Don Tonino Bello venerable. The poet bishop on the side of the least

For “Don Tonino” Bello, the bishop of the “Church with the apron” an important step towards the glory of the altars – Archivio Avvenire

For “Don Tonino” Bello, the bishop of the “Church with the apron” an important step towards the glory of the altars. Meeting the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, the Pope authorized the promulgation of the decree recognizing the virtues of Monsignor Antonio Bello (1935-1993).

Who was

Antonio Bello was born in Alessano (Lecce) on 18 March 1935 and was baptized on 15 April. He enters the Minor Seminary of Ugento where in 1948 he obtains the secondary school license, and then chooses the classical high school attended from 1950 to 1953 at the Pontifical Regional Seminary “Pius XI” of Molfetta. In September 1953 he moved to Bologna to the Onarmo Seminary for Labor Chaplains, attending theology courses at the Pontifical Regional Seminary “Benedetto XV” in Bologna. Ordained a priest on 8 December 1957 in Alessano, on 26 September two years later he obtained a licentiate in theology from the Theology Faculty of Venegono and on 3 July 1965 he graduated in theology from the Pontifical Lateran University. On 30 September 1976 he was appointed rector of the episcopal seminary of Ugento and the following day episcopal vicar for culture. Parish priest of the Nativity of Maria in Tricase from 1 January 1979, on 10 August 1982 he was appointed bishop of Molfetta, Giovinazzo and Terlizzi and on 30 September also of Ruvo di Puglia, receiving episcopal ordination on the following 30 October. On November 23, 1982, he was appointed to the Apulian Episcopal Conference (Cep) for “the Pastoral Care of Tourism”, followed the following year by the role of “vigilance in spiritual formation and discipline” in the Episcopal Supervisory Commission of the Pontifical Seminary. Regional “Pius XI” of Molfetta and on 12 December 1984 that of head of the “Pastoral care of work and emigration”.

Since 1985 president of Pax Christi Italiana, on 12 May 1987 he is appointed in the Cep for the pastoral sector of “justice and peace”. He died in Molfetta on April 20, 1993. He is buried in the Alessano Cemetery.

The process for his beatification began at the diocesan level on April 30, 2010 with the first public session in the Cathedral of Molfetta. Finally, today, the Pope gives the green light to the decree recognizing his heroic virtues. Monsignor Antonio Bello becomes venerable.

Shepherd poet always on the side of the least

A friend, a traveling companion, a shepherd. Simply a man. Monsignor Antonio Bello, for all Don Tonino, was many lives in one, united by love for God and the Church, in the sign of privileged attention to the poor, as the Gospel teaches. Apostle of the Church with an apron, according to a happy definition, his sensitive and profound soul has been translated into journalistic articles with a strong social impact, in prayers born of everyday life, in poems of poignant sweetness often dedicated to the Virgin. But if you ask those who knew him, he will tell you that his simplicity was most striking, sharing the common existence of “normal” people, having the door always open. First in the home, then in the parish, and finally in the episcope. People turned to him for help, for a word of comfort, to have an open heart to open up their own, giving a face and a name to their anxieties, to which Don Tonino opposed the Gospel of anti-fear that will be read next Sunday , before Advent: “Rise … Lift up your heads” (Lk 21, 25-28.34-36). A reminder that was a constant invitation to always love man, every man, starting from his fragility, from his shortcomings. “Understanding the poor was true wealth for him – said Pope Francis on 20 April 2018 to Alessano in front of the cemetery where Monsignor Bello was buried -. He was right, because the poor are truly the wealth of the Church ». A teaching not to be forgotten, especially today “in the face of the recurring temptation to queue up behind the powerful on duty, to seek privileges, to settle down in a comfortable life”. The one that the “brother bishop” refused, as he underlined in his famous “uncomfortable wishes.” The strength not to give in, to learn to read reality with the eyes of the Father, he found in the many hours in prayer, in the celebration of the Bread of life , in love for the Eucharist. Bread broken, Pope Francis said again three years ago but in Molfetta, which became the bread of peace. Don Tonino maintained that “peace does not come when one takes only his bread and goes to eat it. on his own. […] Peace is something more: it is conviviality ». It is “eating bread together with others, without separating, sitting at the table among different people”, where “the other is a face to be discovered, to be contemplated, to be caressed”. With respect for the diversity of each one, thus becoming the conviviality of differences, an image that has become over time a reference also for ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. However, on the day when the Church recognizes the venerability of the Apulian bishop, an important step on the way to the altars, we cannot forget the controversies that accompanied so many of his choices.

Don Albino Bizzotto of the Blessed Builders of Peace with Monsignor Tonino Bello at the March for Peace in Sarajevo in 1992 – Archivio Avvenire

Like the pilgrimage of 1992, when, already suffering from cancer, on 7 December he embarked from Ancona together with 500 pacifists to arrive in Split and from there walk to Sarajevo, for several months under Serbian siege in a bloody civil war. The road to peace is “active nonviolence – he said in a cinema lit by candles because there was no electricity – the armies of tomorrow will be these: unarmed men”. A paradox, a hyperbole of love that finds its roots in the Word and its translation in a life, full, successful like that of someone who entrusts himself to the Lord. I – wrote Don Tonino Bello – am «a good-for-nothing. But capable of anything, because aware that the more we abandon ourselves to God, the more we succeed in improving the people around us ”.

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