Which is the love for the Pope typical of Don Orione and of our charism? How can we today really practice the love for the Pope professed through a “fourth vow of special fidelity
To answer that question entails spotlighting the very identity of spirit and apostolate of the Don Orione Congregation. Love for the Pope and the specific way of practising and expressing it are the kernel of the creative fidelity of the Don Orione family and its charism.
FAITHFULNESS AND OBEDIENCE
“You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn 15, 14), Jesus warned. Love and will go hand in hand. In this sense, love for the Pope can be seen in a range of expressions which become concrete in obedience, docility and fidelity.
Love for the Pope is obedience to the Church's Magisterium and its canonical and liturgical discipline. It means “ to follow always, in all and for all, his teaching, not only in matters of faith and morals, but in everything that he, as Pope, teaches and commands… even his warnings, his advice and his wishes”. Then again, “Let us love the Church through its Roman congregations, their decrees, their Bishops, let us love her in its Curias, its priests; let us stand up for her, as if it were our mother”
Finally, there is a wide area of love to be practised in a personal way as obedience, docility, discipline, unity and fidelity in the relations, which article 47 of the Constitutions sums up thus: “[Through the fourth vow] we oblige ourselves to: fully acknowledge his hierarchical authority in the universal Church; unconditional adherence to his Magisterium and his programme; the most absolute availability for whatever he decides with regard to us for any service in any part of the world, so as to fulfil the charism indicated by the motto: “Instaurare omnia in Christo; ut fiat unum ovile et unus Pastor (to restore all things in Christ, so that there may be one flock and one Shepherd)”.
Then the Constitutions give practical and pastoral guidelines of love for the Pope: 1) faithfulness to the church of which the Pope is the centre of communion; 2) study, profound investigation of the ordinary Magisterium; comprehensive knowledge and promotion of the documents of the Pontiff and of the Roman Congregations; 3) love for and attachment to the Bishops in the local Churches; 4) work for communion within and outside of the Church, by attempting to be a leaven of unity; 5) missionary and ecumenical commitment; 6) preferential option and service of the poor, whose rights and demands, we shall defend in the name of the Pope and in faithfulness to him” (art. 48)
THROUGH THE WORKS OF CHARITY
But, as far as Don Orione was concerned, there is a very typical and charismatic apostolic way of intending the love for the Pope..
He described it, for instance, in the written draft of what we could call the “Constituent Assembly” of the new born Congregation, held in 1902 at San Remo . “ To love Jesus Christ and to make him known and loved through our works, to love his Holy Catholic Church and to make the Pope known, loved and served. He is our most holy Father, Vicar of Christ and Head of the Church: this is the greatest work that we can do on earth, to the glory of God and this is the aim of our poor Institute. Instaurare omnia in Christo: by the grace of God, to restore all in the infinite Charity of the Jesus Christ by putting in action the Pope's programme… Let us defend the head of the Church and so save the body ”
In this written programme we find the famous and unbreakable link that joins the Don Orione apostolate: Christ – Church – Charity. Don Orione knits them together through ever new, original and passionate expressions. But it is always the same spiritual and apostolic drive that leads to Instaurare omnia in Christo! … in Ecclesia!… in Caritate!
Love for the Pope is nourished within the two poles of Christ and the Church, and acts by means of charity. Also, in another text, fundamental for understanding the Don Orione charism – the “Plan and Programme” of 1903, reported subsequently in the “1 st Chapter of the 1936 Constitutions” – it is clearly stated that the specific aim of the Congregation is to “ work to strengthen, within the Holy Church, the unity of the children with the Father (that is the Pope) and, on the outside, to restore the broken unity with the Father… by means of the apostolate of charity among the little ones and the poor, through the most suitable institutions and works of mercy”.
On another occasion, when explaining the spirit and structure of the new-born Congregation, Don Orione used these clear and happy terms. “Works of charity are needed: they are the best apologia of the Catholic Faith. It is necessary that on every footstep of ours there be and flourish a work of fraternity, humanity, purest and most holy charity, worthy of the children of the Church, born and issued from the Heart of Christ: works of love and of the purest charity are needed. Then all will believe! Charity opens the eyes to the Faith and warms up the heart in love for God”
Then, which love for the Pope? That which is lived through the works of charity towards the little ones, the poor, the ordinary people. In that “through” there is the uniqueness of Don Orione.
TODAY THIS LOVE FOR THE POPE IS NEEDED
Don Orione held the Pope as the " hinge of the work of Divine Providence in the world ", centre of bonding and of unity. Today, it appears as if a new era of recognising the moral authority of the Pope has come. What happened in April would confirm this.
We should not, however, be deceived by the great interest and media coverage. This is positive, but also not little ambiguous. On the one hand, the figure of the Pope is magnified as a collective symbol, psychological image, and ethical personification; on the other, his doctrinal Magisterium is still strongly opposed. Even in the moments of the deeply collective emotion following the death of John Paul II (“the great”, “saint now”) and for the election of Benedict XVI, press and television continued to prove, by means of polls and interviews, the many “no” said to the Pope and to the Church by the very same young people, and by the powers that be, and even by priests and Christians, that were acclaiming him. In the arena of the global village, there echoes still today the “ about this we will talk some other time” (Acts 17, 32) addressed to the Pope, as to saint Paul one day, who had just been applauded.
“ America loves the singer, but not the song” pronounced a newspaper headline the day after the triumph of the Pope among the youth at Denver : it highlighted the popularity of the Pope and the indifference regarding his teaching.
This is where the Don Orione spirit that is in us comes in!
Don Orione, most attentive to the mission of the Church, in the course of the whole of his life, had seen the gap that was deepening between the Church and the people, between religion and society, between devotion and moral behaviour. The crowds were attracted and seduced by other ideologies and ways of living far removed from the Gospel. He would ask how: “ can we bridge the ever growing abyss between God and the people” , “how can we bring people back to Christ and to the Church” ?
This apostolic anxiety is what inspired our Founder. “Never before like these days – he wrote on 13 th April 1920 – people have been so detached from the Church and from the Pope: and it is really providential that this love be rekindled by all possible means and that the love of Jesus Christ may live again the souls. The practice of charity will perfectly reach its goal in correspondence with the needs of the times: it consists in bringing society back to God, by reuniting it with the Pope and with the Church.
HAVING A CLEAR CONSCIENCE AND A RENEWED WILL
“ The practice of charity ” is the method, the way, the strategy of Don Orione and of his followers in order to “ bring society back to God and reunite it with the Pope and with the Church ”. This plan calls for special requirements in those who work at it: “The Church and society today need generous people, who love God and the neighbour without measure, and who consecrate themselves as victims of charity, which is what can still bring people back to the faith ”.
I believe that all of us, today, in Italy or in Brazil , in the Ivory Coast or in the Philippines , feel how up to date, how apt and encouraging are the words of Don Orione. Even in the Opening Prayer of the Mass of Saint Luigi Orione we ask: “ Grant us to practice like him the works of mercy, so that we may help the brothers to experience the tenderness of your Providence and the motherly care of the Church ”.
Dear Confreres, let us renew today our childlike commitment to the charism of Don Orione. Our love for the Pope is not (only) for intellectuals, but for the “ porters of charity ”; it also calls for the apologia of the word and of the pen but above all for “ the apologia of charity ”. Our love for the Pope does not mean special strategies of pastoral work, but it means that everyone practices the “ the strategy of charity ”.
Don Orione was a saint that “ belonged wholly to the Church and to the Pope ” and yet people know him better as the “ saint of charity ”, “ the father of the poor, the benefactor of suffering and abandoned humanity ” (Pius XII). May it be said a little bit of us as individuals and as Congregation, that we are the “the Pope's men”, through the works of charity.
At this point, a story comes to mind. A few years ago, when I was a counsellor, I visited Oradea , in Rumania , and met Basile Hossu, the Greek–catholic bishop of the town, a wonderful and good man. He recalled the many sufferings and humiliations undergone during the era of the communist oppression, especially aimed at the Greek-catholic communities. Then he cheered up speaking of the work of the Don Orione people in Oradea : “Your work, the way you care for the youth and for the poor, has brought about in the people a new attitude and new idea of the Church. I remember that one day I was travelling by car with Father Lazzarin: the police stopped us and were very rude and insulting towards me. Father Lazzarin, to justify himself, said that we were in a hurry to reach Oradea, where the Confreres and the boys of the Youth Centre would be waiting for us. ‘Are you going to Father Luigi's?' the policeman broke in. ‘Yes, we are his Confreres'. The policeman changed attitude and spoke favourably of the Youth Centre and of the boys. You see? – concluded Mons . Hossu – the work that you are doing in the Youth Centre, on behalf of the boys and the youth, is making the whole Church of Oradea loved and respected”.
Another great churchman, Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, Archbishop of San Paolo in Brazil , some years ago, put our Little Cottolengo forward as the beneficiary of the offerings of the “campaign for brotherhood” organised by the Bishops' Conference. He stated that the work of charity was “ the door opener of the Catholic Church in the city ”. It meant that the work done by the Congregation for the needy and for those affected by serious mental and physical handicaps, made the Catholic Church and its Pastors believable and closer to the people.
Still on this topic, we can say that there was something symbolic in the first contact of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger with the Don Orione Congregation. He came to celebrate the feast of Don Orione, 12 th March 1987, at the centre for disabled and orphans in Rome – Monte Mario. On that occasion, Ratzinger introduced the message and the challenge of civilisation contained in the Instruction “ Donum vitae ” on respect for life, signed by him a few days earlier. I remember that Mass well: the sanctuary was surrounded by the wheelchairs of the disabled and by the newsmen, gathered for the event. I said to myself: there, this is the work of Don Orione, giving substance to charity, credibility and loveableness to the truth announced by the Pope and by the Bishops of the Church.
“IT HAS ONLY ONE SPECIFIC WORK ”
Our Congregation is known in the world as one of the Congregations that perform works of charity, in a variety of ways. But that is not all. There is the danger of being generic unless we, the religious, have clear ideas and dynamism of our own. Don Orione too had to tackle this problem and replied to a Bishop regarding “ the objection that has been made, and perhaps will be made in years to come, against the Institute, concerning its universality in the practice of the works of mercy , and one word also about its singularity among all the other religious Institutes” Then, after having said that, certainly the Institute aims at “ all the works of mercy ”, but not “ indistinctly and all together”, he clearly affirmed that the Institute “ has one only determined work” and that is “ the sanctification of its members, through spreading among the Christian people a most sweet love for the Holy Father ”.
Everything aims at this specific goal, in an organised way. The Don Orione charism consists of a package of ecclesiality-popeness to be brought about through charity: “ to commit ourselves, by every kind of works of charity to spread and make grow in the Christian people… a most sweet love for the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ on earth, that is the Roman Pontiff” .
Latterly, we have stressed particularly the “byname Pope-The Poor”, seeing in it the two “poles” of the Don Orione charism. It is a useful and simple learning tool, provided we explain it well, as for instance did the VII General Chapter (1975), in keeping with history and the teaching of Don Orione. It is worthwhile to quote a few extracts. No. 3a states: “The two terms of the byname Pope-The Poor do not mean two parallel aims, unrelated one from the other, but there runs through them an intrinsic relationship. (…). In this way we make the apologia of the Church and of the Pope, not by word or in writing, but through charity. The Pope is not just a starting point, but also the point of arrival of our apostolate, in that our aim is to «bring to the Church and to the Pope the hearts of the humble working classes» (Const. 4)”.
The last General Chapter has launched us specifically towards a creative faithfulness to our vocation . It gave us guidelines and took decisions towards a clearer and more concretely charismatic view of our apostolic works. All of us must ask ourselves how and how much the aim “for the pope-ecclesial” shapes, and not just intentionally, our caring, training and parish institutions. The works, as they are structured and run, are powerful (“ pulpits ”, “ beacons ”) and attractive means “ to enable the brothers to experience the tenderness of Providence and the motherly care of the Church ”? Which link with the local Church do they express and how do they foster it? “In virtue of the charism – the General Chapter reminds us -, our institutions must stand out because of openness and ecclesial communion . Let them be in unison with the people of God and be as much as possible expressions of the faith of the local community”.
Taking part in the provincial Assemblies I sensed the awareness and the will to work towards a more decisive “charismatic restoration” of our works, that is promoting “the charismatic quality of our institutions in face of the heavy handed state rules and the reduced number of the religious”.
Recalling the 100 years of the canonical approval of the Congregation, in 2003, John Paul II urged us: “Then as now, it is fundamental for your Work to cultivate this intimate passion for the Church, so that you may ‘co-operate with humility, at the feet of the Apostolic See and of the Bishops, to renew and unite in Jesus Christ our Lord, mankind and society, by bringing the heart of abandoned children, the poor and the working classes to the Church and to the Pope: ad omnia in Christo instauranda, ut fiat unum ovile at unus pastor ' (Const. art 5)”.
THE FEAST OF THE POPE
In the context of the love for the Pope, Don Orione devised and spread around the Feast of the Pope, which is also the feast of our Congregation. He saw in it a joyful symbol of our charism, a way of making sure that the people connected with our works be directed to the Pope and to a feeling for the Church. To show the meaning and the importance of this feast I will repeat the words of Don Orione.
“ The feast of St Peter is the feast of the Pope and, therefore, it became the feast of the Catholics. It is precisely our Patronal Feast, dear Sons of Divine Providence . It is the feast of the Congregation, and it aims to consecrate all its feelings and its strengths to unite, by a most sweet and tight bond of all the minds and hearts, the Christians of the working classes and the ordinary people to Blessed Peter and to his Successor, the Pope. By divine help, we want to give Christ again to the people and the people to the Vicar of Christ. Then, my dear sons, in our Homes and churches, we must always pray for the Pope, speak of the Pope, inject love and obedience to the Pope and celebrate, with the finest zeal of piety and the greatest enthusiasm of childlike love, the feast of the Pope. It must mean for us and for all, year by year, a renewed wave of enthusiasm in the attachment to the Faith of Peter.
How much the Sons of Divine Providence must promote it, the Feast of the Pope! I would say, even before it was instituted – before, that is, the feast of St Peter became the feast of the Pope -, it had already been given to our Congregation, as a proper feast, so that it would consecrate the great love of the Congregation for the Pope and its main aim.
To promote the feast of the Pope means to promote and spread the love for the Pope: it means to abide by his doctrine, his wishes: it means to recognise in the Pope the primacy of Peter and of his successors: it means to venerate in the Pope the father of the faith and of souls, the Supreme Shepherd, the High Priest, the Commander of Christ's army: it is to celebrate and glorify the Pope as the visible and public Christ on earth ”.
At the meeting of the General Councils of the Sons of Divine Providence, of the Little Missionary Sisters of Charity, of the Secular Institute and of the Lay Movement, in December 2004, in the light of the successful Feast of the Pope, organised on the occasion of the Canonisation and the ensuing general enthusiasm, it was decided to start again in the Don Orione Family the Feast of the Pope, so much loved and characteristic. More specifically, it was decide to make the “Feast of the Pope” , at Rome , the 28-29 June, a yearly event , that it may be a public sign of our love for the Pope and of the commitment to bring so many “hearts to surround the heart of the Pope”.
Such feast will be organised by the Don Orione people, but it will not be a feast of the Don Orione people. Besides the Don Orione family, it will involve also other organisations and church groups. We will introduce a show of aspects of life and commitment in the field of peace, together with internationally famous artists, religious and lay witnesses. The ceremony will be broadcast by various television channels so that the message and the witness may reach a wide circle of people internationally.
Two special events make up the “Feast of the Pope” in Rome . On the evening of the 28 th June, at 17.30, a great feast-show (Paulo VI hall, broadcast by RAI, etc.); in the morning of the 29 th June, taking party in the celebration in Saint Peter's Square. The theme of this year's feast is “ many hearts around the Pope, messenger of peace ”. It will be a chance to meet Pope Benedict XVI and show him all our love and faithfulness as sons.
But the Feast of the Pope should be celebrated in all the countries and towns where there are Don Orione communities and works of charity. I have tried to understand how Don Orione intended and organised this feast. Some points.
• The centre of love, praise and prayers is the Pope himself.
• By celebrating the Pope we celebrate the Church and so we put at the centre of the feast the Bishop of the Diocese or even just the parish priest: they are in communion with and represent the Pope. Therefore, in preparing the Feast of the Pope, we must invite the Bishop or other Church Authority… the praises and homage should be directed to him, but the final addressee is the Pope.
• The Feast always includes a well-planned liturgical celebration, to which are invited all those who are under our care or connected with us.
• In the Feast there should be a display or joyful presentation of the “works” and of the “people” of our caring activities: they are the real praise of the Pope, our “apologia”; they are a way of saying to the people: “there, that's how the Church is close to you”.
• Above all, it is a feast that must involve as many people as possible, to thank the Lord and the Pope also because of the little bit of good that they receive from us and from our works, carried out in the name of the Pope and of the Church.
I know that love and imagination are not lacking. Go on then!