by Sr. Petra-Maria Steiner
(summary of her talk delivered during the meeting of September 17, 2017 celebrating at the shrine of the Holy Face the 39th anniversary of the death of Father Domenico da Cese.)
First of all, I would like to thank Father Carmine and Father Eugenio for allowing me to catalog both the letters and the documents of Father Domenico da Cese. For me it is a bit like expressing my gratitude to Father Domenico who - as some of those present know - five years ago healed my bad knee. A real miracle!
It all started with the request of Antonio Bini who had brought me a copy of a letter written in German dating back to 1978, asking me to look into the references to Fr. Domenico. The author of the letter was the Austrian lady Ida Loidl, from the magazine "Grüß GOTT!" And then the name of the famous prelate Holböck from Salzburg surfaced.
About six months earlier I had accompanied two gentlemen from Frankfurt - the librarian Dr. Dirk Weisbrod and the lawyer René Udwari - to see the Holy Face and both were enthusiastic about it. When they said goodbye they told me that if I needed their help, they were ready . So Dr. Weisbrod looked for the magazine "Grüß Gott", as well as news of the prelate of Salzburg, who however had died in 2002 and his papers had not yet been made available.
Everything happened then as in a detective novel: Dr. Weisbrod started looking everywhere and the attorney Udwari opened doors that were closed to me. In a short time we came into possession of the first volumes of "Grüß Gott". And so we set up the "trio of Father Domenico"!
I told you all this just to make you understand how this work started. I would now like to talk to you about Father Domenico.
This image of the Holy Face you see now is the reason why I am today in Manoppello. In his first book on the Holy Face, Paul Badde wrote that above here, in the treasury of the shrine, there is a painting of Father Domenico da Cese. And since Father Domenico was a friend of Padre Pio, this painting, created by Angelo Patricelli at the beginning of 1978, had attracted my attention. When my sister and I came down from the treasury, we stayed inside the church for two hours and we experienced the Holy Face in its incredible vitality. I thus understand better and better why Padre Pio used to say: "Please save yourself the trip to San Giovanni Rotondo, go to Father Domenico, it's the same thing!"
Father Domenico is a "fire friar". Both interiorly and all around him he was like "fire".
In 1905: his parents had been married for almost five years when a child finally came to be born, for whom they had implored the help of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Grace and who received the name, Emidio.
About 1909: this poor farmer whose only child, at about 4 years old, had been struck by polio, by infantile paralysis, and could no longer move his legs. The mother confides the son to Mary, the Mother of God - the son was not useful for the work of the fields! But the Mother of Grace heals him - now he had become useful at work!
1915: Little Emidio, at 10 years old, foretells an earthquake. It happens that both his two sisters die in the earthquake and that he remains as the only child of his parents.
1917: at age 16 Emidio wants to enter a friary- impossible! The father shows only hardness and inflexibility. Emidio withdraws more and more in himself and prophesies that other children will be born.
1921: The father yields and accompanies him to the Capuchin friary in Avezzano. In a year he must complete the final two years of high school.
1922: He enters the novitiate in Penne, and takes the name of Dominic.
1925 Until he is 26 years old he is a military chaplain in Florence - fever rises up to 107 degrees, a terrible weakness and illness shake his body. But the more the body is tormented by the fire of fever and weakness, the stronger the fire of the love of God becomes in his soul increasing his desire to dedicate himself totally to the love of God.. He return to Avezzano and then to Cese. When the father Provincial tells him that he must go to Sulmona, he replies that his state of health does not allow him but he says yes by obedience. And he goes.
1931 In Sulmona he manages to attain his greatest desire: priestly ordination. Priest forever, consecrated to the heart of Jesus! And here begins his journey that has as its goal to light the fire of the Holy Spirit in men. For him, this means to purify more and more. He carries the cross of Jesus, his cross - and now he also carries the cross of others who rely more and more on him. The purer the gold, the greater the purification. Now begins a new phase of purification for him in order to ascend to God.
1933 His father dies and Father Domenico celebrates the funeral Mass for him.
In the years 1940-41 he experienced, with the war, the madness of the pride of men. He is sent to the territory of Bosnia. He sees an abandoned church ... who knows what horrors he saw there. But even here he proves to be a true son of St. Francis: he writes several times to the bishop who then gives him the task of searching for the faithful who would protect the parish registers and the sacred furnishings as well as of course the church.
In this terrible fire of war, cannons and bullets, Dominic says the Rosary holding a small cross in his hand. While he is praying, blood flows from the body of Christ: from the hands, the feet, the head and also from the heart. This is also seen by those who pray with him. The holy blood of the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ and of the redemption of the many who die or who are wounded.
In this theater of war, will Father Domenico da Cese become so much like Christ that he himself receives the wounds that bleed as the cross in his hands had previously? Some say yes, others say they have not seen any wound in him. Or maybe they only became visible from time to time?
Wounds are not necessary to be a saint. But some photos I found amazed me. Are not wounds seen?Can it not be that Father Domenico, as he was present, secretly, in bilocation at the funeral of Padre Pio, in the same way carried the wounds that were hidden only at certain times? On this, however, I leave to the judgment to the Church.
From the documents one can come to the conclusion that both his state of health and his love for the truth - which rejected every compromise - led to his early discharge from military service.
In 1960 he sees that in Campli the liturgical garments are not worthy of the feast days and that the people are too poor to buy new ones, so he addresses himself directly to the Pope or more precisely to the Holy See with the request to obtain new ones.
From 1946 until about 1964 he had to suffer difficulties from his brothers. More and more people appreciated him as a confessor and a spiritual father, more and more people were looking for him and became attached to him and this was certainly not easy for other Capuchins to accept. You know how it happens even within families: when someone wants to be something special!
The sanctity of someone either makes us grow in the desire to become saints too, or leads us to disdain the other - who we also make suffer. The closeness to God of Father Dominic, who expressed himself ever more in his youthful character, became a cross for others.
Imagine you are a part of a group photo and that there is always someone who raises their hands upwards, turning their eyes to the sky - he is once again the center of attention !!!
But he did not let himself be misled. In his marvelous child like character, he ascended more and more towards his Heavenly Father so that he knew exactly what he could obtain from Him by prayer. He lived more and more with God, his Heavenly Father and Mary and was quite like a child, so that the outside - this life - he did not care for.
The cross and the rosary became the theme of his life.
Later, Father Domenico went to Caramanico, a village where he was called the "Padre Pio of Abruzzo". His reputation as a priest had spread so much that neither the mayor nor the inhabitants of Caramanico wanted to let him go to Manoppello and tried to change the mind of his father Provincial
As for his health, it would have been better to stay there, as he himself had written to the provincial. But by obedience he was ready to leave. And so he left for Manoppello on July 13, 1967. Obedience always marked his whole spiritual life.
As in Sulmona his priestly life flourished through obedience, so in Manoppello he would reach perfection through obedience when he became the first great proclaimer of the Holy Face which had remained, as it were, lost from sight for around 450 years.
He knew how to celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ; He knew that he held in his priestly hands, after the consecration, the Victor over death and put Him in the hearts of the faithful who came to communion. Perhaps the faithful knew very little about all this - today as then ?!
In the Holy Face he could make Jesus visible to their eyes. This is why Father Dominic never tired of climbing the stairs leading to the Holy Face to announce the good news.
Father Dominic was an ascetic, even though his outward appearance did not show it. He did not drink wine, only beer for the kidneys, he did not eat meat because he perceived that it had cost the death of an animal; he was dispensed by the father provincial from attending the evening meal; for a long time he slept on the bare floor until, by obedience, he had to use a bed. Nevertheless, he had his favorite dish: potato gnocchi with tomato sauce.
When you read his letters, it is striking the fact that he always wrote to the edge of the page. His life was like his letters: he always came to the end, up to the edge, up to the border between the earth and heaven. He was a "explorer of the limits". Only those who were ready to go with him beyond the frontier of normality, of daily life, found in him a father, a friend, a confessor, a pastor, a helper, a teacher and even a brother - a priest according to the heart of God!
And a car that struck him as he was about to reach the sidewalk put an end to his life here on earth and to open the door of eternity. But with his death his work is not finished, indeed, his task has spread to the whole world.
All of us who are here today, like all those who collaborate to make known the Holy Face, are following in his footsteps.
To conclude, I would like to tell you about an episode that Mrs Ida Loidl reports in her magazine, writing as follows:
«Father Domenico said that when you have a problem or need help, send me your guardian angel and say to him:" Angel of God, you are my keeper, go to Father Domenico and tell him in my name (and here you have to add your name) that I need this grace '».
When I, several years later, went to Manoppello, he saw me from afar and exclaimed: "Ah, here is the lady who sends me the angels around midnight". I was a bit 'dazed but he reassured me by adding: "Keep doing so, you are a mother and mothers have so many things to do!" -
And I assure you that he continues to do so today, if we send him our guardian angel. Try it!