Peru - "You can be a priest and a missionary. You will walk a lot in your life": Fr Luigi Bolla, a missionary who knew how to inculturate the Gospel

13 February 2019

(ANS - Lima) - A few days ago, on 6 February, it was the anniversary of the death of Fr Luis (Luigi) Bolla, SDB. His memory, even with the passage of time, is still alive among the people for whom he spent his life. Fr Bolla spent over 50 years among the indigenous peoples, in an inhospitable area, difficult to access and in very harsh conditions, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest.

by Fr Vicente Santilli, SDB

Father Bolla, called "Yánkuam" by the indigenous Achuar, was born in Schio, Vicenza, on 11 August 1932 from a believing family. At the age of 7 he began to attend the Salesian oratory. The stories of the missionaries motivated him from the vocational point of view. At the age of 11-12, in the chapel of the oratory, he heard a voice saying to him: "You can be a priest and a missionary. You will walk a lot in your life." His dream was to live forever in some remote forest of the earth, with the sole purpose of making Jesus known and loved.

With great emotion, on 22 November 1953, he left the port of Genoa for Ecuador. He was 21 years old. He quickly learned Spanish and the Shuar language to work with the natives of that ethnic group. Ordained priest, he asked the Lord to learn the indigenous languages, to always go to the most distant and difficult places among the indigenous peoples, to be an instrument of the Lord so they might have the gift of God's grace to save themselves.

When he saw that the Shuar had someone taking care of them, while the Achuar were left to themselves, enlightened by God, he asked so that he give himself to that people. He told his superiors that he did not want to go on mission as a conqueror, but to respect and defend their lands, to live like them, while retaining his priestly and religious identity, and to fully trust in Providence without asking the Province for anything.

He thus obtained permission to found the mission of Wichim together with the Achuar. He spent 30 years in Ecuador and 30 in Peru. In this latter country, he arrived in 1984, to work in the Apostolic Vicariate of Yurimaguas. Years of solitude and isolation awaited him, because of the distance and lack of a religious community.

He identified himself deeply with the Achuar people. And, despite the dangers and threats of all kinds, he never lost faith in God. He continued to investigate the customs, ethnology and culture of the Achuar, and carried out his main mission: to announce the Gospel to all the Achuar, whom he loved as his children.

Fr Bolla did not limit himself to proclaiming the Word of God, but did his best to accompany the Achuar people in their organization: he promoted education and took care of the health and alternative development of this people. He also wrote a lot about them.

The Rector Major has approved the start of his cause for beatification and canonization.

The life of "Yánkuam" has extinguished itself like a candle, but his memory remains alive and his testimony will help to create a church that always outgoing, reaching out.


ANS - “Agenzia iNfo Salesiana” is a on-line almost daily publication, the communication agency of the Salesian Congregation enrolled in the Press Register of the Tibunal of Rome as n 153/2007.

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