Muro Lucano, Italy: Regional celebration in honour of St Gerard Maiella

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From 24 August to 2 September in Muro Lucano, the birthplace of St Gerard Maiella, the annual festivities in honour of the Redemptorist Saint took place, attracting numerous pilgrims and visitors from neighbouring towns and other parts of the Regional Basilica, South of Italy.

The parish priest, Rev. Tomas Jhon wanted to focus the parish community’s reflection on the life and spirituality of St Gerard, also involving neighbouring communities with their parish priests and mayors, in a spiritual and cultural exchange that proved very fruitful.

The novena, as is customary, was held in the Cathedral, with numerous faithful flocking every evening, eager to listen to the word of God and venerate the saint.

The last four days, we had the joy of having Fr. Vincenzo La Mendola, Redemptorist of the Roman Province, archivist and historian of his Congregation.

Already on the first evening, the preacher presented to us the theological virtues lived by Saint Gerard, drawing not only from his biographies and autograph writings but largely from the witnesses of the beatification processes.

Through the descriptions of auricular witnesses, we were able to ascertain how the fame of the young Redemptorist, who died at the age of only 29, has grown. People of all ages and social backgrounds, with particular reference to 28 women (14 laywomen and 14 nuns!), have narrated, with vivid colours and realism of language, the virtues exercised by the Lucanian saint, captured in his life as a layman (almost 23 years spent in Muro) and, later, as a Redemptorist religious (about 6 years in his Congregation).

Fr. Vincenzo, combining historical fact with spiritual reflection, gave us an interesting, as yet unknown profile of our fellow-citizen saint, as seen by his contemporaries and imprinted in their memory.

Fr. La Mendola said several times: St. Gerard is for the local Church the model of an evangelizer, a social promoter and a credible witness of the Gospel, an icon of an outgoing Church; a saint who is still capable today of provoking us and shaking us out of our comfort zones and involving us in defence of the rights of the weakest and the promotion of the dignity of women, children, and of every man.

A celebration for the elderly and the sick in the Cathedral allowed us to reflect on the spirituality of the cross, incarnated by the Redemptorist saint, in an Easter perspective, completing in his flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, which is the Church.

The most evocative moment was experienced in the square, with the celebration dedicated to mothers and children. Father Vincenzo, who presided over the liturgy, recalled episodes from the saint’s life when he helped women and children. He emphasised Brother Gerard’s attention to two social categories to which no one gave a voice in the complex century of the Enlightenment, steeped in positivism and characterised by rationalist thinking and an anti-ecclesiastical policy that left the weakest and most defenceless people on the margins.

The blessing of the mothers and children took place at the end of the mass, in the crowded square in front of St. Anthony’s Church, after the renewal of baptismal promises and amidst the enthusiasm of numerous children.

2 September, the day designated for the feast, the first regional one in Basilicata, was intense and full of emotions, as well as strong moments of spirituality. The four-morning masses in the Cathedral were very well attended.

The most eagerly awaited event was the one in the afternoon, which began with the evocative procession, moving from the church of Sant’Antonio, formerly belonging to the Friars Minor Conventual, towards the Pianello, the oldest part of the town and the place where the last house in which St Gerardo’s family lived stands.

On the last stage, the archbishop of Potenza – Muro Lucano – Marsico Nuovo, Monsignor Salvatore Liguori also took part in the procession, addressing words of appreciation and encouragement to the bearers of the saint, and inviting them to cooperate for the good of the community and the safeguard of its Christian roots.

Highly significant was the stop in front of the town hall, during which the mayor, on behalf of the entire community, read an act of entrustment to the saint, culminating in the handing over of the keys of the city to Saint Gerard, in choral recognition of the patronage he exercises over the community and each of its members, including immigrants from many parts of the world.

The feast of St Gerard is in fact for the Regional Basilica, a moment of encounter and communion, in the sharing of human and Christian values, embodied in the humble figure of the Redemptorist brother, an emblem of the industriousness and sensitivity that has always distinguished the character of the people of Moro Lucano.

Our thanks go to the Redemptorists, represented by Fr La Mendola, for their presence in Muro, always expected, welcomed and appreciated as family. Muro Lucano has given the Congregation of the Redemptorists three of its most illustrious sons: St. Gerardo, Bishop Vincenzo Maria Marolda and Rector Major Fr. Giuseppe Lordi, personalities who reaffirm the historical bond between the Muro community and the Congregation founded by St. Alphonsus, a bond that endures over time.

Prof. Maria Antonietta Lordi