PRIEST (APRIL 14, 2002)
A HERO OF THE LEPERS – OF COMPASSION AND LOVE
Louis Variara was born in Viarigi in the province of Asti on January 15, 1875 to a deeply Christian family. His father Pietro had heard Don Bosco in 1856, when he came to the village to preach a mission. He decided to take Louis to Valdocco to continue his studies. The Saint would die four months later. But what Louis came to know of him was sufficient to leave its mark on him for life. When he finished his secondary schooling, he asked to become a Salesian. He entered the novitiate on August 17, 1891.
Variara did his studies in philosophy at Valsalice, where he came to know Andrew Beltrami. He was impressed by the joy with which Beltrami underwent the sufferings of his illness. In 1894 Fr. Unia, the famous missionary to the lepers in Agua de Dios, was at Valsalice to choose a cleric who would look after young lepers.
Fixing his gaze on Variara, amongst the 188 others who had the same intention, he said: “This one is mine.” Louis arrived in Agua de Dios on August 6, 1894. The mission numbered 2000 people of whom 800 were lepers.
As soon as he arrived he became the life and soul of all who lived there, especially the children. He organized a band, and brightened up peoples’ lives with unexpected festivity. In 1895 Fr. Unia died and Louis was alone with Fr. Crippa. In 1898 he was ordained a priest. He became an excellent spiritual director.
In 1905 he finished building the “Fr. Unia Kindergarten,” a place that could accommodate up to 150 orphans and lepers, and guaranteed that they could learn something with which to earn a living work and help them fit into society in the future. At Agua de Dios, The Sisters of Providence had created The Association of the Daughters of Mary, a group of some 200 girls. He was their confessor. He identified some in the group who were called to religious life.
A brave project was born – something unique in the Church – an Institute that would be allowed to take in those who had leprosy. Inspired by the spirituality of Fr. Beltrami, he developed the Salesian charism of sacrifice and founded The Congregation of the “Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary”, which today numbers 600 religious women.
He suffered much at the time of this founding through the lack of understanding of people and certain superiors who thought he should be removed from Agua de Dios a number of times. Like Don Bosco he was exemplary in obedience. Even in the face of calumny he said nothing. He was credible because he was obedient. Don Rua encouraged him from Turin.
He died far from his beloved lepers, as obedience had demanded. Now he lies in Agua de Dios, in the chapel where his Sisters are. St. John Paul II beatified him on April 14, 2002.