“When, as a boy, I thought about Saints, I envisaged them as unreachable and it seemed to me almost a pity to say: I wanted to become a saint as well. Today, when my hair is white, I realized that holiness is not unattainable: is a condition of life that every Christian should have clear in front of him. An aspiration that should give him strength every day to overcome obstacles, suffering, and pain. A force that should never disturb his joy. Because the saint is a happy believer, even in suffering, because he knows that it is the tool that brings him closer to Christ.
Today I can say I met two Saints: John Paul II whom I met several times due to my profession and Father Oreste Benzi. Many moments tie me to Father Oreste. The friendship with Don Oreste was a gift from Don Aldo, a young priest whom I met as the head of the Flying Squad and to whom I have referred ever since as my spiritual father. He introduced me to him and it was friendship at first sight; that priest, a little plump, with an old tunic, glossy because worn out, always smiling…
Every time I spoke with Don Oreste about my life and my problems, he told me his concerns: the poor, the last ones, those girls on the streets whom he loved as if they were his daughters, encouraged me to help them, to do more … not to resign.
Sometimes Don Oreste embarrassed me. Getting into a police car, give knotted rosaries to the agents and hear him say, “And now let us pray the Rosary” troubled me. I thought to myself: what if if anyone complains to the officer… if anyone starts to wonder what kind of head of the Flying Squad is one who makes his collaborators pray the Rosary?!
But “my” agents proved extraordinarily available to pray … between the intervention in the streets in order to rescue the girls from the slavery of such a sad life and infamous life. Don Oreste stopped to talk with those young women, in his broken English and with his smile. He embraced and blessed them, sang and prayed with them and convinced them to escape. He persuaded them to denounce the perpetrators, to trust the police. I believe that the police owes much to Don Oreste and to Don Aldo at present for the support offered to the State in the field of fight against the trafficking and the exploitation of human beings.
Scared, tortured, and psychologically destroyed girls, decided and still decide to escape from the fierce criminal organizations: it is not easy. A small miracle of faith and love. There are many episodes I remember about Don Oreste; I see him so close, that I can see him even now, as I am writing these words. I imagine him during our travels, when fatigued he spoke, fell asleep and then resumed the discussion at the same point when he woke up…
During one of the last time we saw each other, he said, thinking of Don Aldo … These years I tried to “think” about Don Aldo … but truth to be told, it happened more often that he thought about me, with that goodness and that discretion in giving which he inherited from Don Oreste … and with that smile that becomes sad when it comes across evil and injustice.
Last time I saw Don Orest was a few hours after he had left the earthly life. A phone call in the night, Don Aldo, had warned me that he passed away. I had waited for dawn to leave for Rimini and half asleep I dreamed of meeting him, walking on a green lawn and smiling. “Don Oreste! But are you not dead? “” No, Italo, I’m not. Think about Don Aldo, he never eats … “These were his words. Just enough time to tell the dream to Maria Giovanna and we left. Arrived at his home, we went upstairs in the room while they were dressing Don Oreste to take him to the church, surrounded by his friends: a few powerful and rich, many poor people, at last, his children who were waiting for him to say hello.
In his apartment, an old chair on which he often fell asleep while praying and, in the kitchen, a pot, all charred, with some leftovers of rice. Me and my wife looked at each other and we could not hold the tears. He had left, but not forever. A Saint.