Ernesto Olivero was born in 1940 in Mercato San Severino (Salerno). He is now married and has three children and seven grandchildren. He worked in different companies around Turin and then in a bank until 1991, when he resigned. In 1964, in Turin, he founded Sermig (“Servizio Missionario Giovani”, or “Young Missionary Service”) with his wife Maria and a group of young people who wished to defeat hunger with acts of justice and promote development and solidarity towards the poor.
Then, in 1980s, the Brotherhood of Hope was created within Sermig. It is now formed by around a hundred people, from young to married couples, families, monks and nuns who work full time to help the poor and young in their educational path, living according to the teachings of the Gospel and being a symbol of hope.
Beyond the Brotherhood of Hope, hundreds of volunteers and the international movement “Giovani per la Pace” (“Young for Peace”) are inspired by the spirituality and methods of Sermig.
The Arsenal of Peace
In 1983, the City of Turin freely conceded to Sermig the former military arsenal of piazza Borgo Dora and, with the encouragement of politician Giorgio La Pira, Ernesto Olivero felt that this was the first step on a path leading to peace. With the free help of hundreds of goodwill young, volunteers, men and women from all Italy, the transformation of this place began. On the 11th of April 1984, former President of the Italian Republic Sandro Pertini inaugurated the Arsenal of Peace. Then, during the following years, Olivero’s organisational and business skills allowed the complete refurbishment of the whole 45.000-square-metre complex.
Thanks to the huge work of transformation of the Arsenal and the constant activity of Sermig in favour of the last, Ernesto Olivero has been defined “businessman of goodwill”.
So, where many of the weapons used during the Two World Wars were forged, a urban monastery has been created. It is open twenty-four hours a day and it represents a space for coexistence, dialogue, young education and hospitality for people in need. It provides a shelter for men and women who look for help to change their lives and, during all these years, people of more than 140 nationalities have found a response to their requests there. The Arsenal is also a place of meeting for thousands of young people who come both from Italy and abroad to discuss, talk and grow up together. It is the source of a solidarity network that reaches all the five continents and a place for prayer and silence, culture and education. In 2008, the institutions recognised Sermig as local heritage and Turin and Piedmont became the City, Province and Region of the Arsenal of Peace.
Sermig works thanks to the free contribution of thousands of friends and volunteers who share their time, professionalism, money, spiritual and material goods. The sharing of these resources allows Sermig to be supported to 93% by the people.
Our commitment to the young
Young people are Sermig’s major concern, because of the difficulties they have to deal with in this historical period, but they are also our hope for the future, when they engage with study, commitment and voluntary work. Ernesto Olivero has always been deeply committed to offer them a life witness and values to look up to. From within the Arsenal of Peace, he asked to authorities all around the world to declare them World Heritage, and so to respect, care for and help them in their growth.
Young people of Sermig signed their Charter as a commitment and Ernesto Olivero started for them the international movement “Giovani della Pace” (“Young for Peace”) that regularly gathers ten thousands young people to reshape the world through the new generations and peace. The first meeting took place in Turin on the 5th of October 2002 and a hundred thousand young people participated in it.
Ernesto Olivero wanted his Arsenals all around the world to be doors widely open on suffering, misery, hunger, desperation and injustice, twenty-four hours a day. They house a family who welcomes everyone, with the intention of helping whoever sincerely wants to come out of a situation of degradation.
The spirit of Sermig is always overflowing the Arsenal walls to go towards the poorest, in Rwanda like in Darfour, in Romania like in Georgia, and also in Italy. Thanks to this constant commitment, in 1992, Ernesto Olivero received the title of “Grand’Ufficiale dell’Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana” at the hands of the President of Italian Republic and, in 1996, he was also nominated “Cavaliere di Gran Croce”. In 1999, he then received a honorary degree in Sociology at the University of Turin.
Our commitment to peace and development
With his belief in resource sharing, justice and dialogue as preconditions for peace, Ernesto Olivero has performed around 3.050 humanitarian actions with Sermig in more than 90 countries, including studies and projects to promote self-development and necessities sent to entire populations and single persons.
All these projects aim at protect life, especially that of children. Beyond the provision of hospitality and fundamental services, like health services and food supply, Sermig also supports educational projects and activities that produce an income, to promote local resources and opportunities, foster business and professionalism and provide lasting answers to the need of work and development.
In 1991, Pope John Paul II encouraged Ernesto Olivero to be “a loyal friend to all the abandoned children in the world” and confirmed his constant commitment in helping their lives.
In addition to his personal participation in many development projects all around the world, Ernesto Olivero has also accompanied the peacekeeping missions that Sermig conducted in conflict zones like Somalia, Rwanda, Yugoslavia and Albania. Basic necessities were sent to the people living there, without making any political or religious distinction. Thanks to these interventions, it has been possible to meet the locals and provide other tailored forms of help. Many missions aimed at putting an end to conflicts and promoting dialogue were also conducted in the Middle East: in Lebanon like in Iraq, in Palestine like in Israel and Jordan.
In recognition of his solidarity actions to promote peace, Ernesto Olivero was entitled “First Class Kawkab” by king Hussein of Jordan, and the Israeli organisation “Keren Kayemeth Leisrael” dedicated to him an orchard on the hills surrounding Jerusalem.
One of the most important contributions of Ernesto Olivero was the help he gave to lift the siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002 that earned him the prize of “Man of Peace of Bethlehem and Jerusalem”, awarded him by the Custody of the Holy Land.
In 1997, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See at the United Nations entitled Ernesto Olivero “Servitor Pacis” and many personalities, including Mother Teresa, Norberto Bobbio and Cardinal Martini, nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Our Arsenals in the world
In 1996, with a Brotherhood from Sermig, Ernesto Olivero opened the Arsenal of Hope in São Paulo of Brazil. It was a building that, since the end of the nineteenth century to the 1950s, hosted millions of immigrants coming from the whole world. They stayed in isolation in that “House of Sorrow” for forty days before reaching the plantations of coffee and cotton to work there in place of the slaves. Today, it is a house for the poorest, the “sofredores de rua”, people coming to the city from the suburbs in search of a new job and a new life.
Every day, the Arsenal of Hope offers around 7.000 people a clean bed, a decent meal and all the necessary for their personal hygiene, beyond literacy classes, job training and medical care. Our aim is to recover dignity and promote social reintegration, through the help of 350 volunteers who are an anchor for the poor and young people there. Ernesto Olivero decided not to bring funds from Italy to Brazil, but ideas to be shared with the local volunteers to unlock the great potential of that country, so rich in contradictions but also in resources. Sermig philosophy, in Brazil like in Turin, is to create a community in which to try to overcome the distance between those who welcome and those who are welcomed and in which receiving free help is not humiliating.
Even the Patriarch of Jerusalem called upon Ernesto Olivero to develop an assistance program for disabled people in Jordan. So, since 2003, Sermig has its Meeting Point Arsenal in Madaba to help the local population. It hosts both Christian and Muslim disabled children to offer them medical care, physiotherapy, help for their school integration and support to their families, to promote their social inclusion through a network of solidarity and voluntary work. The Meeting Point Arsenal is a place of meeting and education for young people and families.
Ernesto Olivero’s dream is to open as many Arsenals as possible in many different cities all around the world, to experience meeting with God in silence; to respond to the needs of the young and of whoever lives in misery; to testify that the “other” is not an enemy and a foreigner, but a person to be known, loved and respected and to educate to solidarity, global ethics and be responsible citizens.
A friend of Ernesto Olivero wrote about him: “The best way to introduce him is describing what he has done. Since he founded Sermig, millions of people have helped millions of people. His field is faith to fight inequalities; his motto is to work in silence, with care and competence; his passion is to spread hope through actions and his rule is a union of patience and strictness. The result is good made well”.