As a couple of days ago I said Mass in the Basilica of St Paul outside the Walls I reflected on Eugene’s visit to the church in 1826. What he saw wasn’t an uplifting scene. The magnificent basilica was turned into ashes and ruins after the fatal fire from July 1823. It happened during the final weeks of Pope Pius VII who was gravely ill. The health of the Pontiff was deteriorating so badly that no one dared to tell him what had happened. The Pope died a few week later without knowing that the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls was gone. The new Pope Leo XII was responsible for rebuilding of the church but being unable to fund it he made an appeal to the rest of the Catholic World. He received a huge response not just from Catholics. For example Russian Ruler, Czar Nicholas I donated blocs of malachite and other materials that were used to make altars, King Fuad I of Egypt gave columns and windows made of the finest alabaster. When Eugene was in Rome it was still early days of appeal and not much had been done. He reflected whether it was possible to rebuild what was lost. I think that looking at the building that was destroyed by flames he saw in its ruins the image of his beloved Church in France that was turned in to ruins by the French Revolution. He and his Oblates had a desire to rebuild the Catholic Church in France. As he was waiting for the decision of Pope he saw all the difficulties pilling up in front of the young congregation of the Missionaries he founded 10 years before. However as an old bishop he had an extra joy. After attending the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 1954 he and the other bishops present in Rome gathered around Pope Pius IX who on December 10 consecrated the Rebuilt Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls. This wasn’t the only joy he was experiencing. As he was watching the Holy Father performing rites of the blessing of the rebuilt church he was recalling how much his Oblates had grown in numbers and responsibilities since that day in 1826 when he was here watching the burnt basilica. With the growth of his Congregation the Church was growing in France and in overseas where the oblates ministered. Those who come to the Basilica today can find four big marble tablets in the walls of the sanctuary with the names of all the bishops who attended that celebration on 10th of December 1854. Among the names there is also the name of Bishop of Marseilles Eugene de Mazenod. When he was canonized by Blessed John Paul II in 1995, the Oblates and the friends of the Oblates gathered in this very Basilica to celebrate the thanksgiving Mass for the gift of the new saint, Saint Eugene de Mazenod, Bishop of Marseilles and the Founder of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Fr Daniel OMI
An Oblate Priest