New Humanity Movement

Social Ethics


Roberto Stirparo is a hydraulic engineer and an expert on water purification plants. His professional career is quite intense and enriched by his endeavor to put into practice the Gospel.

by Paolo Balduzzi

Roberto Stirparo is a hydraulic engineer with a special interest in the environment. For many years he has been responsible of water purification plants. He is married and the father of a girl, and the family lives in Calabria, in the south of Italy. His story is emblematic: it shows the importance of putting the Gospel into practice in daily life, even when things get tough.

For starters, how did you find yourself involved in the running of water purification plants?

«I graduated in April 1992 as a hydraulic engineer. My extended family was involved in the tourist industry. When business started to take a downward curve, there was a lot of tension among the members of my family. This situation affected badly my father, who suffered from a hemorrhage in the brain just two months prior to my graduation; he was left totally paralyzed. It was not an easy situation, and I found it quite hard to keep on believing in the words of the Gospel. We opted to safeguard the relationships between the members of the extended family. Therefore we gave our business shares to the other family members».

What made you take such a decision?

«Living the Gospel in the light of the charism of unity helped me understand that I must love every person, even my enemies: this entailed avoiding conflicts and highlighting the good that bonded us together. Thus, thanks to my degree I sought other professional opportunities».

So now you are involved in water purification?

«At the end of the nineties a multi-national company was running the 50 water purification plants in our region. The project that the ministries of the environment and that of labor planned involved taking in 300 jobless young men to manage these plants. These young men had to be trained, and therefore the company was looking for someone to hold training courses for these employees. First I was asked to give one lecture, then two, and after that four. It was then that the technical director asked me to stay on to manage some of the plants».

What did you discover when you started to work for such a big company?

«I discovered that almost all those working there were employed because they had influential contacts: I was, perhaps, the only one employed thanks to my professional training. Anyway, I tried my best to be honest on the job, and the plants started working very well again».

If the plants worked, why were they shut down for so long?

«I think that what was lacking was good will. Many saw these plants, which were aimed to better the environment, as useless since there was no profit to be made. The environmental issues need to be addressed through an education and formation to live for the others and not for one’s self; otherwise all professional services are seen only as a means of making money, and this poisons the whole system».

CalabriaWhat happened then?

«That project came to an end and I was employed by other companies. In a private enterprise the first objective is to make a profit and not the rigorous management of the public water resources for the common good. I was told as much in no uncertain terms. However, when I have to safeguard the environment, the future of our children, the health of the citizens, and the good of the city, and, at the same time, keep in mind the balance sheet, things could become complicated. In fact, such situations have often led people to be charged in court for lack of proper behavior, like when the residues from the purification plants were thrown into the rivers and thus pollutants ended up in the sea».

You, instead, did something that went against the current…

«I resigned. I was asked to make some of these ‘polluting’ plants work again. What could I do? I would have received my pay against what my conscience suggested. I preferred to be poor, but keep my honesty».

Yet, you were already married and had children…

«Yes, I was aware of all this; however, every decision I took was actively discussed with my wife. However, when we try to live the Gospel in every aspect of life, we understand that we cannot limit our Christianity to Sundays. You can be a Christian if you are so all the time. I wouldn’t have survived in a place where illegality was considered as a fact of life. My conscience, my education, my ideals, and the Gospel: all these urged me not to accept such a situation, even if this meant sacrifices. In fact, I had to pass through a lot of suffering».

I believe you were under enormous psychological pressure.

«Yes, indeed; I was unwell for long periods, and even today it’s still not easy for me. While I drive my van, which I’m still paying, my colleagues drive luxurious cars. I know that some make me the butt of their jokes. My gives me the courage to go ahead is the sharing with my friends who have my same ideals. I am happy with my present life, even if I lack some things because of my fidelity to the Christian values. However, one must have to courage not to look at his interests; when one gets too rich, this means that someone else has become poorer. Christianity promotes equality in the distribution of resources».

How many times did you resign in these years?

«I resigned many times. However, I have also some wonderful experiences. One of these was the Social Cooperative in a small town. There were three of us: an electrician, a worker (an ex-drug addict who was given this job to help in his rehabilitation), and myself, an engineer. Together we managed some water purification plants and the results were excellent. Many were surprised to see that at last their tap water was of a high quality».

What are you doing now?

«I’m a consultant on the environment, especially where water purification is concerned. Now I manage one plant and some other small private enterprises».

What have you learned from your experiences?

«I learned that if I try to live the Gospel, notwithstanding my limitations and my shortcomings, sooner or later things get better. The results we obtained in this part of the country cannot be taken for granted: they are the fruits of the sufferings we had to go through day by day. A lab technician was very skeptical about the purity of our water; now he brings in schoolchildren and lab technicians in training to visit the plants that we run».

Were you ever discouraged? Wouldn’t it be easier to do as the others do?

«It’s a continuous struggle. Every day requires an effort not to give in to that temptation, because I’m aware of my weakness. This very morning, while walking on the beach, I was asking myself: “Is this worth doing?” With the sun reflecting off the sea I felt God’s presence and I was reassured. My conscience was at peace. Above all I felt that I’m on the right path. My financial situation is not that good and reaching the end of each month is not that easy. My story and that of my family is a confirmation that we need to believe in God in order to give him space in which to work. This entails making choices that go against the current. I’m happy with the little I have (for me eternal life is enough) and, after all, God knows what we need. So far we always had what we needed; what we lacked was the superfluous. This is the best answer I can give you».

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