Pope Francis has praised as a martyr of charity a murdered Italian street priest known for his devotion to the least in society.
– A “witness of charity towards the poorest”
Before greeting the Italian-speaking faithful this morning at his General Audience in the San Damaso Courtyard in the Vatican, the pontiff paused for a moment to remember “Don Roberto Malgesini, the priest of the Diocese of Como who yesterday morning was killed by a person in need whom he was helping, a person with a mental illness”.
“I unite myself to the sorrow and prayers of his family and of the community of Como and, as his bishop said, I give praise to God for the testimony, that is martyrdom, of this witness of charity towards the poorest”, the Pope said.
Francis then invited prayers in silence for Malgesini “and for all the priests, nuns, lay people who work with people in need and thrown away by society”.
– Bishop: “A saint next door… happy to love Jesus by serving him in the poor”
According to reports, Malgesini, 51, left his rectory early Tuesday morning to go out on his usual round delivering breakfast to the needy.
It was in the course of that outing that the priest was met around 7am in a street near his parish of the Church of St. Rocco by his attacker, who stabbed him multiple times, including in the neck.
A 53-year-old Tunisian man known to police who has been in an irregular migration situation in Italy since 2014 later confessed to the crime and turned himself in to authorities.
“I am convinced that Don Roberto was a ‘saint next door’, for his simplicity, for the love with which he met everyone, for the esteem he received from so many people, even non-believers or non-Christians, for the fraternal and supportive help he wanted to give to everyone in this city”, Bishop of Como Oscar Cantoni said in a statement soon after the attack, recalling that Malgesini, a “martyr of charity”, “often repeated to me, ‘The poor are the true flesh of Christ'”.
On Tuesday evening, Cantoni led a rosary in the cathedral for the murdered priest, in the course of which he remembered Malgesini “as a happy priest. Happy to love Jesus by serving him in the poor, refugees, homeless, prisoners, prostitutes”.
– “Here everyone knew him, they all loved him”
More tributes to Malgesini flowed in from priest colleagues such as Father Andrea Messaggi, who told La Stampa: “Roberto was a simple person. He just wanted to be a priest and years ago he made this wish explicit to the former bishop of Como. For this he was sent to St. Rocco, where every morning he brought hot breakfasts to the least. Here everyone knew him, they all loved him”.
Perhaps the most fitting testimonies to the murdered priest, however, are the ones that have been offered by the people he so generously served.
“I used to come here every morning to eat something. Even this morning I arrived at 7:30 and saw a body on the floor, but they wouldn’t let me near it. Only later did I realise it was Don Roberto: for me today is a very sad day”, a young man from Ghana told Italian media.
“For me he was like a father: when I arrived from Romania, alone, without a house or a job, he was the first one to help me, then I found a job but I always kept in touch with him; if I needed medicine, someone to accompany me on a visit to the doctor, I called him”, added a young Romanian man.
“He didn’t deserve to die like that; I hope there will be justice”.