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from issue no. 04 - 2004

SAINTS. Annibale Maria Di Francia and Luigi Orione

«You are the Good Samaritan…»

... They all know; I know it better than anybody». So Ernesto Buonaiuti wrote to Don Orione. Don Roberto Simionato, General of the Congregation of the Little Work of Divine Providence, talks of the magnanimity and the ardor of the founder

by Giovanni Cubeddu

Don Orione on the steps of the San Filippo Institute in a photo of 1938

Don Orione on the steps of the San Filippo Institute in a photo of 1938

The headquarters of the Little Work of Divine Providence is in Rome on the Appian Way, behind the parish church of Ognissanti, that Don Orione himself had built.
It’s there we meet the General of the Congregation, Don Roberto Simionato, to speak about Don Orione who on Sunday 16 May is to be canonized.
«I believe in the grace that comes from a canonization. We’ve been waiting for it for years, since 1980, from the date of the beatification of Don Orione. That he was a saint, we knew already in our hearts, from our knowledge of his life and from the miracles seen and happened. It’s a great and fine responsibility before God to be sons of Don Orione, of Saint Luigi Orione. They’ll look at him and they’ll look at us, and that will force us to be humble, to ask still more help of God and of Don Orione».

What do you love most in Don Orione?
ROBERTO SIMIONATO: His person and his passion. When I was younger and I read his writings, sometimes his always asking something more of himself and his followers seemed emphatic, wanting to do for Jesus and for the Church something more than all the others. Now, his ardor is what stays most in my eyes and soul. He spent everything for Jesus, Don Orione, and he was, is, one who looks to the facts, because according to him «people have had a bellyful of words».
The Pope has said that Don Orione «had the tempering and the heart of the apostle Paul…».
SIMIONATO: And since then we Orione Fathers have made the apostle Paul more our own.
And the Pope added that Don Orione was «tender and sensitive to the point of tears».
SIMIONATO: Luigi Orione was an austere man, with that vein of manliness there once was, who seemed unsusceptible to tears. But more than one person who knew him has told me of his tenderness and compassion. To those who were in difficulty or without any family support, he knew how to say: «From this moment I shall be your father and mother», taking their face between his hands.
«...Tireless and courageous to the point of daring».
SIMIONATO: He was among the first to rush to the help of the earthquake victims of Messina and of Reggio Calabria, and he stayed years in Sicily, though his Family was still very new and had few members… As he did again after the Avezzano earthquake.
Don Orione asked his religious to be the pope’s “advance troops”, the pope’s “Garibaldini” and said: «I don’t want presumptuous people, but not rabbits either» and «cowardliness is contrary to the spirit of our institute». In 1981, when rewriting the constitutions, some of us wondered whether it was proper to leave in that quotation, as if other institutes in the Church were made up of cowards… But in the end we respected our saintly founder, because for him courage, generosity comes from God, because it is He who gives us «a courage much greater than the strength we feel».
Paul VI in the courtyard at San Filippo on his visit in March 1965

Paul VI in the courtyard at San Filippo on his visit in March 1965

«...Approaching important people in politics and culture, enlightening men without faith, converting sinners…».
SIMIONATO: Orione’s relations with Modernism – Ernesto Buoniauti, Romolo Murri, Tommaso Gallarati Scotti, etc. – are a fine and well-known chapter of his apostolate. Buonaiuti wrote him: «You are the Good Samaritan. Everybody knows it; I know it better than anybody». In order to do good, Don Orione got on the inside of problems. He even wrote to Mussolini, «as an Italian and follower of the pope», to get him to decide to close the Roman question and arrive at a reconciliation between State and Church in Italy. He was requested by popes and Vatican ministries as mediator in delicate questions – for example that of Father Pio of Pietrelcina in the difficult years – to resolve controversial situations, to approach priests distanced because of their ideas or lapsed from their priestly condition.
Where does the Little Work of Divine Providence stand today?
SIMIONATO: In thirty-two Countries. The first expedition, on the suggestion of Pius X, was for the “Roman Patagonia”, beyond Porta San Giovanni and in the surrounding countryside. The present Appia neighborhood grew up around the parish of Ognissanti and the San Filippo Institute. He sent missionaries and was himself a missionary in Latin America from 1921 to 1922 and between 1934 and 1937. In Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay there are still many communities that were founded by Don Orione himself. He went to Chile by plane. In 1923 he set up his congregation in Poland, still flourishing with religious and nuns today (the Secretary of the Polish Episcopal Conference, Bronislaw Dabrowski, has been an Orione bishop for 25 years). He spread the congregation eastwards to Palestine, Rhodes, Albania. Then towards the Anglo-Saxon world, England and the United States. After the founder’s death there was no slackening in the missionary urge, it went on to other countries in Latin America such as Venezuela, Mexico, Peru, and then some countries in Africa, such as Madagascar. After the fall of the Berlin Wall we answered the request for help from the Churches of Eastern Europe: we are in Romania, Bielorussia, the Ukraine… The most recent expeditions of the Orione Fathers are to the Philippines and India.
And Russia?
SIMIONATO: Don Orione aspired to the unification of the Churches, so that – as they said at the time - «the confusion of the tabernacles» might disappear. Don Orione said outright that the move to Poland - semper fidelis to the Christian faith and devotion to the papacy – was to look East, to some day enter Russia, to work for unity with the sister but separated Churches.
There is a mark of the passion of Don Orione for the East in the heartfelt welcome he gave to a group of Armenian refugees who had escaped the slaughter of their people. Eight of them became clerics of the congregation. He respected their rite and customs and already dreamed of departing with them for new frontiers of charity.
«In everything that doesn’t harm and diminish the spirit of God, the faith, doctrine, morals, the Church, the rules, let us adopt the customs, the usages of the different peoples to win them over, as the apostle Paul says, so as to be able to do greater good,» Don Orione said.
I don’t think that the word inculturation even existed in Don Orione’s time, but he was very aware of it in his way of life. For example, he asked his missionary priests in Poland to live in Polish fashion, to eat and dress in Polish fashion and never to make comparisons, and that if they couldn’t speak well of someone, they were to keep quiet. He had great malleability and openness that enabled him to proclaim Christ and «do a bit of good to souls». He didn’t want the members of his congregation to have their own habit. «In Sicily I wore a great cassock of the Sicilian kind,» he recalled. «Don Piccinini in England dresses like the Protestant pastors but with the collar. You here in Argentina wear your hats in that way, in coachman fashion, and very well you do.» And he cited the example of Matteo Ricci who had suffered from the incomprehension of the Church for his open attitude in China, but the value of his witness was then recognized.
Don Orione leading a Eucharistic procession to the Divino Amore sanctuary

Don Orione leading a Eucharistic procession to the Divino Amore sanctuary

In all the years you have spent in the Orione family, what episode has made you most think of Don Orione.
SIMIONATO: So many episodes. I think of a fellow brother who at 76 left for the mission, «where there is more need», he said. And he’s still there. How can one not think of Don Orione’s «we must die on our feet»?
When I was a young priest, I happened to send away rather dismissively a person that had come, as on other occasions, to beg at the end of the day, as I was closing the doors. An elderly brother saw it and took me aside with great gentleness, saying: «Don Orione taught us that the poor mustn’t leave us in anger».
In 1991 Cardinal Sin entrusted us with a mission in Manila, in a suburb, the smoking mountain, the enormous city rubbish dump, where we were to take care of 70-80,000 persons, many more than today. Two of our priests went out to live there, and didn’t refuse to offer everything to God, in those conditions, to the point of sickness and death, a few months apart one from the other. Then, by the grace of God, the mission went ahead and we’ve even had local vocations.
And I want to leave off where I started. I believe in the grace that Saint Don Orione can grant us of new vocations. When, years ago, he became blessed, it was like that. And it revived our vocation with the strength that came to us from the faith of those who looked at us, not for our merits, but as Orione Fathers.

Unpublished passages from the Scritti of Don Orione
Archive of the little work of DivinE Providence, Rome

«When people seem torn away from God for ever,
then they will awaken like a strong man, and will understand that their life and happiness lie only in Christ, and in loud and anguished voices will invoke the Lord, the God
of mercy. It will be enough then to raise a crucifix for people
to fall at its foot to rise up to a higher life.
For even if the altars are toppled, and the living stones
of the Sanctuary scattered and worse, while there remains a fragment of the one we adore or the hem of Mary’s
garment – it will suffice, O brothers, that will suffice!»

«May the future belong to the Risen Christ, to the invincible King! Christ is the Divine Word that regenerates: he is the way to all moral greatness: he is the life of all freedom! Christ is the source
of love and peace from which every soul must hope for comfort:
he is the light from which all peoples can hope for increase.
I seem to see him coming to the anguished cry of peoples…
Behold him come bearing the Church in his heart and in his hand the tears and the blood of the poor: the cause of the humble, of the afflicted, of the oppressed, of widows, orphans and outcasts.»
Scritti, 61, 120-121

«To raise people up, to lighten their sufferings, to heal them. People must be close to our hearts. The work of Divine Providence is for people. Lets us go to people. We must shake ourselves up. Avoid words: we’ve had a bellyful of praters; facts are healing, bringing back to the faith, drawing the throungs, leading them back to the Father, to the Church; a work among people»

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