'There was nothing, no streets, no electricity, only a few houses' padre Antonio tells us. 55 years ago Toon van Kessel was sent to Chile from Brabant, The Netherlands. A number of other missionaries preceded him, but not one persisted in desolation. After six weeks on a cargo ship Toon arrived in Chile. The first months were heavy and lonely. He lived mainly in his tent and the few inhabitants where suspicious. Toon didn't give up and relied on his motif of life, 'la aventura recompensa la fatiga' (the adventure overcomes the fatigues). He decided to build his own house and this opened new doors.
A number of manly residents came to offer their help and their wives started to prepared food. Suddenly everyone contributed and soon the suspicious inhabitants became his best friends. In the following days, Padre Antonio, provided sewerage, electricity and a local newspaper. As an autodidact he educated a group of students to help the poorest. He made great progress in the village. Together with his students he builded schools, houses and provided infrastructure to get on and off the island. His greatest achievements are the churches. He designed and built 31 churches, each with a unique style. The only similarity is the Alerce wood from which the entire churches are built. The idea for the design often arose during a dream or a walk. For example, one of his churches was built as a spaceship. At the moment he is still a priest in the parish which counts more than 50 churches, and he faithfully visits each of them term after term.
Toon is a missionary with own style. He follows his own path and fights against injustice. For twenty years he fought against the dictatorship of Pinochet and ended up in prison several times. It only gave him extra vitality. Whoever sees him now can not possibly believe that he has 82 years. Recently a Chilean biography was written about him, in which his performances are described. In the Netherlands almost nobody will know him, but in this region of Chile Padre Antonio is a celebrity and a hero.
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