01-07-2012 - Traces, n. 7


Vocations that matured in both the Milanese lowlands and on the Mexican plateaus, in all cases amidst "a people that does not obstruct God's work." This same people crowded into the Roman Basilica of St. Mary Major for the ordination of six priests and nine deacons. Threads from all over the world were entwined in a call that at first sight seems "insignificant."

by Paolo Cremonesi

What is a “people well-disposed”? The Liturgy of the Nativity of John the Baptist speaks of this, and so does the Rector of the Fraternity of St. Charles, Fr. Matteo Invernizzi, when questioned by the celebrant, Cardinal Kurt Koch, assuring him that he had “collected ‘trustworthy’ information about the six aspiring priests.”
It is a people of babies crying, mothers sitting composed with damp eyes, classmates struggling with video cameras, sick people in wheelchairs, elderly people disputing the seats, fathers in jackets and ties despite the heat of a humid Roman afternoon, youngsters repeating Latin phrases without understanding them, elderly priests proudly recalling their own past, women fanning themselves ostentatiously, and nuns reading the ritual formulas in low voices.
Without this people, which filled the Basilica half an hour before the Mass began, it is hard to understand where these six priests and nine deacons, soon to be ordained by the President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, come from.
There, dressed in white and prostrate on the ground in the most moving moment of the ceremony, they seem lost on the marble floor of the Basilica of St. Mary Major and beneath the gold of its renaissance ceiling that tradition says the Borgia Pope had brought for this purpose from the New World.
Yet the story of the vocations of each one of them is firm, stable, and irreducible. Whether matured in the Milanese lowlands or on the Mexican plateaus, in the restful rhythms of a Lombard town, or in the austere halls of a Conservatory, poring over algorithms of mechanical engineering or working the fields in the Po valley, the seed of vocation took root in lands of a people that does not obstruct God’s work, and flourished in a new humanity, which constitutes, as Fr. Carrón said in his letter to the ordinandi, “the most adequate answer to that destructive nihilism that infiltrates even the life of the Church.”
If you listen to the accounts of these young men with fresh, open faces, as enthusiastic as one can be at the age of 30, you are struck by the apparent “insignificance” of their initial callings.
“It was a dominant thought,” Ruben Roncolato from the parish of Sant’Antonio Ticino, near Varese, tries to explain: “Something that had always been alive in me and waited for me patiently; it can’t be proven, but is present, always alive, faithful, and radical.”

A father looked at them. “I had a certain restlessness,” Simone Gulmini from Dogato, Ferrara, agrees. “Nothing I did really satisfied me. I would go out with my friends just to be in their company, but I could never really be ‘in company’ with someone. I would return home sad.”
As Fr. Giussani wrote at the end of the fifties, “My life goes on because He keeps on calling me, preventing me from falling back into the silence of the nothingness from which I was drawn.” Yet a small seed, in itself, is not enough. The Gospel reminds us with the Parable of the Sower. Here is the second point common to the stories of these new priests, so different in their dynamics, so united in their moving: they all had a people in the midst of which they grew, a Fraternity in which a “father” looked at them.
“It is strange that I, who am not married should speak of fatherhood,” observes Fr. Massimo Camisasca, Superior General and founder of the St. Charles Fraternity. “But fatherhood is not only biological; there is also a spiritual fatherhood. Through friendship and discipleship many can recognize me as a father, as an authority for their lives, as a help for their growth.”
Take Emanuel Angiola, for example. “The first image I have is of a priest in Cuneo. He would come every day to our house to visit my grandfather who was sick in bed for months, slowly consumed by a tumor. I was in the third grade in elementary school. He called in every day, right to the end, exchanging a few words in Piedmontese with him, giving him Communion and accepting the cup of coffee my mother offered him. That was a priest in the eyes of an eight-year-old: a stranger who took care of my family for nothing.” Tommaso Pedroli recalls: “At the end of the summer vacation for students, there was not enough room on the bus to come home. Fr. Roberto offered me a lift in his car. We drove toward the highway, and after a while the car turned off onto a country lane. Then we stopped at a farm and Fr. Roberto bought some legs of smoked ham and four bottles of their best grappa. When he got back to the car, he gave me the bags and said, ‘These are for you and your friends of the secretariat who helped me organize the vacation. Thanks for everything.’” Another memory that Ruben has is of the parish priest of Lonate, Fr. Paolo Torti: “I always admired his love for the Church and for reality that speaks of God and speaks of me.” On the other hand is the memory that Fr. Torti has of this young man, in a kind of premonition: “I remember on the day of his Confirmation, Ruben was in the sacristy with the other altar servers. Bishop Mascheroni, the Auxiliary of Milan, was there praying and meanwhile he was watching him, studying how he behaved with the boys. Then he came to me and said, ‘Fr. Paolo, that boy has a particular gift. Keep an eye on him.’”

Beneath the mosaic. From Lombardy to Brazil, following the thread of a fatherhood... “In the summer of 2004, I spent 20 days in Belo Horizonte,” Luca Speziale, from Pavia, tells us. “Along with some friends, I met Fr. Pigi Bernareggi, a missionary priest who has lived there for 40 years. We slept a few nights in his parish house. One night, we came back very late, about one in the morning. We came up to the gate of the church but we had forgotten to bring the keys. There was only one thing to do–wake him up. We called him on the phone and he came down breathless, in his pajamas; he looked at us, smiling, and said, ‘Welcome!’ This little episode struck me deeply. I didn’t realize it but that ‘Welcome!’ began to arouse in me the desire to become like that man.”
Again in Latin America, and specifically in Mexico the vocation of Diego García Terán was born: “In 1999, I took part in the international assembly in La Thuile and I got to know Fr. Fabio, a priest of the St. Charles Fraternity who I knew lived in Mexico City, but had never met personally. He came up to me and asked, ‘Who are you?’ It was the same question and the same look I had seen with the first people of CL I had met at Coatzacoalcos, my home town. We became friends and he took up that question that I had inside me about the meaning of things, with great discretion and without ever bringing up the question of vocation.”
Now, all those threads, scattered throughout the world, twine together on the floor of St. Mary Major. Beneath the great Byzantine mosaic in which Jesus crowns Mary His mother, with the respect and love that a son has for his mother, the rite slowly unfolds: the prayer on bended knees before the Gospel, the promises made in the hand of the Cardinal, the clothing with the vestments, the imposition of hands by scores of other priests of the Fraternity (there are 110 of them throughout the world), and long moments of silence.

From Taiwan to Denver. It is a feast of the Church. “Every year we ask a cardinal of the Roman Curia to preside at the ordinations to witness our nearness and our gratitude for the Pope,” Fr. Camisasca explains. “This morning,” continues Cardinal Koch, “I was received by Benedict XVI, and I informed him what I would be doing in the afternoon. He is near you and prays for you. For the world, be like John the Baptist, God’s finger pointing to Christ.”
And the finger points today in Taiwan, Denver, Madrid, and Rome: the cities where the newly ordained are destined. Meanwhile, new aspiring seminarians are already knocking at the door for admission in September.