August 8, 2016

The Story of Blessed Bartolo Longo and Our Lady of Pompeii

Blessed Bartolo Longo
(February 10, 1841 - October 5, 1926)

Bartolo Longo was born in Latiano, Italy, on February 10, 1841. He was brought up in a family and environment strongly anchored to traditional Catholic values. His family prayed the Rosary together daily. However, things changed radically very soon. 

At the age of 10, Bartolo Longo’s father passed away and his mother remarried a lawyer. At the age of 22, he set off to Naples to obtain a jurisprudence degree. However, at that time, the old political regime had just been overturned, and with it, the Catholic Church was condemned for her alliance to it and was considered a denier of progress and freedom. The University of Naples too became filled with radical professors who despised and attacked the Catholic Church. Bartolo Longo was smitten by all of this and started to stray from his faith. In addition, he had such a great thirst for knowledge that he began to attend séances, which were widespread in Naples, in the hopes of discovering “truth". He became so enthusiastic about spiritualism that he wanted to become a "priest of the spirit" and receive revelations from the “angel”. Blinded, he believed this “angel” was St. Michael the Archangel, when it was in fact the Devil. And so it was that on one evening, Bartolo Longo was consecrated as a priest of Satan. During this consecration, the church of Satan shook with thunder and spirits shrieked throughout. The noises were so horrible that Bartolo Longo himself fainted with fright. 

Soon later, Bartolo Longo began to have doubts and disappointments with the "angel". He did not find the truth he was looking for. Also one evening during a spiritualistic sitting, he encountered the spirit of his dead father and was deeply disturbed. He turned to his Catholic friend, Vincenzo Pepe, who directed him to Dominican Father Radente. This priest exorcised Bartolo Longo’s mind for a month, making known to him his errors and revealing to him the truth of his abandoned faith. Afterwards, Bartolo Longo was able to receive absolution and communion again. His dark past was now behind him. He began his career as a lawyer, which would later lead him to Pompeii, where an extraordinary mission from our Lady was awaiting him.

In 1872, Bartolo Longo arrived in Pompeii to freely offer his legal advice for the administration of the lands belonging to widow, Countess Marianna De Fusco. On October 8, 1872, he was taking a walk in the valley of Pompeii. He was filled with sadness, not far from desperation. Often when he recalled his dark past, he would be filled with doubt and anxiety for the salvation of his soul. At times, the Devil would taunt him by bringing up his former oath and would threaten him by saying that he would always belong to the Devil.

However, in the midst of these thoughts, Bartolo Longo suddenly froze in his tracks. His heart was bursting within him. He heard a friendly voice whisper to him: “If you seek to be saved, you must spread the Rosary. It is Mary’s promise: whoever spreads the Rosary is saved.” (This was in fact the same promise made to St. Dominic by the Blessed Virgin Mary when She entrusted the Rosary to the Saint). In desperation, Bartolo Longo raised his face and hands towards Heaven and cried out to the Blessed Virgin, “If it is true that you promised to St. Dominic that whoever spreads the Rosary is saved; then I will be saved for I shall not leave this land of Pompeii without having propagated here your Rosary.” Afterwards, there was dead silence but a great calm entered his turbulent soul. It was noon, a distant church bell sounded. Bartolo Longo prostrated himself and prayed the Angelus. When he arose, he realized that a tear from Heaven had wet his cheek and knew that his cry of anguish had been heard and answered.

To start propagating the Rosary, Bartolo Longo set up a Confraternity of the Rosary and provided for popular missions every year. In the missions, every day there would be catechesis on the Rosary, in order to teach and encourage people to pray it. A painting of Our Lady was necessary so that the people could gather before it to pray. On November 13, 1875, Bartolo Longo went to Naples to purchase a painting. However, upon meeting Fr. Radente, he was sent to Sister Concetta De Litala, who kept an old canvas of Our Lady of the Rosary from Father Radente.

The first sight of the portrait broke the heart of Bartolo Longo as it was old, poorly maintained, worm-eaten and cracked. Some parts of the painting were missing and the colors had fallen off. Bartolo Longo narrated: “The face of Our Lady instead of being that of a benevolent Virgin, all sanctity and grace, seemed rather that of a rough, coarse woman of the populace.” “St. Dominic…looked more like a coarse idiot than a saint, while…Saint Rose with a fat, rough and vulgar face, just like a peasant woman crowned with roses.” Bartolo Longo did not want to accept the painting, but he had no choice because the mission that year was coming to an end and all the people were waiting for him. As the painting was too big to transport on the train, the only resort was to transport it on a cart full of manure. And so it was, in this poor and humble way, the painting of Our Lady arrived at Pompeii on November 13, 1875.

Only after restoration was the portrait displayed for veneration on February 13, 1876. On the same day, in Naples, a twelve-year-old girl, Clorinda Lucarelli, received the first miracle through the intercession of Our Lady of Pompeii. In 1884, on the anniversary of the consecration of the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, another famous miracle occurred where a terminally ill young girl named Fortunatina was healed. Mary herself appeared to the young girl and said, “When you call Me by the name of the Queen of the Holy Rosary of Pompeii, which is closer to Me than all the others, I cannot reject you.”

In the famous portrait of Our Lady of Pompeii, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, our Lady is carrying Infant Jesus while handing a Rosary to St. Catherine of Siena. On the other hand, Infant Jesus is handing a Rosary to St. Dominic. Histories of the Holy Rosary often attribute its origin to St. Dominic. It is said that in 1208, Our Lady of the Rosary appeared to St. Dominic in the Church of Prouille, France, and entrusted the Holy Rosary to Him. 

Up until today, the painting has undergone a few restorations. Before, St. Rose of Lima used to be the one kneeling in front of Our Lady on the right. However, Bartolo Longo had her changed into St. Catherine of Siena because the latter was an Italian, the glory of Italy and the Mother of the Dominican Third Order, to which Bartolo Longo belonged. 

Blessed Bartolo Longo's story is a wonderful example that even in darkness and bondage, we can still return to Jesus and our Lady, if we accept and cooperate with God's grace. 

Blessed Bartolo Longo was beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 26, 1980. The late Pope called Bartolo Longo, the "Apostle of the Rosary".

New Pompeii and Works of Charity

In 79 A.D., the whole of Pompeii was once destroyed by the eruption of Volcano Mount Vesuvius. That is why today Pompeii is most famous for its ancient ruins which are considered a World Heritage Site. Upon visiting the ruins of Pompeii, one is able to witness the paganism, hedonism and moral corruption which once pervaded the whole ancient city. 

At the arrival of Bartolo Longo in Pompeii in October 1872, the city was not in any better state. It did not have a good reputation due to high crime rate and savage customs. The people were living in economical, cultural and religious poverty. The area was infested with superstition and paganism flourished. 

Bartolo Longo was profoundly shaken by all the misery in Pompeii and decided something had to be done for the people.

Bartolo Longo's contribution to Pompeii was not only the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii but also the rebuilding of a new city around the Shrine. 

Bartolo Longo established nursery schools, oratories and ‘Workers’ houses for the people. Then came his three greatest charity works: the Female Orphanage in 1887, the Male Institute of the Prisoners’ Sons in 1892 and the Female Institute for the Prisoners’ Daughters in 1922. He took care of the children by providing them with education, food and housing. He paid special attention to the children of prisoners because he believed that they should not have to suffer for the crimes they did not commit. Bartolo Longo educated them so that they would avoid the same mistakes as their parents.

The New Pompeii stands in stark contrast to the Old Pompeii. Under the planning and spiritual nourishing of Bartolo Longo, Pompeii grew to be a city belonging to God and Mary. In the words of St. John Paul II, “For Mary’s sake…[Bartolo Longo] transformed Pompeii into a stronghold of human and Christian goodness.”

Prayer to Blessed Bartolo Longo
O Blessed Bartolo Longo, you who loved Mary with the tenderness of a son and who spread devotion by the reciting of the Holy Rosary and through her intercession received superabundant grace to love and serve Christ through service to abandoned children, obtain for us the grace to live in the spirit of prayer united to God, to love him, as you did, through our brothers. You, who at the end of your earthly journey declared never having tired of praying for every pain, for every hardship, for every calamity, trusting in the omnipotence of God and in the intercession of His Divine Mother, continue to intercede for those who are called to continue your work of faith and love at Pompeii and for all the Rosarians of the world. Pray for us that we, after the earthly contemplation of the joyful and sorrowful Mysteries, can with you share the joy of the glorious Mysteries in heaven with Mary, Queen of the angels and of the Saints. Amen. 

Prayer for the Canonisation of Blessed Bartolo Longo
God, Father of Mercy, we praise you for having sent into the history of humankind Blessed Bartolo Longo, ardent apostle of the Rosary and shining example of a layman deeply involved in the evangelical witnessing of faith and of charity. We thank you for his extraordinary spiritual journey, his prophetic intuitions, his tireless endeavours on behalf of the poorest and the neglected, the devotion with which he served your Church and built the new city of love at Pompeii. We beseech you, grant that Blessed Bartolo Longo soon be numbered among the Saints of the universal Church, so that everyone may follow him as a model of life and benefit by his intercession. Amen.
Three Glory Be to the Father