Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Apostle of Charity

I first saw this at the blog of Vaticanista Andrea Tornielli. Il saluto a Don Benzi, in memory of the 82-year old Fr. Oreste Benzi, the founder of the Association of John XXIII, dedicated to serving the poor, the disabled, abandoned children and the most vulnerable, who died yesterday (Nov 2). In that brief note, S. Tornielli notes that Fr. Benzi had recently worked on rescuing the "slaves of sex," especially girls who are used as prostitutes by criminal gangs. Today, he publishes an interview with a former prostitute, a Ukrainian girl who was rescued by Fr. Benzi. The link, however, goes to an article with a brief life story of this remarkable priest. Here are some excerpts [my translation.]
He was a priest to the full. He never took off his cassock or his Roman collar. In the cassock, Fr. Orestes walked the streets at night, accompanied by his volunteers, in order to seek to convince the prostitutes to change their lives, offering them shelter and a concrete possibility of rescue. That cassock became more worn out and patched. Wearing it, he accompanied a former Nigerian prostitute with AIDS to a meeting with Pope Wojtyla in 2003.

One of his other fights was against abortion. The evening before he died, he had organized gatherings in cemeteries to pray for "those never born," calling attention to this phenomenon, and the need to have volunteers to consult with women to convince them not to have abortions. Fr. Oreste Benzi, the old priest in the worn cassock, leaves behind 200 family homes in Italy, six houses of prayer, seven houses of fraternity, fifteen cooperative societies to help the disadvantaged, six day-center for those with serious handicaps, thirty-two therapeutic centers. His association, recognized by the Holy See, is present in Albania, Australia, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brasile, Chile, China, Croatia, India, Kenya, Romania, Russia, Tanzania, Venezuela and Zambia.
The Holy Father sent his condolences yesterday as well (Zenit).

YouTube: An Italian TV commercial highlighting the work of the Association. "Dateci una mano. Gli daremo una famiglia." (Give us a hand. We'll give them a family.) Cars pull up to sex-workers, the windows roll down, and the drivers hand out a set of keys. The last clip shows Don Benzi. Apparently, this was part of a campaign where one could donate money through one's cell-provider to the Association.

YouTube: A brief TV clip from Icaro TV (Italian) in memory of Don Benzi.

What a remarkable priest! Let us thank God for his life. Requiescat in pace.

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