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Acts of the International Seminar
on "Jesus, the Master"
(Ariccia, October 14-24, 1996)

by Teˇfilo PÚrez ssp


I. Fr. Alberione lived to fulfill
a specific mission

Now let us go to the first aspect: to see the life of Fr. Alberione entirely dedicated to his "work," that is, to the specific apostolate that the Lord asked of him according to the needs of the times. To put into focus this point, we shall use the method called narratologico, which is much used today for the reading of the Bible and also for the setting up of theology. It is usually said that the narrative logos is prior to abstract understanding. In fact the evolutionary scheme followed in order to arrive at and grasp a reality of life could be synthesized in three moments: first the narration, second the question, third the abstraction.

I pause for an instant to underline some aspects of this narrative or story method.(5) In "narration" (understood as "living traditions" which trace their roots to their origins) peoples and individuals find themselves, discover themselves, rebuild themselves in order to save themselves from a no-meaning or from loss of identity, which at times can threaten them.(6) In our historical moment also as Congregation and as Pauline Family, narration (utilized in discovering the person of Fr. Alberione, in its globality, more than in much detailed analysis) can help us to redeem or strengthen our manner of being and doing, thus overcoming the fragmentation wherein we could see ourselves.

Stories make real for us situations in which we can recognize ourselves, because these are not discussions on things or ideas, but projections of the same reality of life: that is, they present within life coordinates the situations wherein personalities move, thus unifying and integrating the at-times-dispersed manner that we live.

In other words, we would like to unfold Fr. Alberione’s story (as if as much as possible touch it with our hands), in order to make it ours, relive it with a similar intensity as he lived it along with the first Pauline men and women, and thus deepen our sense of belonging to the Family founded by him. Narration generally keeps a strong realism which brings it close to persons of whatever generation; and so it is good that in it we find ourselves by heritage and affinity and feel that we are sons and daughters of Fr. Alberione. He teaches us not only with words (spoken or written) but above all with life.(7) History, when it is narrated, is re-created: it stirs imagination which connects with our rational and emotional world;(8) through memory (evoking a process: anamnesis), remembrance moves the emotions and by force of imitation (mimesis) motivates conduct. When one is incapable of recreating narrated history, then the narration becomes mere sentimental nostalgia, the future is rejected.(9)

In human evolution, actions (initiatives, creativity... and other characteristics fit for a Founder like ours?) have a fundamental function in building up the person. Persons are agents who are known to us through the story of which they are subjects or protagonists. And these stories are not concepts, but are an entity whose meaning emerges only at its conclusion, that is starting from their end: as if to say that the anticipation for the future brings the present to reality. This obviously comports the dimension of patience: history (also that in capital letter, that is, the History of Salvation) is full of pauses, of creative silences, of dreams full of meanings, of times of waiting.(10) (return to summary)

1. The place of the Apostolate in the life of Fr. Alberione

"Vocation is the call with which God makes man feel he is chosen and destines him for a special work in his design of salvation and in the destiny of his people. At the origin of vocation there is then a divine choice; at its end there is a divine will to accomplish... [aside from] a personal call addressed to the deepest conscience of the individual, which call shakes his existence, not only in its external conditions, but even to the heart, thus making of him a new man." (11)

All the vocations in the Bible and in the life of the Church have as "object" some "missions" more or less "important or broad" from the point of view of human history. God calls in order to send.(12)

This rule is accomplished especially in the case of "founders," destined by God to give rise to new religious families in the Church in order "to help her" according to the needs of the times. "The experience that they have in the Spirit is not an end in itself, it does not aim only at the achievement of full conformation with Christ, of Christian perfection, of holiness. If founders are given to follow a peculiar path to holiness, it is to make them capable of assuming a service in the Church, in order that they may meet her needs and urgent calls. The reply to the appeal of the Church (which could reach different situations and environments) is translated into a new activity and into a specific kind of service and of presence." (13)

In these coordinates, mentioned very succinctly (and without wanting to enter now into the broad and delicate topic of "charisms"), Fr. Alberione, like many other religious, biblical and ecclesial personalities, is a man of a venture (or mission): he is called to it by God, and through and in view of it he becomes God’s trusted one himself.(14) Our Founder has received from God (through intuitions, reflections, sensitivity, "dreams," inspirations, etc.,) the "mission" of putting into service of good, of evangelization, of the Church, the means of communication thus freeing them from the slavery under which they were (and still are) subjugated largely under the forces of evil and placing them at the same level as the oral preaching, traditional in Christianity. Towards this end, he founds the Society of St. Paul and (with converging goals) the other Pauline Congregations and Institutes. (return to summary)

2. The mission, point of departure and horizon of the "Alberione Project"

At almost one hundred years from the prophetic intuition of Fr. Alberione, and at more than eighty from his first foundations, we can go through our Pauline history, aim our zoom lens in retrospective vision at times and in prospective vision at others, at the various periods which comprise the same history. As for the rest, it is a process that the Founder himself used: highly interested in history, he loved to draw the balance as to what had been done,(15) and at the same time (always thrust forward) he loved to look into the future as a kind of projection for his own work.(16)

In his "charismatic autobiography," the booklet Abundantes divitiŠ gratiŠ suŠ (in reality a profound reconstruction of our origins under the light of developments that followed), Fr. Alberione remembers the "pre-history" of the Pauline Family. And he immediately takes note how the starting point (the instant of the first conception, so to say) of the mission was: "The night that separated the last century with the present was decisive for the specific mission and particular spirit wherein the Pauline Family would be born and live.(17)

The push to such a mission (that is the awareness of being called-sent by God "to serve the Church, the men of the new century and to work with others": AD 20) came from the awareness (we would say the lived reading of the "signs of the times") of the urgent needs and of the real problems of the time gathered in the "calm, profound and convincing discourse" of the sociologist Toniolo and "in the invitation of Leo XIII...: One or the other spoke about the needs of the Church, of new means of evil, of the duty to oppose press with press, organization with organization, to let the Gospel penetrate the masses, the social questions..." (AD 14)

It is surprising for us to note that with the intensity of the young cleric Alberione’s life, he was not pushed inwards (although he diligently and vigorously cultivated his inner workings). Instead, we note an unstoppable thrust towards action in behalf of other persons ("the men of the new century": cf. AD 20) with an attention unusual for the historical context and peripheral for the period. He experiences not just a personalized call, but the invitation of Christ who from the Host calls everyone: "Venite ad me omnes" (cf. AD 15).

In fact, the prayer of the seminarian Alberione (especially and concretely that "prolonged" one, in Eucharistic adoration, during the connecting night between the XIX and the XX century) is focused not on himself but on a vast view of the status of the Church and of society, thus reviving these intentions, borne and lived in the long reflection and preparation: "... that the new century be born in Christ-Eucharist; that the new apostles heal laws, schools, literature, the press, customs; that the Church had a new missionary thrust; that the new means of apostolate be properly used; that society welcomed the great teachings of the encyclicals of Leo XIII..., especially those that regard social problems and the freedom of the Church" (AD 19).(18)

Even more, one could say that these "external" realities (entrusted to apostolic zeal) had the strength, like a kind of flashback feeding, for strengthening and increasing the most intimate (also spiritual) values of the person of Fr. Alberione: "The Eucharist, the Gospel, the Pope, the new century, the new means... the need for a new band of apostles, these were so strongly fixed in his mind and in his heart, that they later dominated his thoughts, his prayer, his interior work, his aspirations" (AD 20).(19) The coincidence of the "call" or commitment proves very clear, which call directly touches the person of the young seminarian and the "sending" with which he feels he is vested and which brings him near truly to Jesus, and at the same time thrusts him towards men.

The call to the specific apostolate has therefore been the "starting point," and also the "horizon and goal" of the life project that the young Alberione was seeing and building.(20) In such a call he, in fact, senses above all a "greater understanding of Jesus’ invitation: ‘venite ad me omnes’ and the true mission of the priest" (AD 15) that is to say the turning to be true of his precocious decision to become a priest;(21) and then he foresees in brief the scenario where his apostolic activity would be undertaken: "Wandering with his mind into the future it seemed to him that in the new century generous souls would experience what he felt and that, grouped in organization, what Toniolo had often repeated would take place: ‘Unite; if the enemy finds us alone, he would defeat us one by one’" (AD 17).

In these passages of our Pauline pre-history lived in the first stirrings by the Founder, the axis always is the specific mission: it is not yet clearly thought of (there is a generic "to do something"), but is felt quite strongly already, as a tendency which magnetized Alberione’s life thus carrying him to new paths, beyond the occupations of a "traditional" priest.(22) (return to summary)

3. From the idea to the accomplishment, when the hour of Providence arrived

Apparently, after the "conception" of his project nothing special happened in the life of the young seminarian, and nothing could perhaps happen: he had to pursue his studies, prepare himself for the sacred orders, respect the normal established rhythms. On the other hand, projects always need time for definition and setting into action. Hence, some years passed, certainly of intense activities in the ministry,(23) of maturation,(24) of enrichment,(25) but as a whole, it was a time of waiting(26) until "God’s hour" sounded in the summer of 1914, and Fr. Alberione started his work, his foundation:(27) two or three boys and some poor machines were there to start the work of the good press, with much more good will than real competence.(28)

The various stages of the first establishment (characterized also by different names: "Piccolo Operaio" eventually became "Scuola Tipografica Piccolo Operaio," abbreviated into "Scuola Tipografica", then "Scuola Tipografica Editrice" and, finally, about 1920, into "Pia SocietÓ S. Paolo," the actual "SocietÓ S. Paolo") mark a constant development, always under the watchful guidance of the Founder. To the group of men – with the Cooperators from the beginning: cf. AD 25, 121-123 – were gradually added the groups for women: on June 15, 1915, the Daughters of St. Paul; on February 10, 1924, the Pious Disciples of the Divine Master; on October 7, 1938, the Sisters of Jesus Good Shepherd; in 1959 the Sisters of the Queen of Apostles; and finally the Pauline Family is completed on April 8, 1960 with the four Aggregated (Secular) Institutes: Jesus Priest, St. Gabriel Archangel, Our Lady of the Annunciation, Holy Family.(29)

The "mission" (started bearing the marks of poverty and with great humility and modesty)(30) would appear grandiose even from the beginning,(31) and would sink its roots,(32) growing, expanding in the intent of covering an ever wider area (if possible, all!): thus therefore the multiplication of institutions and initiatives.(33)

At the same time, the mission (risky, avant-garde)(34) encounters countless difficulties, which Fr. Alberione overcomes strongly and tenaciously, with the divine help, at times almost palpable: "In moments of special difficulties... it seemed that the Divine Master wanted to reassure the Institute started just a few years..." (AD 151). (35)

Gradually as his foundations (and related activities) reached the stages of establishment and consolidation,(36) the mature Alberione, ages, but he goes on until later years, always at the head of his people, urging them and walking ahead of them,(37) until he could speak of himself like Moses that "his eye has not weakened and his strength, spent" (Deut 34:7), certainly not in the bodily sense (in the last years Fr. Alberione became very weak and almost handicapped)(38) but in the moral and psychological sense.

In the entire arc of his existence, from the first "inspiration" during the night between the 19th and the 20th century until the moments of passage, the "mission" always was, for Fr. Alberione, the key element of his life. He himself mentions it in the autobiographical passage he left us regarding the various stages of his life:

Continued: Fr. Alberione lived to fulfill a specific mission - 2 -

return to summary


           Jesus Master yesterday, today and for ever

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