“Alfonso! Alfonso!” exclaimed four-year-old Nella in a heartwarming blend of innocence and melodic charm often associated with Italian accents. In her voice, there was a purity of emotion spoken with enthusiasm and a sense of wonder. Her shoulder-length black hair, adorned with charming curls, swayed with every step as she dashed straight towards the tomb of St. Alphonsus Liguori and placed her hands on its glass casing as if to give him a hug, instantly filling this sacred space with boundless love. We had just entered the Basilica of St. Alphonsus Liguori in Pagani, Italy, the last stop of our Redemptorist Spirituality Course, when precious, little Nella punctuated the Course with its final lesson: “Acquire the habit of speaking to God [and St. Alphonsus] as if you were alone with Him, familiarly and with confidence and love, as to the dearest and most loving of friends.”
Reflection on the invaluable spiritual legacy that St. Alphonsus bestowed to both our Congregation and the Church is necessary to authentically revitalize our Congregation and enhance the spiritual growth of every individual engaged in our missionary endeavors. For three weeks, through a combination of lectures, workshops, prayer, reflection, and visits, 27 professed Redemptorists from Africa, Asia, and Europe, and I, as a Lay Missionary of the Most Holy Redeemer of the Baltimore Province, United States, engaged in a deep and meaningful exploration of the spiritual riches imparted by St. Alphonsus and our other Redemptorist Saints and Blesseds. This return to the source from which the Congregation originated was not solely about nostalgic reminiscence of things past and historical facts, but, more importantly, about understanding the underlying spirit and reasons behind those facts so as to further enflame the spirit that is still living.
As a group of 28 participants, we viewed ourselves as an experiment of an international community format, showcasing the global reach and unity of our shared Redemptorist charism. It was fascinating to ponder how through numerous, intricate paths, our lives were ultimately guided into the fold of St. Alphonsus’ Family, sharing in its abundance, knowing that the divine Providence of the Lord had orchestrated this journey. As the trajectory of the Congregation fulfilling its mission in the Church and the path of each individual who becomes a part of it align in their shared journey towards the Lord and in service of the most abandoned, the importance of deepening one’s understanding of the inner life and heart of the man whose life profoundly impacts our own is underscored. Our ability to embrace the teachings of St. Alphonsus, to reflect on the nature of the original inspiration, and to integrate them into our daily lives and actions is how we will faithfully continue the purpose of our founder.
Our first day of the Spirituality Course began with a Mass at the Church of St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori in Rome, the Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Fr. Rogério Gomes, our Superior General, presided over the Holy Mass, and, except for one, all the General Consultors were also present. Later that week, we had the opportunity to spend a morning visiting with the General Curia and I also had an opportunity to meet Cardinal Joseph Tobin. The warmth and hospitality extended by all at the General House were incredibly heartwarming. I am thankful to my Redemptorist Family in Rome, including the Partners in Mission group of the Hispanic community at the Shrine, for their generous reception and extraordinary kindness.
During our first week, lectures were held at the Accademia Alfonsiana, a pontifical institute specializing in moral theology and the study of St. Alphonsus’ teachings and their contemporary relevance. With over 100 published works, St. Alphonsus left us an entire library containing his thoughts, dreams, and the very essence of his character. I cannot adequately convey my appreciation and gratitude to Fr. Alfonso Amarante, Fr. Piotr Chyla, Br. Larry Lujan, Fr. Antonio Marrazzo, and Fr. George Puthenpura, for generously sharing their extensive expertise, allowing us the opportunity to not only carry forward the wisdom of St. Alphonsus into the world and deepen our friendship with St. Alphonsus and all of our Redemptorist Saints and Blessed, but also to forge stronger connections with all who continue to be part of our community today.
While we were in Rome, we also participated in a Papal General Audience. Already filled with a sense of excitement and anticipation to stand in the presence of the spiritual leader of the Church, there was an unexpected honor in hearing our name announced by a Vatican official, welcoming us as guests. Our sense of thankfulness for such a grace-filled privilege only intensified later in the day when we discovered that the Pope had been admitted to the hospital for surgery immediately after our Papal Audience.
Exploring the depths of the Catacombs of San Callisto, one of the most famous and historically significant catacomb complexes in Rome that span five floors and hold over half a million bodies, evoked a powerful connection to the roots of Christianity and the challenges faced and sacrifices made by many in the name of their beliefs. Before returning, our Redemptorists presided over a Mass in the catacombs, and in this unique setting, profoundly changed how I understand and appreciate our solidarity with the communion of saints. A small number of us continued to the Church of the Holy Stairs (Scala Sancta) in Rome for what became another spiritually charged experience. This staircase is believed to be that which Jesus ascended during his trial before Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem. The slow and deliberate pace of ascending 28 marble stairs on one’s knees instilled a profound sense of humility and connection to our suffering Redeemer. It was as if we were sharing in His trials and tribulations, and this act of devotion also served to unite us with those resting in the Catacombs, as we collectively acknowledged the enduring power of faith amidst adversity.
Departing Rome, we set out on a bus journey heading south, towards the outskirts of Naples. Our destination was the Redemptorist mother house in Ciorani, where we were privileged to spend two weeks…
To be continued in the October edition of the Baltimore Beacon.
Lucy Burich McNamara
Lay Missionary of the Most Holy Redeemer, Baltimore Province