By Fr Guido Errico, SDB
Rector Valdocco, MHC Community
Valdocco, Itlay, 13 March 2019 -- I would like to express my heartfelt commiserations in my own name and in the name of the community of Valdocco, where Fr Benna spent the last two month of his earthly life (September - November 2018). When he arrived from his former community of San Giovanni (Filipino chaplaincy) he gave himself with whole heart to the pastoral of the Mary Help of Christian Basilica of Valdocco. We appreciated his serene and precious contribution.
His sudden death revealed to all of us how much he was loved by the Filipino Catholic Chaplaincy community in Turin. From the moment we announced his death there was a continuous flow of people coming to Valdocco to pray for him. Filipinos of every generation came to pray, deeply moved and saddened.
We also witnessed many young people who came, prayed, sang their songs and wept near the mortal remains of Fr John Benna, a dedicated Italian missionary who gave his whole life for Filipino Catholics and especially the young people! He was close to his 85th birthdaywhen he died. He was born on 20 November 1933 at Chieri (Italy, Piedmont), and attracted to the Salesian life he made his novitiate in 1950-1951, and was ordained to the priesthood on March 25, 1961. Since Fr. John was always available to leave for the missions, he was sent to the Philippines in 1962 and for the past 56 years dedicated with his whole heart and all his energies to the Filipino people, loving and serving the Catholic community. In turn he was really deeply loved by them. He was a formator, rector, parish priest and founder of Catholic communities - chapels in the poor districts. With special emotion he treasured the memory of Pope Paul VI's visit to Manila, Tondo community in 1970. Until his last days he still remembers that Paul VI took off his own stole and gave it to him!
Fr John came back to Italy in 1997 and was the founder of the Filipino community - the largest Catholic chaplaincy in Turin, always respected by all as Founder and Father. During the past 20 years he accompanied hundreds of Filiipino faithful, young people and families in their new homeland.
His brief presence in the Mother house at Valdocco and the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians inspire deep gratitude in us, first to God, the source of all goodness, and to the community of San Giovannino (Rector Fr Luigi Testa), to Fr Benna's family, especially his nephew, but also to Fr.John himself, who passed to the Salesian garden last November 17 near the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians, from which place he was sent 56 years ago as a Salesian missionary to the Philippines!
Few months after his passing away many knew Fr Benna closely remember him very well, both in the Philippines as well in other countries. We treasure his memory as a strong inspiration to follow Jesus with the heart of Don Bosco:
Prayer for Fr Benna: a man of God though I had no opportunity to meet him when he was still alive [VDB - Philippines]
Fr Benna was a truly exceptional Salesian priest who accomplished his mission in an extraordinary fashion. We still miss him and pray for him. His significant legacy in our parish at Payapa (Philippines) will continue to flourish. He taught us to do ordinary things in an extraordinary way. He was truly Salesian. [ADMA - Philippines].
Fr. John Benna was our catechist at Don Bosco Seminary College (Canlubang) in 1964-1965. He He prepared the catechism lesson we were to impart during the weekend oratories in the barrios (villages). He was very constant in this...no fail! Something every catechist and youth animator should imitate, not sporadic preparation happening in some places. May his example continue to be a model for all pastoral agents in our EAO Region. [ Fr. Rollando Fernandez, SDB ( Filipino missionary in TLS Viceprovince]