CEBU CITY, Philippines (Dec. 29, 2017; updated Jan. 3, 2018) – Rev. Fr. Pietro “Peter” G. Zago, SDB, who served for several years as rector and built up what is now Don Bosco Technical College (DBTC) Cebu, died last night (Dec. 28) of heart attack in Turin, Italy.
He died at 82, and would have turned 83 in over a week on January 6, 2018.
He visited his sister Thursday at her home in Perosa Argentina, a suburban commune 58 kilometers west south west of metropolitan Turin, when he had a cardiac arrest, according to the Salesian regional councilor for East-Asia Oceania Fr. Klement Vaclav, SDB in a Facebook post.
He will be buried at the commune’s cemetery after New Year’s Day on Jan. 2 following a 3PM requiem mass at the town’s St. Genesius Parish Church, 10PM at Philippine time.
Jef G. Calomarde (1980), president of Don Bosco Cebu Alumni,. Inc. (DBCAI), announced on behalf of the Board of Trustees that the regular 9:30 AM Sunday Mass at the DBTC chapel on Jan. 7, 2018 will be celebrated in honor of Fr. Zago.
Fr. Zago drove the growth of the local Salesian mission serving as rector of Cebu Boys Town from the 1969 towards becoming Don Bosco Technical High School (DBTHS) in 1976.
The congregation sent him to start the mission in Tondo (Manila), and returned to DBTHS in 1981 until 1990 when he also started the Salesian mission in Papua New Guinea.
When the congregation of the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) created the Philippine South Province (FIS) based in this city in 1992, he served as the pioneering superior until 1997.
Thereafter, Fr. Zago moved to Pakistan to focus on the Salesian mission there, first in Quetta in 1998, expanding to Lahore by 2013, until he retired only last year and returned back home to Italy.
He made his first profession at 18 and became Bro. Peter Zago, SDB on the 138th birthday of St. John Bosco on Aug. 16, 1953, and was ordained a Salesian priest 10 years after by March 25, 1963.
He has had 64 years of Salesian religious life, 62 years of these as a missionary and 54 years as shepherd for the young, 16 of these memorable years as Rector of Don Bosco Cebu.
In an official statement published in the Don Bosco FIS website on Jan. 2, 2018, Provincial Fr. Godofredo Atienza, SDB paid tribute to Fr, Zago as “an excellent Salesian Missionary.”
“We give thanks for his example of enthusiasm and dynamism; his optimism, joy and great trust in Divine Providence; his warm approach to the young and our lay collaborators; his generosity to everyone especially the poor and those in need, very close to his heart; above all his cheerful countenance and great devotion to the Blessed Mother,” he said.
Fr. Lan Guiao, past DBTC rector and principal and also of Don Bosco Boys Home in Liloan, Cebu, said Fr. Zago as his provincial “gave me an obedience – handwritten.”
“(Fr. Zago) was the one who introduced me to Boys’ Home and the poor. It was through his help that my love for Boys Home and the poor took a turn from theory to practice, from a dream to reality,” he said in a message posted on Facebook.
“From (Fr. Zago) I learned – if you really love Boys Home and the poor from the heart – God will provide … a miracle I saw every single day of my nine years in Don Bosco Boys Home,” he added.
“Our provisions were never in want but actually in excess … and what consoled me most was the ‘unlovable Boys’ turned into ‘lovable boys,’ wolves turning to sheep, ordinary boys become extra-ordinary Boys. I could truly say with conviction: God is good all the time,” he pointed out.
Indeed, Fr. Zago has been at the frontlines of missionary work, sent by the Rector Major to missions in India, Pakistan and the Philippines, including Tondo (Manila) and Banilad (at the old Lahug airport that moved to Liloan, Cebu), where he started and turned boys’ homes into centers of spiritual development and technical training.
It was his overwhelming paternal love that endeared him to Bosconians whose lives he touched, seeing him as St. John Bosco in their midst, as he stood out among Salesians as the one who best personified Don Bosco in their lifetime.
‘Sad & happy’
In his message, Calomarde said: “It is (both) with much saddness and happiness to hear the death of our dear Fr. Zago. Sad because we will miss him so much who has nortured us to become who we are today, ‘the Bosconians.”
“He planted the seeds of Salesianity in Cebu as our first Fr. Rector. He has animated to us the life of Don Bosco for his love for the youth and the poor,” noted the general manager now of a contsruction conglomerate.
“Happy because he is now in heaven enjoying the rewards of eternal happiness with St. John Bosco in the bosom of Jesus’ love and Mama Mary’s home. Let us offer our prayers for Fr. Zago,” he added.
For his predecessor Neil Montesclaros (1988), Fr. Zago was “Lively, Dynamic, Football, Fatherly, Candid, Sincere, Motorcycle, Cycling, Friendly, Inspiring … love for Don Bosco, Love for Youth, Love for Christ … My memory of a true man of God … Beloved by all, Padre Zago.”
A former street child, Michael Mendez (1974). who had just retired from the telecom industry. looks at Fr. Zago as “the epitome of St. John Bosco. I’m forever grateful for his warm love, dedication and mentorship.”
He revealed that Fr. Zago “picked me up from among the boys in the city streets (in 1969) and molded me to become a good Christian and a successful professional.” (Mendez served DBCAI as treasurer for several years from mid-1990’s until 2014.)
“You are, and have always been, one of my inspiration, Fr. Peter Zago. May St John Bosco hug you for the wonderful and animated work you did for the youth of the world,” said Arabian-based Carlito Rualez (1980).
“Morality, boys! Morality!” were lines he would often utter, especially to all Bosconians under him in 4th year Religion.
On the same breathe, Eng’r. Raul C. Lucero (1984) got a fresh echo only last June 1, 2017 when some Bosconians met their beloved rector alive for the last time over dinner when he visited Cebu.
“Morality boy, morality’ was Fr. Zago’s last reminder to me this year in Café George,” said the vice president now for engineering of Aboitiz Power.
Then a lay brother aspirant in third year high school, sometime in 1982-83, Lucero had the opportunity to be among those who helped Fr. Zago assume and take over the Cebu Juvenile Homes at the end of the old Lahug airport, now a part of Cebu IT Park.
Renamed Banilad Boys Home, the aspirants animated the boys with sports and games, just as Fr. Zago did when he steered Cebu Boys Town in 1969. The facility moved to what is now Liloan Boys Home.
Musician Edwin Umapas (1978) shared Fr. Zago used to play football with the students wearing sotana, a preventive strategy that he said kept students pre-occupied.
His batchmate Antonio G. Paraguya, Jr., who retired as an Emirates supervisor and shifted into organic hog farming, got a sudden blast from memorable past.
“Fr. Peter played soccer with us little fragile ones clinging around him. At the end of the day, I’d notice my last few coins for my fare back home fell off my shallow pockets. I’d frantically end my search into Fr. Rector’s office to borrow a few,” he shares.
“He’d give me some coins from a little bowl with pins and clips, which he obviously collected from the soccer court, likely from the other little ones who were also running with him earlier. Gladly, that happened many times in that field of memory where sports kept us away from sin,” he added.
Never be idle
“Fr. Zago wants us to be active, no idling. He kicks the ball to you if he sees you doing nothing. He will be missed,” shared Enrique Jacktaling Villegas (1990), a lawyer now based in Toronto, Canada.
Joselito Paredes (1975), a production manager at Timex Philip[pines, said Fr. Zago taught him the rudiments of football since Grade 4, and while he played for the high school varsity team.
“The talent and knowledge I learned from him got me a university scholarship that allowed me to graduate in college,” he said.
Telecommunications services trader Mitchell Alforque (1990) recalled Fr. Zago “hated boys who are lazy and sedentary. Apparently, it’s the devil’s best time to tempt.”
“That is why he would hit boys (boarders during free-time-after-dinner) with the soccer balls, those of us doing nothing and all of us will run around avoiding him! Best preventive system execution!,” he said.
“My wife also remembered him saying, ‘Do not build riches for the world. Build riches for heaven. It is the only thing that matters,” he added.
“Had the pleasure of catching a ball from Fr. Zago. He was in front of the chapel talking with Fr. Gianluigi Colombo, SDB when the ball got near him. He was wearing the usual polo barong with formal black shoes when he returned it, banana kick style,” shared Bruce Alvarado Belotindos (1990).
“Pirting sakita sa akong kamot. That was way back 1984 (when) I was Grade 5. Heard back then that he was a world cup player in his younger years,” added the manager of the local Honda Cars dealership.
His batchmate Vernon A. Zulueta (1990) shared he had great memories of Fr. Zago as a stay-in boarder from 1986. He would sort through different stuff at his Rector’s office that he sells at cheap prices, whether a religious relic or a pair of new spike.
“Always loved his ways of dealing with us boarders and aspirants and for sure (each of us would) get the taste of being kicked with a ⚽️ ball if we stay idle in a corner.”
Like him, Jundel C. Dinoy (1988) would remember that Fr. Zago would have a collection of stampita on his desk that every Bosconian would wish would be given one.
“I got lucky he gave me one, a stampita on Mary Help of Christians, and used it as a book marker in my prayer book and student diary,” said Dinoy, production manager of Cebu Micro Technologies Corp.
He said he got blessed that Fr. Zago allowed him to stay at Don Bosco Boys Home (in Banilad at the end of what was Lahug airport then, now in Liloan) while he finished his studies.
That got him under the stewardship of “another Great Salesian Mentor,” Fr. Leonard McManus, SDB, who continues to serve as confessor at DBTC Cebu.
Erick Rises recalled that Fr. Zago tapped his shoulder and assured him he will be a Bosconian just as he was about to take the entrance test as a freshman.
“I remember his story about David and ‘Goliat,’ that’s how he pronounced the name and students in the higher years students would laugh,” said Michael Louie Mañago (1989).
“And yeah, the way he whistles. that’s one of my fondest memories with him,” added the sales and marketing consultant who specializes in feasibility studies.
Rey Engelbert D. Maghuyop (1991), who owns and operates the school Our Lady of Joy Learning Center in Consolacion, Cebu and runs a poultry business with his wife, recalls “He doesn’t want to be called ‘Italiano.”
In this writer’s (1984) view, Fr. Zago was “not just a reflection of St. John Bosco, he was Don Bosco personified in our midst, in our lifetime.”
In a Facebook post, he said he believed that, like a number of Salesians after Don Bosco, “Fr. Zago deserves to join our Founder in the rolls of Saints in Heaven.”
“May such a cause soon begin. For that we pray through the intercession of our Mother, Mary Help of Christian and St. John Bosco himself,” he added.
(More details to follow. A developing story, please come back soon for updates.)
Recorded in August 2012, Fr. Zago shares about his work in Pakistan for children, young people and families in situations of poverty and vulnerability, a role faced with challenges, including natural disasters that have hit the country og only two million Christians.