Xavier Ilundain: "We have distributed 13 million stars".

The Pontifical Missionary Works awards this year went to Sister Primitiva Vela, a missionary in India, and Father Xavier Ilundain, founder of "Sowers of Stars", who told Omnes about his experience with this initiative.

Loreto Rios-October 20, 2023-Reading time: 4 minutes

Xavier Ilundain ©OMP

Today, Friday, October 20, the missionary awards of the Pontifical Mission Societies will be presented. This is the second edition of these awards, which this year have gone to Sister Primitiva Vela (Blessed Pauline Jaricot Award), Sister of Charity of Saint Anne, missionary in India, and Father Xavier Ilundain (Paolo Manna Award), Jesuit, founder of the initiative "Star Sowers".

"Star Sowers" was born in 1977 as a way to teach children that you can give something without expecting anything in return. On the Saturday before Christmas, thousands of children would take to the streets with stars that they had had to acquire beforehand and on which there was a short message, such as "Jesus is born for you", or "Jesus lives". The project consisted of giving the stars to people, but without accepting gifts. Afterwards, everyone gathered to share their experiences, at first in squares, and later, as the initiative grew, in the Puerta del Sol.

Millions of stars have been distributed to date, and the activity continues today.

On the occasion of the presentation of the OMP awards, we spoke with Xavier Ilundain, who fondly remembers all that "Sembradores de Estrellas" has given him.

How did the idea of "Sembradores de Estrellas" come up?

"Sowers of stars" is a long dream, many of these works you incubate them little by little and you have to give them a gestation time, just as it happens in human gestation. And then the child comes out, and that's how it was.

On the day of the Domund The money is sent to the missions through the Vatican. I was then in a school, Our Lady of Remembrance, and I was thinking about how to explain to the kids that you can give something in exchange for nothing, in the sense of being free and not looking for rewards.

Then, it occurred to me that the same children that went out (or that we went out, I also went out in my time with the piggy banks) to collect the money, should go out again to thank the missionaries for the help they had received. The idea of the stars was because I came up with the idea that they would make a gift and that each one had to buy the stars that they were going to distribute. They went out in groups, but each one bought the stars, so they were a gift from each one of the children. And they could not receive gifts.

They would go out on the Saturday before Christmas and the stars would carry a message, such as "Jesus lives", for example, which fits on a star.

At the beginning, we provoked a surprise, because people said: "But what is this for? And we had to explain to them: "This is for you, we give it away, we like to give them away as a thank you from the missionaries who have received help from the collections that have been made here".

It was nice, at the end of the day we would gather in some square, depending on where they had been handing out stars, congratulate each other on Christmas and go home. The meaning was to give for free: I buy it, I give it away, and I share a little something of mine.

It started in Madrid, but then it went to all of Spain. We managed to give out 13 million stars, it is unusual to have an explosion like that, a lot of children came out. It was growing, I was rehearsing with the kids and the people in charge, to do it in a way that was pleasing to the people who stopped, so that they wouldn't give them the star and run away. And then we went on conquering Madrid.

What anecdote would you leave with after all these years?

Well, as we had started with the people of Madrid, we decided to go to the mayor, who at that time was Tierno Galván. It is an anecdote that I have told several times. Tierno Galván was a man very respectful of the reality in which he lived. He was agnostic, but a man with a very great human quality. He was ill and had been suffering from cancer for a year when we went to see him. We asked for an audience, they gave it to us, then they took it away, probably because of his health, and at his request they gave it to us again.

When we entered the room, he said, "Guys, a mayor has no time to think about anything but the things he is going to do in the next two hours, and he has no time left to think about the things of the spirit. You guys are going to help me think about them." It was a beautiful testimony of belief. He asked us to sing for him and we sang several Christmas carols for him. Also a boy read him a speech, and when he finished he said: "Come, my boy, I'll give you a kiss". He lived only a few more days, so it was a testimony just a few days before his death.

Afterwards, we started to hold the meetings in Puerta del Sol, and there we gathered around 5000 people. We had done a rehearsal before in the Plaza Mayor. Queen Sofia went there to buy Christmas figures: it was on the cover of ABC and she was wearing one of our stars. That was curdling later in more important things. When we met at the Puerta del Sol, the City Hall provided the stage and the public address system. That's where we launched balloons.

A balloon is a piece of rubber that is good for nothing, but, if you fill it inside, it is agile, you can play with it, and it moves easily. And, if you put helium in it, it goes for a ride in the sky. With this symbolism, we explained: "We have come here, dear Madrilenians who are in Puerta del Sol, to fill you inside so that you travel very high and that your life is full of good feelings".

We were accompanied for a few years by two mayors, in addition to Tierno Galván: Rodríguez Sahagún and Álvarez Manzano. They came to be with us, addressed the kids, and said they were very happy to be with them. At the end we released the balloons into the air. They had a little card with a phrase for the person who found the balloon when it stopped flying.

The bottom line is: "It's worth giving something for nothing". And then we conquered the city. There were years when we had people at all the subway exits, which meant that everyone who took the subway, when leaving, took our stars.

Have you participated in other initiatives of this type?

With Sembradores de Estrellas many other things started to come out. There were two sisters who played the accordion very well and they started to come out with musical instruments as well. Others were painters and started painting on the sidewalks. You would follow some arrows, and, in a couple of blocks, they would end up in one of those drawings.

We began to gather the children also in Santo Domingo de Silos, in the Missionary Encounters of Silos. We had very large camps, we had 1800 campers.

There was also the Missionary Train, the Missionary Song Festivals or the creation of a movement called Christians Without Borders.

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