VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 9, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI congratulates and encourages Father Oreste Benzi, founder of the Pope John XXIII Community Association, on his 80th birthday.
Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, sent a congratulatory message on behalf of the Holy Father to a celebration of the community in the Italian town of Rimini on Thursday, during which Father Benzi presided at the Mass.
The Holy Father congratulates the priest, “uniting himself spiritually to the entire Pope John XXIII Association founded by you,” said the message.
In the statement the Pope recognizes “the long and untiring service” given “to all those who are in conditions of discomfort and abandonment,” reported Vatican Radio.
The Pope invokes upon the association “a renewed effusion of heavenly graces so that you will be able to continue with ever generous dedication the apostolic work undertaken.”
The Holy Father also commends the community for “spreading hope and peace in the hearts of so many tried people and witnessing the Gospel of charity.”
More than three decades ago, Father Benzi founded the Pope John XXIII Community Association, a private international association of faithful of pontifical right which is dedicated to the material and spiritual care of the marginalized in various countries, mainly in Europe, Latin America and Africa.
In his homily, Father Benzi said several times that the fruits of the work carried out by the community over these years “have been possible because of the love for Jesus Christ on the part of all those who adhere” to the same: “1,709 persons present in 22 countries.”
“We do what we do not because we are courageous, but because it is the Lord who has brought us together,” he said.
He also recalled that “in 25 years, 7,000 drug-addicted youths have been found and taken in by the community with an 80% recovery rate,” and there are “5,500 women freed from the slavery of prostitution.”
On May 15, 2002, Father Benzi attended an audience with John Paul II accompanied by hundreds of the women his group helped to free from prostitution. In the meeting, the Pope assured them of his “spiritual closeness and prayer” and encouraged them “to continue with confidence on the path toward full freedom, which is founded on human dignity.”