Luis Tenderini, founder of the Emmaus movement, passed away



“To fight with all our might for respect for human dignity throughout the world; to destroy social structures that breed oppression, exclusion and misery; to bear witness to the gospel of universal brotherhood because we are all children of the same Father.” These words by Dom Helder Camara effectively sum up the life and message of Luis Tenderini, an ordinary Italian man who lived for many years in Brazil, and died in Recife a few days ago (and was buried there on Saturday 2), due to the consequences. from leukemia. Lewis was a close friend and collaborator with Archbishop Olinda and Recife, a protagonist of the council for years, beginning with the first meeting in 1979.

Originally from Premana, in Valsacena, Louis had to leave the country and go to primary school in Como, after the death of his father who left his mother alone with ten young children. In 1968 he left for Brazil as a Jesuit teacher. Destination: Teresina, the capital of the poorest state, in the northeast. “Contact with the social reality of that area directed me to a new choice of life,” he said. Hence the decision to leave the Jesuits to go and live in São Paulo, to work as a labourer, in the same city as his fellow villager Father Angelo Gianola, a PIME missionary. In connection with the problems and struggles of the working-class world in the difficult Brazilian political context – said Luis – my ‘sail’ stretched more and more: I was able to set the goal with greater clarity and determination a life in the context of a popular Church, committed to living and bearing witness to the renewed spirit of the Second Vatican Council “.

The strong engagement with the labor movement—which led Lewis to meet future President Lula—led him and his family (meanwhile he was married to Djanera, with whom he would have three daughters), to move to Recife in 1979. This is how Lewis remembered the key stage of his journey: “Opening This prophetic pastor opened new horizons in my life: the Committee for Justice and Peace in the Diocese, and thus the Emmaus movement.” Until 1995, Lewis, in fact, the right-hand man of Camara, personally paid his disguised choice to the poor: in 1989 he was kidnapped by death squads and tortured.

In 1996 Luis founded the Brazilian section of the Emmaus movement (which began in 54 in France), which later became a reference for the entire Latin American continent. In the following years, until his death, Louis devoted himself to the “trapeiros” (sellers of rags) of Emmaus, and always maintained his relations with Italy – where various initiatives in support of the movement flourished – and, in particular, with his country of origin..

In September 2021, UNESCO awarded him for his commitment to human rights, while a vocational school was named after him in Recife. After his death, the Helder Camara Center issued a statement in which we read: “It is impossible to say goodbye to Tenderini. A power like him does not end with the arrival of death. He dealt closely with the horrors of the dictatorship. Embrace social justice. He devoted his life to people and the protection of rights. A legacy he will never forget.”

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