and rejected, will be beautiful this Sunday. Beth Webb traces his remarkable life
Priest's life 'underlined the robust power of love'
THE SON of a poor Italian roadmender whose work has become vital to the Church's care for the elderly and destitute both in England and across the world, is to be beatified by the Pope, this Sunday.
Described as "a man who went beyond the normal limits of Christian charity," Don Orione, the founder of the Little Work of Divine Providence, and the Little Sisters of Charity, led such an explosively revolutionary life, an ex-communist friend of his once remarked he "might have been another Lenin."
He began his work when he was only 21, two years before his ordination. During his life, he cared for the old, the rejected, the maimed and the mentally ill in Europe and the Americas.
His life and work were so powerful that he had dramatic effects on the lives of men like the Italian writer and ex-communist Ignazio Silone.
The two met during the earthquake that devastated much of Marsica in Abruzzo in 1915. Don Orione immediately rushed to bring aid as he had done after the 1908 earthquake which destroyed Messina in ninety seconds.
The boy Silone, who had lost almost his entire family in the earthquake, had heard of Don Orione as "the only decent priest about," He looked askance at the shabbily dressed, awkward priest who accompanied him to a boarding school in Liguria and, as a gesture of defiance, asked him to buy a copy of the Socialist paper Avanti. The request was granted, and only at the end of the journey did he learn that the shabby man was Don Orione.
They became friends and Don Orione helped him subsequently when he was being hunted by the fascists.
"What impressed me most about him," wrote Silone later, "was the calm tenderness of his look. The light in his eyes had all the goodness and the insight that you sometimes see in certain old peasant women, in certain grandmothers, who have patiently borne every sort of trial during their lives and consequently know and guess the most hidden sorrows."
Don Orione began his religious career as a Franciscan, but joined the Salesian college at Turin, at the invitation of Don Bosco, with whom he soon struck up a firm friendship.
He educated local boys, mostly ruffians, in his spare time, and later set up an agricultural college and a school. He then went on to work with earthquake victims in Sicily and Calabria, and during the war years he was concerned with the housing needs of the destitute, and the displaced nuns and priests. After the war, he worked with Italian emigrants in Brazil and Buenos Aires, where he became ill with heart trouble.
His work had no fixed steady income, and relied entirely on Divine Providence. It is said that he once had a 25,11(X) lire debt, and when it was due to be paid, an unknown lady arrived at his home, and coolly produced 26,000 lire and gave it to him.
Don Orione's biographer, another ex-communist and the past editor of the Daily Worker. Douglas Hyde, described him as a man who "went beyond all the normal limits of Christian charity. His life underlined and underlined again. the power of a robust, virile, all pervasive love in an age in which 'charity' sounds cold, and 'love' has come to be thought effeminate."
Don Orione died in 1940 of the heart complaint which had plagued him for years, but his trust in "Divine providence" never failed him or any of his congregation.
In 1949, Fr Paul Bidone a member of the Little Work Congregation in Italy, was sent to England to establish the congregation in this country. He spoke no English, and had only ten shillings in his pocket. Now there are eight houses in England, caring for the elderly and mentally handicapped ("exceptional children"). Their latest home for the elderly was opened at Shorne in Kent last July.
The beatification will take place in St Peter's Square, on Sunday morning.