On Wednesday of this week, the Feast of the young Passionist, St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, we took possession in St. Mungo’s, just for a week, of a very special icon of the Passion of Christ. This icon was unveiled at our Passionist General Chapter last October, and is now on a journey around all the churches and communities in the Passionist world, over 60 countries on every continent, to help prepare us for the 300th anniversary of the Passionist Congregation which was founded by St. Paul of the Cross in 1720.
The icon has 3 panels. The centre panel shows the Crucified Christ and, on either side of Christ’s cross, stand Mary, Mother of Sorrows, Patroness of the Passionist Congregation, and St. Paul of the Cross, Founder of the Passionists. The side panels show four figures representing four aspects of the Passionist Vocation. There is St Gemma Galgani, who represents the Passionist laity; St. Gabriel Possenti who represents Passionist students; Blessed Isidore de Loor who represents the vocation of the Passionist Brother, and Blessed Dominic Barberi who represents the Passionist missionary vocation. Blessed Dominic was a missionary to England and is best known for receiving Blessed John Henry Newman into the Catholic Church, and I have always been very taken by what each of them had to say about each other in that very famous incident. Blessed Dominic said “The door opened and what a spectacle it was for me to see, at my feet, John Henry Newman, begging me to hear his confession and to admit him into the bosom of the Catholic Church.” Blessed John Henry Newman said of Dominic: “When his form came within sight, I was moved to the depths in the strangest way. The gaiety and affability of his manner, in the midst of his sanctity, was itself a holy sermon.” The icon also shows the hand of the Father, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, above the cross, as well as angels bearing the symbols of the Passion, and other angels watching over. It’s very beautiful and rich in colour, as icons always are.
Various roles I have had with the Passionists over the years have enabled me to have a little connection with all of these saints. When I studied in Rome, I used my university breaks to visit places connected with St. Paul of the Cross, including the tiny sacristy room at the Church of St. Charles in Castellazo where he made a 40-day retreat in November 1720, during which he wrote the first Passionist Rule, and that’s why our founding is dated from that year. I have visited the font in Assisi where St. Gabriel was baptized, the same font in which St. Francis and St. Clare were baptized, and also his shrine ai Isola where the editor of the St. Gabriel Magazine kindly printed my ordination cards on their magazine presses. A few times I have visited Lucca and all the places connected with St. Gemma, and I have a niece named after her. Blessed Isodore’s shrine is in Kortrijk in Belgium, and when I was novice master for North Europe, I had the chance to go there and see the wonderful devotion the people of that area have to him; and I have often visited the shrine of Blessed Dominic in Sutton, Lancashire, which he shares with another famous Passionist, Father Ignatius Spencer, (ancestor of Princess Di) and Mother Elizabeth Prout, founder of the Sisters of the Cross and Passion. It was a great blessing to get to all these places, as it is a great blessing now to have this icon with us. May the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ be ever in our hearts. Amen.