Blessed Sacrament Father Andrés 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
By Andrea Tornielli, Vatican City
“I am the only one who witnessed Bergoglio’s small “theft”, when he took the rosary from Fr. Aristi’s coffin…” Fr. Andrés Taborda is a Blessed Sacrament Father 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 Blessed Sacrament Father. 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 Institute, 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 Blessed Sacrament Basilica 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.
Bergoglio mentions Fr. Aristi in a text he wrote about the early days of his vocation ad his period of training. The text, which remained unpublished for a long time, talked about Fr. Aristi’s popularity as a confessor back in the 1950’s.
José Ramón Aristi, of Basque origin, was born in November 1899. He arrived in Argentina when he was still a student and joined the Sacramentine novices. He served in the great Basilica of the Holy Sacrament in Buenos Aires, where Diego Armando Maradona later married. He was also a musician: he conducted the orphans’ choir that sang during the liturgies for the 32nd International Eucharistic Congress in Buenos Aires in October 1934. The Congress was attended by the then Secretary of State Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (who later became Pius XII) who was there as the Pope’s representative. “He had a special way with the poor and inspired a number of them to follow religious vocations,” Fr. Taborda said.
ADDRESS OF POPE FRANCIS
TO THE PARISH PRIESTS OF THE DIOCESE OF ROME
Thursday, 6 March 2014