Saint of the Day – 7 February – Blessed Alfredo Cremonesi PIME (1902-1953) Priest and Martyr, Missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), Writer, Poet – born on 15 May 1902 in Ripalta Guerina, Cremona, Italy and died on 7 February 1953 (aged 50) in Donokù, Taungngu, Bago, Myanmar by being shot. Fr Alfredo fostered a great devotion to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and to the Sacred Heart. He practised Eucharistic Adoration each night for one hour before the Tabernacle and awoke around 4:00 am in the morning to celebrate Mass. Patronage – Missionaries.
When he left for the missions, he knew that he would never return to the Italian mainland and spent the remainder of his life working with the Burmese people in mountain villages despite the great difficulties he faced.
Alfredo Cremonesi was born on 15 May 1902 in Ripalta Guerina in Cremona as the first of seven children to the grocer Enrico Cremonesi and Maria Rosa Scartabellati.
He was Baptised on 16 May in the local parish church, Confirmed on 4 October 1908 from the Bishop of Crema Ernesto Fontana and then made his First Communion on 1 April 1909. His father was a devoted Christian who opposed Fascism and it was his mother who oversaw the religious education of the seven children. It was in his childhood that he read the journal of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and from that point fostered a deep devotion to her and like her to becoming a Missionary. His brother Ernesto was also a devoted Christian whom the Nazis arrested and jailed in a concentration camp where he would die in 1945 before the European Theatre conflict ended. Alfredo sent a letter to his parents upon learning this and said “I am proud to be his brother” and that “Ernesto will be able to do more in paradise than he could have done on earth.”
His time in school was interrupted due to a severe disease and he was forced to spend most of that time confined to his bed. His frail health since childhood led to people concluding that he would never be able to enter the missions since it would be improbable that he would be cured of his consistent ailments. But he defied all medical knowledge and the expectation of doctors who thought he would die in a few months, overcame his disease and attributed his recovery to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.
Upon his recuperation on 17 September 1922, he transferred to Milan to study in an institute that the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions ran, to prepare new missionaries. He became known for being both impetuous and a gifted writer who published a collection of poems.
He was Ordained to the Priesthood by the PIME Bishop, Giovanni Menicatti in the San Francesco Saverio church and then in June 1925 learned that his dream to enter the missions was to take place, for he would be sent to the then-Burma. On 19 October 1924 in San Michele and on 5 October 1925 received the Cross of the Missions from the Archbishop of Milan Eugenio Tosi. He left Genoa for Naples and set sail from there on 16 October 1925. His mother was devastated by his departure and maintained frequent correspondence with him.
But his new mission also proved difficult for the enthusiastic Fr Alfredo who suffered from loneliness for a brief time upon his arrival on 10 November 1925. He worked with the Karen people in an isolated mountain village and often had to travel miles on foot between villages, to visit the people. He was later transferred to Donokù and would remain there until the outbreak of World War II in relative peace. Alfredo was often exhausted from his extensive walking missions and also contracted malaria. During the 1920s he maintained correspondence with the PIME superior Blessed Paolo Manna (1872-1952) and met with Manna when he visited the Burmese missions on 19 February 1928.
The outbreak of World War II saw the British-run Burma enter the conflict to the detriment of Italian missionaries who soon found themselves as enemies, due to Benito Mussolini declaring his alliance with Hitler. Near the end of the war he was forced to live in the forest where he ate herbs in order to survive. Fr Alfredo wrote of the trials he endured during the war in a letter dated on 20 February 1946, he refers to his lack of food and clothing (limited to what he had on) and noting that villages were abandoned.
In 1941 he avoided Japanese imprisonment in a concentration camp in India after the Japanese occupied the nation. He lived eating herbs cooked in salt and water during this time but was discovered and caught. In the final month of the war a Japanese officer took him and tied him up for the night before allowing him to leave in the morning where he took refuge in the woods. Alfredo did not understand the reason for his release but attributed it to the intercession of God.
When the Second World War ended, a local one began, the First Karen War (1948-1952), between the Karen and the central government. Against this background, he was not keen to abandon the Catholic villages because his presence was often a good deterrent to violence.
In 1950, unfortunately, two other PIME missionaries, Mario Vergara and Pietro Galastri, lost their lives. In August of the same year Fr Alfredo was asked to leave, especially Donokù parish and took refuge in Toungoo. For him, it was true exile, far from his Christians. He made it back only in March 1952 and promised not to leave again. “Whatever my death, as long as it is not in exile,” he said after he went back to Donokù. Still, exile spared him a first encounter with martyrdom.
Although “In the village where I lived, all of my belongings were looted, everything I had at home, in the church, in the school, in the convent … The work of 26 years was all lost”, nothing could prevent Alfredo from going back to his own people. “I shan’t run away anymore, whatever happens. At most they’ll kill me.”
On February 7, 1953, after the Burmese military operation failed to flush out Karen rebels from the region, government troops entered Donokù and accused Fr Alfredo and the villagers, of supporting the rebels. They shot him and the village chief. Fr Alfredo died instantly.
Right after his death, he was declared a Martyr by popular sensus fidei. “A victim of his charity” and “a good shepherd who gave his life for his flock,” they said of him. Some faithful were eager to deliver an envelope with some personal effects to the then Bishop of Toungoo, Msgr Lanfranconi. On the envelope was written: ‘Relics of the martyr Father Cremonesi to be sent to his parents’. Of the many names his people called Fr Alfredo, “the smile of the mission” is the most beautiful.
Cardinal Angelo Becciu, head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, celebrated his Beatification by Decree of the Order of Martyrdom in Crema, Myanmar on 19 October 2019 on the eve of World Mission Sunday (20 October) and on the 95th anniversary of the first Mass celebrated by Blessed Alfredo on 19 October 1924 in San Michele Church in Cremona.
Cardinal Becciu said:
“With the testimony of his life generously offered for love of Christ, the Blessed Alfredo speaks today to this Diocese of Crema … he speaks to the missionaries … he speaks to the whole Church, noting that dying for the faith is a gift granted only to some but living the faith is a direct call to all. Just as the theme of this World Missionary Sunday urges us: Baptised and sent.”