"The Paolini'—They Are Essentially Fighters"
Assisi has lately been celebrating a diocesan Eucharistic Congress prepared for
by a mission held by the Compagnia di San Paolo in the city itself and in the smaller places of the diocese.
The Compagnia is still sufficiently of a novelty to excite general curiosity, not every
day does one listen to women preaching and taking their places with priests and laymen in the work of apostolate and in Italy there is no organisation corresponding to the Catholic Evidence Guild. The apostolate of the laity seems everywhere to impose itself as an urgent necessity of the present moment, and in every country the laity is taking 1113 its responsibilities as has seldom before been the case.
Historically there are many points of contact between our own time and the late Middle Ages and the vocation of the laity is one of them. The difficulties now arc greater, although we, with our eyes fixed on our own problems probably minimise those which faced the first Franciscans and Dominicans and all those smaller fraternities which even before the thirteenth century had had as their object the preaching of the Gospel and the acceptance of the Gospel as the social basis of life.
Conditions now are infinitely more complex and the modern missionary needs a very special training and equipment in order to be able to penetrate into the mentality and needs not of one class but of all classes. This is what the Compagnia di San Paolo aims at doing.
It was founded some fifteen years ago in Milan by Don Giovanni Rossi under the protection of the late Cardinal Ferrari with the object of bringing back into the life of the Church many who through ignorance or indifference were far away.
The Compagnia consists of priests, laymen and women who after a preliminary noviciate of two years are bound by the three vows Of religion to be renewed annually; they wear no religious habit, the men and women live in adjoining houses but have their chapel and services in common. Their own spiritual life is one of Eucharistic adoration combined with the work of the apostolate to which they give themselves unreservedly, using every means at their disposal.
Activities Among their numerous activities, the men of the Compagnia run a home for discharged prisoners near Milan, the women another for their unhappy sisters who have been saved from prostitution, they organise summer retreats, pilgrimages, excursions, they publish books, magazines, newspapers, indeed one of their members is the editor of the Avvenire argialia, probably the widest read of any paper of a definitely Catholic outlook, All these efforts dovetail in with those of the whole of the Catholic Action and of the Liturgical movement which is steadily gaining ground and during these last years there has been a very considerable religious revival in Italy.
Out to the People
The missionary group of the Cornpagnia started work on the basis that seeing the churches had emptied they would go out into the public squares, into theatres, cafes, anywhere that people could he found to listen, they would use the wireless, loudspeakers, pamphlets, the cinema, anything that could serve to bring back the indifferent to an active participation in the life of the Church, and to fan the smouldering flame of the Italian Catholic tradition.
They first went out in 1925 to search for their compatriots working in the Belgian mines and in the Banlieu of Paris and since then they have been over the length and breadth of -Italy, to sailors and workmen of some of the ports, to the big sanatoriums run at public expense for the poor, to the sulphur workers of Sicily, to some of the more neglected country districts.
Every mission is organised with the forethought of a battle, and the Paulin/ are essentially lighters.
If the town is large it is divided into zones, the people are sought out, almost dragged out individually and collectively, especially at the beginning of the week, curiosity no doubt helps, in Assisi the first meetings took place on the square where the ancestors of the listeners had heard the voice of Saint Francis. Nowhere could the apostolate of the laity point to more shining example! A layman, a woman and a priest, these were the speakers and many preachers might envy their eloquence in which conviction is helped by ready wit and a fine psychological sense.
No one knows their audience better than do the missionaries of the Compagnia and a couple of days was sufficient to break down most of the harriers. One wonders Whether Don Giovanni is the same wherever he goes: in Assisi he was rather like the Pied Piper of Hamelin with all the children flocking after him! To the non'Italian Catholic listener it may have seemed as though in their public meetings the missionaries laid a pretty heavy accent on the nationalistic note, but one must also remember that precisely work such as that of the Compagnia has benefited very considerably from the conditions which are the outcome of the reconciliation of the Church with the Italian State, official encouragement is of great value and their work of social reform runs alongside of much that is being excellently done in the same line by the Italian Government. They wish to inculcate patriotism with Christianity.
The missionaries do not stop short at public meetings, they held other small ones for men and women, girls and boys, dealing with special difficulties and as the week advanced increasing emphasis was laid on the Eucharist as the centre of life to every Christian soul, The consecration of all the children of a place to Our Lady is nearly always a feature of a "Pauline " mission; it is a ceremony appealing perhaps especially to Italians with their intense love of children and the cathedral of San Rufino was full for the occasion. Every Assisan has great devotion to the Madonna del Pianto of the cathedral and the motto per Mariam ad fe.cum had on this occasion special significance, for at the beginning of the week Cardinal Serafini had come from Rome to replace on the Madonna's head the crown which had been sacrilegiously stolen two years perviously.
Propaganda for God The coronation took place in the public square in the presence of all the civil auth
orities with the guards of the Commune and the trumpeters in their picturesque red and blue costumes. The missionaries also held the Stations of the Cross in the open air after dark. the procession moving from one point of the Via Crucis to another up and down the steep narrow streets to the light of torches and candles: the appeal was necessarily to the emotions, but it was a very eloquent one and the addresses by Don Giovanni Rossi, a layman and woman had the ring in them of Franciscan love.
They also held an hour of adoration at the cemetery inviting the people to come and pray for their dear ones and during the whole week similar meetings and services were being held in four other places of the diocese, On the last evening the missionaries were publicly thanked by the bishop of Assisi, Mgr. Nieolini, by other bishops, as well as by the Podesta and the whole intercourse between the members of the Compagnia and the authorities both ecclesiastical and civil was marked by a delightful cordiality and simplicity.
It was surely in part Ihe result of all their efforts that the cathedral was so well filled for the hour of adoration and midnight Mass for men only when there were some seven hundred communicants, a good figure for a small city.
The mission and congress ended with Pontifical High Mass on Sunday followed by a gigantic procession of the Blessed Sacrament through Assisi in which all the numerous religious orders, schools and associations took part as well as again all the civil authorities.
Afterwards they left for their house in Rome, for one week's rest and prayer and then they will be off again in their tireless efforts to bring always more souls to know the love of God.