“There are some people whose commitment to their neighbours is exceptional and deserves to be brought to light. Brother Leo was one such person. He dedicated his life to others, working in the streets of our town, in the prisons and hospitals, to give a listening ear and pay precious attention to those in difficulty.”
It was with these words that the town of Neuchâtel invited its population to participate in the unveiling of a commemorative plaque for Brother Leo. Exactly 10 years after his death, the unveiling took place on October 18 in the Rue Fleury, which is the location for the “Lanterne“, the ecumenical street chaplaincy, for the creation of which Brother Leo’s efforts of were decisive. He moved others to make similar commitments and these are now continued by those who first benefited from them.
The day was mild and sunny, which meant that a large number of people were able to attend the ceremony. The very varied crowd included people in poor circumstances, and former pupils from near and far, plus around thirty members of Brother Leo’s family. The four different testimonies complemented one another in their tenderness and humour.
– Brother Richard Böhi shared some fioretti and anecdotes about Leo of which the following is an example. When Leo was a witness in court, the president of the tribunal asked him ‘Monsieur, what is your profession?’ Leo replied ‘Retired’. The president remarked ‘That is a loss to the Republic!’
– Mr Jean-Claude Zumwald, president of Dorcas Association which manages the ecumenical street chaplaincy, gave an idea of what a street chaplaincy does and why there was to be a commemorative plaque. “It is never a trivial matter.”
– Mr Yves Conne, a voluntary leader, recalled with profound human warmth what Leo had meant for him: ‘recognition and gratitude’.
– Mr Thomas Facchinetti, town councillor and director for Culture and Integration in the town, delivered a message from the municipal authorities. He did not hesitate to talk about St Jean-Baptiste de La Salle and the human commitment of Leo whch was motivated by his religious convictions and his spirituality. He also mentioned how significant it was for a town like Neuchâtel to have commemorative plaque. “A plaque installed in a public space is a sign of the presence of values and principles such as liberty, responsibility and generosity. Our streets may belong to everybody, but it is not so easy to live in them. This plaque in a street named Fleury recalls those values and principles. Brother Leo loved nature, so this location is well chosen. Brother Leo carried out his activities in the context of his family and his religious congregation. He was part of a tradition that he had inherited and which he continued and carried further forward. Our understanding of laicity does not exclude the affirmation or the presence of religious convictions or a spirituality.”
Before the unveiling of the plaque, the ex-prisoners, former drug addicts, and people whose lives had been wounded gave a spontaneous show of their approval of the words spoken, and some of them approached the microphone to give brief expressions of their gratitude to Leo, while other presented flowers.
After the official part of the ceremony, a vin d’honneur was presented by the Municipality, and this allowed people to enjoy meeting one another. As one Brother says: “The atmosphere at the ceremony was particularly reminiscent of the mark left by Leo. You could feel that people were united in friendship, peace and gratitude, without being bothered by differences in social status. The ‘people of the street’ happily rubbed shoulders with the officials.”
Indeed it was a wonderful and memorable day!