Giuseppe Bigi was born in Albinea, on March 19th, 1955. He is married to Annamaria Fulloni and they have two daughters, Francesca and Sarah. On September 3rd, 1994, he was ordained a permanent deacon. He has a teaching diploma in Religious Studies and teaches religion in the middle school of Albinea. For several years he was the director of the therapeutic community of the Italian Centre of Solidarity (CEIS). Eleven years ago he became the director of Casa Betania.
At the Pontifical Council for the Family, Giuseppe Bigi has reported on the activities of Casa Betania and on the emerging concerns, linked to current events. «In recent times— the director says —we encounter more and more who has problems because of unemployment. Many families even risk losing their homes». It’s no longer enough to provide food aid or small financial loans. «The concerns lead increasingly to depression». The “guardians” of Casa Betania try to help families in need to find a new job or to bear the burden of paying rent and utility bills. The main activities are connected with the cultivation of olive trees, the production of balsamic vinegar and the sale of these products.
The way of service of the “guardian families” began in the nineties, with an initial group of families. Gradually, others joined, to perform play «active roles in the community, as catechists, educators or ‘guardian angels’ (figures who individually accompany, with a sort of affectionate closeness and care, the guests of the house), prepare Sunday meals or provide other types of assistance». The “new” family— Bigi says —are «welcomed as they are, and a large amount of time is allotted to them before they actually enter the actual home after their mature and consolidated choice; the only commitment required of them is their availability to try». All the families are assured constant accompaniment “in the field.” «They are asked to do what they can, in consistency with their work and family commitments, in order to create in the house, through their presence, a family atmosphere, and to be present at both the daily times of prayer at meals, when their work doesn’t impede this. The period residence limited to three months is in reference to that ‘trying,’ which is asked of a family that normally never feels ‘quite ready’ for this service and would be too worried by the idea of a longer stay. All, however, at the end of their turn, are grateful for having had the opportunity and renew their availability».
The moment of separation of the “guardian family” from the guests is, of course, painful for both. «But right away there is the beauty and the novelty of new faces, as well as a different way of being a family with them». And this diversity is an asset. «In recent years, in the summer— Bigi says —we have also experienced the presence of a group of young people, who ‘keep’ the house during the three months of the season. This experience was positive for both the guests, especially for the boys and girls we had at home, and for the young ‘guardians’, who, in addition to confront realities and life experiences completely different from theirs, had the opportunity of living, as a group, a time of rich, stimulating community life as well as accountability. The young people responded enthusiastically and have found this to be a very beautiful experience».
Periodically, on a regular basis, the Parish Pastoral Council meets, for an assembly that brings together of about 25 participants under the guidance of the parish priest, to discuss issues of common interest, especially concerning the organization, the feasts or gatherings. «Casa Betania, and all the charitable work of the parish, is under the responsibility of the deacon assigned by the parish priest; it has a House Council for the decisions and management, and a great deal of autonomy», in an experience of “being together” that is exciting, but, also, «requires patience, good will and the knowledge that what the Lord wants, if and when He wants, and He’ll also accomplish it». The only criterion is to welcome anyone who is in needs, if there is a place and if it’s possible to help. «A good half of those who are welcomed can’t pay, not even through social services». What is the secret of the success of “guardian angels" of the family? «We decide everything together, in order to bear the weight and share the responsibility. We meet at fixed intervals to speak about the people who are in house, to learn about new requests for accommodation, to hear and evaluate ideas or suggestions that seem better to us, and then to set out in that direction. Even people who are not members of the House Council participate in our meetings (for example, the family who is caring for it, or someone who can help us to understand better certain points or maybe make us more aware of a case or a situation about which we must make a decision). We look for all the possible ways to involve the community, with signs and prayers during the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist, by giving information about the House events through a regular newsletter, by inviting ‘personally’ individuals or families to render certain services, creating gatherings in House on holidays or anniversaries».
«We believe— it is what the director of Casa Betania thinks — that it’s essential to be aware of our one’s own limitations, to accept not being able to resolve a situation that can remain critical and can’t be improved, even for a long period of time or even forever. Accepting that there is someone who can things do better than we can and also trying not to act in accordance with any kind of judgment about what someone has done and how they have behaved». Finally, the most beautiful and important moment is the daily prayer in the Chapel of the Community House. «This is the guiding star we must follow».