Living charity in Christ and in
On Wednesday, 28
April , at the General Audience in St Peter's Square the Holy
Father talked about St Leonard Murialdo, Founder of the Congregation of
St Joseph, and St Joseph Cottolengo, Founder of the "Little House of
Divine Providence", both outstanding apostles of charity in the 19th
century. The following is a translation of the Pope's Catechesis, which
was given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We are moving towards the end of the Year for Priests and, on this
last Wednesday of April, I would like to talk to you about two holy
priests who were exemplary in the gift of themselves to God, in their
witness of charity, lived in and for the Church, and to their needier
brethren: St Leonard Murialdo and St Joseph Benedict Cottolengo.
We are commemorating the 110th anniversary of the death of the former
and the 40th anniversary of his canonization, and the celebrations for
the second centenary of the priestly ordination of the latter are
Murialdo was born in Turin on 26 October 1828: it was the Turin of St
John Bosco and likewise of St Joseph Cottolengo, a land made fruitful by
so many examples of holiness among lay people and priests.
Leonard was the eighth child of a simple family. As a boy, together
with his brother, he entered the College of the Piarist Fathers of
Savona for the elementary classes, middle school and secondary school.
There he encountered teachers trained in a pious atmosphere, based on
serious catechesis with regular devotional practices.
Nevertheless in adolescence he went through a profound existential
and spiritual crisis that led him to go home sooner than expected and to
conclude his studies in Turin, where he enrolled in the two-year
His "return to the light" occurred — as he recounts — after several
months with the grace of a general confession in which he rediscovered
God's immense mercy. Then, at the age of 17, he took the decision to
become a priest, as a loving response to God who had grasped him with
Leonard Murialdo was ordained on 20 September 1851. Precisely in that
period, as a catechist of the Oratorio of the Guardian Angel, he
came to the attention of Don Bosco who appreciated his qualities and
convinced him to accept the directorship of the new Oratorio di San
Luigi, in Porta Nuova, which he held until in 1865.
There Fr Leonard also came into contact with the grave problems of
the poorest classes. He visited their homes, developing a deep social,
educational and apostolic sensitivity which led him subsequently to
undertake a wide range of projects for youth.
Catecheses, school and recreational activities were the foundation of
his educational method in the Oratorio. Don Bosco still
wanted Leonard with him on the occasion of the Audience that Blessed
Pius XI granted to him in 1858.
In 1873, Fr Leonard founded the Congregation of St Joseph whose aim
from the start was the formation of youth, especially the poorest and
most neglected. Turin at that time was marked by the vigorously
flourishing works and charitable activities promoted by Murialdo until
his death on 30 March 1900.
I would like to emphasize that the heart of Murialdo's spirituality
was his conviction of the merciful love of God, a Father ever good,
patient and generous, who reveals the grandeur and immensity of his
mercy with forgiveness. St Leonard did not experience this reality at an
intellectual level but rather in his life, through his vivid encounter
with the Lord.
He always considered himself a man whom God in his mercy had
pardoned. He therefore experienced a joyful feeling of gratitude to the
Lord, serene awareness of his own limitations, the ardent desire for
penance, and the constant and generous commitment to conversion. He saw
his whole life not only enlightened, guided and supported by this love
but continuously immersed in God's infinite mercy.
He wrote in his Spiritual Testament: "Your mercy surrounds me,
O Lord... Just as God is always and everywhere, so there is always and
everywhere love, mercy is always and everywhere".
Remembering the crisis he had been through in his youth, he noted:
"The good Lord wanted to make his kindness and generosity shine out in a
completely special way. Not only did he readmit me to his friendship,
but he called me to make a decision of predilection: he called me
to the priesthood, even only a few months after I had returned to him".
Thus St Leonard lived his priestly vocation as a gift of God's mercy,
freely given, with a sense of gratitude, joy and love.
He wrote further: "God has chosen me! He has called me, he has even
forced upon me the honour, glory, and ineffable happiness of being his
minister, of being 'another Christ'.... And where was I when you sought
me, my God? At the bottom of the abyss! I was there, and there God came
to find me; there he made me hear his voice".
Underlining the greatness of the mission of the priest who must
"continue the work of redemption, the great work of Jesus Christ, the
work of the Saviour of the world" namely, the work of "saving souls", St
Leonard always reminded himself and his brethren of the responsibility
of a life consistent with the sacrament received. Love of God and love
for God: this was the force that impelled him on his journey to
holiness, the law of his priesthood, the deepest meaning of his
apostolate among poor youths and the source of his prayer.
St Leonard Murialdo abandoned himself with trust to Providence,
generously doing the divine will, in touch with God and dedicating
himself to poor young people.
In this way he combined contemplative silence with the tireless zeal
of action, fidelity to every day tasks with
ingenious initiatives, fortitude in difficulty with peace of mind. This
was his path of holiness in order to live the commandment of love for
God and for his neighbour.
St Joseph Benedict Cottolengo, who lived
40 years before Murialdo — the Founder of the work which he himself
called the "Little House of Divine Providence" and which today is also
called "Cottolengo" — embodied this same spirit of charity.
Next Sunday, during my Pastoral Visit to
Turin, I shall have the opportunity to venerate the remains of this
Saint and to meet the residents of the "Little House".
Joseph Benedict Cottolengo was born in
Bra, a small town in the Province of Cuneo, on 3 May 1786. The eldest of
12, six of whom died in infancy, he showed great sensitivity to the poor
from childhood. He embraced the way of the priesthood, setting an
example to two of his brothers. The years of his youth coincided with
the Napoleonic period and the consequent hardships in both the
religious and social contexts.
Cottolengo became a good priest — much
sought after by penitents — and, in the Turin of that time, a preacher
of spiritual exercises and conferences for university students who
always met with noteworthy success.
At the age of 32, he was appointed canon
of the Santissima Trinità,
a congregation of priests whose task was to officiate in the
Corpus Domini Church and to ensure the decorum of the city's
religious ceremonies, but he felt uneasy in this situation. God was
preparing him for a special mission and, precisely with an unexpected
and decisive encounter, made him realize what was to be his future
destiny in the exercise of the ministry.
The Lord always sets signs on our path
to guide us according to his will to our own true good. This also
happened to Cottolengo, dramatically, on Sunday morning, 2 September
The diligence from Milan arrived in
Turin, more crowded than ever. Crammed into it was a whole French
family. The mother, with five children, was at an advanced stage of
pregnancy and had a high temperature.
After traipsing to various hospitals,
this family found lodgings in a public dormitory but the woman's
situation was serious and some people went in search of a priest.
By a mysterious design they came across
Cottolengo and it was precisely he who, heavy hearted, accompanied this
young mother to her death, amid the distress of the entire family.
Having carried out this painful task, with deep anguish he went to the
Blessed Sacrament and knelt in prayer: "My God, why? Why did you want me
to be a witness? What do you want of me? Something must be done!".
He got to his feet and had all the bells
rung and the candles lit and, gathering in the church those who were
curious, told them: "The grace has been granted! The grace has been
granted!". From that time Cottolengo was transformed: all his skills,
especially his financial and organizational ability, were used to give
life to projects in support of the neediest.
In his undertaking he was able to
involve dozens and dozens of collaborators and volunteers. Moving
towards the outskirts of Turin to expand his work, he created a sort of
village, in which he assigned a meaningful name to every building he
managed to build: "House of Faith", "House of Hope", "House of Charity".
He adopted a "familystyle", establishing
true and proper communities of people with volunteers, men and women
religious and lay people, who joined forces in order to face and
overcome the difficulties that arose.
Everyone in that Little House of Divine
Providence had a precise task: work, prayer, service, teaching or
administration. The healthy and the sick shared the same daily burden.
With time religious life could be specifically planned in accordance
with particular needs and requirements. Cottolengo even thought of
setting up his own seminary to provide specific formation for the
priests of his Work.
He was always ready to follow and serve
Divine Providence and never questioned it. He would say: "I am a good
for nothing and I don't even know what to make of myself. But Divine
Providence certainly knows what it wants. It is only up to me to support
it. Let us go ahead in Domino". To his poor and the
neediest, he would always call himself "the labourer of Divine
He also chose to found beside the small
citadels five monasteries of contemplative sisters and one of hermits,
and considered them among his most important achievements. They were a
sort of "heart" which was to beat for the entire Work. He died on 30
April 1842, with these words on his lips: "Misericordia, Domine;
Misericordia, Domine. Good and Holy Providence... Blessed
Virgin, it is now up to you". The whole of his life, as a newspaper of
the time said, was "an intense day of love".
Dear friends, these two holy priests, a
few of whose characteristics I have described, carried out their
ministry with the total gift of their lives to the poorest, the neediest
and the lowliest, always finding the deep roots, the inexhaustible
source for their action in their relationship with God. They drew from
his love in the profound conviction that it is impossible to exercise
charity without living in Christ and in the Church.
May their intercession and example
continue to illumine the ministry of the many priests who spend
themselves generously for God and for the flock entrusted to them, and
help each one give himself joyfully and generously to God and neighbour.