Father Francesco Focardi


The year 2000 is the 25th anniversary of Father Francesco priesthood and his missionary life. This article is a way to remember, salute and honor his great work and his devotion to the weakest. On the 14th of September 1975 Father Francesco sailed from Genoa on board the Augustus ship. There weren’t many passengers aboard, about 1,500. The 1rst of October he landed at Buenos Aires in Argentina and here he was delivered the luggage which Father Savino had given to him for the missions. On the 3rd of October Father Francesco arrived in Cochabamba by plane where Father Calzavarini, a friend of mine, lived. They stayed together for about 10 days. Living there wasn’t easy, it was a completely different and very hard reality. Hot weather, dust,  wind and smells affected him deeply. Father Lorenzo took F. Francesco to Camiri  by a small plane. Here he received affection and benevolence from his Brothers who comforted and gave him the force to start his work. In February 1976 Father Superior sent him to Medellin in Columbia to the pastoral Institution of CELAM. It was a fantastic experience for Father Francesco, he was able to give up the European culture and at the same time to plunge into the South American culture.  In 1977 he was designated parish priest of Camiri. Together with Father Bernacchi he built a big multi-purpose room thanks to Adveniat (Germany) support. In August 1978 Father Francesco was sent to Potosi, a town situated 4,100 m. above sea level in place of Father Rivera who had been just designated bishop. Despite the wonderful place and the good work he carried out, a doctor recommended another place to stay because of  the high altitude which caused health problems to him. So he was sent to Villamontes, a town which was situated only 500 meters above sea level. The two towns were obviously different each other above all because in Villamontes there were more insects and reptiles which disturbed Father Focardi even if he got used to them shortly after. In that period they couldn’t receive any support from Italy because there it could be considered a crime. The only aid was that which  monks and nuns brought with them coming to Bolivia. During the year 1979 the family Bulacia  took care of Father Focardi in Villamontes in a period when there was no money, inflation was at a maximum rate and dictatorship ruled. In 1980 Father Focardi was designated Father Superior of the monastery and rector  of the Tarjia seminary. Because of health problems in 1982 The Provincial sent him to an Italian town, Verna, as second Teacher of Novizi. In 1983 Father Nerozii died by falling from a horse and a short time later Monsignor Benedetti fell sick as well. The custodian, Father Franco Valli  called F. Francesco back to Camiri so that he could take care of  Benedetti but Monsignor died on the Easter Day, just a week after his arrival. Immediately after the funerals, he left for Tarjia  and stayed there until September 1984, after which he was sent to Father Miguel Brems  to Cuevo together with F. Franco Valli. Valli was designed F. Superior and parish priest  of Boicovo, Huacaya and Iguembe, while Father Francesco was parish priest of Cuevo, S, Rosa, and army chaplain.  They were in perfect harmony, they had been in the seminary together and both organized the pastoral work. They visited the mission and checked building’s conditions and realized  the population poverty. Buildings were in decay and people needed health assistance. There weren’t   schools in the countryside. In some communities teachers taught outdoor and students didn’t have any exercise books or other scholastic material. They asked Tuscan parishes for help and immediately received their support. Shortly afterwards F. Franco came to Italy on holiday and came back as General visitor for Guatemala. So he left for his mission. In the meantime F. Francesco had already started working for the rectory reconstruction in Cuevo. When Franco returned,  works had almost been over. A few months later he was carried away by a sudden flood near Maracheti while he was taking F. Migliacci and Noto to Villamontes. Ten days later he was found dead. F. Francesco remained alone and for this reason he was asked to take care of F. Franco parishes as well. So since 1986 F. Francesco has been the only priest of the around area. In 1987 it was the first time that a Rignanese (a inhabitant of Rignano) visited him. His name was Alfio Nocentini. Two weeks later Don Giovanni and Paolo Morandi arrived as well. Together they visited an important part of the parish on a horse back, the only available mean of transport at the moment. After these visits Rignano people began to be involved in it and then the “mythical” Claudio Morandi founded “La Formica”. In 1989 the Mayor of Rignano , Piero Certosi, visited F. Francesco together with other four Rignanesi  on the occasion of the opening of the Iguembe Hospital which was also built thanks to the contribution of Rignano. Ever since every year F. Francesco has been continuosly receiving many pleasant visits of Rignanesi and young people from all over Italy. So relations between Italy and Bolivia started. Besides taking care of the spiritual life of 50 communities he dealt with hospitals and schools construction and the restoration of the old missions which Italians monks have founded as from 1850. The first work was the reconstruction of Cuevo parish thanks to Adveniat( Germany) contribution.. Afterwards ten schools were built in the countryside with contributions of Tuscan parishes: S. Leone, Grosseto, Montecatini, Rignano, Firenze (S. Francesco parish) and thanks to other people. Without any mechanical tools but thanks  to local manpower paid thanks to financial support of Misereor ( Germany) the dirt road which connected Cuevo- Itangua – Bororigua – Guiraitati- Bicovo – Huacaya- Ancaguazu – Cumandaroti and Mistolar was reopened.  It was 150 km long and it was an old path for Taijra Missioners.  Thanks to Rignano, Reggello and all the Valdarno area it was possible to build the hospital of Iguembe and give all the necessary medical supplies to them. “La Formica “ and Rignano bought an ambulance and for two years they provided financial support for doctors, visited communities and organized a concert in order to buy a dentist’s surgery for the hospital along with all the associations and traders. Thanks to the interest of F. Sandro Gelli. parish priest of Montecatini and the contribution of local people it was built the First Aid in Huacaya and a Medical Post in Bororigua. With the contribution of Mietta Mannori and many other benefactors of Florence and Prato the boarding-school “ Renzo Barletti” was built in Iguembe and it gave hospitality to more than Guaranì students ( From Sunday to Friday) that otherwise they wouldn’t have the possibility to attend a school every day. These guys, if they could, paid a small sum of money or contributed by bringing wood or food and they received  help from “La Formica” as well. The first director of this boarding-school was the volunteer Rosanna Faellini from Greve. The parish and the church of Iguembe was completely restored thanks Adveniat support. In 1987 Mons. Pellegrini, with Germany began Santa Rosa restoration which hasn’t been completed yet because of lack of funds..  In March 1992 Mons. Pellegrini was given the management of two orphanages in Camiri. He didn’t have any money, so he visited F. Francesco and received a great amount of money which the day before some benefactors had sent to him. F. Francesco was designated General Administrator he had to find helps for the two orphanages.

From that moment the miracle of the Divine Providence began.

 Francesco didn’t loose time and Rignanesi gave him the possibility to take care of those creatures  and the upkeep of the two orphanages. The first director was Gertrude Spallina. In October 1992 Mons. Pellegrini died and Superiors left the mission of S. Buonaventura  in Ivu ( run-down) and the next farm propriety of Cuevo Vicarship to F. Francesco. In order to restore it F. was obliged to sell many heads of cattle and demand help to Rignano inhabitants and to local believers. In 1993 Nun Gertrude was moved to Argentina and the “superlative” Nun Grazia Cerri arrived from Perù. She took over the reins of the mission and began to plan and carry out a project by teaching a profession to bigger orphans. So in that place a baker’s shop, a carpentry a mechanic a dress maker shop, a computer class a chickens and pigs farming were built. All the young people could go to school and in the afternoon  teachers helped weaker children. Their purpose was to make their guests independent. As everybody knows orphanages are places which shouldn’t have existed so when it’s possible they looked for local good families who could take care of them (by paying a monthly rate). In March 1993Mons. Bernacchi was Bishop  and F. Francesco was elected general Vicario with all his obligations. Then there was the need to do assistance to old people and Mons. Bernacchi built a shelter for them in Camiri and gave the management to F. Francesco. Afterward there was the problem to compensate the best students and the poorest. Thanks to “La Formica” it was possible to help a lot of poor people and those for the specialization medicine. In Camiri there wasn’t a university for all the great territory of the diocese. This fact was remarkable because the nearest university was 400km far. Because of the expenses are too high but the worst thing is that students who took a degree in far universities didn’t come back to their town. In 1998 after a few negotiations it was possible to make a few teachers arrive in Camiri from the Salesian University of La Paz and courses of  engineering and science of education started. More than 150 students attended these courses and lessons took place in some rented locals. The target is now to build a building in Camiri and a university with these courses and some others that will be added according the necessity. Anyway, during all this time Francesco undertook towards his duties. Because of the increase in the people who converted to Christianity it was necessary to build some chapels in the most important Communities thanks to help of population and some benefactors. So chapels in Camatindi, Sadias, Mandiyuti, Ipati de Ivu, Tartagalito and El Arenal were born. There are also projects for other three chapels. In Cuevo there is a school managed by Nun Francescane of Bertinoro founded by Nun Saveria Martini (from Turin) too. In this school there are 400 students most of them coming from poor families. In front of the church there is a derelict building of the town. F. Francesco demanded this school and it was given to him. It was restored thanks to Germany and “La Formica” help and now it’s used as popular dining-hall where young people can have breakfast and dinner at the price of two dollars for month. Many guys aren’t able to pay this price so they contribute with wood , corn, or by cleaning. The cost is supported by some Italian and Bolivian benefactors. On special occasions this building is used for meetings for Spiritual Retreat  or for cultural activities. F. Francesco with Formica funds bought a house with two rooms and a small land for the two ladies and seven guys who helped him during those years in Cuevo. On the 31 of August 1999 F. Francesco, the Provincial Father moved from Cuevo to Maracheti as Regional Guardian and Priest in order to restore that ancient mission completely and to transform it into a Regional Convent. Anyway he didn’t leave his duties in Cuevo and Cumiri.

Now we can’t back out anymore!

Father Francesco Focardi.

Rignano sull’Arno (Florence) – C. P. A.  11911583

LA FORMICA- Missionary and Charity Group – Rignano sull’ Arno (FL) – call at 0339-6659986 (  working hours) Tuesday and Thursday from 9.00 p.m. to 11.00 p.m. – Saturday afternoon from 3.00 p.m. to 6.00 p.m.                  

Traduced by Elisa