• Father Oreste Benzi in the words of those who met him

On this page we share some of the many testimonies of people from religious and public life, as well as those of ordinary members of society from all walks of life, who met Father Oreste Benzi.

Unless specified as ‘previously unreleased’, testimonies are taken from:
Casadei Elisabetta (ed.), Don Oreste Benzi fratello di tutti [Father Oreste Benzi, everybody’s brother], Effatà, Cantalupa (TO) 2017
Elisabetta Casadei is the Postulator of the Cause of Beatification of Father Oreste Benzi.

Mons. Francesco Lambiasi
Bishop of Rimini

He started his service in the Diocese of Rimini on 15 September 2007, forty-seven days before Father Oreste Benzi was ‘born into Heaven’. Formerly Bishop of Anagni-Alatri (1999-2001) and Assistant General of Italian Catholic Action (2001-2007), Mons. Lambiasi is also a well-known author of books aimed at the general public.

The first time I met him

I first met Father Oreste personally on 13 March 1999 in Anagni. We had invited him to speak at a conference held in the regional seminary, of which I had been the rector.

Father Oreste arrived punctually… late! He didn’t know that a few days before I had been appointed Bishop of Anagni-Alatri. Somebody told him and, as soon as he knew, he dropped to his knees in front of the many people who had come to hear him speak and asked me to bless him.

On that occasion, I saw that he was a priest consumed by charity – an exceptional person with a warm and enveloping humanity, an extraordinary Christian with a clear and rock-solid faith.

What I «deeply admired» in Father Oreste

I deeply admired his love for Jesus. This was the pillar of his life. It was a ‘crazy’ love, which made him hold firmly to prayer and the Mass: he celebrated Mass even when he returned very late from a pilgrimage. In the depths of his heart, there was an underground river flowing – his love for Jesus – that from time to time came up to the surface. You could sense that he was a man full of God.

How he changed me as a priest…

He influenced me greatly, because he made me more sensitive to the ‘thorn’ of the poor and more attentive to nurturing my relationship with the Lord, a most precious and fragile relationship. If I had to include him in a list of inspirational priests, he would certainly be in the top three because he was a real priest, unconditionally surrendered to his call, who didn’t pursue private plans or personal projects and dreams.

…and as a Christian

He was fully a «priest» because he was fully a «Christian» . The fundamental thing for him was to be a disciple in love with Jesus and his Church. He had a strong sense of baptism, which he didn’t just see as a minor or decorative thing, but rather as a central and key element, a cornerstone. I often say to our priests and seminarians, ‘The difficulty – and beauty! – is not about being a priest but rather a Christian’. I even think that the ‘excellency’ title given to me is too much. Real excellency is common to all and comes from baptism. It has no other defining feature.

He made me a better «father»…

I saw in him a very happy and contented priest, which happens when your sense of fraternity and fatherhood is true and strong.

His solution to sadness was to dedicate yourself to others and their problems – that is, to «decentre» yourself and let other people ‘abide’ in you. Every time I think of him and look at myself through the eyes of his sanctity, I can see that I am very far away from his model, although I can grasp the beauty and fascination of his lifestyle.I wish that nobody could ever see in my face those worries that tend towards sadness, even if they are severe. Suffering, tension or tiredness are understandable in a priest, but sadness is not.

Father Oreste did get angry when confronted with the many injustices committed against the poor, but he did it in an evangelical way, like Jesus did. In me, I see something different: I get angry as a result of my injured pride or some wounds that fester inside.

… and he helped me feel like I was a «son» of the Church in Rimini.

I wish I had been a spiritual son of a priest like Father Oreste. He helped me feel like I was both a «son» and a «brother» of this beautiful Church here in Rimini. When he found out that I had been appointed Bishop of Rimini, he rang me and, almost as a mutual pact, said, «Come! Don’t be afraid! I will help you» . These very words caused profound sadness in me when, only forty days later, on the morning of 2 November 2007, I found myself standing in front of his dead body. Immediately, though, I felt a great peace, which came from an absolute certainty: he was, and still is, able to keep his promise. In many moments of my life, not only do I feel that he is close to me, but I also talk to him and say, «Father Oreste, now you have to help me; I want to see how you get on!»

From Conversation with the Postulator
30 September 2016

Mons. Santo Marcianò

Military Ordinary for Italy (2013) and former Bishop of Rossano-Cariati (2006-2013).

A young person talking to young people! This was my first image of Father Oreste Benzi, and I think it depicts him quite faithfully. Indeed, I met him when, as Seminary Rector and Director of the Diocesan Office of Vocations, I invited him to the Diocesan Youth Day in Reggio Calabria to offer young people – in addition to spiritual reflections and entertaining events – the powerful testimony of a life dedicated to evangelisation and the service of the poor and least – the ‘little ones’.

It was a clear and eye-opening testimony, which focused on his work of rescuing and rehabilitating girls from the street, whose fate upset Father Oreste day and night.

«Would you sleep well if she was your sister?», he cried out from the stage, in the square crowded with teenagers and young people, and his cry broke the darkness of the night and the joy of that event. He shook the hearts of the young people present – and not only theirs – offering a glimpse of his sanctity: he firmly believed that, with God’s help, nothing is impossible, irredeemable or too risky. And, even if risks exist – and I believe he ran a lot of risks – it is always worth taking the risk when it comes to saving a brother or sister, giving a family to an abandoned or neglected child, or having the chance to prove to God one’s faith and hope, through the courage and creative thought that come from charity.

The street, the fringes, the rejected… the words through which Pope Francis calls us into question today are Father Oreste’s actions of yesterday. These fruitful deeds continue in the extraordinary experience of the Community of Pope John XXIII, in the ‘greater love’ shown by those, especially families, who open their homes, hearts and lives to those who are neglected and cast out, living in joyful simplicity, in communion and prayer, and taking on human sufferings in the simplicity of everyday life.

The charism of the Pope John Community is wonderful. When I was Bishop of Rossano-Cariati, I welcomed it with joy as a source of richness for the Diocese, and I continue to do so today through accompanying many brothers, sisters and friends along its path.

Father Oreste Benzi’s charism is wonderful: it is able to reach everybody and, yesterday like today, can bring about a revolution of love, which is the only evangelical answer to the present culture of death and globalisation of indifference.

In order to trigger such a revolution, God called a revolutionary man: a man of giant steps, with an immense heart and a voice full of strength… A young person talking to young people, who was, and remained, an enthusiastic, open and brave child: a trustful and joyful child in God’s arms.

† Santo Marcianò Ordinary Military Archbishop for Italy
Letter to the Postulator
11 March 2017

Mons. Vincenzo Paglia

President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Grand Chancellor of the St John Paul II Institute and President of the International Catholic Biblical Federation. He was President of the Pontifical Council for the Family (2012-2016) and Bishop of Terni (2000-2013).

I first met Father Oreste at a conference of charity workers organised by the Italian Episcopal Conference. He made a really big impact on people, due to both his simplicity – his famous «threadbare cassock» is an example – and his passion for the poor to be at the heart of the Church. Everybody was struck by the contrast, or rather the link, between his simple appearance and the ‘fire’ that seemed to blaze forth from him.

I remember him as somebody who showed the strength and beauty of the Church of the Second Vatican Council: somebody who showed, in practice and with no frills, the true heart of mercy. Father Benzi, in his person, made visible the very start of the Council (that is, the period under Pope John XXIII), in which the Church chose the ‘medicine’ of mercy as its primary characteristic. In this sense, Father Oreste was truly a priest of the Council, and was remarkably in accordance with Pope Francis, who is now continuing that which was started by Pope John XXIII and has run through many testimonies, most certainly including that of Father Oreste Benzi himself.

I remember his passion for giving testimony as one of the most beautiful things we talked about. He told me that if you want to reach people’s hearts, you must testify to charity – that is, you must live out charity before you can talk about it. And he definitely wasn’t short of words when it came to speaking in public, including at an institutional level. He told me, «We must make charity visible: we must foster children, we must go where exploited girls are».

I particularly liked the emphasis placed on community life as the best medicine for healing everything; the family in particular – meant as an extended family – showed the meaning of the Church as a family that welcomes. This was one of the conversations we had that helped develop a «close affinity» between us.

I fully support the opening of his Cause of Beatification because he represents the many aspects of love that we are so much in need of today. I believe it is particularly important to recognise him at an official level because, through his simple, and at the same time universal, life, he reveals something special: an aspect of universal love.

The process of beatification is not aimed at distancing Father Benzi from us and placing him ‘higher up’, but rather at sowing the seeds of his testimony as widely as possible.

From Interview given to the Postulator
5 January 2017

Mons. Matteo Maria Zuppi

Archbishop of Bologna since 2015. He was previously Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Rome (2012-2015), and Parish Priest and General Ecclesiastical Assistant of the Community of Sant’Egidio, on whose behalf he was also a mediator for peace in Mozambique (1992).

I met Father Oreste at various public events, as well as during various «street commitments» – let’s call them this – connected to his activities in favour of the weakest members of society, at which I was present with members of the Community of Sant’Egidio, of which I am part. I also met him at other meetings we both went to, such as those held by the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

What struck me was his meekness and determination. He was a very meek, respectful and good-natured man, who, at the same time had a strong determination which stemmed from his firm beliefs. Meek and respectful with everybody, but also very firm in his ideals.

He was an «old-fashioned» priest, but at the same time very attentive to reality; he never stopped questioning himself about the signs of the times, especially those made evident by the poor and the weak. Starting with them, he was able to understand many changes in the world.

My strongest memory of him, however, is his firm belief that everything is possible, that faith can perform miracles, whilst resignation makes you believe everything is useless. He firmly believed this and easily lived it out, to the point of being misinterpreted as superficial or naive.

I am happy about the opening of his Cause of Beatification; even without this process, we already know about the good seeds he sowed. Many find encouragement in him, as well as an example to follow. Whatever the outcome of the process, we are already seeing many fruits of his sanctity today.

In the Church in Bologna, for example, he is very much remembered not only by those who live out the same charism – the members of the Community of Pope John XXIII – but also by many who live out his teachings and are encouraged by the testimony of his life.

From Interview given to the Postulator
30 December 2016

Father Luigi Ciotti

Founder of Gruppo Abele, for recovery from addiction (1973), and Associazione Libera, against mafia oppression and culture (1995). He concelebrated Mass at Father Oreste’s funeral.

I first met Father Oreste at the end of the 1970s, during which period of time, and at the invitation of the Diocese and Mons. Giovanni Locatelli, I often went to Rimini to take part in meetings about drugs and addiction. These were matters of great concern and increasing proportions, and Father Oreste wanted to learn more and deepen his understanding of them in order to help the victims, especially young people.

I remember some of the meetings with him and his collaborators, during which I could see first-hand his great passion and generosity.

He had great faith and was truly dedicated to the poor and the least in society. He welcomed many of them into family homes, places of relationship and dignity, which were realised over the course of many years of commitment.

He was a person in love with God, a tenacious bearer of hope.

I often think of and remember him: Father Oreste was, after all, a ‘thorny’, passionate and enthusiastic man, who really made an impact on you. He continues to be in people’s hearts, conscience and prayer.

I pray to him «to pray» for us, to help us pursue with increasing strength the same goals that, with different styles and methods, we both pursued: to grant freedom and dignity to everyone.

From Letter to the Postulator
29 March 2017

Ernesto Olivero

Founder of Serming (Missionary Service of Young People) in Turin, with his wife Maria Cerrato, which works to realise the dream of eliminating hunger and building peace, giving young people a wonderful aim in life. Founded in 1964, Serming gave rise to the Arsenal of Hope, a 45,000 sq m site, where the poor of every kind are welcomed. Ernesto is also a peace mediator in Italy and worldwide, and a well-known writer.

We came across each other at various conferences and I liked him straight away.

He was the only priest – among the «famous» ones – to whom I would have confessed and to whom I would entrust my wallet. He was a simple Christian, and only a simple Christian could do the things he did. If, for example, he met a woman from the street, he didn’t try to ‘redeem’ her, but rather to help her enter a new ‘dimension’ of life. For me, this is exactly what holiness is. The rest, showy gestures, do not touch people, and he definitely wasn’t a showy man. True things are simple, and Father Oreste was a simple man; he wasn’t complicated. He didn’t just talk about things, but lived out what he said.

Father Oreste was a true Christian: a contemplative man and a man of action.

The Church should have already proclaimed him a saint; his actions speak for him.

From Interview given to the Postulator
11 July 2016

Giorgio Rastelli

One of the ‘boys of 1949’. A former bank clerk, now retired.

It was 1984 and we were celebrating the thirty-fifth anniversary of the ordination of our dear friend Father Oreste Benzi. Some of us who had been lucky enough to have experienced his pastoral work in 1949 had organised a celebration of the event at the church of San Nicolò al Porto, where his priestly ministry began. It was a Sunday in April and we had a really good day together, reminiscing about old times. We were all so happy to be together again, just like we were as children and teenagers, with our first spiritual father.

A few days after this meeting, one of the participants approached me and told me he wanted to make a donation to Father Oreste. He wanted to remain anonymous and therefore asked me to act as intermediary. I agreed. A few days later this friend of mine gave me a cashier’s cheque for five million lira payable to Father Oreste.

Given the size of the cheque, I got on my bike and went straight to La Resurrezione parish, with little hope of finding Father Oreste there. To my surprise, I found our dear friend at the entrance to the church. He asked me, «Giorgio, what are you doing here?» I answered, «I’ve come to see you». It wasn’t unusual for me to go to the Saturday afternoon Mass at that parish. I immediately told him that I had been given a cheque, a donation for his activities. He looked at the size of the cheque and then asked some of the people standing on the church doorstep to gather round. He showed them the cheque and said, «You won’t believe this. Yesterday I received a call from our missionaries in Zambia. They asked me to send them five million lira to dig a well. Here is the money for that well!»

From Message to the Postulator
21 November 2016

Daniele Gori

From Rimini, he took the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in the Community of Pope John XXIII. He goes anywhere he is needed: family homes, Bethlehem Huts for homeless people, to Roma people, emergency shelters for street women, refugees…

I’m forty-nine. I’m an electrician but I used to work in my parents’ fish shop. I was engaged and I didn’t use to go to church.

One day I had a serious accident and I was confined to bed for several months. During that time, I questioned myself about my future – there was a chance I could be permanently confined to a wheelchair – and about the meaning of my life. I started to read the Gospel and, day by day, my heart started to change. I had an intense experience of the Lord, and my strong desire to live only for Jesus came out of this.

Along my path, I met the Community of Pope John XXIII, where even the most ‘ragtag’ of people, from all walks of life, and living in any state of life, can live out the Gospel. That is how I met Father Oreste, a person in love with Christ, who helped me realise my desire: to welcome into my home, at any time of day or night, women enslaved on the streets who have run away from their pimps, homeless people, women with children who don’t know where to turn; to live with a Roma family in my garden, or with people with mental or physical disabilities who would otherwise be confined to an institution for the rest of their life.

How often Father Oreste used to «bother» us by asking us to welcome someone, and his requests were usually tough ones! When they were especially tough, he would start his phone call like this, «Daniele, how are you doing with the Lord?» I would reply, «Ah, well, thanks, but now I feel a bit worried…»

What good times and laughs we had together! He really enjoyed what he did and fully savoured it deep inside, never wasting even one moment of his existence.

They should make him a saint straight away, because he remained faithful until the end; because he was scared, but overcame fear for a greater love; because he was standing upright by kneeling down; because (by choice) he welcomed everybody with joy; because his attitude was the same when talking to a Government minister or to a homeless man; because he showed you the way, the will of God in your life; because what he did when he was alive was already a miracle.

From Letter to the Postulator
21 November 2016

Alberto Capannini

From Rimini, initiator of Operation Dove, a group of civillians who freely choose to go to war zones and live with people under threat, organising non-violent forms of protection (interposition, support, reporting, reconciliation). He has lived in the Balkans, Congo, South Africa, Chiapas, Chechnya, Palestine, Colombia, East Timor, Indonesia and, in the last three years, in the refugee camps of Lebanon. He is married and is the father of three children.

I met Father Oreste for the first time when I was eighteen, at a meeting organised by Catholic Action, of which I was a member. I was deeply impressed when he said, «When we die, God will not judge us, but the poor will!» I said to myself, «I’ve got to get to know this person!» He had a passion when talking that sounded like poetry to me.

A few years later I chose to do civilian service in the Community of Pope John XXIII, which led me to start «Operation Dove». Further inspired by Martin Luther King, I saw non-violence as the core of the Gospel: love that endures through violence and death, like Jesus’s love, but at first I didn’t know how to realise this dream, which I’d had since I was a child.

«Operation Dove» became the realisation of this dream, and it is made up of three factors: sharing life, which we explain to members of other religions in this way: «My life is as valuable as any other»; non-violence, as a form of love for your neighbour, much stronger than hate; and reconciliation, as a form of healing.

Father Oreste was a very welcoming person; he was always smiling. Even when, in the car, he was always receiving phone calls about very difficult situations, he still had that carefree, child-like smile on his face. No matter how big the problem was, it was never big enough for him to lose his faith and good humour. His faith was very simple and his prayer was that of a child: «Jesus, me and you, today, always together!».

He was able to surprise you: if you thought you’d thought of something impossible, he – who was older than us – could always think of something even more so!

If being a saint means being «soaked» in God, being able to show direction in life and bring out the best (not the worst) in you, then Father Oreste is one!

From Interview given to the Postulator
15 December 2016

Angela Guardabascio

Born in Forlì in 1958, married and a mother. She works with the homeless.

I met our beloved Father Oreste in 1980 on 8 December, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. I wasn’t feeling very immaculate; I felt dirty and, even if I was only twenty-two, I felt finished, dead. My parents had picked me up and loaded me into the car. I couldn’t even walk, devastated by withdrawal symptoms and asthenia. I weighed just thirty-seven kilograms.
We were desperately trying to reach San Patrignano, because our family doctor had heard that there was a man there who was taking in drug addicts.

We were wandering around Rimini and didn’t know where to go to or who to ask for help. For my family, these were days of shame, despair, guilt and impotence. For me, they were days when I wished for death.

In an attempt to ask for information, we met a nun, who we later discovered was the headteacher of the parish nursery school at Grotta Rossa. My father felt reassured at the sight of the nun. Maybe her veil rekindled his hope. She told us that she didn’t know about San Patrignano, but, if we followed her, she would take us to a priest who helped everybody. I met Father Oreste for the first time thanks to this fortuitous meeting. He was coming out of the church, where he had just celebrated Mass. He came towards me with open arms and his marvellous smile on his face. He called me «Saraghina» [TN: ‘Anchovy’ in the local dialect; ie ‘as thin as a rake’] and looked into my eyes.

All I’d done for the previous two years was try to keep my head down and hide myself away, desperately hoping to disappear. I was disgusted with myself and felt like an empty shell. I had one constant thought: how to find the courage to put an end to my life.

Father Oreste never talked to me about drugs, deviant behaviour, sin, repentance or redemption. He never did this! He always and only talked to me about love, trust and hope. He was a great prophet and had already understood everything about me. He threw the doors wide open to me as though it was the most natural thing in the world and offered me everything he had: hope, his life, and all that he had realised together with his brothers and sisters. He opened the whole Community up to me, so that I could find what I had in fact always been looking for, but had never before been able to find. The answer was there, in family homes, with young people who had left everything – their studies, their family of origin, their job – in order to become father, mother, brother and sister to people with all kinds of disabilities, to drug-addicts, murderers, gypsies, burglars, tramps.

That was my therapy. Father Oreste understood that I could only be saved that way. I could only learn to love myself by learning to love those around me.

I’m probably about to say something blasphemous – my faith is not as steady as I’d like it to be, definitely not – but I have blind faith in the sanctity of Father Oreste. I have never ever doubted it. Even though I still have a long way to go, Father Oreste introduced Jesus to me and made me become His friend.

Father Oreste gave dignity to every person he met. They were all made in the image of God: that was all he cared about. He met God in everybody. When he looked at you, you could tell that he knew that you were unique, and that your brother or sister was too. Everybody was unique in his eyes. He made no distinction between the powerful and the weak. However, the tenderness he showed to the weak could heal even the most desolate heart.

Every year, until he died, I rang him on 8 December, the anniversary of our first meeting. Incredibly, he always answered, and remembered what day it was for me. I still ring him on that day, but there’s a message saying that the number is unavailable… I’m sure that he knows and smiles!

I could write a book about the things I experienced with him, the many adventures and the time spent together during trips, meetings etc. There was never a moment that he didn’t teach me something, and I continue to hold on to all this inestimable wealth inside myself.

A few days after his death, my youngest child, Valentina, who was seven at the time, dreamt of Father Oreste in his cassock, flying in the sky and hanging from an umbrella, just like Mary Poppins; he was smiling at us all. This image is very dear to me and is how I often imagine him.
I only hope that, from up there, he forgives me and continues to love me.

From Letter to the Postulator
16 January 2016

Doctor Amedeo Brici

From Rimini, born in 1925, friend of Father Oreste. They met in 1938, when Father Oreste was a seminarian, and from that point on their friendship grew. Married. Formerly a surgeon at Santarcangelo Hospital.

Previously unreleased testimony

Although he had a deep devotion to Mary, Father Oreste had never been to Lourdes. At the age of eighty-one, he organised such a pilgrimage, from 5 to 9 September 2006, and took over a thousand pilgrims with him, who reached Lourdes by train, plane, coach or private vehicle. My son-in-law, M. B., took part in the pilgrimage with his wife and children. M. was affected by a severe form of cancer, which had spread widely in his abdomen. When he came home, he told us the following about Father Oreste:

«We were in the area near the Grotto. With me were E., D., C. and L. Father Oreste saw us and came to greet us. Father Sisto was also there. We were waiting for Mass to start. Father Oreste took me to the Grotto, under the statue of Mary, telling me, “Come with me”. We stopped there in prayer: I was kneeling down on Father Oreste’s right, and he had his right hand on my head; Father Sisto was on his left. We were still praying when Father Oreste was called for Mass. He was called three more times, and was told that it was time for Mass, but he didn’t answer. He was looking at Mary’s statue, completely absorbed. On being called again, he seemed to wake up, and told me, “I saw Heaven; I can die now”. Then, together with Father Sisto, he went to prepare for Mass.»

I deemed it appropriate to report this event, in the way it was described to me by M.B., even if the people who witnessed it, Father Sisto and M.B., are already living a new life in a place of eternal light.

From the Postulation Archives

To report graces and favours received, write to Elisabetta Casadei the Postulator of the Cause:

Elisabetta Casadei
Postulazione Causa di canonizzazione don Oreste Benzi
Via Cairoli, 69
47923 Rimini (Italy);

or call +39 349 3237566