The first day of November 2007, was the last day I spent next to the man of God, don Benzi. In my life, I could have never imagined what it could mean to live next to a holy person. Anyone who has ever met or known him, can testify his incredible radiance and ability to always transmit mercy and hope. In fact, one of the slogans he used to repeat was “beautiful things are first done, then thought of” to point out the importance of never giving up when facing obstacles. To embody true virtue with resoluteness and impetus was his practical teaching in order to push everyone to write the history of salvation.
Don Oreste was a deeply humble man, although the media exalted his radical beliefs which he did not hesitate to express openly. His statements in favor of the last ones and the most oppressed surely disturbed and his exhortations often shocked many personalities. The “priest with the worn-out cassock” used to walk down the streets of the world and dissolve in them with joy. He never spared himself with love for Jesus whom he saw embodied and present in every single person as well as in the Eucharist.
Don Benzi had the incredible ability to make every human being in front of him feel important, loved, finally taken seriously, considered and listened to. Like all saints, he was unstoppable and hyperactive even in prayer and contemplation; he exhausted the Creator for how much he talked with Him and the Mother of heaven “always bought” his insistent supplications. Yes, because he compared the Virgin Mary to a mother who, hearing an insistent request from a son “ends up granting it”. Charity, understood concretely as living next to the poor, and Justice, always keeping in mind that Jesus came to earth to give it to us as a gift, were his bulwarks and he insistently repeated that “we cannot do out of charity what must be done out of justice”, especially against the last ones “who cannot wait”.
This is the reason why don Oreste neglected his health, offering also physical sufferings as an expiation for the neighbor in need. He hid his aches and pains and only those who were very close to him could understand it. At times he made me angry because of this, and as one does with a son, we allied to convince him to cure himself. But his holy stubbornness was due to lack of time because “the don” could never “miss the connection with God”. Therefore, running to recover, comfort, and save people, whoever they were, was top priority for him.
That first November was truly surprising, from every point of view. Since a few days, don Oreste had not been feeling well and on October 27, during a long journey he told me that he had only a few days left; he saw my reaction and tried to change the topic, telling me that one of his wishes was to be able to give his brothers of the Pope John XXIII Community the lives of the saints in video format. On October 31, upon his return from another trip, he had a collapse at the Fiumicino airport, yet he did not agree to be hospitalized because he had to go to the club where young people were waiting for him. In the morning of All Saints I talked to him on the phone because he wanted me to go to a transmission instead of him. Other people had told me he did not feel well, but his voice was radiant and he convinced me he was fine. In fact, I got surprised when in the afternoon he called me back and asked me to join him in Rimini for a dinner. I could not believe it, yet this is how things were… The old man felt better or – we joked about it – wants us to come to the last supper.
That night don Oreste ate eagerly and joked with his priceless humor. He knew well how to smile, laughing even at himself. Then I accompanied him to his poor home where he spoke to me and gave me his last blessing “I’ll see you tomorrow”… and I said: “Tomorrow morning I’ll come back to take you to the hospital. Don’t run away”… and also that last time he managed to trick me. The connection with the Lord arrived, and the priest of the streets could not make Him wait.