There's no 'maybe' when answering the Lord's call, pope says

By Hannah Brockhaus

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Pope Francis speaks in Alessano, Italy April 20, 2018. Credit: Vatican Media.

Speaking in the southern Italian town of Alessano on Friday, Pope Francis said that we should be on fire for our faith, combining prayer and action after the example of the Italian bishop Tonino Bello.

“Here, this is the vocation according to Don Tonino: a call to become not only faithful devotees, but real lovers of the Lord… When the Lord sets the heart on fire, hope cannot be extinguished. When the Lord asks for a ‘yes,’ we cannot answer with ‘maybe,’” the pope said April 20.

Pope Francis visited the town of Alessano as part of a quick day-trip there and to Molfetta, to mark the 25th anniversary of the death of Antonio Bello, known as “Don Tonino,” an Italian bishop whose cause for beatification was opened in 2007.

Before speaking to around 20,000 Catholic, the pope stopped at the tomb of Don Tonino for a moment of silent prayer.

In his speech, he pointed to the bishop’s warning that Catholics not immerse themselves “in the whirlwind of affairs” without first planting themselves in front of the tabernacle – lest they work in vain for the Kingdom.

“We can ask ourselves if we start from the tabernacle or ourselves. You could also ask if, once we leave, we walk; if, like Mary, the Woman of the journey, we get up to reach and serve man, every man,” he stated.

Francis recalled a word coined by Tonino, “which gives each of us a great mission.”

Tonino, the pope noted, would say often that Christians should be “contempl-attivi,” meaning, “contemplative-actives,” people who never separate prayer and action.

Don Tonino had “his feet on the ground and his eyes on Heaven, and above all with a heart that connected Heaven and earth,” he said.

Antonio Bello was born in Alessano in 1935. He was ordained a priest in 1957, and afterward studied theology at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome.

He was always close to the young and the poor, working at a seminary, as a parish priest, and as an assistant for the Italian lay Catholic association, “Azione Cattolica.”

He was appointed bishop of Molfetta, Giovinazzo, Terlizzi, and Ruvo by Pope John Paul II in 1982.

As bishop, Don Tonino supported the poor and people in difficulty, opening a Caritas soup kitchen in every diocesan parish and founding a community for drug addicts.

In 1985 he became president of Pax Christi. In this role he worked against the First Gulf War and the war in former Yugoslavia. He died in Molfetta on April 20, 1993.

Pope Francis reflected on Don Tonino’s attention to the poor, saying that “understanding the poor was for him true wealth.”

“Don Tonino reminds us not to theorize the closeness to the poor, but to be close to them, as Jesus was; that for us, as rich as he was, he became poor,” he said.

Following his message, the pope led those present in praying the ‘Hail Mary,’ and gave his benediction before departing for Molfetta by helicopter.

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