Abelly: Book 2/Chapter 01/Section 03/Part 02

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

In the Dioceses of Viterbo, Palestrina, and Other Places

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A priest of the Mission in Rome wrote to Monsieur Vincent, in December of 1655, about a mission given in the diocese of Viterbo.

Cardinal Brancaccio did us the honor of calling us to his diocese of Viterbo. [1] He sent us to Vetralle, a large town in the diocese about two days journey from Rome. Once we arrived there, we had some difficulties in beginning our mission. Nevertheless, we ended by having seventeen hundred persons come to make their general confession, with all the signs of repentance one could wish for.

The most ordinary things seem to have moved these people the most, as for example,

  1. the explanation we made every morning after the first mass of what it means to be a Christian;
  2. the instruction on the main mysteries of the faith, and the way to confess well;
  3. the general examination of conscience, which we performed aloud with the usual prayers in the evening services after the sermon.

What seems to have made the greatest impression upon the minds and hearts of the people is the powerful warning given by our preacher at the end of his exhortation about preparation for communion. He said, speaking in the name of God, that no one should dare approach the holy table without first being reconciled with his enemies. I am convinced that this vigorous sermon, filled with the spirit of our Lord, has been more effective than all the rest of the mission, particularly in regard to reconciliations among those living in mortal hatred of each other. Since this sermon we have seen and heard practically nothing else but many reconciliations and tearful mutual pardons, not only in the privacy of their homes but publicly in the streets and particularly in the church before everybody. The same thing happened with the restoration of ill-gotten goods, and the repayment of long-delayed debts. This was done publicly and courageously, without any regard for one's reputation.

If I were to tell you all the details of these events, I would never finish. I will limit myself to three or four of the main ones. The first occurred during the procession, where one of our priests had arranged for the men to walk two by two. Divine Providence was pleased to bring it about that two of the local people with a long and deep-seated hatred for one another, found themselves walking side by side without knowing who the other was. Once they realized who their neighbor was, they were both touched by grace, and found their enmity turned into friendship. Before the entire assembly they embraced and asked pardon of one another, in a way that caused the admiration and consolation of everyone.

The second case involved another local resident who owed four hundred ecus to someone else. He had made no effort to repay what he owed, either at the insistence of the law, or by the sentence of excommunication passed against him. His creditor no longer had any hopes, but this debtor changed suddenly. Not only did he repay the entire four hundred ecus, but they became and have remained friends ever since.

The third concerned a wealthy, avaricious man. He owed a poor working man one hundred ecus, but had failed to make any payment for such a long time that all hope of his ever doing so had been given up. Nevertheless, God so moved him that on his own, not pressed by anyone, he imitated Zacchaeus. He repaid three or four times what he owed, and, even more, gave the poor man a house and part of a vineyard to enable him and his small family to live well.

Lastly, the fourth case was of a father who had a mortal hatred against a man who had attempted to kill his son, and though the attempt had failed, he had wounded him, leaving one of his arms useless. The father had spent a large sum in hopes of restoring its function. Despite his resentment, he did two things worthy of a true Christian: he pardoned from his heart the man who had attempted to kill his son, and he gave up all claim to the money he had already spent to heal the injury. Before the mission, several persons had failed to reconcile these two gentlemen.

These are but some of the fruits of this mission, whose effects we can truly say came from the all-powerful hand of God. The priest on the mission were themselves incapable of effecting the marvels reported here. This makes us say as was said of Moses when he worked his marvels in the presence of Pharaoh: Digitus Dei est hic ["The finger of God is here"]. [2] The hand of God works these marvels, and not human eloquence, learning, or power. Perhaps for this reason divine Providence did not allow our great prelate and eminent cardinal to attend our mission as we had hoped, for a wheel of his carriage fell off while on the way here. If he had given us the honor of his presence we might have attributed the marvels which occurred to his presence and his authority, rather than to God alone, to whom the glory is due. [3]

This same priest recounted the success of another mission given the following January.

In the mission we gave at Breda we noticed the faithfulness of the people in attending our sermons and catechism lessons. Their attitude was so good that everything they heard made a strong impression upon them. We noticed, after the instructions, that they continued to urge one another to practice the virtues we had recommended. The whole morning of the general communion passed in reconciliations and in their embracing one another. This showed the power of God's grace, for the most eminent men and women of the parish, disdaining all human respect, humbled themselves before everyone and asked pardon of all they might have offended.

When it came to the sermon immediately before communion, hearts were so moved that several persons fainted away. The preacher was obliged to interrupt his sermon twice, and stop talking altogether, to arrest the tears and sobs of these good people. After the sermon, a priest of the region came to the altar to prostrate himself. He asked pardon first of God and then of the people for the scandalous life he had led. The congregation was so touched at this example that they raised aloud the cry, "Mercy!" The devil envied the success of the mission, and attempted to disrupt the good order and the good dispositions of the people in the procession held after vespers. This had to do with the question of precedence among several of the Confraternities of Penance established in the parish. God in his goodness prevented any disunity by reminding someone that the preacher had said that the penitents clothed in white were to have the preferred places. The great respect they had for his word made them give way without more discussion. When this was settled, the procession took place with much piety to the edification of everyone.

I also should not omit one more thing: after urging the people to buy a silver cross for the church, each one wanted to share in the purchase to such a degree that a hundred ecus were collected, more than enough for the project. [4]

As to the see of Palestrina, the report made of the missions given there in 1657 states that the first mission was given in a large town of twelve hundred souls. The town, filled with enmities, had a violent, even bloody, reputation, with frequent homicides committed there. In the previous three years there had been seventy. The people, though cruel and given to passion, responded to the word of God and faithfully attended the exercises of the mission, which lasted a full month. Almost everyone made a general confession and was reconciled to God and to their sworn enemies. Some had lived ten or fifteen years without speaking to their enemies, but now began to do so. A widow there, whose husband had been slain, had refused to forgive his murderers despite the request of Cardinal Colonna, lord of the region. [5] She was so moved by one of the sermons that she called the pastor and a notary to announce joyfully her forgiveness to all.

Another widow who showed herself equally unforgiving towards a man who had killed her husband, was also moved to reconciliation on this same occasion. Afterward, she remarked that she had never in all her life experienced such consolation. When some of her relatives remonstrated with her that such prompt and complete forgiveness reflected a meager love for her departed husband, she replied that only by such forgiveness could her own soul be saved. She added that if it had to be done all over again, she would most willingly do so.

A young man who had lost his arm in an attack wanted to have nothing more to do with his assailant. Leaving a sermon one day, he met the man on the public square, threw himself on his knees before him, and embraced him with such affection and cordiality that his example and words served to motivate several others to forgive the injuries they had received.

The most important of all the reconciliations brought about during this mission which reflected most perfectly the grace of God was that between two of the chief families of the town. Members of the one family had killed a member of the other and seriously wounded his brother. This led the surviving brothers to swear to exterminate the family of the murderers. For three years, this feud had resulted in the slaying of ten innocent victims. It was most difficult to bring about this hoped-for reconciliation, for the offenses were recent and those who planned their revenge ranged the countryside during the day to avoid the authorities, returning home only during the night. It was difficult even to speak with them and they were so determined that there seemed no way their hearts could be swayed. One of them even used to say that he would never rest until he had killed everyone of the other family.

Despite all these difficulties, and after several attempts, it pleased God in his goodness to allow this effort to succeed. The preacher of the mission managed to meet these desperate men in a secluded place, and to speak to them for a short while. He begged them in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, embraced them cordially, and urged them to pardon and restore peace. Suddenly, the leader among them, touched by these entreaties, lifted his cap and raised his tearful eyes to heaven, to say, 'I promise God and your reverence to make peace, and I shall do so.' Having said this, he withdrew to allow his tears greater freedom to fall. After this, the reconciliation was to be finished the next day, but unfortunately such new difficulties arose that it seemed impossible to resolve them. Someone suggested that they invoke the most holy Virgin, and thanks to her powerful intercession all obstacles were overcome. This peace was received with such blessings that most of the residents came to the church to celebrate. They all wept for joy and blessed God at the sight of the two families embracing each other with much affection. An old man remarked to a younger man of the other family whom he had recently hated so fiercely, 'From now on, I will take you for my son.' The other replied, 'And I, I will take you for my father.'

It would take too long to recount all the accomplishments and reconciliations of this mission. Family feuds were almost universal in the region, for an offense of anyone against another was taken as an insult against the entire family. The enmity of one single person for another extended to the relatives of the other, so that they no longer talked or extended greetings. By the mercy of God, at the end of this mission not a single person remained at enmity with others. Each one had been truly and sincerely reconciled to everyone else.

Another group of missionaries went to work in the parishes dependent upon the abbey of Subiaco. There they conducted four missions upon which God showered many blessings, mainly by effecting reconciliations, breaking up immoral liaisons, and tending to several public scandals. To avoid repetitions, we will report here only what occurred in one of the parishes. Three women there, public sinners, asked pardon in church before all the people for the scandal they had given in the past. Everyone resolved to avoid the unhappy sin of blasphemy, much in vogue in the area. Several parishioners agreed among themselves that if one of them should swear while gambling he would automatically lose the play. Others agreed if they swore they would be fined a certain amount, which would later be given to the poor. Others took the resolution to give up gambling completely, a better and surer course.

Feast days caused problems for the people, for they seemed not to know what to do with themselves. They accepted willingly and gratefully the suggestion given by the missionaries to buy a psalter and antiphonary to use in singing vespers in the church on Sundays and feasts. They also recommended several books, such as the lives of the saints, the works of Granada, and other similar ones, so that on these days they could come together in the church for an hour of spiritual reading.

Another report sent by the superior of the priests of the Mission at Rome, spoke of the mission given in some places that he did not specify. It mentioned that God blessed them with his usual blessings: scandals ceased, concubines sent off, public sinners converted, and frequent occasions of sin in the region removed. So many differences were settled, both in civil and criminal cases, that on a single one of the missions a notary was kept busy for a whole week drawing up the settlements. Certain other usurious contracts were abrogated, as were some alienations of Church property which had been unjustly arranged. Not only were vices and disorders rectified, but a love for virtue was planted in receptive hearts, and all sorts of good works began, especially those in favor of the poor, of which we will give a few examples.

At the end of one of the missions, a physician, moved by charity, offered to take nothing for his services for three years, provided that the measure of grain which each house of the town was obliged to give him each year would instead be put in a common store to benefit the poor. The townspeople willingly agreed to this proposal.

In the same town, one of the officials saw that the children were poorly instructed for want of a good teacher. He offered to pay the salary of an instructor by contributing a good part of his own wages.

The local council of this same town elected two people to serve as Protectors of the Poor. Their job was to see that the poor tenants were not unjustly charged by their landlords for supposed damages. Also, a storehouse for furniture was set up to protect the property of those put in prison, for otherwise it was almost always lost.

This has been a short sketch of the excellent results of the missions which Monsieur Vincent established from Rome through the ministry of the priests of the Congregation. We have spoken of events in seven or eight of these. Yet, more than two hundred were given during the first twenty-two years that the missionaries worked in this capital city of all Christendom. We have judged the few we have spoken of to show sufficiently the abundant grace God was pleased to shower upon the enterprises of his faithful servant, and upon those whom God called to labor under his direction. We will end this chapter by citing a letter written to Monsieur Vincent by Cardinal Spada from Rome in 1651. [6]

The institute of the Congregation of the Mission, of which you are the founder and superior, each day merits more and more esteemed reputation in this locality. I have seen its extraordinary effects among the people in my city, and in the whole diocese of Albano. Your good priests have worked for them with such care, charity, selflessness, and prudence, that all have been most edified. It remains for me to thank you, which I do. I assure you that I have a special regard for your community. I shall not fail to proclaim the merits and benefits of this holy institute on any occasion that shall present itself. [7]


References

  1. Francesco Maria Brancaccio, successively bishop of Capua and then Viterbo. He became a cardinal in 1633, and died in 1675.
  2. Exod 8:19.
  3. CED V:481-84.
  4. CED V:528-29.
  5. Girolamo Colonna, 1603-1666.
  6. Bernardino Spada, nuncio to France, 1623-27. Made a cardinal in 1626. Bishop of Albano, 1646-52. Died in Rome, November 10, 1661.
  7. CED IV:170-71.



This page:
Abelly: Book Two/Chapter One/Section Three/Part Two: In the Dioceses of Viterbo, Palestrina, and Other Places

Index of this section:
Abelly: Book Two/Chapter One/Section Three/Index: Further Discussion of the Fruit of the Missions Given in Italy

Index of this chapter:
Abelly: Book Two/Chapter One/Index: The Missions of Monsieur Vincent

Index of:
Abelly: Book Two