“He married my parents and baptized me. I lose a piece of the history of our family and of the history of the Roma in Milan ”: Giorgio Bezzecchi, president of the non-profit organization Romano Drom, is moved as he remembers Don Mario Riboldi, chaplain of the Roma and Sinti communities for 47 years. The priest died yesterday at the age of 96 in a retirement home in the province of Varese. “I remember his always smiling gaze, his torn jacket and felt hat – he adds -. He loved to be called ‘the priest of the gypsies’. He lived in a trailer, like us. He shared our life and when we were evicted in the 1980s, he too was evicted ”.
Don Mario Riboldi was well known, but he did not like being the center of attention. “Throughout his life he was modest and humble, poor among the poor in a caravan – adds Don Marco Frediani, who with Don Mario shared a few years of life in a caravan alongside the Roma in Brugherio, in the province of Milan-. He was a man of prayer and with a very deep love for the Word of God ”. A love for the Word that led him to translate a large part of the Gospel into seven Roma languages. “He used to say Mass in Romanesque – underlines Giorgio Bezzecchi – And when Muslim Roma arrived in Italy in recent decades, he read the Koran with them. For him the religious dimension of the people was fundamental ”.
“Before the advent of the Council, Don Mario had begun to take care of the Roma -recalls Don Marco Frediani-. He had decided to make himself poor among the poor. It was prophetic ”. Ordained a priest in the Milan Cathedral on June 28, 1953, he carried out his ministry first in the parish of Vittuone and then in that of Casirate. In 1957 he arrived in Gninano, on the border of the provinces of Milan and Pavia. There he shares daily life with the Roma community. “Our caravans were right in front of his parish”, says Giorgio Bezzecchi. In 1971 he became diocesan in charge for the Pastoral Care of Nomads. A task that he leaves only in 2018. “He had the courage to break with all the security of life we surround ourselves with and lived as a Roma even though he was not”, underlines Don Marco.
“With Sant’Egidio we had the tradition of praying for the deceased Roma and Sinti in Milan in which many Roma friends participated every year – recalls Stefano Pasta, journalist and exponent of the Community of Sant’Egidio on his profile. Don Mario dedicated his life to the Roma and Sinti whom he loved. He testified to what it means to live the testimony, radical and not taken for granted, of the Gospel ”. Don Mario’s funeral will be celebrated on Friday 11 June in Biassono in Piazza San Francesco in the church of San Martino.