Yesterday, on 16th June 2014, Jorge “Giorgio” Sernani Panopoulos was called to the Lord. He died in Buenos Aires surrounded as always by his children, so many that I was never able to meet them all or even remember their number. Giorgio was a dear friend, an expert in all things Marian, and a devout follower of Our Blessed Mother, prolific father, and author of many books. He enjoyed the friendship and respect of great men, like Fr Patrick Peyton, and St John Paul the Great who made him a Knight of Our Blessed Mother when he visited Argentina in 1982.
Giorgio lived a life of total devotion to Jesus through Mary. He willingly accepted his many sufferings seeking consolation in the recitation of the Rosary. He constantly put before Our Lady all his work, his aspirations, and his many troubles. For those keen enough to notice, there was always a “presence” near him. Sometimes that presence — that I believe to be the Blessed Virgin Mary — gave him and those in his company sudden insights regarding the solutions to problems or a hidden meaning of the Word of God.
It was perhaps a year ago or so when I visited him for the last time in his tiny downtown Buenos Aires apartment. I sat opposite to him. A large image of Our Lady of Luján, thrice blessed by then Pope John Paul II, was facing both of us. We talked at length about a project of mine of creating a simple system of Catholic information for the Americas in Spanish, Portuguese, and English. My complaint at the time was the apparent waste of time that we were experiencing mainly due to lack of the measly funds needed to jump-start the project. At that particular moment Giorgio took from his desk an image of Our Lady of Kazan, whom he introduced to me as “the one that hastens to help” (I forgot the Greek phrase he tried to teach me that time, perhaps one of my Greek readers may remind me.)
At that point I heard myself say “the door bell” and Giorgio looked at me confused. Then the door bell chimed about five seconds after I inexplicably announced its ringing. Giorgio took care of whoever was at the door and came back to the living room. He was very curious as to what have prompted me to announce the visitor just a few seconds before arrival. I had no explanation save for having a sudden impulse to say: “the door bell.” Then he began talking about what should be done to implement my Catholic information mission. First he recommended praying the Rosary and asking for the necessary graces. He accurately diagnosed that I was resting too much on my own abilities and resources. I wanted to find a job to sustain the mission myself, Giorgio disagreed and said, “Our Lady wants” (he used that word) “to be the sole support and impulse behind that work.” At that point, for no discernible reason, my eyes filled with tears that I could barely contain. I was not sad, nor emotional in any way but the tears were coming like a cataract and honestly, I presumed that I was having an allergy attack, that’s how prosaic I am even when facing an obvious mystical experience. Giorgio saw my tears and said, “It will be realized through much suffering, I shall pray for you.”
And suffering followed for the both of us mired in acute poverty and yet not left destitute, surrounded by enemies and yet not defeated. So when I heard yesterday that Giorgio had been called to his heavenly reward I knew his pilgrimage and afflictions in this vale of tears were completed. I felt happy for him.
He leaves behind one of the few if not the only book about the miraculous 1934 Eucharistic Congress that took place in Buenos Aires. His book Dios de los Corazonescontains a detailed account of the Eucharistic event and many accurate reflections about what it meant for the country. Giorgio told me once his belief that the storm of political corruption lasting to this day, is a sign of the Devil’s anger following the repentance of so many men and women, including the conversion of the then President of Argentina — who pronounced one of the most moving speeches any Argentine president ever gave — at the closing of that great Christian gathering. I agree with Giorgio, and I would like to add what he clearly implied: that the future of Argentina is Catholic now that we have painfully experienced the fracas of all the gamut of quasi-religious and evil political ideologies of the left and the right. Christ may appear when we turn around the next bend of this rocky road we have been traveling for almost a century without seeking Him as a nation.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) Our friend Giorgio Sernani was a select seed. I believe he is now in the company of Fr Peyton and Fr Wojtyla. Now the seeds he planted will begin to bear fruit.