(Ciorani, Italy) The twenty-day Redemptorist Spirituality Course in English began at our headquarters in Rome on June 10th. Twenty-one Redemptorist priests from Units in Manila, Majella, Japan/Indonesia, Bangalore, Burkina Faso, Warsaw, Asia-Oceania, and Baltimore, along with two lay Redemptorists and our two instructors, Fr. Piotr Chyla and Fr. George Puthenpura, gathered in a classroom of the famous Alphonsian Academy where we received an introduction by our Superior General, Fr. Michael Brehl. It was a wonderful beginning to an extraordinary experience.
After an introduction on the origins of the Rule by Fr. Piotr (Did you know that there was a layperson, Sylvester Tosquez, at our opening mass on November 9, 1732), we heard from Fr. Alphonsus Amarante, C.Ss.R., an expert on the meaning of our Redemptorist mission. St. Alphonsus, we were told, distinguished between the abandoned and poor. Some poor people have the help they need through Church or governmental organizations. The abandoned poor, however, have no such safety nets. Alphonsus envisioned not only our preaching the good news to the poor and abandoned, but living among them. Our communities would be close enough to the people we served so that they could visit our homes on a regular basis. We could instruct them and provide the sacraments of the Church and they could help us learn the many lessons that they have to teach us.
Our second day in Rome included a trip to the catacombs of St. Callistus, the oldest in Rome. We celebrated mass at an underground altar with the tombs of the martyrs and saints all around us. Public transportation brought us to the Pope’s Cathedral of St. John Lateran. Those that wanted toured the church or visited the Holy Steps which were across the street. The afternoon found us back in the classroom for a lecture from the Postulator of Causes for Redemptorist saints, Fr. Marrazzo, C.Ss.R. An amazing revelation was that Alphonsus never saw our co-founder, Blessed Marie Celeste Crostarosa, face-to-face. Sr. Marie Celeste would have met Alphonsus only behind the grill in the convent wall.
Fr. Manny Rodriguez, the Redemptorist’s Secretary of Formation, was next on the schedule. Fr. Manny made the Constitutions and Statutes come alive. Manny emphasized the balance required between missionary zeal and our personal development towards wholeness. Every stage of life, he reminded us, challenges us to stay faithful to our vocational commitment.
General Secretary, Fr. Brenden Kelly, C.Ss.R., followed Manny with informative presentations on restructuring for mission. While Alphonsus began the Institute to respond to the needs of the rural poor and abandoned, we need to interpret the Rule according to our context today. Our lay partners are instrumental in helping us address the changing landscape of our Redemptorist world.
Our learning in Rome was not confined to the classroom. One morning we walked 10.3 kilometers (14,000 steps!) visiting Redemptorist and tourist sites around the city. We saw the church where Alphonsus was ordained a bishop (St. Catherine of Siena), the Jesuit church that was offered to the Redemptorists during the Jesuit suppression (Gesu), Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and, of course, our own Redemptorist church, St. Alfonso, where the original icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is venerated throughout the day.
An eight o’clock bus on Friday morning took our group of twenty-five to the southern part of Italy and our former Redemptorist formation house in Scifelli. The quiet village was quite a change from the hustle and bustle of the Roman streets. This began a series of spectacular meals, smiles, and hospitality. On Friday we had the main meal in Scifelli, then we travelled about ten miles to our Redemptorist community in Frosinone where St. Clement worked and studied before heading over the Alps. The international community of Redemptorists could not have been more welcoming. The confreres joined parishioners in serving us at table. Then, to top everything, when we arrived back at Scifelli around ten PM, there was a table ready for us in the courtyard. Our talented group showed our appreciation by singing native songs well into the night.
After a good night’s sleep in the cool country air, we left Scifelli for an interesting tour of the Benedictine Monastery of Montecassino which was followed by mass and lunch with the Redemptoristine Sisters at Sant’Agata. Their lively community welcomed us warmly and we all enjoyed their pleasant voices and musical talent at the celebration of the mass. It was hard to leave the sisters and the narrow marble streets of Sant’Agata, but new experiences awaited in Materdomini.
Materdomini receives a million pilgrims a year to the St. Gerard shrine and museum. The Redemptorist community is stretched, especially during the busy months of the Fall. During our stay, it was uplifting to see many families with children, many of whom were probably assisted by the prayers of St. Gerard, the patron saint of mothers and children.
The classes continued in Materdomini on Bible Spirituality, a History of Spirituality in the Church, and the political landscape of the Kingdom of Naples during the time of Alphonsus. We were then ready for inspiring presentations on Saints Clement, Alphonsus, and Gerard. Each evening the different Units offered a presentation of their work and communities. It was interesting to learn how we have responded to the needs of the peoples we serve by emphasizing different aspects of the mission. The Bangalore Province, for example, normally spends two weeks on a parish mission. The first week is dedicated to visiting all the homes of the people and the second week is for preaching, counseling, instructions, and sacraments.
We departed the mountains of Materdomini for the quiet village of Ciorani on Thursday, June 20th. On the way we were thrilled with the twists and turns along the Amalfi coast. We stopped for a festive visit with the Redemptoristines in Scala. The small confessional where Alphonsus and Celeste first met captured our imaginations. The chapel, the high convent walls, and the beautiful gardens within were probably much the same today as they were when St. Alphonsus first knocked on the door in 1731.
Fr. Kevin MacDonald, C.Ss.R.