The funeral on Friday in Valtellina, Italy, for Father Roberto Malgesini was a testimony of how he lived: Modest, simple and – just as the family wanted – private.
On Saturday a public memorial Mass for murdered priest was concelebrated in the cathedral of Como to pay tribute to Malgesini, who has been called “a martyr for charity.”
The 51-year-old priest served the homeless and immigrants in in a city better known for its tourist spots. On Sept. 15, a mentally ill migrant – who had previously been helped by the priest – stabbed him to death.
“We saw each other often,” Bishop Oscar Cantoni of Como told Vatican News. “He used to tell me about his activities, recounting the most beautiful things because he carried out his ministry joyfully. He had a vocation within a vocation.”
The day after his death, Pope Francis mentioned Malgesini during his Wednesday general audience, saying, “I give praise to God for the witness, that is, for the martyrdom of this witness of charity toward the poorest.”
During his memorial service on Saturday, the pope’s point man for charity, Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski reminded the congregation of the passage from the Gospel of John, ‘There is no greater love than this, to lay down your life for your friends.”
“One cannot be a Christian to the full if this passage is not ours,” the cardinal said.
On his way to Como on Friday, Krajewski told Crux, “Not many people on Earth take [this Gospel passage] seriously in these modern times, but this is the ultimate act of love – to put yourself to death in the service of others.”
Francis asked Krajewski, who holds the official title Papal Almoner, to be the papal representative at the memorial Mass; an appropriate choice, since the mission of the Polish cardinal and the murdered Italian priest were similar – serving the poorest and most marginalized people in city’s better known for their throngs of tourists.
The pontiff sent rosaries for all the volunteers and the poor served by the slain priest; in addition, the pope asked the cardinal to give special pearl rosaries to his parent. Krajewski also asked that one of the rosaries be given to the man who stabbed the Italian priest.
Reflecting on Malgesini’s death, Krajewski said he knows the mission to the poor is not always easy.
“I was once beaten by the poor – when you commit to such works, you just in a way have to count it into your daily duties,” the cardinal said. “And I ask myself now – why Father Roberto and not me – but this is God’s mystery.”
Asked whether he considers the slain priest a martyr, the Polish prelate recalls the words of a mother of a Polish martyr, Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko, the legendary chaplain of Solidarity movement, who was brutally beaten and killed by officers of the communist regime: “Marianna Popiełuszko was once asked whether she could predict if her son may become a martyr. This simple woman replied: If he chose the seminary, he could predict he may be on the path to martyrdom,” Krajewski recalled. “It is what Father Roberto proved again – to give your life in service is the peak of love.”
The cardinal said what Malgesini teaches humanity is that “to serve is to forget the ‘I’ and only think of the ‘we’.”
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it,” he added, quoting the Gospel of Luke.
“It reminds me of Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe,” Krajewski said, remembering the World War II-era Polish priest who died at Auschwitz by exchanging his life for a Polish officer with a family.
“All his extraordinary life on earth was brought to this very moment – the moment in which he gave his Earthly life to save a man with a family. Father Roberto also gave his body and all his life to others.”
During Saturday’s memorial Mass, Krajewski reminded the congregation of a prayer of St. John Henry Newman that was used by Mother Teresa: “Help me to spread your fragrance everywhere I go (…) Let me preach You without preaching, not by words but by my example.”
At the end of the Mass, Krajewski spoke to the bishop of Como: “Dear Father Oscar, I am sure that many priests and lay people will come to you who will want to follow and resume Father Roberto’s evangelical work, because this path is the true Gospel in action. If by chance nobody shows up, I’ll come to you.”