As I am better orientated in the flow of the course I have decided to use my time in the Eternal City to trace the footprints of my founder St Eugene de Mazenod here. Eugene was a Frenchman and lived most of his days in his beloved France but on a few occasions he came to Rome. The first visit I will focus on lased from November 1825 to May 1826. The purpose of the visit was to obtain the Pope’s approbation of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The second visit I want to recall happened in 1833 (from August to November) when Fr Eugene was called to Rome by Pope Gregory XVI to be ordained a bishop. The last visit to Rome I would like to reflect was from November to December 1854 when he attended the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Pope Pius VII. None of those pilgrimages was easy for him. The first visit was about the survival and expansion of the Congregation. Eugene realized that only official approval given by the Pope could secure the future of the Oblates. However the starting point wasn’t encouraging, the Holy Sea wasn’t keen on approving new orders at that time. First Fr de Mazenod was told that he should be happy if the Pope says that they are doing a good job. However it wouldn’t help the situation. So it was the time of uncertainty, isolation and hard work that involved many meeting with various bishops and cardinals to convince them to the project. Today we know that the Oblates were formally approved by the Holy Father but the Founder didn’t have that knowledge during the long months while in Rome. The second visit I will recall was about him being ordained a bishop. One could say that it was a happy occasion however behind the spiritual aspect there was lots of politics that overshadowed the happy celebration. Eugene was presented to the Holy See as a candidate for Episcopacy in order that the Diocese of Marseilles could have a bishop as Bishop Fortunate de Mazenod, Eugene’s uncle, was aging and there was possibility that the French Government would oppose the nomination of a new bishop for the diocese in order to be able to dissolve it. The old bishop and some others from Marseilles thought that having Eugene as a bishop living within the boundaries of the diocese would provide the people of bishop’s ministry during the vacant period. Unfortunately it made the Government furious and eventually Bishop Eugene was stripped of his French Citizenship that hurt him deeply. The visit of 1854 was on a happier side as he came to Rome to participate in promulgation of Dogma of the Immaculate Conception. It gave him great joy but it also exhausted him. At that time he was an old and ill man. As he wrote in a letter, among bishops who came to Rome for the celebration only three were older than him. However even in the midst of all the problems he was coming to sort out he made his time in the Eternal City spiritual. One reading his diary could think that he was doing his spiritual exercises rather than attending business matters. However it only shows his deep faith. Following what he wrote in his diary I am planning put myself in his shoes, at least walking the ways he walked in the XIX century. Luckily I don’t carry the burdens he came to Rome with. During his first visit in 1825 he wrote that coming to Rome one can learn how to build a dwelling for the Almighty. The beauty of those churches corresponded with his desire to offer to God the best.
Fr Daniel OMI
An Oblate Priest