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Pope Francis says Bishop Tonino Bello was a ‘prophet for our time’

Pope Francis is commemorating the 25th anniversary of the death of Don Tonino Bello (Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images)

Pope Francis has flown to Alessano, southern Italy, to commemorate 25 years since the death of Bishop Tonino Bello.

The Pope was greeted by the faithful of Alessano singing “Oh, Freedom”, a favourite of the bishop.

In an address, Pope Francis said Bishop Bello imitated Jesus by drawing near to the poor to the extent of “dispossessing himself”.

Bishop Bello had “an allergy for titles and honours”, he said.

For Bishop Bello, peace “is constructed beginning at home, on the street, where people work”, in upholding the dignity of workers over profit.

Alessano, near the heel of Italy, was Bishop Bello’s birthplace. The Pope will also visit the town of Molfetta, where Bello was appointed bishop by St John Paul II in 1982.

Bishop Bello, who died aged 58, was seen as a champion of the poor, and had called for a “Church of the apron” – that is, devoted to service. The bishop said that the apron was “the only priestly garb recorded in the Gospel”.

He was chosen as the president of Pax Christi, an international Catholic peace movement, in 1985, and held that position until his death in 1993.

The beatification process opened in 2007 after the Congregation for the Causes of Saints issued the official “nihil obstat” (no objections to the Cause) edict and gave Bishop Bello the title of Servant of God.