Can you be in debt with God? According to Antonio Bacassino, missionary to Baghdad, each one of us has a promissory note that need to be paid off to Him. He had to pay off a heavy one. Antonio was born in January 1967 in Nardo. Due to different vicissitudes, he served twenty years in prison. Here he began his university studies, and graduated with honors thanks to the thesis Faucault’s Genealogy of Power. When they release him, he meets Father Eugenio, a member of the Community of Pope John XXIII. Here he understands that Heaven, which he had repeatedly rejected and cursed in his youth years, has never abandoned him. He decides to go on a mission, destination: Haiti, a city plagued by tsunamis.
For an ex-convict, a mission “is not extraordinary. You must learn to come to terms with the past and with yourself. Changing your life does not mean disowning your experience – Antonio says -. Our biggest fears dwell in our own mind. Sharing means to me walking part of my way with someone I meet. It helps me make sense of my life. “I have learnt a lot in Haiti: “I envy that people, their ability to laugh, to be calm despite all odds.” Only in land of mission Antonio feels free. He has received so much, and now he wants to put what he has learnt at the service of the others. When John Ramonda, head of the Community, said that in Iraq there is only one missionary left and that they are really needed there, he offered without hesitation.
He has been living in Baghdad, together with refugees fleeing from the atrocities of the Caliphate. Attacks are the order of the day: explosions, bombings, shootings. “Baghdad is fascinating and rich in contradictions at the same time. When I arrived, I did not know the language, so I relied on a Catholic church. Looking at Christians while they pray, gave me food for thought. It would have been enough to convert to Islam to avoid being abused by Isis. The courage of their refusal led me to bow before their faith. “When faith is authentic, it makes more noise than the bombs. A slap in the face of the jihadist strategy of terror.
Antonio does not feel a missionary nor does he claim to be one: “I am the one who receives the gospel and I only hope I will succeed in it. If I can inspire someone else through my conversion, so be it. At some point, you get to deal with your life, your failures and your limits. I went on a mission to pay off my debts with the Good Lord. I went to Haiti because it was one of the most difficult places and my promissory notes were substantial, I needed a strong one. Here I am learning that only the recipients of good actions benefit from them, but also the benefactors.
If you are not able to love yourself, you will not be able to love the others. On a mission you have enough time to understand many things: “If God has judged me, who am I to judge? When you accept that, you get rid of a heavy burden. My relationship with Him – the missionary continues – is completely new. I have found Him at the age of forty. I used to curse every day before that. I am not a prayer fanatic, but I have learned to talk to Him. For a person who had not known freedom for over twenty years, God is the only freedom. And I experience it every day.”
He collaborates with the Sisters of Mother Teresa in Baghdad; he takes care of a group of disabled people, a social category that has a bad reputation in the Arab countries. People with disabilities are considered a curse, God’s condemnation that casts dishonor on the family. Meeting Muslims is the most interesting part of his mission. Staying with them is a difficult task. “If you stop and look at a Muslim and at a Christian, you find out beautiful encounter. We have to look at what unites us. Living here fills my heart.”
“A few days ago, I listened to words like justice, peace, love pronounced in an Italian church. In Baghdad there is no justice, no peace, no love. Yet, despite everything, when people do not hear the noise of the bombs here, they smile, sing, dance. Especially young people. It almost seems that they do not want to let fear take over. They always say: Have no fear. Step into living. Dare, take heart. Often, the reappearance of a smile fills my heart more than anything else.”
Freely adapted from Always