Zef Karaci calls Fr. Roberto Malgesini “a saint” who was like a father to him during his imprisonment, giving him spiritual advice and making his stay behind bars more bearable.
Fr. Roberto was a priest killed in Como (northern Italy) by a homeless man he was helping. It was a heinous murder that greatly shocked the public, who knew the priest’s good heart. Zef knew many unpublished anecdotes about his friend “Fr. Roby,” as he affectionately called him, so he profiled the priest in his book Fr. Roberto Malgesini (currently only available in Italian).
Zef was a prisoner in the city of Como. “I came from Albania, and I ended up in prison at the age of 22. It’s a very difficult age (to be in prison), not because there’s a better age to end up in jail, but that’s what happened to me. Wrong life choices, bad friendships … I’m not saying that to justify myself, it’s just to describe that situation a little bit.”
“We just have to thank the Eternal Father”
For him, Fr. Roberto Malgesini “was a saint, and none of us can fully describe a saint, simply because a saint – as he was – is a mystery, made by God for God! That’s why we just have to thank the Eternal Father for giving him to us, for letting us meet him.”
His last meeting with Fr. Roberto
In his book, Zef talks about the last time he saw Fr. Roberto, two days before the murder. “It was about 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, September 13, 2020, the last time I saw and met with Fr. Roberto. Who would ever have said that it would be the last time?”
Fr. Roberto Malgesini came to celebrate Mass, filling in for the chaplain. “I remember that, when I greeted him in the morning, he asked me to organize the readers for the Holy Mass: first Reading, Responsorial Psalm, second Reading, and Prayer of the Faithful. I immediately found four guys, and also organized the hymns for the liturgy (which ended up being very out of tune, because due to COVID, those who usually played the instruments – outside volunteers – hadn’t been given access to the prison). Before we started, while we were waiting for the men from all the sections of the prison to come down to the church, I began to joke, as Fr. Roby and I were accustomed to do.”
Zef asked the priest “so many things; updates, especially about the dramatic situation of the pandemic, which was killing so many people. Then, the question of questions, the strange one that makes your heart move: ‘How are you, Fr. Roby? Are you happy?’ And he, as always, with a tranquility and humility that distinguished him, answered me, ‘Zef, I’m great, I’m happy, and I’m really close to God.’ Then, I asked him if he had had to deal with COVID. He replied, ‘COVID cannot do anything to me! It will take something completely different to stop me. Who will kill me?’ There, I will carry that sentence with me forever.”
“He was right … I understood this only a few months later,” Zef adds, “when I began to receive letters from so many people, writing to me about Fr. Roberto, telling me about the good he had done for them. Those who had met him often didn’t realize the greatness of this man.”
An instrument of tenderness
The book includes a commentary on Fr. Roberto Malgesini by Fr. Giovanni Milani, chaplain at the Como prison from 2004 to 2017:
“For 10 years, Fr. Roberto helped me to be an instrument of tenderness and bring light and hope to the prison, every Wednesday and Friday,” Father Giovanni explains, “But also on various Sundays and at important moments like Christmas and Easter, he would make himself available to spend time behind bars to meet, talk with, and get to know the inmates and bring them mercy. He was a great help, and I can firmly say that his gaze traversed the bars of the cells to enter people’s hearts. I call Fr. Roberto a priest for all. He lived the Gospel with a style of simplicity in the greatness of the gift of mercy.”
A priest who went to the other side of the prison cell bars
“He went inside the prison walls,” Fr. Giovanni concludes, “to the other side of the iron bars of every cell, where prayers seem to be mute and unheard: it’s there that he allowed the prisoners to experience God’s tenderness. Where there is the greatest awareness of error, where sin abounds, mercy is most visible.”