Don Tonino Bello, Pope Francis suggests, showed that our vocation is not just to be faithful devotees of Christ, but to become true lovers of the Lord. He also demonstrates that when God asks of us a ‘yes,’ we cannot respond with a ‘maybe.’
Francis is visiting the southern Italian towns of Alessano and Molfetta in Puglia to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the death of the popular Italian bishop Don Tonino Bello, remembered for his helping the poor, disadvantaged, and promoting peace. The Pope arrived around 8:30 a.m in Alessano, in the province of Lecce, on the ‘heel’ of Italy’s ‘boot’ from Rome’s Ciampino Airport.
Alessano is the town where Bishop Tonino was born and later buried. Before speaking to the faithful enthusiastically gathered, the Pope prayed at the tomb of the pastor, loved also for being among the people and without pretenses (similar to our Argentine Pontiff). In 2007, the cause for beatification of Don Tonino, late bishop of Molfetta-Ruvo-Giovinazzo-Terlizzi, was opened.
The Holy Father mentioned that he had just prayed on the late bishop’s grave, and observed it is tomb “which does not rise monumental upwards, but is planted in the earth.”
“Don Tonino, sown in his land – he, like a seed sown -,” Francis observed, “seems to want to say how much he loved this territory.”
Recalling Don Tonino’s great witness and defense of the poor, the Pope said that understanding the poor, was for him, “real wealth.”
“Remember it again, Don Tonino, faced with the recurrent temptation to follow us behind the powerful on duty, to seek privileges, to settle in a comfortable life.
The Gospel – you used to remember it at Christmas and at Easter – calls to an often uncomfortable life, because those who follow Jesus love the poor and the humble.” Thus did the Master, so he proclaimed his Mother, praising God because “he has overthrown the powerful from the thrones, he has raised the humble” (Lk 1: 52).
“A Church that cares about the poor always remains tuned to the channel of God, never loses the frequency of the Gospel and feels that it must return to the essential to profess consistently that the Lord is the only true good.
Don Tonino, the Pope said, reminds us not to “theorize” closeness to the poor, but to be close to them, as Jesus did. Feeling the need to imitate Christ, the Pope noted, he involved himself in the first person, until he “got rid of” himself.
“The requests did not disturb him, the indifference hurt him. He was not afraid of the lack of money, but worried about the uncertainty of the work, a problem that is still very current today. He did not miss the chance to say that in the first place is the worker with his dignity, not the profit with his greed.”
“He was not holding hands: acting locally to sow peace globally, in the belief that the best way to prevent violence and all kinds of wars is to take care of the needy and promote justice. In fact, if the war generates poverty, even poverty generates war.
“Peace, therefore, is built starting from the houses, from the streets, from the shops, where the communion molds itself. Don Tonino said, hopefully: ‘From the workshop, as one day from the workshop of Nazareth, the word of peace will come out that will instil humanity, thirsty for justice, for new destinies.'”
This vocation of peace, the Holy Father told those before him, belongs to your land.
Don Tonino is a man of his land, because his priesthood has matured in this land. Here his vocation has blossomed.
He showed how strongly God prefers, one by one, our fragile lives; echo of his voice of love that speaks to us every day; called to always go forward, to dream with audacity, to decentralize one’s existence to put it at the service; an invitation to always trust God, the only one capable of transforming life into a party.
“Behold, this is the vocation according to Don Tonino: a call to become not only faithful devotees, but true lovers of the Lord, with the ardor of the dream, the momentum of the gift, the audacity not to stop at half measures. Because when the Lord sets the heart on fire, hope can not be extinguished. When the Lord asks for a “yes”, we can not answer with “maybe”. It will do well, not only to the young, but to all of us, to all those who seek the meaning of life, to listen and listen to the words of Don Tonino.”
In this land, Pope Francis stressed, Antonio was born Tonino and became Don Tonino.
Pope Francis concluded, saying this simple and familiar name, which we read on his grave, still speaks to us. It tells of his desire to grow small to be near, to shorten distances, to offer a helping hand. It invites the simple and genuine opening of the Gospel.
After addressing the faithful of Alessano, Pope Francis flew north to where Molfetta, a port town where Don Tonino was bishop and died. In the cathedral there, Pope Francis said Mass. He is expected to arrive back in Rome around 1:30 p.m.