1. The prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:25-35)
2. The flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15)
3. Loss of the Child Jesus for three days (Luke 2:41-50)
4. Mary meets Jesus on his way to Calvary (Luke 23:27-31; John 19:17)
5. Crucifixion and Death of Jesus (John 19:25-30)
6. The body of Jesus being taken from the Cross (Psalm 130; Luke 23:50-54; John 19:31-37)
7. The burial of Jesus (Isaiah 53:8; Luke 23:50-56; John 19:38-42; Mark 15:40-47)
I believe it can be a profound means to get insight into Mary’s life which was marked by painful situations which make her such a good and empathic listener.
However this day of Our Lady of Sorrows is also connected to a particular event in the history of the Church. In 1817 Pope Pius VII requested that this day should be celebrated in all Catholic churches as a thanksgiving for Mary’s protection over the Church and particularly over the Holy Father during his imprisonment by Napoleon.
Pius VII was elected at the conclave which was convoked after the death of Pius VI who died in exile where he was taken by Napoleon army. Due to a difficult political situation caused by the French Revolution affecting Europe the conclave was held in Venice’
Pius VII was a gift for those difficult times. In a prophetic vision, in spite of strong opposition, he authorised a concordat with Napoleon which allowed the Catholic Church to be re-established in France after the damages of the French Revolution.
In order to reconcile France with the Church he went to Paris to take part in the coronation of Napoleon as emperor. However Napoleon wanted: to make the Pope and the Church submissive to his will. Pius VII never gave up his opposition and went to the point of excommunicating him. Furious, on July 6, 1809, Napoleon had the Pope removed from Rome and imprisoned in the house of the bishop of Savona in Italy. In 1812, he would be transferred to the castle of Fontainebleau near Paris where he was a prisoner for two more years. As military successes of Napoleon ended the Pope was released in 1814. He travelled through various cities; everywhere he was acclaimed by the people. He arrived in Rome on May 24, 1814. His was one of the longer pontificates; it lasted 23 years. He died in Rome on August 23, 1823.
As I reflect on Pius VII, I can compare his influence on Eugene’s to the influence John Paul II had on me and the people of my generation. Eugene returned to the post revolution France in 1802 and his learning to live in his home country, which he found so different to the country he had to flee when the French Revolution was unfolding in 1791, happened to be during the pontificate of this providential Pope. The Holy Father who was able to look into future with courage and faith inspired Eugene de Mazenod to find his place in the changing world which ultimately led Eugene to discover his vocation to serve the people of that changing world.
Eugene de Mazenod being a nobleman found it difficult to accept the new situation of his country. Originally he saw the agreement between the Pope and Napoleon as embracing or even shameful. He wrote to his father that “Pius VII dishonoured himself by stooping to base acts”
Later on, during his stay in Paris in 1805, Eugene was able to see with his own eyes the happy outcome of the concordat and radically changed his attitude. On August 16, 1805, he made this memorable assertion to his father:
“The one who is not with Peter is on the wrong track. That is my steadfast way of thinking; I will not change my mind even if this tribunal should issue decisions which would contradict my view. What else can it be since I have palpable evidence that everything that was done was done for the better and has had good results.”
That’s why during the Pope’s imprisonment Eugene was part of a secret network of people who enabled the Pope and his cardinals (who were also imprisoned) to exchange correspondence.
After the Pope was released and set out on the journey back to Rome Eugene de Mazenod, as a young priest, had a joy to witness on February 7, the Holy Father passing through Aix. The people of Aix went out in their thousands to greet the Pontiff. On their knees, the crowd shouted: “Long live the Pope,” and asked for his apostolic blessing. Father de Mazenod decided to follow the Pope up to the next city where he was admitted to the papal apartment, to speak with the Holy Father and to receive his apostolic blessing.
A few days later Eugene’s good friend, father Forbin-Janson, also met the Pope and spoke with him. Father Forbin-Janson explained to the Holy Father his dream to go to China to preach the Gospel there. However the Pope was not impressed with this project and told him: “Your project is good, but it is more urgent to go to the rescue of the people around us.
When Eugene learned about this he was very happy. He recognised in the Pope’ advice, a Divine invitation, to commit his life to bringing faith to the people of Southern France suffering from the aftermath of the French Revolution.
I also believe that Eugene learnt from the Pope to be compassionate. After suffering some years of imprisonment and humiliation inflicted upon him by Napoleon the Holy Father continued to refer to Napoleon as "my dear son" but added that he was "a somewhat stubborn son, but a son still". It was the same Pope who also pleaded to European Governments to treat Napoleon with mercy. In fact he welcomed to Rome the members of the Napoleon family and looked after them when they were considered enemies of State in most of the countries.