He Changed Their Lives

Publication Date: 
April 04, 2016

For nearly 50 years, Father Javier de Nicolo was a brightly shining light for thousands of gamines -- “street children” -- of Bogotá, Colombia. Despite the many challenges of his work, Fr. Javier’s decades of dedicated service remained firmly rooted in his deep conviction that all children have the right to be happy. Sadly, we lost Fr. Javier this past March 22nd. But his legacy will live on.

Born in Italy, Fr. Javier arrived in Colombia in 1948 at the age of 21. At first, he ministered to patients with leprosy. However, following his ordination as a Salesian priest in October 1958, he felt called to serve those who, in his words, “have nothing and need everything.”

Thus, he ultimately founded Bosconia -- an oasis for street children ages 5 to 15 with nowhere else to go. In Bogotá, there were tens of thousands of these gamines: children abandoned by their families, forgotten by society, with nothing to anticipate but the temporary relief of sniffing gasoline. Living on the streets, engaging in petty crime and always vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, their cases seemed hopeless. But Fr. Javier refused to turn his back.

At Bosconia, the boys discovered warm beds, nutritious meals and the autonomy to decide whether to become permanent members of the community. Many of them did -- thereby launching themselves on a path leading to social rehabilitation, education and independence as productive members of society. To observers of Fr. Javier’s work, the boys’ transformation was nothing short of miraculous.

“They learned to respect themselves, because Fr. Javier respected them,” reflects Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “Where once the boys had run wild in the streets, they had learned to live cooperatively, to self-govern, and to take control of their futures.”

In deep gratitude for his work, the government of Colombia bestowed Fr. Javier with its highest non-military honor: the Medal of Santiago de Cali.

A tribute to Fr. Javier, shared among the Salesian community, asks:

How many thousands of children did he help? He himself had lost count, and perhaps the statistics will never tell for sure. But in the minds and feelings of these children and young people of yesterday and today who benefited from the wealth of his great heart, this feeling is universal: “Thank you, Fr. Javier; you changed our lives.”

We invite you to watch a video about Fr. Javier’s life work here.

May he rest in heavenly peace.

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