THE ELECT OF MARY’S HEART
E must now broach and explain the central enigma of the Third Secret in order to understand the great drama that was prophetically revealed to the three little shepherds of Aljustrel. Following the Angel’s call to penance, the vision continued with a change of setting:
“And we saw in an immense light that is God:”
“This theophany of July 13, 1917”, remarks the Abbé de Nantes, “is similar to that enjoyed by the seers at the Cova da Iria on the previous May 13, regarding which Francisco said: ‘What I loved most was to see Our Lord in that light which Our Lady shone into our chests.1’
“At the first apparitions, in May and in June, they had beheld themselves in this light, in accordance with the words of Saint Paul: ‘And we ourselves, our faces unveiled and reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, will all be transformed into that same image, as we move from one degree of glory to another; this is the work of the Lord who is Spirit.’ (2 Co 3.18)2”
In her book Calls from the Message of Fatima, which she completed in 1974, Sister Lucy describes “this infinite light which is God”, although she does not explicitly allude to the vision in the Third Secret, as she had been forbidden to disclose it:
“Yes, my dear pilgrims, the Angels in Heaven always behold the face of Eternal Light, and in it – as in an immense mirror before which everything passes – everything is present, everything remains as if carved in indelible characters: the past, the present and the future. Everything that exists and was created by God: Heaven and Hell, the earth, the stars, the sun, the moon, worlds known and unknown, all animate and inanimate beings; absolutely everything receives its being and life from the wish, the power, the knowledge and the almighty wisdom of that Infinite Light which is God, the one and only Source from which is derived all life that exists, and of which every other light and life is no more than a tiny particle, a pale reflection, one of His sparks. Thus the Angels in Heaven, gazing into this mirror of light which is God, in Him see all things, know all things, understand all things through their complete union with God and their participation in His gifts.3”
The three little shepherds, on 13 July 1917, had a share in the first fruits of this privilege reserved for the Angels and for the Elect who enjoy the beatific vision.
“The light which is God”, writes the Abbé de Nantes, “revealed its Name to
Moses in the Old Testament: YHWH, I AM. In this light is reflected as
mirror the course of history, past, present and future, in one eternal
THE BISHOP DRESSED IN WHITE
“And we saw in an immense light that is God: ‘Something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it’: a Bishop dressed in White.”
A bishop is ordinarily dressed in violet, or purple if he is a cardinal. Whence the Abbé de Nantes’ intuition:
“This ‘Bishop’ is without doubt Christ Jesus Himself, according to the words of Saint Peter in his First Epistle: ‘For you had gone astray like sheep, but now you have come back to the shepherd and to the bishop (episkopos) of your souls.’ (1 P 2.25)
“He is ‘dressed in White’ as on the mountain of the Transfiguration, where ‘His clothes became dazzlingly white’ (Lk 9.29), ‘whiter than any fuller on earth could bleach them’ (Mk 9.3), ‘white like the light’ (Mt 17.2).
“If we follow the evangelical and apostolic events of the first century of our era, there can be no doubt about the identification of this ‘Bishop dressed in White’: it is Saint Peter who follows his Lord (Jn 13.36; 21.19). Behind him march the Christians of the early community: ‘Bishops, priests, men and women religious’. Together they tread in the footsteps of Jesus, ascending towards the Cross under the crook of the head of the Apostles, in the midst of an unbelieving and rebellious generation.
“In our own times, which are the last, we ourselves are the Christian community, the Roman Catholic Church of the twentieth century. We are like the early community of the first century, at the centre of which was the Blessed Virgin (Ac 1.14). With Simon Peter, bar Jona, which means “son of the Dove”, as Head and Sovereign Pontiff.5”
Sister Lucy continues:
“We had a premonition that it was the Holy Father.”
“Our intuition”, observes the Abbé de Nantes, “has not misled us. It corresponds to that of the little shepherds: it is indeed Christ, but in the person of His Vicar, ‘our sweet Christ on earth’, as Saint Catherine of Sienna used to call him.
“When Lucy speaks of a ‘premonition’, we have a sense of her heart thrilling and rushing out to what was ‘passing in front of’ their eyes before disappearing, like a vision of the beyond.
“To understand this, we need only recall the moving history of that poilu in the Great War who was seen by his parents passing in front of their window with his bag and his rifle on his shoulder. The father and mother turned to each other: they had had the same vision at the same moment, ‘similar to the image that a mirror reflects when someone passes in front of it’, but there was no one there! Eight days later, the mayor told them that their son had fallen at Verdun, on such a day and at such an hour: the parents, bathed in tears, recognised the hour and the date of the mysterious vision.
“Who is this bishop? The only place to search for him is in the Heart of Mary. And what do we find in the Heart of Mary, if not Jesus, Her Only Child, Her Son who was taken from Her to be killed, as well as those who resemble Him? Since She dominates the whole of time, from beginning to end – as we are reminded by the presence at Her side of an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand (cf. Gn 3.24; Ap 12.7-8) –, this Blessed Virgin also has in Her Heart two distinct figures of Her Jesus: one anterior, two thousand years earlier, and the other posterior, two thousand years later...6”
“The three seers”, writes Brother Bruno of Jesus, “had ‘a premonition that it was the Holy Father’, rather as if he were not going to let himself be recognised immediately or clearly, as was the case when the risen Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene (Jn 20.16-18), to the disciples of Emmaus (Lk 24.32), and to the Apostles met in the Cenacle (Lk 24.37) and on the shores of Lake Tiberias (Jn 21). Like a phantom seen through the veil of God’s glory, this Prince dressed in White is not the risen Jesus: he is a Pontiff, who disappears for a time, having been ‘killed by a group of soldiers’, but who returns, like a good Shepherd, to save his flock.
“Who is he? To him also can be applied these words of the Lord: ‘Take care that no one deceives you. For many will come using My name and saying: I am the Christ. And they will lead many into error.’ (Mt 24.5)7”
Certain commentators have put forward the hypothesis that this “Bishop dressed in White” represents in an indistinct manner the popes of the twentieth century, who underwent trials and torments. Cardinal Ratzinger writes:
“In the Via Crucis of an entire century, the figure of the Pope has a special role. In his arduous ascent of the mountain we can undoubtedly see a convergence of different Popes. Beginning from Pius X [sic] up to the present Pope, they all shared the sufferings of the century and strove to go forward, through all the anguish, along the path which leads to the Cross.8”
Cardinal Ratzinger forgets an essential element of the vision, namely that the “Bishop dressed in White” appeared to the three little shepherds “in an immense light which is God”. To neglect and overlook this as he does in his “theological commentary” is tantamount to stripping this Pontiff of his aureole of sanctity and of his status as a son of Mary’s predilection.
In order to identify him or at least, to avoid prejudging the future, to identify his figure, we must, on the contrary, start with the following fact: he is a saint who is the elect of the Immaculate and who is very much in Her thoughts.
Therefore, this “Bishop dressed in White” cannot be one of those Popes who “set little store by” the message of Fatima, such as Pius XI and Pius XII, or even showed disdain and contempt for it, such as John XXIII, Paul VI and, as we shall shortly observe, John Paul II.
To identify and recognise this mysterious Pontiff, the Virgin Mary has given us several clues.
“In the Book of the Apocalypse”, remarks Brother Bruno, “‘white’ clothing is the distinctive mark of the saints of one of the seven Churches, to whom Christ declares: ‘I know all about you: how you are reputed to be alive and yet are dead.’ (Ap 3.1) However, not every trace of life had departed: ‘Some of you have not soiled their clothing; they are fit to come with Me, dressed in white. Those who prove victorious will be dressed like these in white; I shall not blot out their names from the book of life, but I will acknowledge them in the presence of My Father and His Angels.’ (Ap 3.4-5) Consequently, ‘a Bishop dressed in White’, the reflection of whom was seen by the seers of Fatima ‘in an immense light that is God’, designates a saint born of an ailing Church.
“Sister Lucy writes Branco, in Portuguese, with a capital B, as if it were a proper name; in Italian, the word is translated Bianco, or else… Albino. ‘In a light’: Luciani9.
“‘We had a premonition that it was the Holy Father’. And that even though he was not wearing the tiara”, notes Brother Bruno. “For, ever since Paul VI laid down the tiara, on 13 November 1964, as a sign of the Roman Pontiff’s renunciation of his sovereignty over princes and kings, the Pope no longer appears to be anything other than ‘a Bishop’, albeit one ‘dressed in White’. Albino Luciani was the first Pope to be thus ‘uncrowned’ on the very day of his consecration!
“We had a ‘premonition’ that it was a good Pope: ‘the Holy Father’! The expression is charged with all the fervent devotion with which the Church took the ‘smiling Pope’ to her heart during the thirty-three days of his pontificate. ‘Another Saint Pius X without knowing it’, joyously announced the Abbé de Nantes in September 1978, before going on to mourn, in the following month, ‘the Saint that God gave us’, in terms which one might take to be inspired by the Secret: ‘Albino Luciani means white light, the lunar splendour which shines in the night sky and illuminates it with a beauty that it owes entirely to the sun whose reflection it is. Such was the humility of him who confessed that he was not the light but merely wished to be amongst us as its mirror.10’
“Is it not he whom the little shepherds of Fatima saw in this ‘immense light which is God: something similar to how people appear in a mirror’? The words which follow, ‘when they pass in front of it’, aptly express the brevity of a pontificate of thirty-three days. He did no more than ‘pass by’…11” And the vision recounts his “Passover”12.
John Paul I therefore seems to have been this vessel of election, so dear to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, whose death was a redemptive sacrifice, the sacrifice of the Good Shepherd who offers himself up as a victim for the salvation of his sheep.
In this chapter, therefore, we are going to present the key phases of his
life and certain aspects of his personality in order to show how perfectly his
spirit, his devotions and his doctrine were in harmony with the great themes of
Our Lady’s revelations. For Fatima is a vast yet perfectly coherent message,
whose ramifications are both theological and political. It is first of all a mystical
spirituality or, to put it more simply, a devotion centred on the Immaculate Heart of
Mary. It is also a fully traditional theology that is orientated towards the
Last Things, without any compromise with the world, nor with the fanciful
Christian progressivism. In a word, it is the religion of Saint Pius X. Finally,
it is a politics for the Christian world, inviting the Church resolutely to
confront the errors of Russia and secularism.
IN THE WAKE OF SAINT PIUS X
A shaft of light revealing the true personality of the chosen one of Mary’s Heart has been given us by our Father, the Abbé de Nantes, in his passionate editorial, published in the very first days of John Paul I’s pontificate: Albino Luciani is like a brother, or rather a disciple, of Giuseppe Sarto, who came from a poor Venetian family, and who became Pope under the name of Pius X. An astonishingly close parallel exists between these two pontiffs separated by a gap of seventy-five years13. “The first thing we notice is the identity of these two priestly vocations making their way by regular steps up the hierarchical ladder until they reached the summit of honour and ecclesiastical responsibility. Yet they both started so modestly and so obviously free from ambition that, for each, the word career would be entirely out of place.14”
Albino Luciani was born on 17 October 1912 at Forno di Canale, which was named Canale d’Agordo in 1964. This town is situated in the foothills of the Dolomites, a mountainous region and border country forming the northern part of that Venetia “which to this day is still the bastion of Italian Catholicism”15.
He entered the minor seminary at Feltre when he was eleven years old, and then pursued his studies at the Gregorian major seminary in Belluno. “On 7 July 1935 he was ordained priest, at the same age and in the same climate as Saint Pius X. He was twenty-two. His bishop appointed him curate of his home parish of Forno di Canale and then of the neighbouring parish of Agordo, as well as chaplain of a technical mining institute. The path of a pious, humble and devoted priesthood, always very poor, is clearly that of Giuseppe Sarto at Salzano, at Tombolo.16”
When Don Luciani returned to Agordo forty years later, he would reveal one of the private joys of his first ministry:
“Here in this church, it is impossible not to say a few words about devotion to the Most Blessed Virgin because She is truly the patroness of this building. The church in Agordo is dedicated to Her Nativity. When I stayed here, as a poor chaplain, with the archdeacon, we sought to develop a real devotion towards the Madonna who is truly a Mother. I see by these ex-votos that your hearts are genuinely attached to Her. It is here, at this altar, that we celebrated the month of Mary. Flock into this church which is the church of the Most Blessed Virgin, our Mother.17”
The professors who had taught Don Luciani never forgot their former pupil who had edified them so greatly. One of them, Mgr Angelo Satin, succeeded in getting him appointed Vice Rector of the Belluno seminary, only two years after his priestly ordination.
Thereafter his career progressed steadily upward:
“1937-1947, ten years of the most admirable of ministries, that of seminary professor and vice rector (vice: because of his youth). He taught every subject, just like Pius X at his seminary in Mantua: dogmatic theology, morals, patristics, canon law, liturgy, Sacred Scripture, and the history of art! ‘He adores music’, says Father Martin who is a connoisseur. Make no mistake about it: a teacher of so many subjects at a provincial seminary of the time meant a vast amount of work, resulting in a solid culture, profound and vast. Those who met Pius X were flabbergasted by his culture when this man of the provinces went up to Rome to teach the whole world.18”
Appointed Pro-Chancellor in November 1947, he would become Vicar General of the diocese of Belluno in 1954.
In the Holy Year, in 1950, while Pope Pius XII was preparing for the proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption, he organised in the diocese a series of events in honour of the Madonna: a polychrome statue of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, donated by the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, was successively carried round every parish. In Belluno Cathedral one can still today venerate this Pilgrim Virgin, as it is called.
In 1954 Mgr Luciani went up to Rome to be present on May 25th at Pius X’s canonisation ceremony, which was the solemn approbation by Pius XII of the stern combat waged by his predecessor, at the dawn of the twentieth century, for the defence of the dogmas of the faith against modernism and against the progressivist utopia of the Sillon. One may reread the memorable speech that Pius XII pronounced during the ceremony19, which Mgr Luciani attended with wonderful enthusiasm. This can be seen in the article he published on his return in the Amico del popolo: “I saw the Pope, the cardinals, the bishops, an immense crowd. I saw the living faith, the pulsating Church, with all their manifest signs of catholicity and holiness.20”
“A curious coincidence”, remarks the Abbé de Nantes, “is that Saint Pius X climbed the steps of the hierarchical ladder at nine year intervals, while Mgr Luciani, almost as regularly, at ten year intervals. On 15 December 1958 he was appointed Bishop of Vittorio Veneto, half way between Belluno and Venice, between the poor mountain country and the rich sea.”
Like Saint Charles Borromeo, he “chose Humilitas as his motto, not in order to stake a claim to humility but to remind others of what he was: a poor, simple man of the earth, an unassuming priest of Jesus Christ”21. He would moreover explain this himself, with a touching simplicity, in his homily of 6 January 1959, pronounced at Forno di Canale, whither he had come to thank relatives and friends for their gift of a golden pectoral cross:
“I cannot divine the thoughts of Our Lord in my regard, nor those of the Pope, nor those of Divine Providence. But it did seem to me, in those days, that the Lord made use of me according to His ways of old: He takes the lowly from the roadside mud and raises them up, He detaches countrymen from their fields, fishermen from their nets, from their lakes, and makes Apostles of them. There are certain things that the Lord wishes to write, not in bronze or in marble, but simply in the dust, so that should the writing survive without being effaced or scattered by the wind, it may be plain that everything is the Lord’s work and owing to His grace alone. I am just a simple man of my times, I am one who comes from the fields, I am nothing but poor plain dust; on this dust the Lord has inscribed the episcopal dignity of the illustrious diocese of Vittorio Veneto. If ever any good should come of this, let it be very clear henceforth that it can only be the fruit of the Lord’s kindness, grace and mercy […].
“When new bishops enter their dioceses, they must design their armorial bearings. I had to do mine as well. At the top of the coat of arms, I wanted to put three stars. They may stand for the three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity, which are at the centre of every Christian life. I chose these three stars for myself, but I also chose them for my future people.22”
Mgr Luciani journeyed to Venice when the reliquary of Saint Pius X, recently arrived from Rome, was honoured and venerated in Saint Mark’s Basilica by a jubilant people, in the spring of 1959. In several homilies, pronounced at Vittorio Veneto, he expressed his admiration for all the Saint’s works, particularly for his political combats against Freemasonry:
“At Venice, in 1894, Mgr Sarto found himself up against the municipality’s masonic junta which, not content with sticking to the straightforward administration of the city, was waging an anti-religious campaign, prohibiting, among other things, the sign of the cross at the beginning of school classes. ‘I must act’, he said. He organised Catholic forces, divided them into committees and sub-committees, gave talks, wrote personal letters, and had this catchphrase circulated from one end of the city to the other: ‘Work, pray, vote!’ He set in motion a formidable electoral machine. At the end of a few months the masonic junta collapsed and was replaced by a junta that was respectful towards religion. ‘Patriarch Sarto is a politician of the first order’, commented La Tribune. And he replied: ‘Oh! no. I am simply a poor defender of the faith!’
“The Patriarch was passionate about Venice […]. But when love for Venice became dissociated from religion, he once again says, ‘I must act!’ and he intervenes. ‘We are first Venetians and then Christians’, declared the minister Nasi at the laying of the first stone of Saint Mark’s new bell tower, in the presence of the highest authorities. ‘Never before in the history of Venice’, replied the Patriarch, ‘has anyone heard anything like this first and this then. The Venetians of old united religion and Venice in a single act of love; and we, the new Venetians, we see ourselves as Venetians and Christians without differentiation; we raise the bell-tower, not to celebrate our glory, like Noah’s descendants at the time of the Tower of Babel, but to glorify the Name of God!’23”
In another homily on “the Pope of the Catechism and of the Eucharist”, Mgr Luciani spoke of the Blessed Virgin’s affliction. It was about this same time that Sister Lucy declared to Father Fuentes: “The Virgin is very sad”… We do not know whether Mgr Luciani was aware of this warning by the holy Carmelitess. Nevertheless, he had certainly learned, several years earlier, of a statue of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Syracuse that had wept24, and its tears recalled, in a convincing and moving manner, the essential relevance of the message of Fatima: the Immaculate Heart, so horribly outraged by men’s sins and blasphemies, was asking for reparation.
Let us quote this homily given on 19 April 1959, a week after the arrival of Saint Pius X’s reliquary in Venice:
“You know, do you not, the lovely poem of The Madonna Dressed in Blue?
“The poet, Renato Simoni, imagined that at the time of the Battle of the Piave, Pius X came down from Paradise at night and exchanged several words with the Madonna in a little Venetian church. Shells whirred, bombs exploded, the dead and wounded mounted up, houses and churches were destroyed, the Madonna wept, and then:
… The old Pope of the pure heart
addresses this plea to the soldiers:
‘Hail Italy! Stand fast, my children!
‘Long live Italy!’ And to Heaven he returns.
“The fable appears to have become a reality these days. The old Pope has truly returned. He wants to see how things are going in his Venetia. They are not going too badly: people preserve the faith of olden times and they keep the good traditions.
“However, there is something that worries him: the shells no longer whir as they were that night, there are no bombs or physical ruins, but ideas are circulating which are anything but Venetian and Catholic. We are afflicted by emigration, a wicked press, a corrupt cinema and other evils. In our shrines, already so beloved of the holy Pope, those of Monte Berico, Motta, Cendrole and a hundred others, the Madonna bows Her head in sadness.
“In this vision the old Pope, from his shrine in Saint Mark’s Basilica,
makes us hear his vibrant appeal to combat: ‘Stand fast, my children!’ Remain
firmly attached to the faith of your fathers! Be unwavering in upholding
religious instruction and frequenting the sacraments!25”
UNITED IN HEART AND MIND WITH THE PILGRIMS OF FATIMA
In 1959, during the months preceding Italy’s solemn consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the statue of Our Lady of Fatima, encircled by the radiant escort of doves that so astonished the crowds, continued its triumphal march throughout the peninsula26. It was then that Mgr Luciani showed his devotion to the Virgin of Fatima. In his letter of 15 June 1959, he keenly exhorted his diocesan faithful to make a pilgrimage to this statue:
“Next September 13th, in Catania, the Italian bishops will consecrate the nation to the Blessed Virgin.
“To prepare souls for this important event, I decided some time ago to make the most of the preaching for the month of May; I have also encouraged each parish to consecrate itself to the Immaculate Heart of Mary; and today I recommend you make a pilgrimage to the statue of Our Lady of Fatima which, borne from town to town on the wings of a helicopter and on the love of millions of souls in a mounting triumph of the faith, is on its way to visit us.
“It will be in Treviso on 12 July and in Belluno on the 16th. I am keen to visit these two cities, with the greatest possible number of priests and members of the faithful, to consecrate, in Belluno, the Mel deanery, and in Treviso, the rest of the diocese, to the Blessed Virgin.
“I am sure that many of you will accompany me to carry out this act of filial devotion and love. But more than simply our numbers, what matters for me is our spirit. We are going to pay a visit to Her who, at Fatima, said and repeated: ‘Pray and repent!’ She who, in order to impress this message on us, made the sun spin three times before a huge number of people.
“Praying means recognising that we are weak, poor and needy, and acknowledging that God is strong, rich, helpful, magnificent, generous and ready to forgive. Repentance implies the soul going back on its past and having a complete change of heart: previously it was sin that it had sought, loved and commended; from now on sin is avoided, hated and condemned.
“This is what is important: let us all pray, let us all repent, and the rainbow of peace will no longer vanish from our skies!27”
Despite the mantle of silence and indifference that fell on the message of Fatima within the Church from 1960, Mgr Luciani kept his devotion. At the start of his episcopal ministry, just as at the end, as we shall see, stands Fatima, enveloping in a supernatural light the whole destiny of our good shepherd.
In 1960, when John XXIII refused to publish the Third Secret, he welcomed with touching humility the request of the Bishop of Fatima who, we will recall, invited all the world’s bishops to organise days of prayer and penance on October 12 and 13, 1960, in a spirit of reparation and consecration to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. On 8 September, Mgr Luciani wrote the following letter to his diocese:
“Next October 13, there will take place, in Fatima, a great international pilgrimage. To emphasise the penitential aspect, pilgrims will make the final leg of the route on foot, reciting the Rosary. The whole night of the 12th to the 13th will be spent in adoration before the Most Blessed Sacrament which will be exposed.
“The proposed intentions are: to obtain peace, the conversion of Russia and, above all, a sincerely Christian life.
“I would like the faithful of my diocese also to take part spiritually in this event and to pray for these same intentions. To this end, here are my instructions:
“Parish priests will invite their faithful to say the Rosary in church, before the exposed Blessed Sacrament, throughout the whole month of October. They should prepare with great care, each in his own parish church, for the vigil of the 12th. At the moment when the holy night is on the point of starting in Fatima, they will remind the faithful present, in a few brief words, of the necessity and duty of penance.
“On the day of 13 October itself, let them honour the Virgin Mary by an act of external penance, which could be a fast or some other voluntary sacrifice. This of course is not an obligation of conscience.
“The Most Blessed Virgin is a Mother, and She wants what is good for us. But it is precisely because She wants what is good for us that She is sad to see us enslaved to the poor things of this world.
“When called to the hospital bedside of her gravely ill child, one of our mothers was upset to hear him talking of the motorbike he had left at home, of the books he had borrowed and of other trifling matters. ‘My son! Think only of getting better. The rest can wait!’ The Virgin Mary acts in the same way towards us: ‘Come, take heart, think of your soul first! The rest comes second, a good second!’
“This is the thinking that must prevail during the pious vigil between October 12 and 13: One must save one’s soul! Starting with the soul of the bishop and going all the way down to the soul which, currently finding itself far removed from God, may well be called to become very close to Him, through the Lord’s infinite bounty!28”
One cannot but be edified by the supernatural spirit of this good pastor who
preached conversion and penance, as though the Angel of Fatima’s threefold
appeal were resonating in his ears.
CONFRONTED WITH SERIOUS FINANCIAL SCANDALS
In 1962 Mgr Albino Luciani suffered the most terrible ordeal of his episcopate in Vittorio Veneto, when part of his diocesan curia found itself implicated in a serious financial scandal. Some brief details must be given, because this trial prefigures those he would face in Venice and, even more so, in the Vatican.
An unscrupulous businessman named Carlo Luigi Antoniutti, whose methods had little to commend them, had built up in Treviso a financial empire with its own “secret bank”: the funds he had borrowed were invested in shady deals and risky speculations. Now, two ecclesiastics from Vittorio Veneto, Don Cescou, the vice-director and treasurer of the diocesan administrative council, and Mgr Stefani, a member of the same administrative council, had been taken in by his “lucrative” investment propositions and ended up being ensnared in his net. When they learned that Antoniutti had gone bankrupt, they attempted to bail his business out by drawing on the funds of the diocese. But just at this juncture, on 17 June 1962, Antoniutti died in mysterious circumstances: he had apparently committed suicide in the home of one of his backers, Dr Roberto Dacomo.
Informed of the compromising circumstances of his two priests, Mgr Luciani decided to act quickly: the diocese now had a deficit of 283 million lire and the anticlerical press was always on the look-out for scandal. The more one studies the young bishop’s reactions in these dramatic circumstances, the more one admires his integrity and steadfastness. He clearly saw where his duty lay and he was resolved to act on it. “He warned John XXIII twice”, reveals Fr Saez, “that he would hand in his resignation if he were not allowed to settle the matter as he intended.29”
Mgr Luciani relieved the two ecclesiastics of their duties and dismissed them from Vittorio Veneto. He let them be prosecuted by the Italian legal system: Don Cescou was condemned to sixteen months in prison, on 14 June 1965.
Nevertheless, Mgr Luciani sought to protect his two priests from public condemnation. He exhorted his diocese to practice Christian charity, particularly in the letter he wrote to them on 9 August 1962: “Where should a priest go if he wants to avoid indiscreet and painful curiosity at such a bitter moment for him, if not to a monastery? You have already pointed out five or six times that Mgr Stefani is in the monastery of Follina! So leave him in peace if you have nothing new to say about him.30”
As for the material losses incurred by small savers through Antoniutti’s bankruptcy, Mgr Luciani wanted to compensate them: to this end he had to sell property belonging to the diocese, despite the murmurs of disapproval from certain members of his clergy. “He consulted the canonical texts”, his brother Edoardo recounts, “and he saw that it was the Ordinary who had to take the decision, in other words the bishop. Then he called his priests together and told them, ‘It is for me to decide’, and he made his decision.31”
Thus Mgr Luciani revealed himself, throughout this drama, to be a real man of government. Clearly his predecessor on the episcopal see of Vittorio Veneto, Mgr Carraro, had not been mistaken when he declared to the members of his diocesan curia: “When necessary, Don Luciani knows how to be strong and resolute… You’ll see.32”
The years went by. “On 15 December 1969, Pope Paul VI appointed Mgr Luciani
to be Patriarch of Venice. He was fifty-seven. Mgr Sarto had just turned fifty-eight,
just ten days earlier, when he was appointed to this same patriarchal see. Decidedly
these two lives run in parallel. The boundless generosity of Pius X is still
remembered in Venice: how he had pawned his pastoral ring to help the poor;
similarly, we learn that Cardinal Luciani had had no hesitation in selling
pectoral crosses and their golden chains, mementos from Pius XII, and gifts from
Popes John and Paul, in order to help the unemployed of his diocese… Different
times, but the same evangelical virtues.” It was “extraordinary that so
much good was done with so little noise”33.
THE TAKEOVER OF THE BANCA CATTOLICA DEL VENETO
One day in Venice Mgr Luciani discovered to his horror that his clergy had become victims of a fraud linked to financial embezzlement in which the Vatican was implicated. He wanted to remedy the matter, he went to Rome… In vain! He was unable to obtain justice.
One cannot relate this history without already catching a glimpse of the drama that would unfold in the Vatican several years later when he would return invested in the office of the sovereign pontificate.
Let us summarise the facts.
To support their charitable works and finance church restoration, the Venetian clergy used to obtain loans at very low interest rates from the Banca cattolica del Veneto, the Catholic Bank of Venetia. Well administered and with good reason nicknamed the “priests’ bank”, it was one of the richest in the land, for “where the priest banks the parishioner will follow”34.
Since 1946, the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), usually referred to as the Vatican Bank, had held a majority share in the capital of the Catholic Bank of Venetia. “A clear understanding existed between Venice and the Vatican”, writes David Yallop, “that the IOR’s vast shareholding (by 1972 it was 51 per cent) was an insurance against any potential takeover by a third party.”
However, “by mid-1972 the low interest loans had stopped. The Venetian clergy were advised that in future they would have to pay the full rate of interest no matter how laudable the work.35”
“For us”, relates one elderly prelate, “it was a bolt out of the blue in a serene sky.36”
Cardinal Luciani made some enquiries. “What he learned appalled him.37” The Catholic Bank of Venetia had been sold by Mgr Paul Marcinkus, the President of the Vatican Bank, to a certain Roberto Calvi, a freemason, of the Banco Ambrosiano in Milan. “Profoundly indignant, our saint went to voice his indignation in Rome where he found only the Substitute of the Secretariat of State, Cardinal Benelli, to share his grievance and assuage his anger.38”
“Benelli”, explains Yallop, “was a man who enjoyed reeling out facts and figures. He told the wide-eyed Luciani that Calvi had paid 27 billion lire (approximately $45 million) to Marcinkus; how the sale was the result of a scheme hatched jointly by Calvi, Sindona and Marcinkus, of a company called Pacchetti which had been purchased by Calvi from Sindona after its price had been grossly and criminally inflated on the Milan stock exchange, of how Marcinkus had assisted Calvi in masking the nature of this and other operations from the eyes of Bank of Italy officials by putting the Vatican bank facilities at the disposal of Calvi and Sindona.
“Luciani was bewildered. ‘What does all this mean?’ he asked.
“‘Tax evasion, illegal movement of shares. I also believe that Marcinkus sold the shares in your Venice bank at a deliberately low price and Calvi paid the balance, a separate 31 billion lire deal on Credito Varesino. I think the real value Marcinkus put on this was in the region of 47 million dollars.’39”
The patriarch immediately went to ask Mgr Marcinkus for an explanation. “He received a very unfriendly welcome”, indicates Father Francesco Farusi, Radio-Vatican’s newspaper chief at the time. ‘Occupy yourself with your faithful and not with the banks’, the archbishop is said to have told him in an insolent tone.40”
The patriarch informed the bishops of Venetia of the unhappy outcome of his enquiry: their “priests’ bank” was for ever lost.
“Albino Luciani and many others in Venice”, recounts Yallop, “closed their accounts at the Banca Cattolica. For the Patriarch of Venice to move the official diocesan accounts to the small Banco San Marco was an extraordinary step. He confided to one colleague, ‘Calvi’s money is tainted. The man is tainted. After what I have learned of Roberto Calvi, I would not leave the accounts in his bank if the loans they granted to the diocese were totally free of interest.’
“Luciani then attempted to get the directors of Banca Cattolica to change the name of the bank. He insisted that for the word Catholic to appear in their title was an outrage and a libel on all Catholics.41”
Don Ennio Innocenti, a contributor to the newspaper Il Gazzettino, of Venice, remarked that the Patriarch judged the Institute for the Works of Religion very severely. Yet, as Don Innocenti went on to advise him, Mgr Marcinkus could not have sold the “priests’ bank” without the backing of the Secretariat of State. The Patriarch then held his peace42.
However, he would never forget what he had learned, namely that the Milanese
mafia were deep in collusion with the Vatican. Once, when Paul VI reproached him
for never coming to see him in Rome, the Patriarch gave him a very feeling answer: “What
is it you want, I am very busy in Venice, and Your Holiness
already has so many worries! I wouldn’t want to burden you with others.43”
IN IMITATION OF THE FIRST MARTYRS...
“Having made a close study of his nine years in the patriarchate”, continues the Abbé de Nantes whose analysis we are following, “we have to recognise that Cardinal Luciani possessed heroic virtue, combining a calm, pacifying wisdom with a perfect self-mastery in filial obedience to the Pope, and with a firm hand on every occasion where God’s rights were mocked or faith and morals came under attack. But please let no one talk of his making ‘unpopular decisions’! for the people had nothing in common with that small group of red priests who sought to bring down their bishop, judging him to be a reactionary.44”
During the postconciliar torment, when the Church was ravaged by apostasy, Patriarch Luciani, who had officially gone along with all the acts of Vatican Council II – and therefore with its novel teachings45 –, nevertheless defended Catholic dogmas energetically.
“Today”, he observed in his homily for Saint Lucy’s day, on 13 December 1975, “the faith is imperilled not only by the assaults of her enemies, but also by the silence of him whose duty is to speak out, the bishop, ‘the servant of God’s word’. A bishop must strive above all to please God, however much he may become the target of men’s criticism.46”
Roman in both heart and mind, the Patriarch took pains in his preaching to demonstrate his fidelity to the teaching and directives of Pope Paul VI. But the latter was failing to govern: not wishing to go back on the very principles of the reform decreed at Vatican II, he had become tolerant of postconciliar aberrations and scandals. These disorders caused the Patriarch great suffering, but he hid his pain under a smile that every day became more heroic.
“The duty I must fulfil”, he noted in 1975, “becomes ever more difficult, painful and misunderstood. Nevertheless, it remains my duty. People say to me: ‘Can’t you see that nowadays few people take their instructions from the episcopate?’ I see it very clearly: today a poor bishop’s battles are often like Don Quixote’s struggle against windmills.
“I mention Don Quixote to avoid overdramatising. Others will say that when bishops preach, at times they’re like John the Baptist addressing Herod. In Portugal and in certain other countries bishops are unable to preach either on the radio or in the press, even in the newspapers they themselves own! So what advice would you give these bishops? To say nothing except what pleases those in government?
“My brothers, I repeat: Today each of us is only keeping the faith to the extent that he defends it, to the extent that he remains firm, courageous and determined, in imitation of the first martyrs.47”
Mgr Luciani always remained opposed to any compromise, to any conciliation with the errors of Russia. We recall that in 1960, in his stirring funeral oration in honour of the memory of Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac, he had declared: “Socialo-communism, in its ideas, in its whole terrifying system, is a scourge, a true scourge of the soul, with which no suspension of hostilities is possible, precisely because of the good we desire for Communists.48”
In Venice, Mgr Luciani distinguished himself by his vigorous and perspicacious words of warning: “Experts deny the scientific character of the marxist analysis, which is totally belied by the facts […]. I have in mind the tragic case of certain people, including priests, who started off embracing not the ideology, but merely the marxist analysis, and who ended up losing the faith.
“I add that lenino-stalinist tactics and strategy are even more dangerous still than marxist doctrine. What strategy? To infiltrate every institution, even Catholic institutions, with a smile on their face and with outstretched hands; to take every means to increase divisions and confusion among Catholics so as to weaken them; to adapt themselves to every country and every set of circumstances. Are the Americans intervening in Vietnam? Then they are loathsome imperialists. Are Russian tanks crushing ‘Prague’s springtime’ in blood? Then they were simply going for an innocent drive to ‘normalise’ the situation.49”
We have already seen how in these years of the 70s, Patriarch Luciani had echoed the moving appeals of the confessors of the faith50.
In the autumn of 1977, he openly rose up against the historic compromise between Italian Christian Democracy and the Communist party. The Abbé de Nantes admired his perspicacity in seeing through and denouncing one of the stratagems of Berlinguer, the Secretary General of the Communist Party, when the latter publicly responded to a letter from the very progressivist Bishop of Ivrea, Mgr Bettazzi. Here, in abridged form, is the statement published by the Patriarch in the journal Prospettive nel Mondo:
“‘Watch out! This is a classic manoeuvre. We know it well’, a Polish bishop told me when I met him at the synod. ‘The Communists do everything to divide the episcopate. They exploit the slightest weakness to jump in and widen the breach with a wedge. You Italian bishops are more exposed than anyone. They’ve already painted you as preconciliar and they claim you’re going against the tide of history. Should any of you distance himself ever so slightly from your group and show any regard, albeit highly qualified, for the Communist party, then the press will ensure that the full sympathies of Democrat Catholics, of Christians for Socialism, and of the whole left-wing public will converge on him. The Polish episcopate stood up to these tactics with a united front, and this has been and continues to be our strength.’
“For myself”, continued the Patriarch of Venice, “I would like to draw your attention to the following points:
“Berlinguer refers to article 2 of the statutes of the Italian Communist Party, not to article 5. Article 2 invites citizens to subscribe to the Italian Communist Party ‘irrespective of race, religious faith or philosophical convictions’. Article 5, on the other hand, obliges members of this party to profess ‘marxist leninism’.
“Berlinguer contrasts ‘the lamb’ on one side, meaning the Italian Communist Party with its policy of understanding and collaboration, with ‘the wolves’ on the other side, that is retrograde Catholics, zealous to preach the most violent kind of anti-Communism. I have difficulty recognising the angelic figure of Pius XII amongst these wolves.
“Berlinguer had already given a private response to Mgr Bettazzi’s letter. So why, precisely at this moment, does he formulate another answer, a public one adapted for promotion by the media?51”
This Polish bishop who had given Cardinal Luciani such pertinent advice was
Cardinal Wyszynski. They had come to know and esteem each other during the
Council, and the Polish primate loved to stop over at Venice to visit his
friend when he returned to Warsaw after his brief visits to Rome.
RECOURSE TO THE IMMACULATE MEDIATRIX
The Patriarch of Venice used to treasure a Black Madonna, probably Our Lady of Czestochowa, given him one day by Cardinal Wyszynski. Both men counted on the all-powerful intercession of the Virgin Mary to preserve and fortify the faith of their faithful. Cardinal Luciani was clearly convinced, like the Polish primate, that the remedy for keeping the dogma of the faith was the Immaculate, the established Safeguard of the Church and Christians. This was one of the themes of his homily given on 21 November 1975, on the feast of Santa Maria della Salute52:
“My dear brethren, I am convinced that among the numerous problems suffered by the Church, the most serious today is that of evangelisation, that is to say the faith we must keep, defend and spread.” He then referred to the Council’s teaching on “the Blessed Virgin’s free faith and obedience” (Lumen gentium, 58). “So it is to the Virgin Mary that we today go to ask for the protection of the faith. And also for the grace needed by the Church of Venice to preserve its ancient faith pure and unsullied, honest and healthy, always accepting with humility what God has revealed and what the Magisterium proposes. Would that our Church might ever have before it the shining examples of a living faith, in the lives of its bishop, its priests and its fathers!53”
At the parish church of San Pietro di Feletto, in the diocese of Vittorio Veneto, the Patriarch of Venice, Albino Luciani, gives a homily. On his right is the Bishop of Vittorio Veneto, Mgr Antonio Cunial; on his left is his Vicar General, Mgr Mario Ghizzo.
“At the confirmation ceremonies”, recounts Georges Huber, “Mgr Luciani began his talk by inviting one or two of the confirmands to come up to him. By putting simple questions to them, he began a dialogue and gradually he lifted the level of the conversation to that of the Holy Spirit and His gifts. The bishop gave examples, told little stories, used amusing comparisons, inserted lively dialogues, and suddenly interrupted himself in order to question the children and to keep his congregation spellbound. Both children and adults hung on his lips.” (Jean-Paul I or the Vocation of John the Baptist, p. 75)
“We are all poor sinners. When you see a true Christian, you say, ‘If he is good, it because he has made a lot of effort.’ But then comes the reward, not in this world where there are only a few moments of happiness. True happiness only exists in Paradise. So let us seek to be good and Our Lord will give us the crown.”
(Mgr Luciani, homily at Forno di Canale, 6 January 1959)
“How many Rosaries are said at Lourdes! And yet I know some people of our acquaintance who oppose this practice, in the name, they say, of the liturgy and charismatic spontaneity, and who set out to attack formalism and stereotyped repetition. But I am sure they have never been to Lourdes. Otherwise, how would they have the courage to snatch the rosary from the hands of the sick, from good people, from priests, from men and women who say it to their great profit and consolation?”
(Mgr Luciani, Pastoral letter on the Message of Lourdes, 6 June 1971)
“‘New theology?’ It’s most welcome! But sometimes we deceive ourselves: it’s not new theology, but ancient Gnosticism. It’s often the reappearance of the presumptuous mentality of the old Gnostics: ‘We provide explanations of a very high scientific level; we no longer accept the poor, old-fashioned, outdated explanations of the Magisterium!’ The tactics used by Gnosticism have also returned, namely to take their themes and terms from the Catholic faith, but only partially, arrogating to themselves the right of going through them with a fine tooth comb and of making a selection from them, of understanding them in a subjective manner, of mixing them up with strange ideologies and of basing their attachment to the faith no longer on divine authority, but on human reasons, on this or that philosophical option for example, on the compatibility of one given theme with the political choices previously made.”
(Cardinal Luciani, homily of 7 March 1973)
Despite the orientations and acts of Vatican II, Mgr Luciani retained his devotion as well as his faith in the privileges and prerogatives of the Virgin Mary, founded on the teaching of the Fathers, the doctors and magisterium of the Church.
Whilst many bishops read with an indifferent eye the blasphemies of modernists who denied Mary’s perpetual virginity, Mgr Luciani firmly defended this signal privilege of the Immaculate Mother of God. For example, in his homily of 12 September 1969:
“Her virginity, during both conception and childbirth, is a miracle that surpasses the laws of philosophy and biology: we profess it by an act of faith, based on God’s evidence […].
“Matthew and Luke expressly say that Jesus was born ‘of the Holy Spirit’. Can one go along with the Dutch Catechism and interpret this phrase as follows, namely that Jesus, unlike any other person, is the son of the prophecies and promises inspired by the Holy Spirit over the centuries preceding His coming? Doubtless one can, but only on this condition: that in company with the Gospel, in company with the antique symbols of the faith and the magisterium of all time, we add that Jesus was engendered without the intervention of man and that He ‘was born of the Virgin Mary’.
“The preface of the Blessed Virgin expresses it thus:
‘Father, through the working of the Holy Spirit, Mary didst conceive Thy only Son; and, ever intact in Her virginal glory, didst shine forth over the world the eternal light, Jesus Christ, Our Lord.’
“This is the style employed by the Fathers who, to tell us how Jesus came forth from His Mother’s womb, leaving it intact and without causing His Mother any inconvenience or suffering, all had recourse to the following examples: Christ came out of the sepulchre and appeared to His disciples gathered in locked rooms; a ray of light passes through crystal without breaking it; thoughts pass from one mind to another.54”
The quotation on which Mgr Luciani ended his homily shows that he had noted down and retained Pius XII’s most explicit words concerning the Virgin Mary’s universal mediation:
“If Peter holds the keys of the Church, Mary holds the keys of God’s Heart; if Peter binds and unbinds, Mary also binds with chains of love; She also unbinds with the art of forgiveness. If Peter is the guardian and minister of indulgences, Mary is the magnanimous and skilful treasurer of the divine favours. Those who wish for grace and yet have not recourse to the Virgin Mary to accomplish their journey, are wanting to fly without wings.55”
Mgr Luciani said his Rosary every day, after lunch or dinner, whilst taking a short walk, and also, when his programme allowed, early in the morning, in the linen room, along with Sister Vincenza and the other sisters assigned to serve in his episcopal house.
One of our friends in the Catholic Counter-Reformation, Madame de Marsac, joyfully remarked that, on her visits and pilgrimages to Venice, the clergy used to say the Rosary every evening in the churches, where portraits of Saint Pius X were held in great honour. The Cardinal had reacted against the scandalous campaigns of the progressivists in their attacks on the Rosary, harping as always on the same complaints. In an appendix to this chapter we will quote the homily he gave during the celebrations organised for the fourth centenary of the establishment of the Feast of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary. His teaching on the Rosary was very much in line with that of the seer of Fatima which we have already presented56”
The Patriarch rehabilitated the ancient forms of popular preaching and devotion, particularly when he preached for the Feast of Santa Maria della Salute, in the splendid basilica of white marble, where this Virgin is honoured. Close to the little and to the poor, he made himself their defender against the perverse and woolly theories of left-wing intellectuals: “The traditional ceremonies are a magnificent occasion for catechesis and a form of worship celebrated with much splendour, but also with great devotion.57”
Consequently he justified the practices of piety and ancient tales, despised by the moderns, but which nourish popular religion:
“We must agree that the numerous examples of miracles contained in the work of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori, The Glories of Mary, are often naïve, legendary or historically false; at any rate, they are not adapted to ‘smart’ readers like ourselves! Our saint, for his own part, used these examples for the benefit of a poorly instructed public, not so much to prove the truths taught as to make them come more alive. In other words, he’s like a grown-up who is happy to stammer so that he might be understood by the children; a future doctor of the Church who earns his stripes as a doctor by teaching solid doctrine but in the manner of an elementary course teacher. In this we may regard him as a model theologian. Not only does he speak of Mary, but he speaks to Mary, continually interspersing his writings with tender words. Let us write about the Virgin Mary and let us speak of Her often, but in a way that can be understood by everyone and can touch every heart. This requires that we ourselves have had our hearts touched.58”
Cardinal Luciani himself had had his heart touched by seeing the Virgin Mary so afflicted: “The Madonna, from all time, is a virgin and totally pure. When She looks on our society, termed permissive because it permits and excuses everything in matters of immorality, the Virgin Mary becomes a ‘weeping Madonna’. She weeps on account of the evil we commit and tolerate, and on account of the chastisements we are heading for.59”
That is why the Patriarch of Venice set great store by Heaven’s special interventions and providential aids. In opposition to rationalist and modern criticism, he applied himself to discern the importance, in the economy of salvation, of the apparitions of the Most Blessed Virgin and of the great pilgrimage sites:
“People often ask us the theological meaning of the Marian shrines and their existence. The answer seems to me to be as follows: taken as a whole and including their particularities – and without dwelling on certain manifestations which are not really commendable – these shrines represent one of the signs promised by Our Lord: ‘Miracles will accompany those who have believed: in My Name they will cast out devils, they will speak in tongues… they will lay their hands on the sick, who will be cured.’ (Mk 16:17-18) The ex-votos displayed at the Shrine of Pietralba tell us something of this.
“When people visit these shrines, they find themselves remarking that the Virgin always appears to those who are poor and simple, to children, as at Lourdes or Fatima, to country people, as at Motta di Livenza and Pietralba. Some will take advantage of this to laugh or shrug their shoulders. More observant Christians will see in this phenomenon, on the contrary, the continuation of God’s approach already proclaimed by Mary: ‘He has put down the mighty, He has exalted the lowly. The hungry He has filled with good things, and the rich sent empty away.’
“At Lourdes, Fatima, La Salette and elsewhere, the Madonna helps and guides us by saying almost only one thing: Prayer and Penance. She echoes Jesus’ admonition: ‘If you do not do penance, you will all perish… You should pray without cease.’60”
Running through the principal pilgrimages made by the Patriarch of Venice – Pietralba, Loreto, Santa Maria do Sul, Lourdes –, one observes that they were for him like so many stages preparing the way for Fatima and especially for his wondrous meeting with Sister Lucy, Our Lady’s messenger. His meditation on so many heavenly messages, his heartfelt admiration for the piety of the pilgrim crowds in whom he rediscovered “the biblical receptivity of Yahweh’s poor”, had disposed his heart and soul to receive the revelations of the holy Carmelitess.
CARDINAL LUCIANI’S HOMILY
ON THE ROSARY
THE faithful in the diocese of Vittorio Veneto, and later of Venice, often saw Mgr Luciani saying his Rosary with devotion, notably during his pastoral visits. Moreover, one had only to hear him defending the Holy Rosary against the attacks of the progressivists to understand that he practised this devotion joyfully. Here is the full text of the homily he preached in the church of the Jesuates61 in Venice, on the occasion of the celebrations marking the fourth centenary of the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, on Sunday, 7 October 1973:
What would happen if, during a meeting of Catholics, I invited the ladies and the men to show what they had in their bags or pockets? No doubt I would see a number of combs, mirrors, lipstick tubes, purses, lighters and other small objects more or less useful. But how many rosaries? Several years ago, I would have seen more.
In Manzoni’s house, in Milan, one can still today see his rosary hanging from his bed head: he used to say it habitually, and in his novel The Betrothed, his Lucy takes her rosary out and recites it at the most dramatic moments (chap. 20-21).
Windthorst, the German statesman, was once asked by his non-practising friends to show them his rosary. It was a setup; they had previously removed it from his left pocket. Not finding it in his left pocket, Windthorst rummaged around in that of his right and showed his evident relief. He always had a backup rosary!
Christopher Gluck, the famous musician, at the receptions given at the Court of Vienna, used to take himself off for a few minutes so that he could say his Rosary. Blessed Contardo Ferrini, professor at the University of Pavia, when he visited his friends, would invite them to say it with him.
Saint Bernadette declared that, when the Blessed Virgin appeared to her, She always carried a rosary around her arms, asked her whether she had one also and invited her to say it with Her. The same was true for the three little shepherds, to whom the Virgin recommended the recitation of the Rosary.
Why have I begun with this string of examples? Because the Rosary is being contested today by certain people. They say: “It is an infantile prayer, superstitious and unworthy of adult Christians.” Or else: “It is a prayer that is robotic, one that ultimately comes down to a cold, monotonous and boring repetition of Ave Marias.” Or else again: “It is a custom from a bygone age. Today we can do better: reading the Bible, for example, which is to the Rosary what fine flour is to bran!”
But permit me to tell you, in this regard, my reaction as a pastor of souls.
First reaction: The Rosary crisis is not the underlying issue. What comes first today is the crisis of prayer in general. People are wholly taken up by their material interests, they think very little of their souls. Noise has gradually invaded our existence. Well might Macbeth repeat: “I have murdered sleep, I have murdered silence!” For the interior life and the dulcis sermocinatio or gentle conversation with God, people have difficulty finding a free moment. What a tragedy. Donoso Cortes said: “The world is in a bad way today because there is more fighting than prayer.” Community liturgies are developing, which is certainly a great blessing, but it is not enough: we also need our personal conversation with God.
Second reaction: When people say that we must pray like “adult Christians”, they often go too far. Personally, when I speak alone with God and the Blessed Virgin, I prefer to feel myself as a child rather than as an adult. The mitre, the skullcap, the ring disappear; I send the adult off for a walk and even the bishop with all his grave and ponderous dignity, so that I might abandon myself to the spontaneous tenderness of a child with his papa and his mama. When I am with God, even if it be for a short half hour, I prefer to be what I am in reality, with all my wretchedness and any good I might have. To feel the child I once was being reborn from the depths of my being, the child who wants to laugh, chatter, to love the Lord, who sometimes feels the need to cry so that he may obtain forgiveness – all this helps me to pray. The Rosary, a simple and easy prayer, also helps me to become a child again, and I am not ashamed of it.
Third impression: I have no wish to speak ill of anyone, nor should I do so, but I confess that I have often been tempted to judge this or that person who believed they were adult simply because they pontificated or criticised from on high. I would have a strong desire to say to them: “How grown up you are! But as for prayer, you are like a disillusioned and rebellious adolescent having a crisis, who has still not got over the aggressiveness of an ungrateful age!” May God forgive me for such a rash judgment!
But I now come to other objections. Is the Rosary a prayer of repetition? Father de Foucauld said: “Love is expressed in few words, always the same and often repeated.”
I once saw a woman on a train who had put her child to sleep in the luggage rack nets. When the little one woke up, he saw from high up in his net his mama sitting opposite him, watching over him. “Mama”, he said. “My treasure!” she replied. And for a long part of the journey the dialogue between the two was the same. From on top, “Mama!” And from below: “My treasure!” There was no need to say any more.
Shouldn't the Bible be enough? Certainly it is a quid summum, but not everyone is prepared to read it, or else they do not have the time. And even for those who read it, it would be profitable at other moments, perhaps on a journey, or on the road, or at difficult moments, to talk to the Blessed Virgin, if they believe She is our Mother and our Sister. If the reading of the Bible is often only seen as a straightforward study, the mysteries of the Rosary, meditated on and savoured, are the Bible studied in depth, turned into spiritual sap and blood.
Is it a boring prayer? It depends. It can, on the other hand, be a prayer full of joy and exhilaration. If one knows how to do it, the Rosary becomes a look towards Mary that grows in intensity, little by little, as one recites it. It can also be a ritornello springing from the heart and which, by dint of repetition, sweetens the soul like a song.
Is the Rosary a poor prayer? What would be a “rich prayer” then? The Rosary is a series of Paters, the prayer taught by Jesus, and of Aves, God’s greeting to the Virgin through the Angel, and of Glorias, the praise of the Holy Trinity. Would you prefer instead some profound theological considerations? Such would not suit the poor, the old, the humble and the simple. The Rosary expresses the faith without false complications, without evasion, without circumlocution; it helps us to abandon ourselves to God, to accept suffering with generosity. God also makes use of theologians, but, to distribute His graces, He uses above all the littleness of the humble and those who abandon themselves to His Will.
I have still one more remark to make to you: the family should be the first school of devotion and religious spirituality for children. The pedagogico-religious activity of parents – Paul VI recently said – is delicate, legitimate and irreplaceable. Delicate because of the climate of permissiveness and secularism all around us; legitimate because it forms part of the mission that God has entrusted to parents; irreplaceable because it is at this most tender age that one acquires the inclination and habit of religious prayer. The Rosary recited in the evening by parents and children gathered together, even if simplified or adapted, is a form of family liturgy. The writer Louis Veuillot admitted that the origin of his conversion lay in seeing the Rosary recited with faith by a Roman family.
With these convictions at heart, it was a comfort for me to learn of the initiative taken to make these ceremonies a reality. The Dominican Fathers, so zealous for the propagation of the Rosary in our city, and the Jesuates, the Rosary parish par excellence, suggested that I give a boost to this pious and excellent practice. With every confidence that their work will be blessed by God, I have come to this liturgy as to a joyous religious feast.
Unfortunately, this joy is gravely troubled by reports of a deadly and
senseless war that broke out yesterday in the Near East. When will men cease
hating each other? When will they be ready to sacrifice their petty dreams of an
unstable national supremacy for the supreme and durable blessing of peace? When
will we at last see an international organisation provided with real powers so
that such catastrophes can be prevented in future? It is impossible at such a
moment not to think, and with profound consternation, of the calamities suffered
by individuals, families and entire nations, of the anguish of so many our
brothers who, powerless, undergo the consequences of decisions taken by
their countries’ leaders. The Near East has become a powder keg. We must pray to
the Lord asking that the war – already, alas, unleashed – may not only remain
limited, but may be speedily contained and halted. At the end of the Rosary it
is our custom to invoke the Blessed Virgin under the title “Queen of Peace”. Let
us therefore say with fervour: Regina pacis, ora pro nobis!62
1. Toute la vérité sur Fatima, vol. 1, p. 194.
2. CRC no 368, June-July 2000, p. 20; no 369, August 2000, p. 10.
3. Irma Lucia, Apelos da mensagem de Fatima, Secretariado dos Pastorinhos, 2000, p. 26.
4. CRC no 368, p. 20.
5. CRC no 369, August 2000, p. 10; no 370, September 2000, p. 4.
6. CRC no 369, p. 10-11.
7. CRC no 370, p. 4.
8. Theological commentary on the Third Secret, D. C., 2000, p. 682.
9. CRC no 368, p. 20-21. Branco, in Portuguese, means “white”, which is translated in Italian as bianco or albo. Albino is a diminutive of albo. Luciani, in Italian, means “light”.
10. CRC no 134, October 1978, p. 2.
11. CRC no 368, p. 21.
12. The Hebrew word for this action of “passing” is pèsah, which translates as “Passover”.
13. Elements of the biography of John Paul I will be found in several articles published in the Contre-Réforme catholique: “Un autre saint Pie X qui s’ignore”, CRC no 133, September 1978, p. 1-4; “Hommage à Jean-Paul Ier”, CRC no 136, December 1978, p. 4-10; “Un jour la pauvreté sauvera l’Église”, CRC no 203, August 1984, p. 7-12; “Albino Luciani, le catéchiste de Notre-Dame”, Résurrection no 6, June 2000, p. 23-32.
14. CRC no 136, p. 4.
15. CRC no 133, p. 1.
17. Omelia tenuta nella chiesa parrochiale di Agordo, 29 June 1978, Opera omnia, Messaggero Padova, 1989, vol. 8, p. 539-540, extracts.
18. CRC no 133, p. 1.
19. Toute la vérité sur Fatima, vol. 3, p. 175 sq.
20. Opera omnia, vol. 9, p. 447-449.
21. CRC no 133, p. 2.
22. Opera omnia, vol. 2, p. 13-16.
23. Homily of 21 August 1959, ibid., p. 50 sq.
24. Toute la vérité sur Fatima, vol. 3, p. 226 sq.
25. Opera omnia, vol. 2, p. 34-35.
26. Regarding the Marian tour of 1959, in Italy, cf. Toute la vérité sur Fatima, vol. 3, p. 356.
27. Opera omnia, vol. 2, p. 43.
28. Ibid., p. 127.
29. Jesus Lopez Saez, Se pedira cuenta, 2nd ed. Origenes, 1991, p. 62 and 121.
30. Regina Kummer, Albino Luciani, Papa Giovanni Paolo I. Una vita per la Chiesa, Messaggero Padova, 1988, p. 280-281.
31. Quoted in the CRC no 136, p. 6.
32. Saez, op. cit., p. 105.
33. CRC no 133, September 1978, p. 2.
34. David Yallop, In God’s Name, Corgi Books, 1985, p. 68.
36. Trente jours, September 1992, p. 34.
37. Yallop, op. cit., p. 69.
38. G. de Nantes, CRC no 202, July 84, p. 3.
39. Yallop, op. cit., p. 70. (The final sentence appears in the French text, but not in the English edition).
40. Trente jours, September 1992, p. 35.
41. Yallop, op. cit., p. 72.
42. Trente jours, September 1992, p. 35.
43. D. C., 1978, p. 825.
44. CRC no 136, December 1978, p. 8.
45. On the manner in which he went along with the Council’s innovations, cf. CRC no 133, p. 4, no 134, p. 4, no 136, p. 6 sq., of September, October and December 1978.
46. Opera omnia, vol. 7, p. 211.
47. Homily of 12 July 1975. Opera omnia, vol. 7, p. 119.
48. Homily of 14 February 1960. Opera omnia, vol. 2, p. 68.
49. Homily of 13 December 1975. Opera omnia, vol. 7, p. 209.
50. Supra, p. 270.
51. Opera omnia, vol. 8, p. 274-275.
52. Santé, salut.
53. Opera omnia, vol. 7, p. 201.
54. Opera omnia, vol. 4, p. 416 sq.
55. Speech of 21 April 1949.
56. Supra, chapter 4.
57. Conference of 30 August 1976. Opera omnia, vol. 7, p. 428-429.
59. Homily for the Feast of Santa Maria della Salute, on 21 November 1971. Opera omnia, vol. 5, p. 291.
60. Letter to the Prior of Pietralba of 15 August 1977, extracts. Opera omnia, vol. 8, p. 190 sq.
61. The Institute of the Jesuates was founded in the fourteenth century by Saint John Colombino.
62. Opera omnia, vol. 6, p. 199-202.