Leonessa, Italy – Sunday, September 16
A hundred of us participated in a pilgrimage to Leonessa where we commemorated the 400th
anniversary of the death of St. Joseph of Leonessa, our Capuchin preacher and brother. Two buses and a van left the Collegio at 8:00 a.m. and arrived in Leonessa around 10:45 a.m. The winding roads with their hairpin curves reminded me of trips into the mountains. Leonessa is about 1000 meters (around 3000 feet) above sea level and has snow in winter, enough snow for skiing. (I saw some ski lifts.)
When we arrived we were treated to some mid-morning snacks at the Hotel de la Torre (wonderful Italian pastries, juices, etc.) before heading through the gate and into the city. It’s a small town, “tiny” is a better word. Its streets reminded me of walking through a typical ski town in Colorado. The buildings, of course, were much older.
Christopher Popravak’s Italian ancestry comes from the Abruzzo area and he was quite proud to be in the homeland of his grandparents.
At the shrine of St. Joseph of Leonessa, we were given a lengthy talk on his life by the curator. The shrine and all its contents (including Joseph’s body and all the other relics) belong actually to the city.
Joseph’s body, as you can see, is exposed to the public and rests above the high altar. His heart is enshrined on an altar near the entrance to the church.
The whole shrine was built over the place where Joseph was born and raised. He was orphaned at the age of 14 and then raised by his uncle before joining the Capuchins. Joseph is remembered for his preaching, especially in the Middle East.
Mass was then celebrated by Brother Mauro, our Minister General, with most of the rest of us concelebrating. Mauro preached on Joseph of Leonessa as an example of “the New Evangelization.” He pointed out how Joseph thoroughly prepared his talks, and this, said Mauro, is part of the New Evangelization – to prepare ourselves for preaching the word in new and effective and creative ways. The bishop of the diocese was present for the mass as was the mayor of Leonessa. Joseph died on February 4, 2012, and this year is a special year for the city as they celebrate “their” saint.
At the end of the Mass, the Mayor of Leonessa and the Bishop of the Diocese gave talks of welcome and appreciation to the friars. It seems that this was a very big event for this city of approximately 2500 people – bigger than the motorcycle convention that was going on in the piazza a couple of blocks from the shrine. In fact, note the jeans on the mayor. After the mass I am told that he got on his motorcycle to join the other cyclists (I do not have that verified). The friars, on the other hand, walked back to the Hotel de la Torre where we were treated to a marvelous meal. After the meal, many of the friars went to the Capuchin friary to view some of Joseph’s actual manuscripts (passing these 400-year-old documents around), the bed he slept in and other artifacts.
We boarded the buses for the trip back to Rome. It was a good day with great scenery, and an interesting encounter with St. Joseph of Leonissa. I pray that he helps us as we enter this last week of the Chapter.
(Fr. Charles Polifka, O.F.M. Cap from Rome)