To express his condolences, Pope Francis called personally the son of a friend of his youth, Mario Verna, who died of Parkinson’s disease on December 3, 2018, in New Jersey.
“We are at the age when we begin to be called back (to God),” said the Pope in Spanish, during his one-minute telephone call, and he added that he would pray for the deceased during his next Mass.
This is what Dr. Verna’s son, Matthias, 49, a child psychiatrist in Scarsdale, New York, said to the journal “Today” on December 11, 2018.
Dr. Verna’s three sons had always heard their father say that he had a close friendship with Jorge Bergoglio, future Pope Francis, since his adolescence. Mario Verna and Jorge Bergoglio met in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in a Catholic Action group.
Therefore, on December 4, Matthias Verna faxed a letter to the Vatican in Spanish, giving his contact details and informing the Holy Father of his father’s death.
Less than 24 hours later, when Matthias was alone, driving his car, he received a phone call from an “unknown caller.” It was Pope Francis.
“I recognized his voice immediately and I said: ‘Oh, my word!” recalled Matthias. ”While I spoke with him, he was very natural, very human and very calm.”
Pope Francis said to Matthias that he certainly remembered El Flaco (the “Thin” one), Dr. Verna’s nickname in his youth.
“As soon as I hung up, I felt my legs turn to rubber. Then I began to cry. It was overwhelming,” continued Matthias.
“My father was known for his hospitality and his ability to engage with all who passed by the door. He was also known for his surprises. For us, this tribute was his last little surprise,” added Matthias.