Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Saint Stephen of the Wolf (Del Lupo)

Brief history of Saint Stephen of the Wolf 

The actual location of the Shrine of the Holy Face was influenced by the devotion to the saint who lived in the nearby medieval abbey of Vallebona

by Antonio Bini

During a solemn celebration held in the Basilica of the Holy Face on August 5, 2017, in the presence of numerous faithful, including many from Carovilli the birthplace of the saint,  the relic of part of the arm of Saint Stephen Confessor, called of the Wolf,(Del Lupo), was returned to its arm-shaped reliquary.  This reliquary is presumably from 1642, as attested to in writing by Father Carmine Cucinelli, superior of the Capuchin Franciscan community of Manoppello, by his assistant Fr. Paolo Palombarini, by Fr. Mario Fangio, parish priest of Carovilli and by the Vice-mayor of  Manoppello and of the Mayor of Carovilli. The relic, whose original document of authentication is preserved,  had been removed from its arm-shaped reliquary in 2014 because the reliquary was worm-eaten and in need of restoration, was then stabilized and disinfected, as can be seen from the minutes of December 9, 2015. The relic had been removed in the presence of don Nico Santilli,  parish priest at that time of Manoppello, of Fr. Mario Fangio, parish priest of Carovilli and of Fr.  Paolo Conti, parish priest of Vastogirardi and Castiglione di Carovilli and of Prof. Luigi Capasso and Prof. Ruggero D'Anastasio of the University of Annunzio of Chieti-Pescara, and placed in a glass container, wrapped in a white stole, and placed with this in a wooden box with glass panels with seals affixed. After the reliquary was restored, checking the integrity of the seals, they were broken and the relic was extracted from the wooden box with glass panels, and the extracted relic, re-inserted, together with the original seal of authenticity  inside the restored wooden arm. Everything was, in turn, put into the wooden box with glass panels that was also sealed. The relocation of the relic took place on August 5 2017, in the presence of numerous faithful, including many from Carovilli, the birthplace of the saint.

Mass to Celebrate the Restoration of Reliquary of St. Stephen - Reliquary is at the left on the altar
Fr. Carmine pointing to the reliquary with the relic of St. Stephen of the Wolf in the side chapel
of the Basilica of the Holy Face of Manoppello
A group of pilgrims from Carovilli in front of the Basilica of the Holy Face led by Fr. Mario Fangio 

* * *

The restoration of the cult of Saint Stephen Confessor, more commonly called St. Stephen of the Wolf (Del Lupo), is an opportunity to talk about some aspects of the history of the saint, whose religious life was closely linked to Manoppello.

As a young man Saint Stephen of the Wolf - born in Carovilli (Isernia) during the pontificate of Pope Paschal II (1099-1118) - was attracted - most likely -by news that came to him from the nearby Maiella mountain, at that time a refuge and asylum of saintly hermits.  Forcefully moved by the spirit of youthful hopes, Stephen arrived at the monastery of San Liberatore in Maiella, near Serramonacesca, about 6 kilometers from Manoppello.

Regarding the sacredness and spirituality of the Maiella, we remember that Petrarch, in his work "De Vita Solitaria", described the mountain as "Domus Christi", the home of Christ ...

In the thousand year old Abbey of San Liberatore - immersed in the woods at the foot of the Maiella - Stephen became a Benedictine monk.  Meditative, a lover of austerity and mortification, and strongly attracted by the hermit's solitude, in later times, with the permission of the superiors, he left the cloister of Serramonacesca to stop first in some caves and then, around the year of the Lord 1149, on the heights among the enchanting hills behind Manoppello, where Stephen founded the small and isolated monastery of S. Pietro Apostolo, later called S. Pietro in Vallebona.  His life became inseparable from the history of the monastery, in which he lived until his death.

Pilgrims along the trail from Vallebona to the Shrine of the Holy Face

There are not many stories concerning the saint who tradition recounts as taming a dangerous wolf, more ferocious than others, which had caused terror in the surrounding population. Further narratives also recall another incident. Stephen, who would go around with a donkey to gather firewood, was attacked by a ferocious wolf who killed the donkey. Nevertheless his fellow monks saw Stephen return with the wolf carrying the firewood on his back.

Inevitably the thought goes to the well-known episode of St. Francis and Brother Wolf, which took place in Gubbio in 1208, that is several years after the death of St. Stephen.

The presence of the wolf still characterizes the mountains of Abruzzo, and the Maiella in particular. In past centuries they were even more widespread and very dangerous, especially in winter, when wolves, which generally do not attack humans, were pushed to search for food arriving in the villages. It is no coincidence that the wolf logo today identifies the Maiella National Park.

 These events lead us to reflect even today on the relationship between man and nature, which in Saint Stephen, as in St. Francis - represented a harmonious way of living and respecting creation, principles that are the prerequisites for the encyclical letter "Laudato Si: On Care of Our Common Home" "by Pope Francis.

St. Stephen died  on July 19, 1191 in the monastery he founded, surrounded by the affection of the inhabitants of Manoppello and neighboring towns. There he was buried and on his tomb the legend "Hic Jacet Corpus S. Stephani Confessorius" was carved, which highlights his charism as confessor, so many devotees were drawn to the abbey then, isolated in the impervious nature and far from the inhabited centers. Even today it is possible to reach the ruins of the abbey only by means of some footpaths through the woods.

In 1283 the Abbey was absorbed by the Celestines and aggregated to the Abbey of Santo Spirito in Maiella (Roccamorice), then the headquarters of the order. The hypothesis that Pietro da Morrone went to pray on his grave, who must have nurtured a particular devotion towards the saint, is well founded. It is certain that among the very first acts of the new pope, who took the name Celestine V, there is the papal bull "Etsi cunctos ordines", issued on September 27,  1294, by which privileges were recognized for the benefit of the Order which he himself had founded, including a list of its main monasteries, among which was the Abbey of Vallebona.

The most widespread image of the saint is depicted in the seventeenth-century painting by Carl Ruther, a Polish painter from the Flemish school and a monk belonging to the order of the Celestines, who lived in the Basilica of Collemaggio (the painting is part of the Museum of L'Aquila). This probably explains why Ruther depicted the saint in the habit of the Celestines. In other respects the same eremitical life united Stephen to the Celestines. In  following centuries the famous abbey experienced decline and then was abandoned.

 In 1591, despite the resistance of the people of Manoppello the relics of the saint were transferred to the hermitage of Santo Spirito, about 30 kilometers away. Until then the cult of Saint Stephen was alive in Manoppello and celebrated annually on July 19 with a solemn procession, as Father Filippo da Tussio recalled in his monograph on the Holy Face published in 1875.

It was the strong link of the population to Saint Stephen that led - in the year 1616 - to identify in an area immediately further downstream and easier to reach, the land intended for the construction of the Capuchin friary, to which Dr. De Fabritiis will later donate the Holy Face.

Over a century ago, Father Berardino di Monticchio, learned Capuchin, in tracing the history of the Holy Face, wrote in the magazine of the Shrine (founded in 1906) that the choice of the area on which to build the new friary was much discussed, but that the decision to choose the Tarigni Hill, less than a kilometer as the crow flies further down from the ancient abbey, was unanimous.

This friary of the Capuchins remained isolated until just a few decades ago, when some homes were built nearby. The deliberate continuity of the places is confirmed by the presence in the Shrine of the relics of the Saint's arm and of Our Lady of the Snows, also from the Vallebona Abbey.

Statue of Our Lady of the Snows in the Basilica of the Holy Face

 It is interesting to note that the relic of the arm was reported by the people of Manoppello as being in the Shrine of the Holy Face in the times immediately following the drafting of the Relatione Historica by Father Donato da Bomba (1640, later made public in 1646).

Woodcut dating from 1840 showing the ruins of the Abbey of Santo Spirito 

In 1807 the suppression of the order of the Celestines led to the abandonment of the Abbey of Santo Spirito.  Carovilli, Stephen's native village, finally got the saint's remains. A small reliquary, however, remained in the parish church of San Donato in Roccamorice, testifying to the devotion spread then among the local population. The wooden reliquary - reproducing the bust of the saint - is found there together with some relics of Celestine V, also from Santo Spirito. Testimonies on the life of the saint also refer to miracles in the area and in Caramanico.

Today the cult of Saint Stephen is alive above all in Carovilli, the town of which he is its patron. His devotion also accompanies abroad the emigrants from Carovilli  and in particular the large settlement communities in the city of Akron, in the state of Ohio (USA), where a marble bust of the saint is present in the church of Saint Anthony, and in the city of Lanús, in the metropolitan area of ​​Buenos Aires, in Argentina. To the latter community we owe the gift of the banner carried in procession to Carovilli on the occasion of the feast of the Saint.

Statue of St. Stephen in the Church of St. Anthony, Akron, Ohio (USA)

The feast is celebrated annually on July 19th, with a large popular participation. In the last edition of the feast and procession, there saw the participation of Fr. Carmine Cucinelli, together with a small group of citizens of Manoppello.

To Fr. Mario Fangio, parish priest of Carovilli, we owe the passionate work of recovering the memory of St. Stephen in the places where he founded the monastery of Vallebona and in which he matured his religious life and developed his holiness. Also to Don Mario we owe the publication of a monograph on the life of the Saint (2005), in which the results of the recognition of the relics made by the professors Luigi Capasso and Ruggero D'Anastasio of the University of Chieti was also made known. The same professors will later certify that the relics of Manoppello belong to the remains venerated in Carovilli.

Since 1983, Fr. Mario has been leading the community of Carovilli each year - at the beginning of May - in a singular pilgrimage to Manoppello to clean up the millennium old impervious path through the woods that leads to the ruins of the ancient abbey and then pray in the place where St. Stephen lived and then go to visit the nearby Shrine of the Holy Face. In 2002 the community of Carovilli proceeded to reproduce a large image of the saint placed in an artistic structure in wrought iron close to the ruins of the abbey.

Pilgrims in prayer before the image of St. Stephen in front of the ruins of the Abbey of Vallebona

Last spring the people of Carovilli have finally found a welcome different to that of previous years, with the path freed from scrub, brambles and more, thanks to the work of some volunteers of Manoppello, Venturino Febbo, Santino De Meis and Tonino Romasco: a spontaneous act that in its simplicity opens up new perspectives towards the recovery of a common memory of the saint together with the Molise community in retracing the spirituality of places that still speak to us of the charm of a natural context that appears almost unchanged from the time when Saint Stephen was alive. The same volunteers are working for the recovery of the paths that historically linked San Liberatore, Vallebona and the Holy Face, over the centuries crossed by Benedictines, Celestines and finally by Capuchins.

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Holy Face in the Lily of a Chapel in Katowice

The first enthronement of the Holy Face of Manoppello in Poland was made in Katowice, in December 2015, by the hand of Archbishop S. E. Mgr. Wiktor Pawel Skworcè, in the church of the Immaculate Conception. Everything happened thanks to the interest and diligence of the parish priest Fr Andrea Suchoń and of an active parishioner, Mrs. Ewa Pasko.

The Holy Face was placed in the Adoration Chapel (the first on the left). A local architect designed it in a unique way. He set the case to display the Blessed Sacrament in a large flower-shaped monstrance. In front, just below, he placed the framed image of the Holy Face. He wanted to show that the faithful, while adoring the Blessed Sacrament, looking at the Face of Jesus, can be helped to contemplate also the human features of his Person and to make his adoration so fruitful. The chapel is very popular with young people (the university is only a few steps away) as well as the less young, who also are coming from other parishes.

On the occasion of the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, patron and titular of the parish, December 8, and on the occasion of the inauguration of the recent restoration of the church, the parish priest invited the rector of the Shrine of the Holy Face of Manoppello, Fr. Carmine Cucinelli, OFM, Cap.,  to Katowice to thank him for the copy of the Image of the Holy Face which he had given and to have him meet with the whole parish. It was a pastoral visit and a short mission.

The program of the mission began at 12.00 on the day of the Immaculate with the Hour of Grace, with the prayer before the Image of the Holy Face and the explanation of the Holy Relic. A Polish Capuchin, a university student in Rome, Father Pawel Paszko, who accompanied Father Carmine from Italy, acted as interpreter.

At 6 pm, after the singing of the Vespers, there was the solemn celebration of Holy Mass presided over by the Archbishop emeritus who had enthroned the sacred image, along with a dozen concelebrants.   A chasuble with the Holy Face was donated to the parish priest and a stole and a bronze medallion to the parish priest. The church was crowded with worshipers.

On December 9th, there was a visit to the Cultural and Spiritual Center of St. John Paul II in Krakow and a conference on the Holy Face which was broadcast on regional TV and radio. An interview was given to several journalists. Professor Zbigniev Treppa, a scientist from the University of Gdansk, author of articles and a book on the Holy Face was also present at the conference.

The following Sunday, again with the help of Father Pawel, the rector spoke of the Holy Face in all the Masses.On other days there was time also for devotion, visiting the Marian shrine of Czestochowa.

The last meeting took place in the convent of the Capuchin friars of Krakow, home to their theological house of studies.

The short week of visits to Katowice was very positive, receiving warm welcome from the faithful, who attended numerous meetings, and expressed their devotion and interest in knowing the Holy Face. Now Manoppello and Katowice are closer spiritually, because they venerate the same image of Jesus and have an equal mission, that of giving the possibility to the faithful to contemplate the "true image of Jesus" (Veronica) and bring souls to the person of Jesus .

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Omnis Terra 2018 Homily by Mons. Americo Ciani

Msgr. Americo Ciani, Fr. Paolo Palombarini, OFM, Cap., Fr. Carmine Cucinelli, OFM, Cap.

In the Gospel of John the Evangelist we read: "John the Baptist saw Jesus pass, fixed his gaze on Him and said:" Behold the Lamb of God. "We are gathered here today in prayer, fixing our gaze precisely on the Holy Face of Jesus , it is the Face of the Son of God, made man.  So many things happened in that moment and now it is up to us today to ask ourselves whether we are also new disciples, if we are proclaimers of the same amazing things.

Among the disciples that John the Baptist had attracted there was Andrew, who immediately followed Jesus, but soon after his soul, filled with  the joy and enthusiasm of having met the Savior awaited for centuries, addressed his brother Simon and said to him: "We have found the Messiah, Christ" and led him to Jesus.

John the Evangelist tells us that one day two others met Jesus, they were James and John, Jesus passed by, he saw them arranging their nets with their father, he invited them and they left their father, boat and nets and immediately followed Jesus.

We find ourselves, then in front of another amazing episode: there is a man named Levi, who by now was subject to invaders, the Romans, stood at the tax stand when Jesus passed by, saw him and said: "follow me. And Levi abandoned everything and followed Jesus ".

 One day Jesus invited Philip and he immediately followed him and Philip met Nathaniel and said to him: "We have found the Messiah" and he invited him saying: "come and see". Another time Philip, one day was solicited by some Greeks who wanted to see Jesus and he led them to Jesus. "Come and see". Behold, my dear ones, the vocation is the vocation we all received with baptism, and we have been called to be part of the family of God. And therefore each of us is charged with responsibility among men.

If we were called by the Lord as Samuel was, he who replied: "Here am I, be it done to me according to your word" would we have responded with generosity and clarity as Samuel had anticipating Paradise on this earth. But let's look around: God is not known, Jesus Christ is not known or loved by so very  many. We are living in an increasingly distracted society, we are living in a society that claims to live without God. So we can ask ourselves: why so much violence? why so much corruption? why so much madness in our schools, where, for example, many teachers, male and female, have recently not allowed the manger scene to be set up in schools. How many have even taught  Christmas carols removing the name of Jesus and replacing it with "Peru"! During the recent Christmas holidays, there was a gruesome episode in the beautiful town of Carpi, already destroyed by the earthquake and rebuilt. About one hundred manger scenes had been set up and the head of the Child Jesus was cut off of the one in the cathedral!

My dear ones, never before has there been such a ruthless persecution against Jesus and against the Church! Never before have we had so many martyrs as today. The number of today's martyrs is surpassing those of the persecution of Nero, Diocletian and all the persecutions of the first centuries. So it is up to us to become aware of our vocation as Christians, it is up to each of us to examine our conscience and to ask ourselves: "do I know Jesus Christ?, do I know him well? , what can I do to get to know him better and to make him known to others?"  When the disciples asked Jesus, as in today's Gospel, "Master where do you live? Jesus answered them, "Come and see," it was four o'clock in the afternoon. "They went and stayed with Him." Can we say the same thing too?" "Come and see? "

When Jesus became known he did not give us lessons in high philosophy, he did not give us abstract lessons, he gave us only the example of a boundless love. He said: "Do as I have done, love one another as I have loved you". Therefore, we, today, fixing our gaze on His Holy Face, are filled with joy, we are admiring the superhuman beauty incarnate in our midst. He, God, became humble, became poor, became flesh among us and today he looks at us with that compassion full of love. And looking at us, we forget our sins, our failings; looking at us, He raises us to new life.

Today, contemplating His Holy Face with humility we can say: "Lord, forgive us, we have neglected you, forgive us, Lord, forgive us, we have given too much importance to what is worth little, we have even been taken by this anti-religious, anti-Christian mentality. We have given more space to politics instead of reconciling ourselves. Lord, forgive us, make us new creatures ...

Behold, my dear ones, the Lord today asks us to follow him and to give testimony: behold, today, after the examination of conscience there must pour from our heart a clear purpose, firm and courageous as true Christians, true witnesses of Jesus Christ, Son of God, born of the  Virgin Mary, he who accepted the passion, the humiliation of the tribunals, accepted death on the cross. And on the cross he said: "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing!"

He instituted the Eucharist and the priesthood precisely so that each one of us could feed on Him day by day. O my Lord, we ask you: Lord, take us with you. You repeat again: "try to know me more" and we will follow you, we seek your love, we want to be saturated, intoxicated by your word, we want to know more the Word of God which is the word of grace, we want to know the Holy Scriptures. So many times we learn by heart what happens in the world through strange and beastly information, we learn it by heart, but we do not know the Gospel. We do not know the Word of God!

Our task is not only to know Jesus Christ but to make Him known through our testimony. Can we say today with simplicity to those who are alone, lost, who no longer have hope, who are in the most bitter suffering, to those who do not have anyone to confide in, who are hungry for justice, can we say that we are brothers and sisters in solidarity with them?

 If we are true Christians we can simply say: "Come, I can help you know Jesus because I have found him, I have met him, I live with him, I live in communion with him, because He has transformed my life. Come and do the same too ".

 It is the prayer that I as a priest offer to the Lord for the whole community that today has come to venerate the Holy Face of Jesus, I pray to the Lord so that he can give us this aura of goodness in our lives, so that each of us can fix our gaze on Jesus Christ present here before us. It is the risen Christ, my dear ones, it is the Christ who bears within himself the signs of His passion, of the crucifixion, but He is the Risen Christ who wants each one of us to rise again to new life. During this Holy Mass we continue to pray invoking and proposing to be new creatures capable of testifying to this great and sublime truth.

Mons. Americo Ciani, Canon of the patriarchal basilica of St. Peter's in the Vatican.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Omnis Terra 2018 at Manoppello

photo by Antonio Bini


The appeal of Msgr. Americo Ciani, Canon of Saint Peter's Basilica, during the rite of Omnis Terra, celebrated in the Basilica of the Holy Face of Manoppello - January 14, 2018
by Antonio Bini

On the second Sunday after Epiphany, the ancient rite of Omnis Terra was celebrated at Manoppello, an event with a strong symbolic meaning, which follows in the footsteps of the centuries-old tradition begun by Pope Innocent III in the year 1208. The ancient rite in Rome included the procession of the Veronica, with the pope accompanied by the Canons of Saint Peter's, in the short journey that went from the Basilica of San Peter to the nearby church of Santo Spirito in Sassia, in the center of the historic hospital, probably the first founded in Europe.
During the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy in 2016 , the ancient procession was re-enacted, in which a replica of the Holy Face was brought to Rome, then exhibited in the Basilica of Santo Spirito in Sassia on January 16 and 17, 2016, with Masses celebrated by Archbishop Georg Gänswein (January 16) and by the Lebanese Archbishop Edmond Farhat, Canon of Saint Peter's (January 17). Both prelates, during the homily, had pronounced themselves on the identification of the Holy Face as the veil of Veronica (vera-ikon). In particular, it was Msgr. Gänswein, prefect of the papal household, to claim that the Holy Veil brought to Rome was a copy of the ancient original that Pope Innocent III showed to the sick and pilgrims which is now kept in Manoppello.
This year the celebration in Manoppello - which occurred on January 14 - was presided over, as last year, by Msgr. Americo Ciani, Canon of the patriarchal basilica of St. Peter's in the Vatican, together with Fr. Carmine Cucinelli, Fr. Paolo Palombarini and other religious, including Fr. Pawel Paszko, Polish Capuchin who accompanied Fr. Carmine on the mission to Katowice and Krakow last December.
During the homily, Msgr. Ciani urged us to reflect on the anti-religious culture that spreads in today's society, inviting us to meditate on the authentic face of Christ, urging us - heartily and with his voice cracking at times with emotion - to "fix our gaze on Jesus Christ present here, in front of us. It is the Risen Christ, my dear ones. It is the Christ who bears the signs of passion, the signs of crucifixion. But it is the Risen Christ, who wants each one of us to rise again to new life. We continue to pray invoking and proposing to be new creatures capable of being witnesses of Jesus Christ ". 

During the Mass, Fr. Carmine, in thanking Msgr. Ciani for his presence, briefly explained the meaning of the rite, referring to the tradition initiated by Pope Innocent III, stating that its revival in Manoppello derives from the identification of the Holy Veil with the Veronica, according to a thesis supported, first by scholars (for example Fr Heinrich Pfeiffer, S.J. retired Professor at the Gregorian University of Rome) and subsequently considered valid by various religious authorities.

In this respect, the value of the participation of Msgr. Ciani, Canon of St. Peter, belonging to that small number of prelates, directly appointed by the Pope, who have historically been entrusted with the custody of the relics of St. Peter's Basilica. Mons. Ciani is, in particular, among the canons who in recent years exhibited in Saint Peter's the copy of the Veronica,which has a dark background whose outlines are perceived only thanks to the frame that reproduces the features of a human face (Mgr Ciani on the right in the photo below by Paul Badde, while showing the "Veronica" in St. Peter's).

photo by Paul Badde

  At the end of the solemn mass, a procession with the Holy Face unfolded inside the Manoppello basilica, with a brief exit onto the plaza in front of the church and the final blessing of Omnis Terra, with the sacred image made to turn toward the four cardinal points, in an ideal embrace with the world. 

photo by Antonio Bini

The celebration saw the presence of the choir of the Basilica directed by the maestro Nicola Costantini and a representation of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher. Among the many present, also were Sr. Blandina Paschalis Schloemer and Paul Badde.
On his return to the Vatican, Msgr. Americo Ciani, thanked Fr. Carmine for "the honor granted to me to live a very touching day close to the Holy Face".
How many things have changed during this first part of the third millennium, if one thinks that only a few years ago it was not easy for those who had care of the Holy Face to talk about the Veronica.