The Apostle of the Rosary: Bartolo Longo
A Meditation for the Feast of the Holy Rosary
- October 7 -
Consider the story of how the Shrine of the Holy Rosary at Pompeii, Italy, was established, for it shows how the Most Holy Rosary is Mary’s chosen weapon for defeating evil and restoring our Catholic faith. The man that Mary chose to establish her Shrine at Pompeii would be the man least likely to be chosen by any parish committee. Our Lady, like her Son, seems to prefer to choose the unlikely to accomplish heaven’s goals.
Just as Our Lord chose St. Paul, a man virulently opposed to Christianity, to spread the Gospel to the Gentiles, so too, Mary’s hand-picked man, Bartolo Longo, a lawyer from Naples, hated the Church.
Bartolo had fallen away from the faith while attending University of Naples, where he was plunged into anti-Catholic demonstrations. Dissenting priests flocked to Naples, many becoming professors, proclaiming a democratic church for a “new age” and a liberated code of conscience. These ex-priests warred against celibacy, chastity and “old-fashioned” morality. Bartolo wrote,
“I, too, grew to hate monks, priests and the Pope…and in particular the Dominicans.”
Following the crowd and succumbing to peer pressure, Bartolo went to occult meetings which led him into apostasy. In time, he was consecrated a Satanic priest, promising his soul to a demon, saying Black Masses and performing many evil acts. Spiritual war ensued. Bartolo’s family, determined to intervene, prayed for help. God answered. Vincenzo Pepe, a fine Catholic and a University professor, began to meet with Bartolo. At the right time, Pepe made his move. He asked Bartolo,
“Do you want to die in an insane asylum and be damned forever?”
By God’s grace, Bartolo realized his desperate state. After much prayer and patience, on May 29, 1865, Pepe persuaded Bartolo seek reconciliation with Christ and the Church. In a month’s time Bartolo was exercised and finally received absolution, returning to the sacraments. As St. Theresa of Avila once said,
“Patience obtains all things.”
Of all the saints, Mary is the most patient. Her faith is the most fruitful, for before she conceived the Incarnate Word of God in her womb, she conceived Him in her heart. Mary’s faith in Bartolo was great and her patience for him was remarkable.
Mary had waited a long time for her dear Bartolo. But, at last, one day in 1872, while doing legal business for a client in Pompeii, the Blessed Mother called Bartolo to heaven’s task. She inspired him to bring souls back to the true faith by teaching them the Rosary. Bartolo said,
“I set out for the Valley of Pompeii…arriving in the role of a lawyer but was instead, through the plans of God, setting out as a missionary. I was still a blind man and a youth, and Providence took me by the hand...”
Blessed Bartolo Longo, the “Apostle of the Rosary” and “Man of Mary.”
Bartolo gave families rosaries and taught them to pray. He arranged Marian festivals, processions, and taught catechism. Bartolo once said,
“The clergy have the Divine Office, the people have the Rosary. Like Dante’s The Divine Comedy, the Rosary is a trilogy: it recalls the joys, sorrows, and triumphs of Jesus and in perfect symmetry, for each part it has five chants, and each chant in turn is an episode...The Rosary is a poem that takes its lively but simplistic hues from the pure palette of the Gospel; while at the same time it draws its logical ties, its harmonious responses, its entire intimate dialectic from the highest theology.”
The High Altar at the Basilica of Our Lady of Pompeii
As Bartolo gradually saw the people recover their faith through the Rosary, the people began living virtuous Christian lives. Just as Mary had faith in Bartolo, she has faith in you and in me to accomplish great things as God’s little instruments. What might we do for God if we would work with patient endurance?
Dear friends of Jesus and Mary, as we begin now the month of the Holy Rosary, let us not only deepen our own faith by meditating upon the life of Christ, but let us, like Bartolo, be men and women who bring souls back to faith in God.