ROME — One of the Church’s great media missionaries of the 20th century, Father Piero Gheddo, died last month at the age of 88. Gheddo died on Dec. 20, after more than half a century of work in Catholic media apostolates.
An Italian member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), Gheddo was the editor of missionary magazines, a founder of communications agencies, and a prolific author, whose books were translated into 30 languages.
In his autobiography, Special Envoy To the Borders of Faith, he wrote: “I do not deny the enormous problems we are enduring, but let us try to read them through God’s lenses… Authentic faith says that the history of humanity, as well as our little personal history and the millenary history of the Church, are in the hands of God.”
Gheddo advocated for the beatification of several missionaries, among them Clemente Vismara, a missionary to Burma, and that of Mario Vergara, a missionary to Laos. In 2006, Bishop Enrico Masseroni of Vercelli began a cause for beatification of Gheddo’s own parents, Rosetta Franzi (1902-1934) and Giovanni Gheddo (1900-1942).
It was obvious to those who knew him that Gheddo came from a family of deeply Catholic roots.
Born in 1929 in Tronzano Vercellese, in the Piedmont region of Italy, he entered the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in 1942, hoping to follow a vocation to foreign missionary work among non-Christians.
He was ordained a priest in 1953, and hoped to be sent as a missionary to India. Instead, his superiors gave him a post in the missionary media. In 1959, he was appointed editor-in-chief of the magazine Le Missioni Cattoliche.
He took part in the Second Vatican Council while working for the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, and helped to draft Ad Gentes, the Second Vatican Council’s decree on missionary work.
He traveled the world as a journalist and media missionary. In Brazil, he became a friend to Archbishop Helder Camara, supporting his work for the poor. Though Camara was an advocate of liberation theology, Gheddo opposed that movement, and the Marxist drift he believed that some Latin American theologians had taken.
In India, he met Mother Teresa of Calcutta in the 1970s, and his reports helped her work to be known around the world.
Despite his skill as a journalist, he stayed faithful to his first passion: proclaiming the Gospel. He traveled as long as he could. His last missionary trip was in 2009, when Gheddo was 80. He went to Bangladesh. It seems to be a providential coincidence that Gheddo died shortly after Pope Francis’s own trip to that country.
Gheddo published stories and articles to the end.
As the Church faced a dwindling number of lay and clerical foreign missionaries, Gheddo wrote that many Catholic missionary apostolates had lost their identity, and forgotten the primacy of proclaiming the Gospel.
When the Italian missionary magazine Ad Gentes shut down in 2014, he wrote a much-discussed analysis of the Church’s missionary identity.
“Until the Second Vatican Council,” he wrote, “there was a clear assertion of our identity: Going to encounter non-Christian people, wherever the Holy See would send us, to announce and witness Christ and His Gospel, which everyone needs. Yes, we also spoke about works of charity, education, health, progress, rights, and justice for the poor and marginalized. But above all was enthusiasm for being called by Jesus to bring Him to people living unaware of the God of Love and Forgiveness.”
On the other hand, nowadays, he wrote, “we missionaries campaign against foreign debt, against arms proliferation, against counterfeit medicines and for public water; today, there is no talk of mission to the public, but about earthly and social or ecological works. Can you tell me how many young boys and girls are enthused and become missionaries after a protest against arms proliferation? None!”
Speaking with Catholic News Agency, Gheddo further explained that “the Church is missionary. Everybody must keep in mind the need to go to those who are far away, to evangelize, to bear the Gospel of Christ,” but then lamented that “these topics have almost disappeared from the Church’s public agenda.”
He was never sent to India, where he longed to go as a young priest. But through his work, he became a missionary to the whole world, and a prophetic voice in the heart of the Church.