In the service of the Queen of the Rosary

Author: Teresa Tyszkiewicz

When on October 26th 1980 Pope John Paul II declared Italian lawyer Bartolo Longo to be Blessed, hardly anyone knew who the beatified was. Also, very few people had even heard what the sanctuary of the Holy Rosary in New Pompeii was.

In the service of evil

Bartolo was born on 10th February 1841 in Latiano in Italy, into a very religious intellectual family. They took great care with the religious and comprehensive education of their clever and talented son. However, when in 1858 Bartolo began studying law at the University of Naples, his faith coming from being raised within a safe, ordered, family environment went through some harsh trials, from which the young man did not emerge victorious.

It was a time of great ideological ferment throughout Europe, but especially outlined sharply in Italy. Colleges were the incubators of new, subversive philosophical and social ideas: spreading atheism, liberalism and anti-clericalism.

In addition to the fashion of criticizing and ridiculing the Church, the fashion for occult practices spread, including the most common séances. The young law student often participated in them asking „the spirits” serious questions, as his passion was really in seeking the truth.

Bartolo also participated in the rich student life, but in two areas he remained faithful to once adopted values: an obligation to study and a respect for women. However, he was getting more and more absorbed in spiritualism, which at that time took on the form of a new religion with its specific rituals and mandatory meetings. The young, intelligent man was noticed, listened to, and even entrusted to conduct meetings. Bartolo soaked himself deeper into the world opposing God, he also became more and more active in the fight against the Christian religion. He was offered a period of formation and initiation as a priest of the new religion. Bartolo, after a period of preparation, at a secret ceremony took an oath that he would henceforth serve the „new religion.” He understood that this was the service to Satan, but he was so infested with hatred for the Church, and at the same time fascinated by the atmosphere of rallies calling for the liquidation of the Church and the Pope’s expulsion from Italy, that this awareness was not an obstacle for him.

However, in his commitment to the service of evil he did not find what he most searched for: the truth. A sense of order and internal peace, which he really needed, did not come either. On the contrary, his health deteriorated, he grew thin and weak; at night his nervous system, tight to the maximum, instead of sleep brought visions of the devil and the temptation of suicide.

“If you want to secure salvation, propagate the Rosary. Remember the promise of Mary: he who spreads the Rosary will not perish”.

In this state of mind, thinking that it’s just the difficulties of this new way of life, Bartolo turned to his friend, an ardent Catholic Vincenz Pele, asking him for advice. He immediately realized the seriousness of the situation and put it this way: if Bartolo did not come back to Jesus, he would end up in a madhouse. Pele promptly organized a group of his faithful friends and acquaintances, in order to pray for their friend so submerged in spiritism, and he exacted a promise on Bartolo himself that he would meet with the enlightened Dominican, father Albert Radente. So began the struggle for the soul of Bartolo: on one side the loving Jesus was calling him, wishing to give him eternal life, and on the other side his old habits and new temptations were creating an illusion of pleasure and happiness. Finally, in June 1865 Bartolo returned to Jesus; after many conversations, reflections and prayers he received absolution, received Holy Communion and began, this time for real, his road of service for God.

Bartolo’s spiritual convalescence took some time yet. Fortunately, it went on under the tutelage of the confessor, father Albert Radente, who realised with his pastoral intuition that God had special intentions for his penitent. He felt that his calling was not to be married, and when Bartolo got emotionally involved in a relationship with a lady friend, the confessor appreciating the qualities of the chosen one, dissuaded his penitent from the relationship. At the same time, father Albert was aware that Bartolo’s path would not be a consecrated life or priesthood. What God had designed for him and what sign He would give, so that Bartolo and his confessor would understand that this was really the will of God – had to be entrusted to Providence.

On the way of the calling

Meanwhile the neophyte made a promise to God to serve only Him and with all his zeal he tried to support the needy, bearing in mind that: “(…) we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:10). The legal profession began to bother him; too often going against his own conscience, he had to defend determined criminals, who deserved a just punishment. Bartolo involved himself closely with a group of people who were doing a lot of good to the sick and the poor, often gathering in prayer for the intentions of their charges. Among these people was Marianna de Fusco, a widow with five children, who, although she owned estates, was living on the edge of poverty. These estates, scattered throughout the region, were leased to various farmers, who for years had not paid the fee for their rental. The owner even lacked the means for maintaining her home and for raising her children. Bartolo Longo, having realized Marianna’s situation, and having developed a fondness for her, offered her his assistance in arranging and managing her businesses. The first stage were the negotiations with those tenants of the estates around Pompeii.

Bartolo came to this unknown town for the two days needed to sort out the business, and remained there almost to the end of his life. Indeed it was the hand of God who brought him there to fulfill the mission intended for him.

Pompeii made a terrible impression on the visitor: the population had turned to paganism, was steeped in ignorance and superstition, in the vicinity groups of thugs were prowling around, the little church was almost in ruins, the altar consumed by bark beetles, the priest discouraged by the indifference of the parishioners... Bartolo realized that this was his place: it was not Marianna’s wealth to be recovered, but the souls of men that needed to be restored to God through Mary, Queen of the Rosary. He began by creating a Rosary circle - then it turned out that those willing to participate could not even recite the Hail Mary.

One day Bartolo fell into doubt as to the chosen path. That was when Satan launched an attack on him: “You swore to serve me as a priest - this oath holds: you are mine.” Bartolo was close to madness. He came to himself only when he remembered the words heard in a prayer: “If you want to secure salvation, propagate the Rosary. Remember the promise of Mary: he who spreads the Rosary will not perish.”

With new earnestness Bartolo started his efforts to fight and save the souls of men, and spread the Rosary prayer in Pompeii and the surrounding area. To win parishioners to the idea of creating a Rosary confraternity, he decided to organize a festival together with a priest keen on the idea. Unfortunately, bad weather spoiled everything. To erect the confraternity a painting of Our Lady of the Rosary was needed; the previous paper lithograph hanging in the church was not suitable any longer. After various efforts they managed to get a large oil painting, but it was in the state of near decay. However, God showed that He cared for the conversion of the lost sheep: the painter, who undertook the restoration of the painting, inspired by grace, did his work for free. Bishop Formisano came to the ceremony establishing the confraternity; while talking about the need to repair the church the hierarch decided that repairing the damaged little church would make no sense, it was better to build a new and greater one. The glory of God began to spread through the mouths of the praying people and nothing could stop the wave of conversions.

More and more new tasks

“For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Cor 5:14-15). There was not a moment to lose - he had to deny himself, and throw all his efforts into the rescue of sinners. The Mother of God kept surprising her apostle with new tasks: organizing a broad campaign to raise funds for the new church, the beginning of its construction, the apostolate of the Rosary - that was not everything, though it could easily fill every day to the brim. Bartolo, however, wanted to live for Jesus only and he tried to meet every challenge.

The sight of clusters of ragged children who were not looked after, the lack of school and religious education compelled Bartolo to take care of their future. One after another, nurseries, kindergartens, schools, workshops and orphanages were formed in Pompeii and the surrounding area.

The fundraising to build the church gave greater and greater effects, especially as the special graces of Our Lady of the Rosary moved the donors. There were more and more of these graces, making the painting of Our Lady of Pompeii famous - people were converted in increasing numbers, they would reject sin and began a new life according to the commandments of God. The Rosary prayer became the centre of their lives. Bartolo was happy about it, and having joined the Third Order of St. Dominic he took the name brother Rosario (brother Rosary). Marianna de Fusco (now a servant of God) was of great help in the work and in fund-raising to build the church, as well as in doing works of mercy. They were joined in wedlock in 1885.

When Bartolo began to collect funds for the care of orphans and children of prisoners, waves of accusations were raised that he wanted to use the donated money to raise the next generation of criminals. However, contrary to the critics, schools, workshops and orphanages were started, and ranks of good youth came out of them. Homes and orphanages founded by brother Rosario also became schools of prayer: when there was some urgent and needy intention, orphans were asked for prayers of intercession, which were often heard.

Criticism and slander aimed at Bartolo Longo intensified, but Pope Leo XIII gave him publically official and firm support. It is significant that the Pope could see that this had to be the work of God: all the adversities that were created could not be overcome alone by human strength. Bartolo himself counted the proofs of Our Lady’s care: with no income, funds, advances or support from the government, 300 families were fed daily, along with about 100 officials and workers, 200 children at the shelter, 150 orphans, 40 teachers and 60 children of prisoners; at the end of the week the money box would be empty, and the following week there would be again as much money as needed. It became clear that “this work fulfills the plan of the Divine Mercy not only for the Pompeian Valley, but for the whole world.”

Mary in her messages and the Church in its teachings point to the Rosary as a rescue for humanity.

Also, the successor of Pope Leo XIII, Pope Pius X, though initially influenced by Bartolo’s opponents, after finding out the whole truth cleansed him of all charges. Thanks to the voluntary work of brother Rosario, a new, vibrant city arose around the sanctuary of the Rosary. In 1894 the Holy See recognized the basilica in Pompeii as the most important shrine of the Rosary in the world.

Give up everything

Bartolo increasingly devoted himself to prayer; but also suffering was not spared to him. When his wife Marianna died in 1924, her heirs demanded that all of her wealth be given into their hands. Bartolo even had to leave his apartment. He returned to his family region, but Pompeii soon asked their benefactor to come back. The 85-year elderly gentleman returned to the City of Mercy which he had created, wanting only one thing: “My only dream is to see Mary.” Asked once whether he had seen the Mother of God, he replied: “Yes, but not as she is in heaven.”

Bartolo Longo died on October 5, 1926 and was buried under the altar of his beloved Lady of the Rosary. The beatification of Bartolo Longo, the founder of the sanctuary of the Holy Rosary in the Pompeii Valley, the triple pilgrimages of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI to the sanctuary, the Apostolic Letter of John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, proclaiming the Year of the Rosary (October 2002 - October 2003) - all this proves that in these days the Rosary prayer is to play a special role.

This role should not be overlooked, the signs encouraging the taking up of the Rosary into one’s hands cannot be ignored. The world is swollen with problems; Mary in her messages and the Church in its teachings point to the Rosary as a rescue for humanity. The Apostle of the Rosary, Bartolo Longo trusted the inspiration that he received: “He who spreads the Rosary will be saved.” He trusted these words, achieved great things, and reached the glory of the altars, according to the promise of Scripture: “May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. (1 Thess 5:23).

Sources: Bartolo Longo, Wonders and graces of the Queen of the Holy Rosary in Pompeii, Poznań 2011 Marek Woś: Bartolo Longo. From the priest of satan to the Apostle of the Rosary, Poznań 2012.

 

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