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Messaggi don Orione
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“To give Our Lady to souls means to give them Jesus Christ, the Church, faith, it means to give them salvation.” (Don Orione)

AD JESUM PER MARIAM

(TO JESUS THROUGH MARY)

Marian devotion in the life and pastoral activity of the Orionines

 

29 August 2011
Feast of Our Lady of Safe Keeping

My dear Confreres,

I experienced great joy even this year during the feast of Our Lady of Safe Keeping of Tortona. There was repeated the usual spectacle of faith and crowds of people. I took with me the text, read by few, of a document from the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy. It concerns the Letter to the Rectors of Shrines throughout the world.[1] We are invited to appreciate popular Marian devotion as a means to encounter God and of evangelization in a world of secularism and religious decline. I put this letter with its Marian theme before Don Orione in his Shrine of Tortona. The letter makes real Don Orione’s conviction “To give Our Lady to souls means to give them Jesus Christ, the Church, faith, it means to give them salvation.”[2]

For some time I have wanted to draw attention and reflect upon Marian devotion in the life and pastoral activity of us Orionines. This way of pastoral charity was greatly practiced and promoted by our holy Founder, “anima mariana”, (Marian soul)[3] who saw and lived “nella luce di Maria”[4](in the light of Mary). I cannot but recall that my first studious encounter with Don Orione and with his writings in the archives was on the occasion of writing my licence in liturgy. It had as its theme: “La devozione popolare mariana nel beato Don Luigi Orione”[5](Popular Marian devotion of Blessed Don Orione).

The promotion of Marian popular devotion is an important aspect of our apostolate. It directly involves many religious and shrines of the Congregation, but, we know, it concerns all of us because where there are people there is Marian devotion: in the parishes, houses of charity, schools, missions, houses of formation, with the youth, the sick, in the most varied of our activity. Marian devotion is not reserved to a particular aspect of activity and of people, but concerns an atmosphere, a means, a way of being in our life and our pastoral charity. If it is true that “one cannot be Christian without being Marian” likewise one cannot be an Orionine without being Marian.

 

A resource to be valued

There are those who have observed – and watch – at “popular devotions” with a certain suspicion, as something almost infantile or magical: from the Rosary, to the Scapular, from pilgrimages, to the sign of the Cross before going on a journey, or at the start of a football match. Others have noted that certain devotional practices have become a means of sentimental and individualistic detachment, in order to avoid the need of a personal and communitarian encounter with the Lord that one does principally in the sacraments of his presence in the liturgy of the Church. To be more precise: I go to the shrine, light a candle, make an offering and say some prayers… and yet never attend Mass, do not listen to the Word of God, nor live in harmony with the Gospel and go forward in life without repentance and conversion. To express it as Don Orione did: “One participates in a procession and all cry “Viva Maria” (Long live Mary): in general this is all that they know of religion, few know the Pater Noster (Our Father) or the Salve Regina (Hail Holy Queen); one could say that almost no-one knows the principal mysteries of faith or the commandments of God; from this ignorance there derives in great part those living as if everything was fine…”.[6]

In not a few cases, in certain forms of popular piety there is mixed even elements of superstition, pagan practices or psychological rigidity.

Despite the ambiguity of such devotional expressions, a person or group of persons, who express their faith in such a tangible way, outside strict liturgical settings and of the home environment, risk being judged as a throwback, a fanatic or worse, a psychopath.

We need to be aware of this; it is undeniable that there exists an authentic and popular religious sentiment, innate in human nature. The presence of a longing and desire of God’s fatherly care, if it is not expressed in an authentic way, living, Christian, that is, “as children”, pushes some to find other forms of “devotions” such as magicians, a holy man, spiritual mediums, satanic practices, superstitions and neuroses of every kind.

The Magisterium has expressed many times its esteem for popular piety and for its manifestations. It has cautioned those who would ignore, neglect or despise them and to adopt a more positive attitude towards them because they are a “veritable treasure of the People of God” (Marialis cultus 31).

Number 1679 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses clearly the Church’s attitude in the face of popular devotions: “In addition to the liturgy, Christian life is nourished by various forms of popular piety, rooted in the different cultures. While carefully clarifying them in the light of faith, the Church fosters the forms of popular piety that express an evangelical instinct and a human wisdom and that enrich Christian life”.

Even today and perhaps above all today, in our historical – cultural context, old and new popular devotions are still a source of richness and a resource for our Christian life.

For us Orionines, there can be added a charismatic motive in encouraging popular devotions. Don Orione recommended: “We wish, remember this well, want to be with the people even in this, in serving their faith, in increasing their Christian lives, above all by means of popular faith, the popular devotions… Above all insisting upon faith in God and Mary Most Holy”.[7]

 

Pastoral work of the Shrines in the Congregation

This is an area of activity very much consistent with the Congregation. I would like now to recall those Shrines that today our confreres are busily dedicating themselves to. I do so to make them known and to give thanks for those who work and have worked there. Most are Marian Shrines, but others are dedicated to Saints.

Firstly, the three most frequented.

1.   Tortona, Shrine – Basilica of Our Lady of Safe-Keeping. It is the Shrine of Don Orione and of the Congregation especially. Don Orione desired it (with popular acclaim in 1918), designed and built by his seminarians, organized according to his ideals and his Marian style. It is the “spiritual lung” of a great region; thousands of pilgrims come throughout the year. Its feast of 29 August continues to be, as he wished, the family celebration of the Congregation.

2.   Itati, Shrine of Our Lady of Itati. Don Orione received it while in Argentina, exactly 75 years ago. It is a national shrine, written in the religious and popular history of the Guaraní’ people, known throughout northern Argentina (Corrientes, Misiones and Chaco), in south Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. The Congregation has constructed a new and spacious shrine besides which are various works of charity. The influx of people is indeed great.

3.   Foggia, Shrine – Basilica of the Crowned Mother of God. Even this is a shrine with a long history, linked to an apparition of Our Lady in the year 1001. It is part of the culture and tradition of the region. In 1950 it was entrusted to the Congregation which promised to construct a new building and care for its spiritual needs. It is the focus of pilgrimages throughout the year, with tens of thousands attending.

 I would like to list the shrines historically linked to Don Orione.

4.      Casei Gerola (Tortona), Shrine of Our Lady of Graces and of St Augustine. This is a rural shrine, linked to the vocation of Don Orione; it was abandoned and, at its door, 12 year old Luigi sought Our Lady’s help to become a priest. The old building was given to him in 1932, and restored and up to now cared for by our confreres.

5.      Shrine of Our Lady of Mt. Spineto at Stazzano. The shrine, in the diocese of Tortona, located in a beautiful position, was entrusted to Don Orione who placed his hermits of Divine Providence there in 1906. They remained there until 1920. For many decades, the shrine is being cared for by our Orionine confreres.

6.      Fumo of Corvino (Tortona), Shrine of Our Lady of Caravaggio. Less famous and visited in respect to that of Tortona. It constitutes a marvellous page in the Marian devotion of Don Orione, of Canon Perduca and of the seminarians who built it. It was erected in 1939. Since then it remains a Marian attraction and ‘confessional’ to many people of the area.

7.      Sao Paolo, Shrine of Our Lady Achirpita. It was built in the centre of the city, by Italian immigrants bringing with them the devotion from Rossano Calabro. Don Orione celebrated Mass there many times. In 1926 it was entrused to the Congregation. It is one of the most popular places of faith in Sao Paolo, much frequented during the period of its feast (15 August) and loved even for charitable works which surround it.

8.      Floresta (Montevideo), Shrine of Our Lady de las Flores (of the Flowers). Taking up the wish of Italian immigrants to Montevideo, Don Orione transplanted to it their devotion of Our Lady of Fiori of Bra. The shrine is now diocesan and still remains popular.

9.      Messina, Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation. It was an idea of Don Orione, already during the time spent in the area after the terrible earthquake of 1908. It is in honour of a beautiful picture of the ‘Consolata’ venerated in Turin. From a church-hut it grew to become a beautiful shrine; now it is also a parish.

10.    Avezzano, Shrine of Our Lady of Suffrage. It is linked to ‘the suffrage’ of the victims of the Marsica earthquake of (1915). Don Orione desired it though built later on. Connected to it are other works of the Congregation and visited by people of the area.

A good number of other Marian shrines have opened or been entrusted to the Congregation on other occasions, after the death of Don Orione.

11.   Rio de Janeiro, Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. This is a very beautiful and large shrine, built in the middle of the last century, but nowadays remains a bit suffocated by the surrounding buildings. It is visited by the local people.

12.   Boston, Shrine of Our Lady Queen of the Universe. This diocesan shrine was inaugurated in 1960; it is surmounted by a copy of the statue of Our Lady by Arrigo Minerbi, identical to that erected on Monte Mario in Rome. At the present moment, the confreres also take pastoral care of the Hispanics and Brazilians of Boston.

13.   Barranqueras, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.  It is a diocesan shrine; in September 1954 it was legally named as the "Patron of the Province" and in May 1956, as the Principal Patron of the whole Diocese of Resistencia.

14.   Paterno’, Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Consolation. The Congregation took on the pastoral care of this diocesan shrine in 1966. It was built in a very prominent position, high up, and preserves the memory of an apparition of 1580. It is very popular and frequented by the people of the vast area surrounding the Etna volcano.

15.   Rokitno, (Warsaw) Shrine of Our Lady of Help of the Primates of Poland. It was built in the 1800s and entrusted to the Little Work in 1986. Artistically beautiful and adorned, the object of visits rather than popular devotion. It is also a parish.

16.   Lahisyn (Pinsk), Shrine of Our Lady Queen of Polesia. It was one of the few churches which remained opened during the Soviet regime because it is very entrenched in the traditional religiosity of the people. From 1990 it has been in the care of the Congregation. It is the most popular shrine in the vast region of Pinsk and of all Bielorussia.

17.   Bonoua, Shrine of Our Lady of Safe-Keeping. It is the latest shrine built by the Congregation, at Bonoua, the heart of the Congregation in the Ivory Coast. It is a modern structure, spacious, elegant and visited by thousands of people on pilgrimage from the surrounding area.

18.   Seregno, Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians. Even this was born from the chapel of the Little Cottolengo and is a testimony of how devotion to Our Lady and special care to those in need draws many people.

Finally, I would like to add other shrines of the Congregation dedicated to Saints, because they have similar pastoral dynamics to those Marian.

19.   Fano, Shrine of St. John Bosco. Don Orione was proud to say that it was the first shrine dedicated to St John Bosco recently canonized. In effect it was inaugurated in 1934. It is connected to an educational institution, for a time a parish, but now exclusively a shrine.

20.   Reggio Calabria, Shrine of St Anthony. This was promoted by Don Orione which draws upon and revives the local devotion toward the most popular saint in the Church. The building is imposing and elegant, visited above all by people of the city; for some decades it has been a parish.

21.   Paterno’, Shrine of St Rosalia. It is the city shrine upon an outcrop of rock on Mt Pellegrino. The devotion to the saint dates from the 13th century and is still very popular and rich in tradition. The shrine was entrusted to the pastoral care of the Congregation in 1948.

22.   Claypole, Shrine of St Luigi Orione. The church of the Little Cottolengo became a shrine dedicated to our saint and hosts the special relic of his heart. The popularity of Don Orione and the Little Cottolengo in Argentina is a cause of significant pilgrimages to the shrine.

23.   Cotia, (San Paolo), Shrine to St Luigi Orione. Even here, after the canonization of Don Orione the Church of the Little Cottolengo became a diocesan shrine. It is beautiful and well positioned. It still needs to be promoted in order to effect popular devotion.

24. Araguaina, Shrine of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The large parish church of Araguaina was made a diocesan shrine in 2006.

 

The shrines, “oases in the desert of this poor life”[8]

Card. Mauro Piacenza, in presenting the letter to the rectors of shrines around the world, to which I refer frequently[9], said that “This letter is mainly intended to fit into the great movement of the new evangelization that unites almost everybody in the Church. We want to focus on these places that Paul VI called “the clinics of the spirit”, because in a period of extensive secularization, probably and even more the shrines have a function ... to foster the encounter with the Lord, the revision of one’s life “.

The statement is immediately obvious. “In a climate of widespread secularism, the shrine still, even today, represents a privileged place in which man, a pilgrim on this earth, experiences the loving and saving presence of God” (Shrines 3). The more the furrows of our way of life dry up, the greater the need and the appeal to go where the land is fertile.

In a pastoral ministry which , like that of Don Orione, means to be “popular,” addressed to the poor and those far from the faith, devotion to Mary is a way of evangelization, it is a bulwark against secularism, is a form to bring in God’s fatherhood and the motherhood of the Church introduced by the wave of affection for Mary.

In the shrine “one finds a fruitful area, away from the daily trials, where one can collect and regain strength to resume the spiritual journey of faith with greater fervour and seek, find and love Christ in ordinary life, in the middle of the World” (Shrines 3).

The weighty letter on shrines encourages and directs the pastoral care. Moreover, the inflow to the shrines around the world in amazing growth is a relevant pastoral. fact of which we speak more and more seriously. All the statistics tell us that today the institutional belonging to any religion, including Catholicism, is in crisis, but the search for meaning, spirituality, nostalgia for the sacred are strongly up. For example, in Italy, according to a recent survey, only 25% attend Mass on Sundays, but as many as 40% say they pray every day and 70% say they pray at least once a week.

To confirm the endurance of the popular devotions that manifests itself in the shrines, especially in the Marian ones, is the fact that it has withstood both the storm of protest of the seventies and the current desertification caused by secularism. Although the churches in the cities and towns are emptying, the shrines do not know the crisis and are also frequented by people who do not hang around the parishes.

What is happening? How do we explain this phenomenon? Man often does not acknowledge God, but knows very well his own solitude, his limit, and feels the need to express his prayer, his expectations, and his relationship, however uncertain. The shrine is a place and a time to recognize and express the spirit of this deep and irrepressible need for salvation which is, ultimately, need for God.

It should be recognized that “popular piety is of great importance for the faith, culture and Christian identity of many nations. It is an expression of faith of a people, treasure of the people of God in and for the Church to understand; just imagine the poverty that would result in the history of Christian spirituality in the West with the absence of the Rosary, of the Stations of the Cross or processions. These are just examples, but obvious enough to detect the indispensability “(Shrines 9).

 

Ad Jesum per Mariam means through devotion to the liturgy

The”Ad Jesum per Mariam” becomes a celebration “through devotion to the liturgy.” The cult of Mary, well implemented, leads to the worship of God. Don Orione succeeded in that mediation. We must do it ourselves. Many writings, testimonies and chronicles show what were the style and the organization of festivals, pilgrimages, liturgical celebrations of Don Orione. Everything was focused to lead the faithful to the sacraments, to experience the Church, to evangelization of Christian truth.

Certainly it takes great care to develop the movement of devotion to Our Lady, sometimes naive but existentially alive, towards a real encounter and relationship with God

Listening to the Word of Godplays a vital role in the pastoral life of the shrine” (Shrines 6), however it comes: given to listening to the liturgy, offered as a response to questions of life, perceived during the prayer, revealed in confidential dialogue with Our Lady. In the shrines, and in our proposals of Marian devotion in all the ways, we should promote the encounter with the Word of God. Don Orione used to point out that “Mary is above all creatures, because more than anyone else she loved, honoured and guarded the Word of God. Blessed are we if, with the help of the Our Blessed Lady, we come to love and keep the Word of God, to unite our will to that of God: it is this union which alone makes us holy.”[10]

The document on the pastoral work of the shrines, calls for: “Sacred ministers are responsible for preparing the announcement, in prayer and meditation, filtering the content of the message with the help of spiritual theology at the school of the Magisterium and of the Saints” ( Shrines 6).

For his part, Don Orione advised: “Be greedy of the word of God, and may it be your life.”[11]Administer the word of God; let it be brief, but well prepared: substance, practice and with zeal.”[12]

“The sermons of Don Orione – Father Bianchi recalls – were a continuous quotation of Sacred Scripture and of the Gospels; which may reveal the reverence for the sacred texts and the passion with which he was studying.[13] “ He knew how to alternate formal oratory and was precise in the use of the language spoken by humble people, the dialect, being more effective and reaching the hearts and minds of the listeners, especially in pilgrimages and festivals.

He handed over a veritable cult of the Gospel. “What is the Gospel? It is God’s book, is the life, the word, the doctrine of Jesus Christ. It is the history of the Lord: the written Word of God. Just as the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist is the living Word of God, so the Gospel and the Holy Bible is the Word of God in writing.”[14]

 

The Liturgy is the highest expression of the relationship with God, with Our Lady and with the Saints. Therefore, ministry leaders in the shrines have the task of “educating the pilgrims on the absolute importance that the liturgical celebration should have in the life of every believer. The personal practice of forms of popular piety should not be hindered or completely rejected, rather it should be encouraged. “ It is an opportunity not an obstacle to the Christian life,[15]but not a substitute for participation in liturgical worship” (Shrines 12).

Especially today, each of us must take to heart, when running a shrine or accompanying the faithful to a shrine, to foster an effective link between personal devotion, God’s Word and the Community Liturgy.

Those who are zealous for the souls take advantage of many small occasions. For example, the places where the ex-votos are kept, if they are prepared with an itinerary, with a help to understanding, can help to better know the providence of God in people’s lives, the fruits that faith can generate. Every shrine has its blessings. At the shrines, people ask blessings for everything, protection is demanded, we want to take with us something “of God”, of “Our Lady”, something sacred. At the “Incoronata” of Foggia everyone goes to be anointed with holy oil of the Madonna and elsewhere people bring a new car to be blessed, and so on. Even these moments are apt to say a word of faith, to meet families and people.

The priest, among the many activities connected with shrines, should give priority to those who give him more chances to be part of a personal spiritual relationship with the pilgrims. Also in this area of our apostolate, we must address above all what is most characteristic of our ministry, leaving other tasks to lay collaborators.

 

“That’s how you honour Our Lady: with Jesus in your heart.”

The letter on the shrines also insists on confession, because “the shrine is also the site of the permanent actualization of God’s mercy” (Shrines 13). In this regard, it should “encourage and where possible, increase the constant presence of priests who, in a spirit of humility and welcome, dedicate themselves generously to hear sacramental confessions,” highlighting “the close bond that binds sacramental confession to a new life, aiming for a decisive conversion. “ It is also appropriate that there should be, “in suitable places (for example, possibly, in a Chapel of Reconciliation), confessionals equipped with a fixed grille” (Shrines 15).

Dear Confreres, is a great honour - certainly not without sacrifice - to be ministers of mercy at a shrine. This is what the Confreres realized, who have exercised this ministry as daily “work” at the Shrine of Pompei, or those who hear confessions at the shrines of Incoronata, La Guardia, Itati or elsewhere.

Those who go to the shrines, “spiritual clinics”, always expect to find confessors available. In many parishes, for various reasons and some failures, hardly anybody goes to confession.

For those who have much to do, to hear confession s can be a “weight” but never a “waste of time”! For many older and sick Confreres the limits of health often turn into a favourable condition for carrying out the ministry of confession, and listening as a spiritual, priestly activity. I think of a Don Santella in Rome, or Don Luigi Lazzarin in Belo Horizonte, or Don Adolfo Gigon in Claypole, who remained “alive” and were sought for confession to the last. People came to them too for the most valuable Asset. And they felt precious, “ still bearing fruit in old age” (Ps 92, 15)!

The confession is done is the secrecy of the personal interview. How much good or even evil can the priest do with his words! This requires that they “are well trained in doctrine and must not fail to update regularly on matters relating particularly to the moral and bioethical issues. Also, in the field of marriage, they must respect what the Church’s Magisterium teaches authoritatively. They must avoid manifesting in the sacramental doctrines private, personal opinions or arbitrary assessments that are not in keeping with what the Church believes and teaches “(Shrines 17-18). Many people, especially the more away from the Church, form the concept of life and Christian doctrine from what is reported by these meetings in the shrine.

The Eucharist is the “summit and the source” of the whole of the Christian life (SC 10 and PO 5) and of the place of worship. All elements that can facilitate access to it must be encouraged. It frequently happens that pilgrims or ordinary tourists come into the church while Holy Mass is being celebrated. Often even those who are not accustomed to taking part in the Mass stay on. If they “see” that the celebration is conducted well and with faith and decorum, they can also be drawn to recollection. Singing can help, music and silence can help, as also can a well-prepared and communicative homily. Everything must be consonant with the norms of high-mindedness and holiness. On the other hand, “a style of celebration that introduces arbitrary liturgical innovations will, as well as generating confusion and division among the faithful, damage the honoured traditions and the authority of the Church and even her unity” (Shrines 21).

“Fewer Masses and a deeper sense of the Mass” is still a wise practical directive which should be followed in the churches. At times when there are larger numbers of people we have to offer greater facilities for hearing Mass (this also means frequency), but no celebration must take place without due dignity. It must never be slovenly, hurried or careless, without singing and a homily, however simple it may be.

Pope Benedict XVI has written and restated that “the best teaching on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself, celebrated worthily” (Sacramentum Caritatis 64).

As a means of centring on Christ during a visit to a church Eucharistic Adoration has great effectiveness, as it reveals “that which is at the heart of the celebration: union with Christ in the Host” (Santuari 23). The letter urges us to attach “considerable importance to the position of the tabernacle in the church (perhaps even having a chapel exclusively set aside for adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament), as it is in itself an inducement, an invitation and an incentive to prayer, adoration, meditation and intimate union with the Lord” (Santuari 23). We should make a point of having exposition, adoration and solemn blessings. Much deep dialogue can arise in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, including feelings of comfort, repentance, conversion, confidence and attention to inner calls to virtue.

Everything must lead to the realisation that the sanctuary is the place of the Presence, the Abode. It is the Dwelling-Place and the Temple, not just something to look at.

 

“Adding an institution of charity to an activity of worship.”

I was surprised and pleased that the Letter on holy places asks that “in fidelity to their glorious tradition, we should not forget to be involved in works of charity and welfare, human promotion, the safeguarding of the rights of the person and commitment to justice, according to the social doctrine of the Church” (Shrines 30).

We know that this was typical of Don Orione’s directives, something which he emphasised to the point of putting it forward to Abbot Caronti as one of the customs of the Congregation: “It is normal for us always to add an Institution of charity to an Activity of worship.”[16]

The spiritual and pastoral motivations for this practical rule must always be borne in mind. “So many people do not understand the act of worship,” Don Orione wrote, “so we must include with it a work of charity. We are living in an age when, if the priest is seen only with the stole, not everyone will follow us. If, however, they see the old people and the orphans around the priest, then charity will win them over. Charity encourages and brings people to faith and hope.”[17]

In the churches, works of charity and compassion towards the most needy are the necessary accompaniment to the Ad Jesum per Mariam (to Jesus through Mary). They are the Ad Jesum per caritatem. “Charity opens eyes to the Faith and warms hearts with love for God.”

This practice is still very much at the heart of the Congregation, forming the model for the structures and activities of so many of our communities. As I have travelled through the Orionine world I have been able to witness it and admire it. I have noticed, however, that we must be ever more committed so that, between activities of devotion (Marian and parochial) and institutions of charity, there must be an effective link, complementarity and unity. The activities of a church or parish receive so much value from the living, integrated presence of a charitable institution that forms an essential part of the apostolate. The activities of an educational or welfare-based charitable work receive so much vitality when there is a closer relationship with the people attending the church or shrine.

I feel that we should take on board and bring about another recommendation that is mentioned in the Letter: “In connection with these it would be a good thing for a revival of cultural initiatives also, such as conferences, seminars, exhibitions, shows, competitions and artistic displays on religious themes. The churches and shrines would thus also become promoters of culture, both intellectual and popular,” (Shrines 30).

Thanks to the eagerness of our Confreres something is being done. I am thinking of the tradition of meetings and gatherings at the Shrine of the Coronation of Our Lady in Foggia and the Feast of the Pope and the concerts promoted by the Shrine of Our Lady of Safe-Keeping in Tortona. Even at the new Shrine of Bonoua there was an immediate recognition of the need to have large conference rooms for meetings and catechesis.

 

LET US LOVE MARY!

Marian devotion is not only for external use, for other people, as a pastoral activity. It is primarily an inner nourishment for our spirituality.

This was the title, Amiamo Maria! (Let us love Mary!) given by Don Orione to an exhortation published in the Opera della Divina Provvidenza news bulletin on 19th April 1915. I will now quote a passage from it so as to bring it into our spiritual life today.

“Let us love Mary!

Oh! We can say that the Little Work of Divine Providence is, after God, wholly the work of Mary. It arose because of Mary; it grew because of Mary; it continues because of Mary. We owe everything to Mary and must therefore be devoted to her and demonstrate our gratitude to her.

Devotion to Mary is not merely an ornament of our most holy Religion, nor a flowery adjunct to it, nor a means of assistance like so many others of which we can make use or not as we wish. It is an integral part. God does not want to come to us except through Mary; we cannot go to God except through Mary.

How much love of Mary is present in our personal life?

The Pope, in his Letter for the year of the priest which was celebrated in 2010, recalled that “Jesus Christ, after giving us all He could give us, also wants to make us heirs of what is most precious to Him, His Holy Mother.” Rightly therefore, arising from this act of supreme love expressed by Jesus on the cross, Mary has been regarded as Mother of the Church, Mother of Christians and Mother of priests in a very real sense.[18]

It is right for us all, dear Confreres, to live and nurture a beneficial climate of devotion to the Mother of God, as this causes us to concentrate on the things of God. Explaining his familiarity and intimate relationship with Our Blessed Lady our Founder wrote thus in exhortation: “In order to truly love the Lord, Our Lady, Souls and the Church, this must become almost an obsession for us. Do you know what it means to be obsessed about something? What was Our Lady’s state of mind concerning Jesus? You know it already: she lived only through Him, she spoke only through Him and of Him, she willingly suffered and prayed through Him, she thought only as Jesus thought – as far as that was possible. Her heart wanted so much to be close to Jesus’ heart in feelings, thoughts and affections. The Saints on earth have also done this. They tried to live in unison with Jesus and Our Blessed Lady in all things.”[19]

To be in spiritual intimacy with Mary causes us religious to be “obsessed with the things of God,” to be obsessed with “the good of souls” and “in unison with Jesus and Our Blessed Lady in everything.” What a wonderful thing! Our life will then be a call to God and to the beauty of giving ourselves completely and for always to Jesus, to Our Lady and to Souls.

Let us leave aside the old, false dualisms that opposed Marian piety and Christ-centred piety. To Peter Seewald, who in a recent interview defined Benedict XVI as “a theologian whose orientation was more Christ-centred than Marian,” the Pope replied: “It is true. I was brought up in a particularly Christocentric spirituality, in a religious piety that was consciously and emphatically nourished by the Bible. It was therefore oriented to Christ. The Mother of God, the Mother of Our Lord, however, always played a part in this.[20]

Certainly, our spiritual life must be centred on Christ by means of the Word of God, the Sacraments and Charity. However, as Benedict XVI himself said, “The Church will distance herself from the word of the Bible if veneration of Mary is lacking in her. God would in reality no longer be honoured fittingly.”[21]

I also recall another line of argument of Cardinal Ratzinger which ran more or less as follows: God became visible in history, in a relationship with mankind, to the point of being referred to as “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” It is even more true to say that He is “the God of Mary,” having become flesh in Mary. In order to know God we have to know Mary.

That is sufficient for now, dear Confreres. Each of you has and can add other reasonings for and many experiences of Marian devotion. This letter is merely intended to appreciate and stimulate our Marian apostolate in our shrines/churches and elsewhere. I wish to recommend personal Marian piety to us all. Marian devotion provides the spiritual climate for a consecrated person. If the Marian temperature is lowered all the rest is necessarily colder.

Don Orione spoke of the “four loves” - Jesus, Souls, Pope and Mary – which nourish our ardour, our sacrifice, our martyrdom and the fire of our charity. Several times he lengthened the Ad Jesum per Mariam by saying: “To Jesus, to the Pope and to Souls through Our Lady,” with Our Lady and like our Lady.

(...)

May Our Blessed Lady of Safe-Keeping and St. Luigi Orione watch over us all and our institutions. With loving greetings in the Lord and an assurance of my prayers for you.

Fr Flavio Peloso FDP

Superior General

 

 

[1] Congregation for the Clergy, Letter to the Bishops and to the Rectors of Shrines all over the world, Vatican City, 15th August 2011.

[2] Parola 17.2.1932; V, 20.

[3] Don Orione anima mariana, Quaderno No. 56, 1983.

[4] Don Orione alla luce di Maria Madre di Dio is the title of a precious work of 4 volumes compiled by Don Giovanni Venturelli, that is practically a biography of Don Orione seen in the light of Mary.

[5] La devozione popolare mariana nel Beato Luigi Orione, Istituto Liturgia Pastorale – Sant’Anselmo, 1983.

[6] Writings, 96, 222

[7] Parola of 17.4.1932; VIII, 244

[8] I take this expression from Don Orione, bringing the extended quotation from which is taken: "The Shrines are like oases in the desert of this poor life, and people are like the tired and injured pilgrims and sometimes dying on the road. There are comfort, relief to the cares of the spirit, and there are healing the wounds of the heart ... The shrines are beacons of light that illuminate the minds and recall the truths of the Gospel. They are a focal point of God's mercy and of the goodness of Mother Mary. They are sources of spiritual renewal, faith, moral recovery for disheartened and tired souls. They are flames shining on the mountain, and draw hearts to high feelings, to thoughts of heaven. In the grayness of material life, shrines are headlights that make their way to the souls in danger, they are fountains from which flow the waters of consolation that lead to eternal life "; Parola, 16.4.1928, III, 141.

[9] See note 1.

[10] Speech to the Little Missionary Sisters of Charity, 18 February 1918.

[11] To his priests, 23.7.1939; Writings 3, 526

[12] To Fr Candido Garbarino, Writings 67, 85

[13] Testimony of Fr Luigi Bianchi, Informatio, 100.

[14] Speech to the Little Missionary Sisters of Charity, 11 September 1919.

[15] Cf. My editorial in “Don Orione oggi”, May 2011, p.3-4.

[16] Letter of 3rd May, 1938; Scritti 117. 107; similarly in a letter of February 1929; Scritti 53. 39.  “It is a custom for us always, where possible, to add a charitable institution to an activity of worship;” Scritti 80. 177. 

[17] Riunioni, p. 95.  Don Orione’s words to the parish priest Giovanbattista Chiosso di Torriglia:  “Devotion to Our Lady will be more greatly understood – even by those who hardly practise – in the measure in which a work of charity towards the poor is combined with this devotion;” letter of 27.11.1937, Scritti 38. 158.  “To any action of faith, worship and piety to God and His Mother, the Blessed Virgin, must be added an action of generosity, charity and compassion towards ones neighbour;” Scritti 92. 216.

[18] Benedict XVI explains that, when Jesus proclaimed from the cross the universal motherhood of Mary, He chose as her first spiritual son an apostle – a priest - John, to whom He said:  “Here is your mother!”  (Jn 19. 27).  Consequently, every priest, like John, is called to take Mary with him as a sweet love, a comforting companion and a powerful aid in his life:  “The disciple took her into his own home.”

[19] Sui passi di Don Orione 165.

[20] Benedict XVI, The Light of the world.  A conversation with Peter Seewald, Editrice Vaticana, 2010, pp. 228-229.

[21] Maria – Chiesa nascente, San Paolo, Cinisello Balsamo 1998, Ch. IV “Tu sei la piena di grazia,” (You are the one who is full of grace).

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