Yesteday was the annual Lenten gathering of the priests of Rome with their bishop. As he does so often Pope Francis departed from his prepared text. He shared this story of a grace-filled theft he had committed:
At Buenos Aires – I am speaking not of myself, but of another priest – there was a famous confessor: he was a Sacramentine father. Almost all the clergy went to confession to him. When, one of the two times that he came to Argentina, John Paul II asked for a confessor in the Nunciature, he went to him. He was elderly, very elderly … He was Provincial of his Order, professor … but always a confessor, always. And he always had the queue there, in the church of the Most Holy Sacrament.
At that time, I was Vicar General and I lived in the Curia and, every morning, early, I turned the fax on to see if there was anything. And on Easter morning I read a fax of the Superior of the community: “Yesterday, half an hour before the Easter Vigil, Father Aristi died, -- he was 94 – or 96? – years old. The funeral will be on such a day ….” And on Easter morning I had to go to lunch with the priests of the Retirement Home – I did so usually at Easter -- -- and then -- I said to myself – after lunch I’ll go to the church. It was a large church, very large, with a most beautiful crypt. I went down to the crypt and there was the coffin, only two elderly women were there praying, but no flowers. I thought: but this man, who has forgiven the sins of the entire clergy of Buenos Aires, also mine, does not have even one flower …
I went out and went to a florist shop – because there are flower shops at intersections, on the streets, in places where there are people – and I bought flowers, roses. And I went back and began to arrange the coffin well, with flowers …. And I saw the Rosary he had in hand … and immediately there came to my mind -- that thief that we all have inside ourselves, no? --, and while I fixed the flowers I took hold of the cross of the Rosary, and with some force I detached it. And in that moment I looked at him and I said: “Give me half of your mercy.” I felt something strong which gave me the courage to do this and to make this prayer! And then, I put that cross here, in my pocket.
The Pope’s shirts don’t have pockets, but I always carry here a small cloth case and since that day up to today, that cross is with me. And when I have an evil thought against someone, my hand always comes here, always. And I feel the grace! I feel that it does me good. How much good the example of a merciful priest does, of a priest who comes close to the wounds of people.
His full remarks are here (I have slightly modified the translation above for the sake of clarity).
About the Author
Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.