He dreamt a lot for the good of the young. His devotion to the Blessed Mother, Mary Help of Christians, is deeply rooted in His heart,” writes Mr. Vincent Oberes Jr, his close and faithful collaborator. 

“Fr. Val, he did not go for half measures when it came to enthusiasm and zeal for the mission. The legacy he leaves is that of passion for souls, zeal for the kingdom, enthusiasm in one’s work. This is the essence of Pastoral charity; it is the pastoral sense, which motivates and sustains all our apostolic actions. All the rest, including building and looking for funds, are the ways in which he expressed his love. These were for him simply necessary technologies and logistics in order to implement the projects which he saw as God’s dreams for us. He was no expert on projects or logistics. He was a man of single-heartedness… totum amoris est… all came from love… totally dedicated to his mission, as a simple, good, and faithful servant. Everything he did came from love. Looking for the finances was not his expertise. He was a good and faithful servant, intolerant of half measures in himself and other professional disciples of the Lord. Kind, generous, committed, intolerant of half measures, demanding the best from himself and others…,” writes Bishop Luciano Capelli, SDB

“The Church in Port Moresby Archdiocese, the Archdiocese of Rabaul, and indeed the whole of PNG mourns the loss of Fr. Val. He was a great man with a powerful ministry and mighty works and for the people. I saw this in his life as he worked in Kerema. May our good Lord have mercy on him and reward him abundantly. May he rest eternally in God’s peace,” said Cardinal John Ribat, Archbishop of Port Moresby.

Finally, in one of his last messages to Fr. Angelo Fazzini, he wrote: “Thanks for the wishes. Twice I was more there than here. Truly resurrected. Please convey to my English-speaking Chinese-Australian friends and the Salesian community that I will remember everyone and ask the Lord for every grace and blessing. Leaving everyone we carry on the Salesian cross. Study how to make yourself loved; forgive that you may be forgiven. A big thank you to everyone. Farewell to all. Till we meet in the presence of the Lord our God."

In conclusion, here is another very appropriate thought by Archbishop Panfilo: “The last days of his life have been trying and difficult, but he was prepared to encounter the Risen Lord, who must have welcomed him with these words: ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the kingdom which was prepared for you since the creation of the world, because I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger, and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick, and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.’” (Mt 25:34b-36)

A Requiem Mass for the repose of the soul of Fr. Barbero will be held at the Shrine of Mary Help of Christians, Boroko, Port Moresby on Saturday, 22 April, at 10 a.m.  

Compiled by Fr. Ambrose Pereira, SDB


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