Italy: Feast of St Gerard Maiella celebrated in Marianella, St Alphonsus’ birthplace


Chronicle notes by Fr Vincenzo La Mendola C.S.R.

As every year, celebrations in honour of St Gerard Maiella were held in the chapel of the former De Liguori Palace.

The densely populated Neapolitan township, defined by Fr. Salvatore Schiavone, a well-known expert on historical memories, as the Bethlehem of the Congregation, boasts a marked Christian identity, where the Redemptorist badge cannot be missed. If Saint Alphonsus is the saint par excellence of the people of Marianella, Saint Gerard is no less so. Devotion to the humble Redemptorist goes back more than a century, as can be read in an inscription on the left wall of his altar, placed at the inauguration of the chapel (4.10.1896).

While he was still blessed, a well-decorated side altar was dedicated to him, the first to the right of those entering, probably briefly dedicated to Our Lady, as his monogram on the ceiling leads us to assume.

An artistic wooden statue of the Saint, very expressive in the face, caught in the moment of ecstasy, is kept in the niche, bordered by a beautiful inlaid wooden frame, at the top of which the lily and the cross are depicted.

All who enter the Alphonsian shrine cannot help but admire the three-dimensional image, an object of devotion, not only on the days of the triduum and feast day but throughout the year.

Another oval depiction of the Saint is placed to the left of the altarpiece, in the centre of the hall, made after his canonisation, as the iconography, which inspired the author, denotes.

The small community, custodian of Alphonsian memories, annually, as is a well-established tradition, solemnises the feast of the Saint, attracting numerous faithful, not only from the neighbourhood.

This year, the celebrations took place from 13 to 16 October. The triduum was preached by Fr. Vincenzo La Mendola and had as its theme the virtuous life of St. Gerard, with particular reference to the theological virtues exercised by the Saint and recalled by biographers and trial witnesses.

Every evening, the faithful gathered for the recitation of the Rosary and the triduum prayers. The celebration was followed by preaching.

On Sunday, 15 October, the masses, celebrated at the usual time, registered a more significant influx of devotees. The most intense moment was undoubtedly, that of the transit, celebrated at 9 pm to commemorate the last moments of the Saint’s life, animated by a group of charismatic young people.

On Monday, 16 October, the chapel, open from the early morning hours, was the destination of a continuous and silent pilgrimage. Groups of the faithful and religious, including Mother Teresa’s nuns, took turns visiting the Saint and venerating his relic, especially displayed on the well-decorated altar. The morning masses (8 am and 10 am) were attended by many of the faithful, who, at the end of the celebrations, received the blessed bread to take to their families and the sick. This tradition also became a way to recall an episode from the Saint’s childhood, his Eucharistic piety and trust in providence, during the famine of 1753-1754, when bread multiplied in his hands.

The celebration at 6 pm, presided over by the auxiliary Bishop of Naples, Monsignor Michele Antuoro, and concelebrated by the fathers present in the house, the parish priest of the parish of St. John the Baptist, Rev. Francesco Minervino, and attended by numerous faithful, was the culmination of the Gerardine celebrations.

In his homily, the celebrant recalled the salient features of St Gerard’s spirituality, presenting him as a missionary icon of the outgoing Church and recalling the pilgrimages he made to Materdomini in his childhood. The Bishop recalled some salient facts of Gerard’s biography, particularly his stay in Naples. At the end of the celebration, he wanted to visit the Alfonsian museum, accompanied by Fr. Ciro, congratulating him on the art treasures it holds.

With due thanks in conclusion, Fr Avella, in charge of the community, expressed his gratitude to His Excellency for accepting the invitation to celebrate the feast in Marianella, to Fr La Mendola for his preaching, and to all those who had worked for the success of the feast, reaffirming the Marianella inhabitants’ attachment to Saint Gerard and the Redemptorists.

Wandering around the many artistic Neapolitan churches, it is not uncommon to come across statues and paintings of St Gerard. Still, the Marianella chapel remains a fundamental point of reference for devotees living in Naples, who have always nurtured admiration for the ‘fathers of Saint Alphonsus’, as they still affectionately call us.

Fr. Vincenzo La Mendola CSSR