The reader of these pages may not be interested, but whoever wrote them must make a preliminary statement. I read a lot, but write very little. I have never written my diary. However, rather than books of doctrine or famous novels, I willingly read autobiographical pages, even if of little literary value.
Such are the pages I have written. I hope they help those who love the testimony of a living person. More than to adhere to a fraternal invitation, I wrote to testify once again – I will never do it enough – my gratitude to the Immaculate Virgin for an absolutely undeserved grace that She managed to obtain for me from God, a grace that forms the joy of my existence: the Franciscan and priestly vocation.
Turin, May 22, 1906
I was born on May 22, 1906. I am therefore, as I write this, 48 years old (it would be more accurate to say that I am no longer). When I was 34, to whoever had said to me: “One day not far away you will be a priest” I would have smiled or shook my head. “No, I never will be.” So I replied, with a certain spite, at the age of 20 to a dear friend, a priest, who had… announced it to me.
Priest? I respected him, but I felt no life appeal for me. What happened in my soul that made me desire one day, strongly, decisively, with the religious life, the priestly one? If the Lord, as I hope from His mercy, will welcome me one day in Paradise, I am certain that it will be the Immaculate Virgin who will fill my soul with delightful amazement, showing it by what paths She has led it, indeed forced it to pass, first to see clearly the will of God.
I was born in Turin, the city of the SS. Sacramento and of the Consolata, of Don Bosco and of Cottolengo. I was born into a practicing Christian family, but I had to laboriously build my spiritual world through my miseries and the Lord’s incessant mercies.
The school years
I attended state schools, from elementary school (in which I even got suspended from lessons for several days, because I was involved in a thick stone throwing… friendly, right in front of the school building) to gymnasium-high school, to University. I lived like this for sixteen years in the atmosphere of the Italian public school of thirty years ago: an atmosphere that was not entirely Christian. What school is today, I don’t know. Then, alongside scholarly and healthy companions, I had lazy and sickly companions, morally corrupt and corrupting already from the gymnasium desks; with exemplary and Christian teachers, others of poor quality and non-religious, not to say irreligious, nor was there a lack of Masons who with evident complacency – an occasion given vel quaesita – pricked the deposit of our faith, already so weak and scarce in these times, in which the school Italian did not give (after elementary school) any religious instruction to her pupils. There was therefore no lack of heated discussions with the Socratic philosophy professor on the miracles of Lourdes (he wanted a missing limb in Lourdes to be restored instantly and, then, he would have believed.) and on the “claimed” elevation of women operated by Christianity (he denied it because there was and is the scourge of prostitution).
Were those discussions good? Did they reawaken some spark of faith in those who had almost extinguished it? I don’t know; but I remember this well: it was enough for one of us to stand up in the classroom a defensor fidei to politely rebuke the teacher, for him to obtain ipso facto even from the most… distant and from the most endowed with human respect, the favor and support: in order to contradict a teacher, everyone agreed.
The “Circle” and the University
Those were the years of Trento and Trieste, of Fiume, of the D’Annunzios, of the Squadristi and of the march on Rome: the name that most resounded in the classrooms, amid endless applause, was certainly not that of God, but that of the homeland. (I’ve always thought that the only way not to make people love the homeland is to always talk about it). A sacred aura of liberal mentality prevailed (or still prevails?), which was practically uninterested in the true formation of a young man: the inner one Much education, very little education. How in those years I kept, or rather made my faith more alive, is a gift from the Immaculate Conception, because since then I had the good fortune to attend a cenacle of youthful Christian life, the Circle of the Immaculate, opened by the Jesuit Fathers of Turin for young public school students and directed by the indefatigable P. Pesso, now of a venerable age. At the time I certainly could not appreciate the singular gift of God: today I do. Today I am certain that without those religion lessons, imparted with so much competence and adherence to our real needs by the good Fathers of Social Affairs, between a football match and a tennis match, in the afternoon of every public holiday, I would have, like many others , lost. I had the necessary orientation and was able to come into contact with truly exemplary young people in games, in amateur dramatics performances, in good works, I was able to make edifying friendships. At the club I tempered myself also for life’s struggles, so that I keep the most lively gratitude for that environment, still a forge of good. I was very attracted to teaching: that’s why, without hesitation, I chose the faculty of literature at the university. Among all the teachers, Gaetano De Sanctis, who taught ancient history, stood out for his moral uprightness and profound doctrine. Without having particular aptitude for historical research, I chose him as teacher: from his lessons we really learned something vital; I still remember the joy of those daily contacts and purchases, I remember the enthusiasm for study that that admirable researcher of the ancient world communicated to us in our twenties. I graduated, I took part in a competition and at the age of 21 I was teaching Greek and Latin in a high school: that of Tolmino.
Professor in various high schools in Italy
Today I ask myself: is a degree, a competition won, enough to teach at the high school? I don’t think so: it’s another mistake (then and… now?) of Italian public education: not letting young people who are inexperienced in teaching go through a period of training under supervision. With how much good, excellent will, enormous pedagogical mistakes are made by the inexperienced!
The stages after Tolmino were: Pinerolo, Alatri, Rome. For twelve years, with never-ending enthusiasm and with only slowly acquired competence, I tried to explain and comment to thousands of young people Livy and Cicero, Horace and Virgil, Homer, Aeschylus, Plato. However, I must say, with equal frankness, that the classical world, although rich (who can deny it?) in so many values, gradually seemed to me, the more I delved into it, so outdated and distant from the Christian world, that a certain sense of unease seized me the more of once. “Why – I asked myself – does the total truth directly revealed to man by God not take the place, in the school, of the partial truths (covered with innumerable errors) laboriously sought after by men before the coming of Christ?”.
From time to time I tried to make my pupils feel what I felt, either directly in the school, or by means of writings (published by “Credere”, the weekly of the young students of A. C.) and commentaries on the classics for the middle schools. For a real need of my scholarly and Christian spirit, I accumulated observations, various material for a review of the pre-Christian Greek-Latin world from the point of view of the 20th century Christian. The fundamental lines of my way of seeing I set out in two scholastic commentaries (published by SEI) on Horace’s Epistles and on the 2nd book of Cicero’s Tusculanae. Very modest attempts, but which reveal a state of mind: to reduce and reunite everything in Christ, while respecting – as is obvious – the mentality of those who did not know Christ.
Even with this school and extracurricular work I was not completely satisfied. I continued to like school, but it didn’t completely satisfy a growing need in me. That of the apostolate.
Discovery of the Magic Word
Magic word! How did such a fire ignite within me? (I can’t find a more fitting word, also because Jesus used it.) I wouldn’t know how to explain it. Books? Contacts with true apostles? Printing, congresses, conferences, study weeks… yes, a bit of everything, but above all, the mysterious grace. I remember the years of high school when, with a white silk tie fluttering on my chest (did I also belong to the much-discussed, semi-secret “white” vanguard?), I walked through the crowded streets of our Turin in search of… discussions with opponents or at least some anticlerical poster to tear and cover with a “Long live the Pope!”
Questionable and outwardly effective displays: internally, they kept the indefinable fire of apostolate burning in our hearts. Later, much later, I understood that true apostolate, the one that builds, is only one, and it is silent: it is the example, first as a human being (student, worker, professional, family man, etc.), then as a Christian. Back then, I still believed in the value of a public demonstration and in the cheers. Trouble if apostolate becomes materialized! Trouble if Catholic Action becomes a bureaucratic machine and seeks to do good more through calls than through example!
Badge of Honor
I loved (and still love, although I no longer dedicate my activity to it) Catholic Action so much. That badge of honor was a shield for me more than once against evil and a call to goodness. I loved Catholic Action for the unparalleled treasure it gave me: its apostolic fervor. In my time, we complained because fascism allowed nothing but concern for the soul: yet, in the end, not being able to expect anything from Catholic Action other than the good of the soul seems providential limitation. I think the apostolic effectiveness of this great organization of laypeople who want to collaborate with the priest to extend the kingdom of Christ, and must do so subordinately to the priest’s initiative and work, depends on the constant vigilance of its leaders, so that Catholic Action truly concerns itself only with Catholic action. May the burning issues of the time never make it lose sight of the one necessary problem for which it has reason to exist and operate: the problem of eternity. It should never worry about numbers, cards, fees: apostolate cannot be reduced to numerical problems.
Apostolate is ferment: it will always belong to the few. A few but good achieve more than millions of mediocrities.
In Search of the Meaning of Life
The position of a layperson who renounces starting a family and yet remains in the world to dedicate themselves to apostolate is certainly excellent and praised by the Church. It is also certain that family responsibilities no longer allow a dedication to external apostolate as can be offered by someone celibate. It is even more certain that virginity, the chastity that renounces marriage out of virtue, is far more excellent than marriage itself. But unless there is a more than special calling—which is extremely rare—the soul that seeks apostolate would do better to choose one of the two traditional paths: either family life or priesthood. It sounds like subtle heresy, when not well understood, the phrase one often hears repeated: a layperson can do more than a priest. It’s actually the opposite: a holy priest can do immensely more good than a holy layperson in the field of apostolate. Precisely because by nature and divine design, the field of apostolate is primarily and principally open to the priest. This is said with all the respect and profound admiration I feel for those beautiful, exceptional souls who remain laypeople in the world, devoted to apostolate. I write this to convey my state of mind at that time. So, what should I have done? My soul was searching… Should I follow the common path? Should I start a family myself, just to prove through actions that the most beautiful apostolate is raising a family with Christian values? For a while, I directed my life in that direction.
A Mysterious Hand
It was then that, once again and decisively, the Immaculate Virgin intervened. Just as for months I was heading towards what seemed like the right goal, the Immaculate, whom I persistently invoked due to a storm threatening my new horizon, suddenly gave me a precise physical sensation: as if a mysterious hand stopped me while I was crossing a large square and forced me—against my will—to turn back on my steps. Suddenly, I felt an unprecedented, unbearable disgust for the common life in the world, and at the same time an irresistible desire for the priesthood, a path I had always disregarded. And it was indeed concrete: one day in September 1940 (the war was already raging) in the secrecy of my heart, I decided to become a religious and a priest. Where would I go? Which religious family would I choose? This didn’t concern me. The decision did. And it was irrevocable: after 14 years, I can, thanks to God, testify that I haven’t had a moment of regret for that decision. Instead, I’ve felt an increasing sense of peace and joyful assurance.
I felt that the Immaculate had infused that decision into my heart, and thus I had the certainty that I would achieve everything with Her help. At my age? I was well into my 34th year. With the profession that was essentially my life? I was teaching at the Mamiani High School in Rome at the time. With my not-so-strong health? With my dear ones holding me back? I felt I had to painfully break free from the expectations of my elderly parents (by then quite old), from my dear sister with whom I had always shared a strong bond of feelings, affections, views, and initiatives… Only the Lord knows how much I had to struggle to break free… by fleeing from so many sweet family ties.
Among the Capuchins
But where should I go? Whom should I approach? Here comes the miraculous part. I had known Jesuits, Dominicans, Salesians, Josephites for years… I had friendly relations with the Redemptorists, Mission Priests… I had only a passing acquaintance with the Capuchins. Occasionally, and I must confess, I didn’t find them appealing at all. Even though I had been a member of the Third Order of St. Francis for a few years, I was a lay tertiary in practice, hardly observing the simplest rule of perfection for those who want to live in the world with Franciscan spirituality.
The miraculous part was this. Upon making the decision, I simultaneously decided as well: I will be a Capuchin. Who were the Capuchins? Where would I find them? Would they welcome me? In the anteroom of a friend’s place, waiting for him, I searched a bookshelf for something to read. I happened to pick up the life story of Ignatius of Laconi. I took it and returned home without waiting for my friend. I read about the remarkable life of a lay Capuchin brother, illiterate. That reading doubled my certainty: I will be a Capuchin. I searched, found, and was welcomed. Today, I am a Capuchin.
The novitiate in Fiuggi flew by: I found it much gentler than it had been described to me. Was it due to good intentions
or rather the gentle kindness of the novice master, who feared upon my sudden arrival that he was dealing with a war spy? Blessed Capuchin life that simplifies so many things: dispensing with a razor on the face, socks on the feet, a hat on the head! I felt perfectly at ease: I discovered that… perhaps I was born a Capuchin. A few months of philosophy followed the novitiate because I was lacking in it; that study, albeit basic, was essential for me to begin theology. Then, for five years in Rome, I attended the Angelicum, enjoying lectures from highly esteemed teachers. But by the third year, having already surpassed the canonical age… I could be ordained a priest.
July 29, 1945: Priest
Since July 29, 1945, I have had the privilege and ineffable joy of celebrating the Holy Mass. Quid retribuam Domino pro omnibus quae retribuit mihi? I know very well that I will never be worthy to celebrate—people much holier than I, from Francis of Assisi to Chancellor Dollfus, weren’t considered worthy—and I know very well that there is no greater dignity than consecrating the Body of the Lord. I can indeed absolve from sins—the first time I heard a confession, I was so moved that I felt like I had the weight of the world on my frail shoulders—I can baptize, unite in marriage, anoint the dying with the Oil of the Sick… but even if I converted the whole world to Christ, nothing would be greater than celebrating a Holy Mass. The Mass is everything. Even the apostolate of the word, to which my superiors have wanted me to dedicate myself for years, is a rather insignificant thing compared to that Mass I can celebrate every day. My priestly words might shed light on many souls, even—thanks to radio and television—on millions of souls; however, only my priestly action at the altar, even if it’s not as affectionate and attentive as it should be, applies the benefits of Redemption to souls.
“I am convinced that…”
It is not Jesus’ divine word that saves the world from sin, but His death on the cross, mysteriously renewed in every Holy Mass. It’s worth making any sacrifice, even for a lifetime, to be able to celebrate a Holy Mass. I think a priest should simplify his life by centering it around the Mass: his true apostolate is to make the Mass known and loved, transforming his life day by day into a Mass. When I was a layperson, I was afraid of priests who rushed through the Mass to… hurry off to do something else; today, they make me feel sorry for them. I am profoundly convinced that the thermometer of the spiritual life of a parish is in a supernatural mercury column: the piety and love with which the priests of that parish celebrate the Holy Mass. The spiritual rebirth of the Christian community has no other beginning: the better understanding and increasingly lively participation, at least on feast days, of all (?) the faithful in the divine Sacrifice. That’s why I try to condense and reduce my apostolate of the word (if God grants me life, when I have a few more years perhaps I will return to my apostolate of the pen) to two realities: Mary and Jesus.
I took a name—Mariano—to honor (at least that’s how I see it!) Her to whom I owe so much. I joyfully think that every time they say my poor name, something of Her resounds. To the mother of my soul (from whose sweetness I taste a few drops in the gentleness of my earthly mother), I always ask to teach me not to preach, but to talk about Jesus.
Have we complicated apostolate so much? Is it really necessary to use so much technique, so much printed material, so many organizational machines to do some good? I don’t want to believe it. God is so simple! It’s enough to become human with humans, just as He became human with us. Perhaps our words lack impact because they are wrapped in too much silk: they are no longer purely evangelical.
Talk about Jesus; and only about Him, to souls.
That’s why in missions to the people, which I have been conducting with many of my valiant confreres for years, even though we use modern means (from print to loudspeakers, to cinema), we insist on one theme only: Jesus and Crucified Jesus. People get tired of everything, even of the most famous speaker. They never tire of hearing the story of Jesus, yesterday, today, throughout the centuries. He encompasses everything.
That’s why in missions to the people, I strive to bring the “Gospel Week” to life, with the sole purpose of respectfully introducing the Gospel book into every Christian home (it’s present in just about 30% of families today), keeping it in a place of honor, and reading it frequently to the gathered family. All novenas, triduums, panegyrics are not worth as much as the Gospel personally known by all Christians. The preacher may come and go, but the Gospel remains. I hope that before I die, I will learn that the “Gospel Week” has been conducted in all the cities of Italy. It’s the most fundamental, simple, cost-effective, and effective form of apostolate.
Preach or Speak to People?
I often hear many say: people don’t like preachers today. On the other hand, I see that churches—despite our illusion when we see them filled on Sundays and major feasts—are practically
deserted by 70% of the Italian population. Whose fault is it? Preaching often happens at an impossible hour for those living in the world with work and family commitments. Why not deliver all the sermons after dinner, when everyone is truly free to attend? Why is there so little outdoor preaching, in stadiums, gardens, for those who never want to enter a church? Above all, why is there so little preaching about the adorable person of Jesus? Christianity is not so much a doctrine (even though it’s the highest because it’s divine) as it is a person: the essence of Christianity is the person of Jesus Christ. Preaching is not “essential” enough, not truly Christian, because we talk too little about the person of Jesus. Speak, don’t preach. I believe that’s what Jesus did, who talked, not preached, with a strained, unattractive, ineffective tone, unlike many ministers of God.
Next to the explanation of the Gospel, there should be a greater emphasis on explaining the Mass, until everyone knows it well and better; rather than useless sermons and novenas for patron saints’ festivals, it would be better to appropriately explain the catechism to adults (but not during Holy Mass). It’s not the evil that causes harm; it’s not doing good well that allows evil to grow. There is only one way to combat evil: do good, but do it well.
These confidences of mine stem from a decade of priestly life, which began when I already had an understanding of the mentality of today’s people, from personal experience. And if I have a source of suffering, it’s seeing how many priestly energies are still wasted, unused, rendered sterile because they are poorly directed or not well corrected.
If I can express my impression, it’s this: sometimes the priest lacks a true “understanding” of today’s world. There is a lack of genuine, intimate, cordial knowledge between him, an apostle, and the world he wants to approach—an understanding that is not gained from magazines or updating sessions, but from fervent prayer and personal approach. You can sense that those who “preach” often do not bring souls closer: their reasoning is scholastic, theoretical, not in tune with today’s true state of mind. They enter seminary or the novitiate too soon? I don’t know (certainly, I wouldn’t regret obligatory military service for clerics either). Is one’s life lived more through ecclesiastical literature than through lived experience? (Three years as a hospital chaplain have given me, even though I am… older now, more experience than all the books on morality.) I believe that the unsurpassed model of the apostle is the Curé of Ars, who never separated himself from Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament except to visit all his parishioners, one by one. I believe that every priest who cares for souls should systematically dedicate a certain amount of time every day to visit (uninterruptedly) all his faithful.
I thank Providence for making His clear voice heard by me when I was already mature in years. I don’t know if I would have appreciated the grace of the Priesthood so much earlier, or if I would have been prepared for priestly apostolate. My experience in the world is of great benefit. When people tell me, “Father, you understand us…” I’d like to respond to those souls: “It’s not my merit, it’s the gift… of experience.” When they write to me: “It seems like you, Father, have lived in the world…” I smile under my mustache and beard, and… I thank Providence.
An Easy Path
My journey has been—let’s be honest—easy. Perhaps the Lord reserves more difficult trials for me in the future because He still sees me as weak and inexperienced in real struggles. Until now, I have always felt the delicately maternal hand of Mary guiding my steps.
Obstacles? I have encountered many and continue to encounter them. Not so much in the convent, in the differences of character among the friars, in the world, with its subtle and constantly changing temptations, but more in my ever-emerging selfishness. That new man that the novice master told me to put on when I first covered myself (I was in trousers then and a shirt sleeve) with the Franciscan habit, hasn’t been born yet. I am still in the antechamber of the novitiate: in the probationary period.
“If I were better…”
Every day, a few white hairs appear, and the conviction is reinforced that the only true obstacle to good—the good that the Lord could accomplish through me, a priest—is myself: it’s my detestable ego. People? I am increasingly convinced that they are all, whether yellow or red or black or white, more unfortunate than guilty. They would all be better if I were better. Therefore, I ask anyone who reads these poor confidences to say an Ave for my poor soul. We never separate from Mary: the cause of all our troubles is not believing enough in the love of that Immaculate Mother.
Father Mariano of Turin
Published with the permission of the Capuchin Fathers – Autobiography – Father Mariano from Turin
Mariano from Turin, or simply Father Mariano, born Paolo Roasenda (Turin, May 22, 1906 – Rome, March 27, 1972), was an Italian priest, radio host, television host, and Capuchin friar, active on RAI from the 1950s to the 1970s. His greeting to viewers and listeners, “Peace and all good,” has become part of the collective imagination.