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Sacramentine Fr. Taborda was in the crypt when the Pope took the little rosary cross from the hands of his deceased confessor. He is the only witness (Vatican Insider, Andrea Tornielli).
“I am the only one who witnessed… I was here when Bergoglio took the rosary from Fr. Aristi’s coffin…” Fr. Andrés Taborda is a Sacramentine priest of Argentinean origin who lives in Rome. He spent a number of years serving in the Basilica of the Most Blessed Sacrament of Buenos Aires, where José Ramón Aristi had spent a lifetime living and confessing people. In April 1996 Francis removed the small cross from a rosary the confessor was holding in his coffin. Since then, it has been with Francis everywhere he goes.
The Pope told this story to Rome’s parish priests last 6 march, asking them to be merciful. “In Buenos Aires there was once a famous confessor: he was a Sacramentine. Almost the entire clergy went to him for confession.” When John Paul II visited Argentina and asked for a confessor, he was chosen to go and hear the Pope’s sins.” He had been a Provincial in his Order, a professor … but he never stopped being a confessor, ever, the Pope said. There were always people queuing up to confess to him in the Holy sacrament Church in Buenos Aires,” the Pope continued.
Fr. Aristi died at the age of 97 on Holy Saturday evening in 1996. Bergoglio was Auxiliary Bishop and Vicar General at the time. When he learnt the news, Bergoglio went to pay his respects after lunching with the elderly priests from the local care home, as he did every Easter Sunday. “It was a big church, a very big church, with a beautiful crypt. I went down into the crypt and there was the coffin … there were just two old ladies there praying, but not one flower. I thought to myself: this man has forgiven the sins of the entire Buenos Aires clergy, mine included, and not one flower… So I went out, found a florist and bought some roses. Then I started to prepare the coffin with the flowers … “Then I looked at the rosary the priest was holding. And I thought immediately about the thief we all have inside us. And while I was arranging the flowers on the coffin I grabbed hold of the rosary cross and pulled it off applying some force. At that very moment I looked at him and I said to him: “Give me half of your mercy.”
“I had this strong feeling that gave me the courage to do what I did and say this prayer! And then I put the cross here, in my pocket. The Pope’s shirts don’t have any pockets but I had a little pocket sewn on and I have always carried that cross me since. Whenever I have bad thought about someone, I always place my hand here. And I feel the grace! I feel it doing me good. The example of a merciful priest, of a priest who is close when there is suffering does so much good…”
“Aristi really was a merciful and wise priest,” Fr. Taborda recalled. He was very popular because he was understanding. He listened to people’s confessions in the Buenos Aires Basilica every Monday and numerous priests would go to him. He even received them outside the confessional; they would go to chat and discuss things with him. I met him in 1968. He was the one who welcomed me into the order because he was Sacramentine Provincial for Argentina, Uruguay and Chile.” Fr. Taborda remembers that Easter afternoon eighteen years ago very well. “We were there in the crypt next to Fr. Aristi’s coffin and I can still picture Bergoglio in his contemplative state; he was very thin at the time. I remember him saying: “He was my confessor and he absolved many people from their sins whilst holding this rosary. It can’t be buried…”.” So the future Pope decided to take it, asking the deceased Fr. Aristi for his mercy.
But there is a specific reason why Bergoglio wanted that rosary in particular, pulled off the little cross and why he carries it close to his heart wherever he goes. “Fr. Aristi would give the rosary with the small cross to penitents to hold as he listened to their confessions, he would then use it to absolve them from their sins and then asked them to kiss it. Basically, that rosary along with the cross witnessed so much mercy,” Fr. Taborda said.
Some extracts – See integral version:
Let us ask ourselves what mercy means for a priest, allow me to say for us priests. For us, for all of us! Priests are moved to compassion before the sheep, like Jesus, when he saw the people harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus has the “bowels” of God, Isaiah speaks about it very much: he is full of tenderness for the people, especially for those who are excluded, that is, for sinners, for the sick who no one takes care of…. Thus, in the image of the Good Shepherd, the priest is a man of mercy and compassion, close to his people and a servant to all. This is a pastoral criterion I would like to emphasize strongly: closeness. Closeness and service, but closeness, nearness!… Whoever is wounded in life, in whatever way, can find in him attention and a sympathetic ear…. The priest reveals a heart especially in administering the Sacrament of Reconciliation; he reveals it by his whole attitude, by the manner in which he welcomes, listens, counsels and absolves…. But this comes from how he experiences the Sacrament first-hand, from how he allows himself to be embraced by God the Father in Confession and remains in this embrace…. If one experiences this in one’s own regard, in his own heart, he can also give it to others in his ministry. And I leave you with the question: How do I confess? Do I allow myself to be embraced? A great priest from Buenos Aires comes to mind, he is younger than I, he is around the age of 72…. Once he came to see me. He is a great confessor: there are always people waiting in line for him there…. The majority of priests confess to him… He is a great confessor. And once he came to see me: “But Father….”; “Tell me”; “I have a a small scruple, because I know that I forgive too much!”; “Pray… if you forgive too much…”. And we spoke about mercy. At a certain point he said to me: “You know, when I feel this scruple keenly, I go to the chapel, before the Tabernacle, and I say to Him: Excuse me, but it’s Your fault, because it is you who has given me the bad example! And I go away at peace….”. It is a beautiful prayer of mercy! If one experiences this in his own regard in Confession, in his own heart, he is able to give it to others.
The priest is called to learn this, to have a heart that is moved. Priests who are — allow me to say the word — “aseptic”, those “from the laboratory”, all clean and tidy, do not help the Church. Today we can think of the Church as a “field hospital”. Excuse me but I repeat it, because this is how I see it, how I feel it is: a “field hospital”. Wounds need to be treated, so many wounds! So many wounds! There are so many people who are wounded by material problems, by scandals, also in the Church…. People wounded by the world’s illusions…. We priests must be there, close to these people. Mercy first means treating the wounds. When someone is wounded, he needs this immediately, not tests such as the level of cholesterol and one’s glycemic index…. But there’s a wound, treat the wound, and then we can look at the results of the tests. Then specialized treatments can be done, but first we need to treat the open wounds. I think this is what is most important at this time. And there are also hidden wounds, because there are people who distance themselves in order to avoid showing their wounds closer…. The custom comes to mind, in the Mosaic Law, of the lepers in Jesus’ time, who were always kept at a distance in order not to to spread the contagion…. There are people who distance themselves through shame, through shame, so as not to let their wounds be seen…. And perhaps they distance themselves with some bitterness against the Church, but deep down inside there is a wound…. They want a caress! And you, dear brothers — I ask you — do you know the wounds of your parishioners? Do you perceive them? Are you close to them? It’s the only question….
Mercy accompanies the journey of holiness, it accompanies it and makes it grow…. Too much work for a parish priest? It is true, too much work! And how do we accompany and foster the journey of holiness? Through pastoral suffering, which is a form of mercy. What does pastoral suffering mean? It means suffering for and with the person. And this is not easy! To suffer like a father and mother suffer for their children; I venture to say, also with anxious concern….
To explain, I’ll put to you some questions that help me when a priest comes to me. They also help me when I am alone before the Lord!
Tell me: Do you weep? Or have we lost our tears? I remember that in the old Missals, those of another age, there is a most beautiful prayer to ask the gift of tears. The prayer began like this: “Lord, who commanded Moses to strike the rock so that water might gush forth, strike the stone of my heart so that tears…”: the prayer went more or less like this. It was very beautiful. But, how many of us weep before the suffering of a child, before the breakup of a family, before so many people who do not find the path?… The weeping of a priest…. Do you weep? Or in this presbyterate have we lost all tears? Do you weep for your people?
Tell me, do you offer intercessory prayer before the Tabernacle? Do you struggle with the Lord for your people, as Abraham struggled? “Suppose they were fewer? Suppose there were 25? And suppose they were 20?… (cf. Gen 18:22-33). This courageous prayer of intercession…. We speak of parrhesia, of apostolic courage, and we think of pastoral plans, this is good, but the same parrhesia is also needed in prayer. Do you struggle with the Lord? Do you argue with the Lord as Moses did? When the Lord was annoyed, tired of his people, he said to him: “Don’t worry…. I will destroy everything, and I will make you the head of another people”. “No. No. If you destroy the people, destroy me too”. But, these were real men! Do we have enough guts to struggle with God for our people?
Another question I ask: in the evening, how do you conclude your day? With the Lord or in front of the television?
How is your relationship with those who help you to be more merciful? That is, how is your relationship with the children, with the elderly, with the sick? Do you know how to reassure them, or are you embarrassed to caress an elderly person? Do not be ashamed of the flesh of your brother (cf. Reflexiones en esperanza, Ch. 1). In the end, we will be judged on our ability to draw close to “all flesh” — this is Isaiah. Do not be ashamed of the flesh of your brother. “Making ourselves close”: closeness, nearness, being close to the flesh of one’s brother. The priest and the Levite who had passed by before the Good Samaritan did not know how to draw close to the person who had been beaten by bandits. Their hearts were closed. Perhaps the priest had looked at his watch and said: “I have to go to Mass, I cannot be late for Mass”, and he left. Excuses! How often we justify ourselves, to get around the problem, the person. The other, the Levite, or the doctor of the law, the lawyer, said: “No, I cannot because if I do this tomorrow I will have to go and testify, I will lose time…”. Excuses!… Their hearts were closed. But a closed heart always justifies itself for what it has not done. Instead, the Samaritan opens his heart, he allows his heart to be moved, and this interior movement translates into practical action, in a concrete and effective intervention to help the person.
At the end of time, only those who have not been ashamed of the flesh of their brother who is injured and excluded will be permitted to contemplate the glorified flesh of Christ. I admit, sometimes it does me good to read the list on which which I will be judged, it benefits me: it is contained in Matthew 25.
In Buenos Aires — I am speaking of another priest — there was a well-known confessor: he was a Sacramentine. Almost all of the priests confessed to him. On one of the two occasions he came, John Paul II had requested a confessor at the Nunciature, and he went. He was old, very old…. He had served as Provincial in his Order, as a professor … but always as a confessor, always. And a long line was always awaiting him in the Church of the Most Blessed Sacrament. At the time, I was Vicar General and was living in the Curia, and every morning, early, I would go down to the fax to see if anything was there. And on Easter morning I read a fax from the community superior: “Yesterday, a half hour before the Easter Vigil, Fr Aristi died at the age of 94 — or 96? The funeral will be on such and such a day…”. And on Easter morning I was to go to lunch with the priests at the retirement home — I usually did on Easter — and then —, I said to myself — after lunch I will go to the Church. It was a large church, very large, with a beautiful crypt. I went down into the crypt and the coffin was there; only two old ladies were praying there, but not a single flower. I thought: but this man, who forgave the sins of all the clergy of Buenos Aires, including mine, not even a flower … I went up and went to a florist — because in Buenos Aires there are flower shops at the crossroads, on the streets, where there are people — and I bought flowers, roses … And I returned and began to decorate the coffin with flowers…. And I looked at the Rosary in his hands…. And immediately it came to mind — the thief that we all have inside of us, don’t we? — And while I was arranging the flowers I took the cross off the Rosary, and with a little effort I detached it. At that moment I looked at him and said: “Give me half of your mercy”. I felt something powerful that gave me the courage to do this and to say this prayer! And then I put the cross here, in my pocket. But the Pope’s shirts don’t have pockets, but I always carry it here in a little cloth bag, and that cross has been with me from that moment until today. And when a uncharitable thought against someone comes to mind, my hand always touches it here, always. And I feel the grace! I feel its benefit. What good the example of a merciful priest does, of a priest who draws close to wounds…
Mercy. Think of the many priests who are in heaven and ask of them this grace! May they grant you the mercy they had with their faithful. This does good.
Thursday, 6 March 2014