THE AGE OF THE MIRACLE
Trivolzio: the little Lourdes in the Po Valley
February 1995-February 2005: the devotion of Don Giussani and the surprises of the Lord. The testimony of Don Angelo Beretta, parish priest of the parish of the Saint Martyrs Cornelius and Cyprian in Trivolzio, where the body of Saint Riccardo Pampuri is preserved and venerated
by Angelo Beretta
Trivolzio is a small town (little more than a thousand inhabitants), situated between Milan and Pavia. The parish has an imposing bell tower (one can see it from the Milan-Genoa highway) and a beautiful church built in 1500 by the Franciscans, who were then driven out by Napoleon.
In the church lies the body of a saint, born here: Riccardo Pampuri. Until 1995 he was considered one of the many saints proclaimed by Pope Wojtyla.
Saint Riccardo Pampuri was born in Trivolzio, worked for seven years as local doctor in Morimondo, at thirty entered the Order of the Fatebenefratelli and died young, at 33. He was buried (1930) in the cemetery of Trivolzio and then removed in 1951 to the parish church and immediately granted graces and miracles to those who invoked him, but he was known only in our area and by the Fatebenefratelli (he was their first saint after their founder Saint John of God).
Through Saint Riccardo, here in Trivolzio since February 1995 humanly unimaginable things have happened of which I have been the witness, things not conceived or programmed by me: I have restricted myself to not hampering what the Lord has wanted and brought about.
I would like to try to say something of all that happened between February 1995 and February 2005.
Let me begin by introducing myself
I was born in 1938 in Pavia and have always lived here in the Pavia region.
At the age of twelve I entered the seminary and thirteen years later, on 28 June 1963, I became a priest. I became a priest to proclaim Jesus Christ. Having, as Saint John says, believed in the Love of God, I became a priest to announce and spread that Love. My first five years as priest were spent with great enthusiasm in an Oratory on the outskirts of Pavia; then I taught religion in school and I was parish priest first in a small village where the attendance at services was very high and then in a larger town, very much bound at the time to a certain type of ideology, where the people came rarely to church (it was by going to Lourdes that I began to realize that a great many people still went to church, something that is now clear to me every day in Trivolzio).
In 1988 I retired from the school and the bishop sent me to Trivolzio telling me that I would find a large fine Oratory and a Blessed: Riccardo Pampuri. To tell the truth I must say that I felt very attracted by the Oratory in which I thought I would succeed in doing great things with the children and young people, while I knew little about Saint Riccardo. And I immediately began to renovate the Oratory, even if, since the town was not growing, families were getting old and the number of children decreasing. A year and a half after my arrival in Trivolzio (1 November 1989), Riccardo Pampuri was proclaimed saint. And I had the luck of concelebrating the canonization mass with the Pope. It was a moving event, around the altar were almost all the inhabitants of Trivolzio. I was there with the Pope, cardinals, bishops... me, poor priest, who however had the good luck of being parish priest of Trivolzio, the saint’s home. Back home we organized big festivities in which many joined in, and some people from Spain as well, because the miracle recognized for the canonization of Riccardo Pampuri concerned a Spanish boy.
Faithful during the kissing of the reliquary of Saint Riccardo
The months passed and here in Trivolzio everything went back to normal. Pope Wojtyla made many saints... and Trivolzio is a parish like so many others, at Sunday mass there was practically only us, every so often some outsider. Certainly, there were people who came to pray to Saint Riccardo, but they were few and from the local area. Only on 1 May, the day of his death and therefore the date of the liturgical feast of Saint Riccardo, a lot of people came for the whole day. Next to Saint Riccardo’s altar I put a visitors’ book where people could put a signature or a prayer, an invocation, a question to the saint: from 1989 to 1995, only three got filled. And then while we were thinking if it were possible to organize something special for 1997, the centenary of the birth of Saint Riccardo, one Saturday morning in February 1995 I was called to the church and found it full of people. «Saint Riccardo has performed a miracle», I was told. Certainly, Saint Riccardo had performed miracles, otherwise he wouldn’t be a saint. The people in church belonged to Communion and Liberation and they showed me a copy of Tracce [Traces] where there was the story of the life of our saint and the story of a miracle just performed by Saint Riccardo. From that moment lots of people began to come on pilgrimage here to Trivolzio. On Saturday evenings there are many young people and on Sundays there are families with lots of children. (Some Communion and Liberation people knew of Saint Riccardo already: near here, in Coazzano, there has been for some time a Memores Domini house named after the Blessed Riccardo Pampuri, and Lorenzo Frugiuele, who has written a verse life of Saint Riccardo, was already coming before 1995 to thank him for his help during his illness).
A month later (March 1995) Tracce published the life and miracles of another saint, Giuseppe Moscati of Naples, a doctor contemporary of Saint Riccardo, but the people of Naples came to Trivolzio. Since then, since February 1995, the church is full every Saturday evening and every Sunday. Only on Christmas morn there are almost no outsiders, there’s only us of Trivolzio.
At times, especially in the first months of 1995, I wondered on Sunday mornings: will so many people come again today? And then the church filled up. Yet in Trivolzio there’s no restaurant, there’s nothing in particular: there is only a saint and the people come only for this. When it’s not cold, in the oratory, in the open, there are as many as three hundred people picnicking... In winter there’s only a hall that doesn’t hold more than a hundred. And people come from all over Italy and, we may say, even from all over the world. Now there are groups organizing periodic pilgrimages to Trivolzio from all parts of Italy – not only from Milan, Turin, Bologna, Genoa, but also from Palermo, Bari, Verona, Cagliari, Venice. It’s very pleasant to see numerous groups of young people, of families, of friends all coming here together to ask for healing, favors or just help in daily life.
A meeting with Monsignor Giussani
The person who brought Saint Riccardo to the notice of Communion and Liberation was Monsignor Giussani. I don’t belong to Communion and Liberation, I had heard about it from Don Giulio Bosco, a seminary friend of mine who, after becoming priest, went to Milan to study and began Communion and Liberation in Pavia. Unfortunately Don Giulio died young in a climbing accident and I had no further occasion to get to know Communion and Liberation. Our seminary rector, afterwards bishop, Monsignor Luigi Maverna, told us that we must be priests of Jesus Christ. Today, even without belonging to Communion and Liberation, I find myself in the midst of people from Communion and Liberation, and by now we know each other well. The first times the Communion and Liberation people came here to church with a certain trepidation, but then, seeing themselves welcomed, they come ever more gladly. I’m convinced that we must pay attention to what the Lord accomplishes amongst us and encourage the good even if we haven’t organized it.
Coming back to Monsignor Giussani. I met him the first time he came to celebrate Saint Riccardo’s mass. They’d told me on the phone that a priest would be here at 11 to celebrate holy mass. While I was preparing the altar, I saw a priest in church and asked him whether he had to celebrate. A bit later I asked him whether he had phoned. He said no, and I invited him to wait, went out into the church square and saw Monsignor Giussani arriving. It was the first time I had met him, yet after a few words it seemed as if he’d known me for ever. After saying mass, he came to the Oratorio for a coffee, not with milk, but with a little grappa. We talked and I really felt at ease. At a certain point he asked me why we didn’t buy the house on the side of the church square, that had just become empty, so as to create a reception centre. I was perplexed, but he encouraged me by saying: «I’ll send you the money for the deposit», to the surprise of the people with him. That was the beginning of the plan for a reception, refreshment and spirituality center that, after ten years of toing-and-froing, we now hope to open soon. All this came out of the encouragement, the help, the enthusiasm that Monsignor Giussani passed on to me in his visits to Saint Riccardo here in Trivolzio.
The visitors’ books placed next to the urn of Saint Riccardo
Trivolzio is now known as “little Lourdes” because of the many miracles and favors that Saint Riccardo obtains from the Lord for all those who invoke him. Many of them are reported in the visitors’ books next to the urn of Saint Riccardo (some have been reported by Gabriella Meroni in her book A San Riccardo, Piemme). There are many favors and miracles not published, but made known only to friends, for which Saint Riccardo is thanked there in the visitors’ book. Close to the urn of Saint Riccardo there are not just one but now four visitors’ books and if from 1989 to 1995 only three were filled, from 1995 to today as many as 143 have been filled, with an average of more than one a month. News of miracles comes not only from every part of Italy, but also from North and South America, from Africa, from Asia. In the church of Saint John, in Minnesota, there is a statue of Saint Riccardo, donated by Monsignor Giussani, before which the patients of the Mayo Clinic go to pray and ask help. I should stress that the miracles are not only healings, but also conversions, help in accepting the will of God in moments of difficulty. There are couples then that have children born to them, there are young lads and girls who not only obtain help for examinations or for work, but also in finding the right lifelong partner. In particular very many come to ask for help in understanding the plan God has for them and in fitting in with His design.
How the devotion spreads
Devotion to Saint Riccardo began to spread among the adherents of Communion and Liberation in particular through the words of Monsignor Giussani. But devotion to our saint is spreading ever wider, even beyond the bounds of Communion and Liberation, above all by word of mouth. There was also the television program “Miracoli” in which Saint Riccardo was introduced. After the program hundreds of calls and letters arrived asking for information and images of the saint. Piero Vigorelli, creator of the program, has also published a book Miracoli, currently in paperback, which also contains my telephone number: not a week passes that I don’t receive calls from people from all over Italy with requests for information. Now we even have a website, which has prayers in various languages and information on what is happening here in Trivolzio. We hope to be able to improve it constantly.
The reception center near the parish church of Trivolzio and some small images of Saint Riccardo
Everything that has happened since February 1995 has not come about because of a pre-established plan or design on our part: all I have done is to say yes to accepting and encouraging what the Lord points to. Everything has arisen spontaneously.
At the start the people of Trivolzio were disconcerted: they no longer had the room they’d always had in church. But then they accepted the pilgrims. I have sought to understand the plan of God and to accept and encourage it and our church has become the “house” of all those who come to seek help, support, grace through Saint Riccardo.
Nobody has tried take advantage of the crowd of people, there is just one person – not from Trivolzio – who on some Sundays comes to sell honey. I, who felt more at home in the Oratory, have found myself helping give birth to, creating, a shrine with everything that involves: objects, images, souvenirs... People asked for something that would make them feel close to the saint.
At the start there were those who predicted that it wouldn’t last more than six months. Ten years have passed since February 1995 and we are still here, we’re even are about to open a Center of spirituality in relation to Saint Riccardo. For me it’s been splendid to get to know more about Saint Riccardo, reading his letters and the testimonies of those who knew him. He is the saint of the ordinary life: doing everything every day with love and putting God, who for him was “all”, at the center of life. During these years I have understood that one must let the Lord have His way, putting one’s trust in Him. His times and ways are unforeseeable and are not as we think and would like.
A popular saint
There are a great many saints in the Church but some, such as Saint Anthony, Saint Rita, Padre Pio, are better known and invoked by people. Saint Riccardo also is becoming ever more known and popular. What strikes one is his ordinariness: a local doctor, we would say today, who worked among people, living a normal life, but with love («do everything, even the small things, with great love»), a constant and daily love that becomes heroic. One is struck by the way that Riccardo manages to enter the minds of young people who feel him one of themselves. They ask his help in the various moments of their lives: studying, working, emotional problems and, for the future, for family life. Saint Riccardo lived among young people and tried to give them enthusiasm and love for Jesus Christ. One is also struck by the enthusiasm with which children come to kiss his reliquary and how families invoke him as doctor of bodies and souls.
The bell tower and tympanum of the church of Trivolzio
Here at Saint Riccardo’s there are no particular functions. We try to perform the liturgy properly, in particular Holy Mass, and at the end of Mass, on Saturday evening and Sunday, there is the kissing of the saint’s reliquary. This kiss (those who don’t want to kiss, but usually they all do, can also just touch the reliquary), is meant as a sign of closeness, as the people in Palestine touched the robe of Jesus, it is meant as a gesture of love toward a friend of whom we are asking help. And then we try to encourage confessions. Those who come to ask a favor understand that for Saint Riccardo to listen to them he wants them to be friends with the Lord and that can be so only if we are in God’s grace. And so it happens that people come who for ten, twenty, or even fifty years, haven’t confessed and who feel the need to have the grace of God in their hearts. During every mass we say a prayer for all the intentions of those who come to ask help of Saint Riccardo. On Sundays, at 4pm, we celebrate mass for the intentions of all those who have come during the week to Saint Riccardo to place their trust in him by presenting him all their needs and problems.
The little Lourdes in the Po Valley
God chooses places where to make His presence felt in particular ways. In these years He has chosen the church of Trivolzio in order to give, through the instrumentality of Saint Riccardo, help and grace. It is He, the Lord, who has chosen. We have tried not to hamper His choice and to be hospitable to all those who come here. Saint Riccardo continues to intercede with the Lord and to give us his help and his graces.
(This testimony was written in 2005 after the death of Don Giussani on 22 February 2005)