B39 has almost completed a documentary on the life of Fr. Nicosia. It will be released in May 2015.
April 3rd, 2015 will be the birthday of Fr. Gaetano Nicosia, of the Salesian Order, who will turn 100. His elder brother, still living in Sicily is 104 years old.
Nicosia’s father was killed in the trenches during WW1 – Italy had joined the fray on 24 May 1915 – leaving his mother alone to raise their children. He grew up in his native Sicily and one day, going through the pictures of a magazine showing Chinese lepers, he felt the urge to help them. Because of this he entered the Salesian order founded by Don Bosco in Turin and afterwards he demanded to be sent abroad to assist lepers. He landed in Hong Kong in 1935, moving then to Macau.
When WWII broke out in 1941, Macau was spared the actual fighting but people suffered enormously because the Japanese Army controlled the supply of food. After the war he helped to build an agricultural school in Coloane for the orphans and for the refugees who were moving in from mainland China. In 1963 he started the Salesian Mission for the Hansenians in Macau, and in Coloane the Missao de Nossa Senhora das Dolores. In 1984 he founded the Escola D. Luis Versiglia de Ka Ho, close to that village.
About one hundred lepers lived in the Ka Ho leprosy, in the island of Coloane; but they were abandoned to themselves, and in urgent need of care. The situation was so desperate that people began to commit suicide. In fact, the colony was located near a cliff, and several of them threw themselves off it.
Between 1963 and 1980, Fr. Nicosia lived in Ka Ho together with his lepers. It is still a mystery how leprosy spread, perhaps through droplets emitted by people sneezing, but not all people can be infected and Nicosia was spared. The village was isolated, and it could only be reached by boat but even boatmen refused to disembark, and provisions were pulled ashore with a rope. With his arrival, the village underwent a drastic transformation: real doctors and nurses were called in to visit the infected people. The diet became adequate, the environment became clean and tidy and the huts were completely restored. Everyone received a task not to remain idle: the colony’s inhabitants became carpenters, mechanics and drivers. It was then that the village became self-sufficient; with a large water tank and electricity.
By 1970, according to a report published by the Catholic Herald, forty people had been healed and reinstated in society, and another seventy remained in the Ka Ho village. Fr Nicosia endeavoured to find work and financial support for those who had been completely healed and were leaving the leper colony. But unfortunately all were considered outcasts, some not even accepted back into their own families. Hence, a good number of them requested to be allowed back. One of them told to Fr. Nicosia: “This place has been turned from an Inferno into Paradise!” Other people started to visit the leper colony. Bishop Tavares, for instance, elected it as his special resort in which he sought rest and where he could meditate and pray. The same for Fr. Allegra, translator of the Bible in Chinese, a good friend and a Sicilian like Nicosia, used to visit and stay at regular basis. Also the Canossian sisters offered their help, while the Italian architect Oseo Acconci, father of our friend Arnaldo and the Soler Music Band, built a wonderful church, dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows, right on the edge of the Ka Ho’s village. A famous Italian sculptor, Francesco Messina, donated the wonderful bronze crucifix that towers over the church façade.
Fr. Gaetano Nicosia was never afraid to be infected, he kissed and embraced his lepers, sharing their daily life and remaining at their side, always full of optimism and hopeful in the Divine Providence. He is now living at St.Mary’s Home for the Aged, Aberdeen, Hong Kong and he is proud above all of the fact that the grown up children of his lepers enjoy a prestigious status in society. Among them there are professors, doctors, solicitors and skilled professionals, all living a good life with their family, because Hell had been pushed back by this saintly little priest.
Happy Birthday, Father Nicosia!