SEVERINO, OR THE ADVENTURES OF AN ALPINE LAD, AS TOLD BY HIMSELF AND PRESENTED BY FATHER JOHN BOSCO
ORATORY OF ST FRANCIS DE SALES PRESS
Chapter I. Who was Severino? What led to these tales?
Severino was born in a village which lay at the foot of the Alps. After a series of strange adventures he returned to his birthplace stricken by an illness that had brought him to the brink of the grave. Many of his relatives and friends hurried to visit him and took delight in hearing the stories of what he had been involved in or had seen. One day they asked him to give them an orderly account of his life. "We will gladly come and listen," they added, "and we’ll bring other friends of ours along as well. They will enjoy listening as much as we do".
Although Severino was prostrate from his illness, he still very much enjoyed vists from good people; he liked listening to pleasant tales and even liked telling them himself. "Since you enjoy listening to me," he answered, "I will gladly tell you about some of the strange things that have happened to me, and I do so willingly because it provides good reason for you to visit me. For my part it gives me a chance to make some reparation for the scandal I have given, but even more so because my misfortunes might be a warning to others to avoid the pitfalls that lead so many naïve young people to ruin. Of course I should say that for obvious reasons I will not be naming places and people who might otherwise be subjected to inappropriate questioning. If you see me occasionally overcome by emotion or even weeping over my past misadventures please be a little patient with me. I am but human, and I keenly feel anything that either honours or demeans our poor humanity; but you can be sure that amidst everything I say I will not utter a single syllable not based on fact.
Once word got around that Severino was going to recount his adventures, a considerable number of listeners turned up amongst whom many young men of the district, since they all knew that Severino had studied and read much and had been involved in many interesting things during his extensive travels.
When Severino saw that his room was full of people he motioned for them to be seated and then began telling the story of his life in the following order.
Chapter 2. Severino speaks of his father’s hard work on behalf of the family.
My good friends, since you are here for this purpose I will begin the tale of my adventures in life. As you well know, I was born in a village that lies at some altitude, right where the Alps really begin to be called mountains. My parents were good Catholics and did their best to educate me and bring me up in the Catholic religion. I was the eldest of five children. We did not have many worldly goods but, thanks to our work and industriousness we were able to earn an honest living. My mother attended to things at home, and also saw that the fields and the chestnut trees, the main part of what we owned, were cultivated in good time. My father had started a small clothing business when he was a young man - knitted goods, wool, silk, cotton, yarn.... He would work at this sort of thing during summer and buy items in dribs and drabs, here and there; then in autumn he would head to the larger towns to sell them. This way he encouraged business in our area, and he helped others in autumn to sell their products more easily and so provide themselves with the foodstuffs that these alpine villages lacked. My father had gained a fine reputation and with his modest assets and sufficient capital for his business he was also able to help his neighbours, and thus was much loved and honoured by everyone.
While he attended to these material things he did not overlook the duties of a good Christian. As soon as his children reached the right age he saw that they went off to school. He himself would go over their lessons with them and he often gave up time when he could have been resting to review topics from school with them and get them to repeat their lessons or talk about some of the problems that all young people encounter at that age. Sometimes, while he was eating, he would have them recite or repeat a passage from some book. When I was promoted to fourth grade elementary, I had to study things that were not even taught when he went to school. So he found a good private tutor who would help me in learning and integrity.
Since my mother did not get involved much in the upbringing of the children my father took over that role. I was barely seven when he would take me with him to parish religious functions. I recall that I was so small I could not get my fingers into the holy water font so he would lift me up to do so then guide my hand to make the sign of the cross; then he would get me to kneel down beside him, and would help me in a most loving way.
When it was time for my First Communion, it was he who wanted to prepare me, and for the entire month before that memorable day, morning and evening he would get me to read a chapter of a book called Jesus in a young man’s heart, adding comments that he thought were appropriate for me.
On the morning established for my Communion he spent four hours in church with me. He helped me make my Confession, prepare myself, make my Communion and then my thanksgiving with my companions.
""Severino," he told me on the way home, "in future remember the joy of this day. But remember always to preserve the delights of such a beautiful day in your heart, so that you may never separate yourself from God’s holy Grace by offending him". He had the commendable habit of saying daily prayers with the family. We all got up in the morning at a set time, then with my mother, brothers and sisters, our helpers and sometimes relatives and friends, we would kneel down; he would lead the prayers himself saying the words and getting us to say them piously, devoutly and clearly. In the evening he would do the same; but before it was bedtime he always wanted there to be a little bit of reading about the life of the Saint of the day.
What can I say of my good father’s charity and almsgiving? He knew how to earn and save but he also knew how to spend at the right moment. He often used to tell us at home how he would hoist a basket of various silks on his shoulders and go from village to village to sell them. Heat, cold, sweat, hunger and thirst were his inseparable companions always. He mostly travelled on foot. Hotels, inns, cafes were not places he frequented nor even visited. "My usual lunch," he would say, "was a slice of bread with a piece of cheese, cold water and sometimes a glass of wine which some generous buyer would offer me".
So my father, putting together the small earnings of the business with some of the animal products and the small farm, was soon able to notably increase his fortune both for himself and to the benefit of others. No beggar ever knocked at the door of our house without getting, if not money, at least some soup and bread. The weary found rest with him; the weak were given strength; those in rags were given clothing, and pilgrims were well received.
What else? Sometimes when some poor sick people took shelter in our home he saw that they were helped and looked after at his own expense. Not to speak of the care he took to help needy families, especially if there were sick people amongst them. "Almsgiving," he used say, "never makes you poor; my business began to thrive when I began to give alms. The Saviour said: ’Give to the poor and God will give to you’ and I have experienced the fact that God gives us a hundredfold even in this life when we do so for love of him”. So my father was held in high esteem by all the people who lived around us, and all good people loved him. He was amongst the better-off citizens and was twice elected Mayor. But amidst so many blessings Providence had also sown some prickly thorns.
Chapter 3. Severino speaks about his mother’s apathy.
My father’s business prospered, and everything he tackled earned him money; but what a tribulation he found in her who should have been his help and comfort. My mother did not match up to my father’s concerns. I speak of her with love and respect, but to do justice to my father I must disapprove of not a few of her actions, the more so because they are things you know of, so all I am doing is recalling them.
Emilia, for that was her name, belonged to a family that had fallen on hard times. When she married my father she thought she would be marrying into a better life, and certainly her expectations would have been met if she had been a true mother to the family with the same zeal as my father had. She would dress beyond her means, something my father was most unhappy about. "Emilia," he would tell her sometimes, "remember that it is better to be in rags without debt than to be dressed elegantly but still owing money for it".
She was not happy with just ordinary food. A bottle of wine, a delicious dish, a sugared almond, sweet bread, a flask of liquor would all be things she would hide away. She would go to the market or a fair, but rarely visit the church; the cafe and occasionally an inn were never overlooked. My father knew about it all, often gave her advice, and to restrain her he would keep the money under lock and key. But with all the shrewdness of the greedy, she would wait till her husband was far from home then she would grab a sack of wheat, chickpeas, beans, or some butter, wine, poultry and even got to the point of stealing some of the goods deposited in my father’s house by clients. She would then sell these things at exorbitant prices to buy herself clothes or satisfy her greed. She also wanted her children to be well dressed. My father scolded her severely on one occasion and even threatened to send her away from home. She promised to improve, but it did not happen.
One day my Aunt reminded her of my father’s warnings and threats and tried to set her right. "What you say sounds good," she answered, "my husband is right, but I think differently. You only live once. God gives us things for our use, not just to adore them; stinginess is a terrible vice that I don’t want in my house".
’Sister," my Aunt replied, "you are making a mistake. We do live only once, and therefore we must use this life to do good and not be intemperate. God gives us things to make good use of them for ourselves, the family and our neighbour. You have a duty to look after your things and to save up for your children; you should cooperate with your husband for their good. You do not want to be stingy and that is good. But there is a huge difference between stinginess and squandering. Your husband is not stingy, nor a squanderer; he works and sweats to earn an honest living to support the family and help his neighbour. You should imitate him".
She took little notice of these observations and continued to spend wildly. Certain clothes that were quite good enough for her she judged to be no longer suitable: shoes, gloves, earrings, hats or similar women’s garb - she wanted them to be right up with the fashions. So my friends, rarely would you have seen a peasant woman with wrinkled brow and suntanned cheeks all decked out like a lady. People who saw her would start laughing and my poor father grew angry; he had been sweating blood to improve our family’s lot.
One day my father left to attend to business matters but because he had forgotten some paperwork he returned home unexpectedly. He caught my mother just as she was leaving to go to one of the local fairs. Seeing her in her strange garb he said, "Emilia, you look like the ugliest person in the world; you look more like someone at a fancy-dress ball. What are you going to take and sell?"
"Nothing," she replied, "I am just going to buy some essential clothing for the family". But then, because her hands were shaking, some of the flour she had hidden in a pocket began to spill out on the ground, thus revealing her lie and her theft. On another occasion, similarly surprised, and while still denying things as usual, she dropped a flask of oil that she intended taking to the market to sell anyway she could.
Although my father was of a very mild character and preferred that to happen rather than create disharmony in the family, nevertheless after having threatend her several times in vain one day he got carried away by anger and struck her - not lightly. Matters might have gone further had not I and my sister begun to cry and kneel at his feet. We calmed him down and thus prevented sad consequences.
Despite these events and the squandering, it was through my father’s vigilance, activity, effort, or better put, the blessings of heaven that he was able to create a flourishing fortune. He was able to enjoy the consolations of someone who sees his children grow up healthily, honourably and correctly. All this meant that he could foresee a happy future for himself and his family, but a sad event threw us into the most squallid destitution.
Chapter 4. Severino tells of a terrible disaster in the family.
My father had a heart for doing as much good as he could. Putting in a good word for someone, letters, hospitality, little services, helping the poor and the sick were things he did every day with the greatest of pleasure. The only thing he didn’t like doing was putting his name down as guarantor. "I would prefer," he used say, "to give away everything I can than to provide security for others’ contracts".
Nevertheless, one day one of his clients came to ask him to prevent his business from going to ruin. "If I don’t pay," his friend said, "or I don’t have a guarantor, all my goods will be put up for auction, the business closed down and my family reduced to begging. In a word, Gervasio, (my father’s name) you could save my honour and save my family from misfortune. I have a promissory note of equal amount that will certainly be paid within three months. You know well that these bills are like cash; I’m just asking for two lines of guarantee". My father hesitated for some days; finally he gave in. "I have never wanted to go guarantor," he said, "this is the first time; I am giving in to do something good. Let God’s will be done". He signed and went guarantor for his friend’s debts.
That was fatal! The man’s good will was not enough: he had bad debts and my father had to pay them. My good father knew he had made a mistake, but it was too late. We can add to the above that the debt was much larger than he had said it was; and everything had to be paid up almost immediately. My father had to quickly sell off some goods, call in some people who owed him, undo some of his own capital ventures: but all of this was not enough.
He was forced to mortgage a substantial part of the house and farm that he had worked so hard to build up. In the end various creditors, seeing his business go bad, pressed claims for him to meet debts before the stipulated time. Since they could not do that legally they threatened bankruptcy and repossession of all the debtor’s stable assets.
Absolutely down on his luck, Gervasio did not lose courage; he tried to liquidate what he still possessed in order to start up his business again on a smaller scale but he did not succeed. Nobody wanted to give him credit, and changed times made it very hard for him to sell his goods for cash. That good Christian man raised his eyes to heaven and said: God gave me my fortune and God has taken it away; his will be done, so be it; may his holy name be praised always and in everything.
One evening while saying the usual prayers with the family, he said: "Tomorrow we will all go to Confession and Communion; let us ask God to enlighten us and find a way for us to earn our bread”.
We all agreed and even my mother, who had been quite insenstive to things up to that point, seemed moved and eagerly promised she would join everyone and go to church to call on the Lord’s mercy.
Once these religious duties were over my father gathered the family around him and steeling himself so he would not break down, he began to speak in these terms: "My beloved family, the Lord’s hand has weighed heavily upon us. We started out with little but with Heaven’s help we acquired what we needed to live in an upright way. Now it is all gone. The house is no longer ours, our farm belongs to others, and it is impossible for me to continue my usual business. But God our Father will not abandon us. As a young man I was an occasional bricklayer, and I will go back to that trade. You, Severino, will carry the bricks and mortar, I will take up the trowel. We won’t earn much, but one who has learned how to earn a lot also knows how to live with little. You, Emilia, will look after the other children. I need to say that you have also played your part in this misfortune. Your ambition, laziness.... But let’s pull the curtain on all these sorrowful and useless reminiscences. You stay here and with tight management and with whatever we can send you each month you will have your daily bread. Why are you crying, Emilia?"
"I am crying," she answered, "about your future; it is not possible for you and Severino to put up with such hard labour, so it will be impossible for you to send me help".
"If we trust only in our own strength," added good Gervasio, "we will achieve nothing and die of hunger. But if God looks after the birds of the air, the fish in the sea, the lilies in the field, will he not also look after us? Let us place our trust in him and do what we can to sweeten the bitterness of a sorry future. So courage! Economy, work, prayer is our programme. If we have to put up with privation, it doesn’t matter. We Christians know from our faith that sufferings in life are effective for leading us to eternal happiness in Heaven".
Chapter 5. Severino speaks of his father’s hard work.
A few days later my father left for Turin taking with him poor Severino who now had to swap books and pen for hod and pail. I was healthy, strong, and in short I was soon able to get used to the heavy labours of the master bricklayer. My father, due to his age, found it not a little difficult at first but luckily he met a valiant bricklayer who took him on as a helper to build a large building. And between his good will, what he put up with and his friend’s help he was soon able to earn a modest livelihood each day.
One evening when he was very tired he took my hands in his, and seeing them all calloused and bruised from these unusual labours, then seeing my face all burnt and blackened from the sun, he sighed, saying: "Poor Severino, you had a better lot in store for you than this".
"Dear father," I immediately replied, "I would be happy to do even more work so long as it brings you some comfort".
One Sunday evening I saw him more down than usual; he gave me the usual supper, but he didn’t enjoy any of the food. I saw the intensity of his sorrow etched on his brow, but I didn’t dare ask him why.
"Severino," he said in an agitated voice, "go off to bed and sleep peacefully, because tomorrow you will have much to do". I promptly obeyed, but my beloved father’s consternation kept me awake and I was there in bed secretly looking at him.
Convinced that I was asleep he began to walk around the room sighing and weeping. "If I was just on my own," he was saying, "I would feel this misfortune much less, but my wife...my children will die of hunger". Then breaking down completely he knelt before the crucifix: "My God", he cried, "If you don’t help me I am lost. Have mercy on me". Hearing this outpouring of grief and my father’s desperation, I could no longer contain myself. I leaped out of bed and knelt before him, saying: "Father, dear father. What is wrong? Tell me, and I will try to console you, and if I can do nothing else I will share your tears and sorrow with you.
"Dear Severino, I have had new misfortunes, so go to bed and sleep peacefully".
"It’s impossible for me to sleep if I don’t know the reasons for your grief".
"Severino, we have been working for two months and we have been depriving ourselves of almost everything we need to survive so we can send some money to your mother, but today I received a letter with a note concerning that fatal guarantor business, threatening me with imprisonment if I don’t pay a hundred francs within three days. This would use up all the money of two month’s hard work, everything we have earned".
"Patience, dear father, our future will not always be so bad. I know how to work and earn, and I hope that within a few weeks we can scrape some more money together. Meanwhile be at peace, come, let’s go and sleep; God will help us".
He seemed somewhat consoled by these words, and drying his eyes he gave me a loving kiss and we both went off to bed. In fact Divine Providence did come to our aid. Our good health was in our favour, I was helping my father in the best way possible, and by carrying out our work, at our own risk and to our benefit we were able to put aside a fair amount of money which could provide for the most urgent needs of the family. Indeed my father regained some of his old energy and was assigned other works of greater importance and therefore with greater earnings. It is true that he was not very practical in his new labours and the new skills needed, but I had already learned a lot, and of an evening I would note things and sometimes correct things as the case might be. One pleasant memory that always comes back to me is that in the midst of all these efforts my father never omitted his religious duties. Some evenings we would arrive home utterly exhausted; we would be eating but already falling asleep; just the same, as soon as we got up from the table he would kneel down with me to say our prayers and do a few minutes of reading from a book he always had with him called: Daily pastures for the devout soul.
On Sundays he would take me to sing the Divine Office in a religious community; we always went to the church of St Francis of Assisi for the sermon. At least once a month he would take me with him to receive the Sacraments.
"Never forget, dear Severino," he would tell me, "you can lose everything you have in the world through misfortune but virtue, the merits of your good work, your religion can never be taken away through misfortune". Another time he added: "We have become poor, but remember that we will always be rich if we keep our holy fear of God". This treasure can never be taken from man without his consent!
Chapter 6. Severino tells us about his father’s death.
A year of hard work had finished and my father returned to the family with his savings. With them he could provide rye, cornmeal, chestnuts, and other things of greater need and it seemed to give him a new lease of life. But in January there were new debts he had to cover, and not knowing where to find the money from he again fell into deep melancholy. A friend advised him to declare himself bankrupt so he would no longer have to try to pay the debts he had earlier incurred. But he answered firmly: "Bankruptcy for unpaid debts is a kind of theft, and something that should never be suggested to an upright man. I will live in poverty, I might die from hardship, but I have said that I will pay and I will pay my creditors until my last cent. I would prefer to die as an honourable poor man but with a pure conscience, than live by causing harm to others".
Although my father made huge efforts to show that he was resigned and trusted in a better future, nevertheless his face had lost that jovial look that always used cheer up his relatives and friends. Sometimes he engaged in pleasant conversation that made him happy but often his smile was followed by tears and sighs. Even at night, instead of sleeping he was often heard groaning and lamenting. Sometimes I saw him interrupt lunch so he could go out and let off steam about his worries. All of this reduced his strength, something that he tried in vain to hide.
One day he wanted to carry a heavy basket of foodstuffs on his shoulders from a village that was reasonably far away. The length of the journey, his weakness, and the weight meant that he arrived exhausted and covered in perspiration. He did not recover from this exhaustion. Then he got constipation, fever and a cough, and this had him end up in bed.
The doctor tried to encourage him assuring him that his illness was of no consequence. "A few days of rest," he told him, "a simple remedy that will restore you to your earlier health": but my father kept saying his illness was severe, and he was exhausted, so he had little hope of recovery. To forestall the consequences of a sudden death he sent me to call the parish priest who gladly came to visit him. He stayed some time to help him settle affairs they had in common, because during those difficult times my father had had recourse to him for small sums, but when put together they made up a sizeable debt.
"Father," my father told him," "My death is not far off, and I do not know how I and my family can repay the debts we have with you. This is sacred money you lent me and it is right that it should be repaid. But...".
"Don’t speak about this," the worthy priest replied, "I have already seen to everything: here are the accounts that you wanted to pay. In your presence and the presence of your entire family I will settle these and nobody is to question this any further. Furthermore with regard to the creditor who has been so insistent with you, yesterday I gave him fifty lire, and so you no longer need to worry about this either".
"Father," my father interrupted him, "you have given me the greatest consolation I could have in this world! Thank you a thousand times over and may God reward you a hundredfold for the good you have done for my family and me. Now there is nothing left for me to do than to prepare my soul".
His illness got worse. He received the comforts of our Holy Catholic Religion with the most edifying dispositions; then he called the whole family around his bed and said: "My beloved family, I can see that my illness is getting worse and I am convinced that I have but a few days of life left in me. I am resigned to Heaven’s decree, and I fully trust that my life’s labours will find some fruit in eternity. God has given me many consolations and many tribulations, but may it all be for God’s glory and the good of my soul. Meanwhile, Emilia, think earnestly of the family’s good. I can no longer help you but God will help you if you love him and practise his holy law. Our parish priest has done something wonderful for us, nor will he cease to help you in the future, therefore never depart from his prudent advice. And you, Severino, as the eldest child, never cease to give good example through your practice of virtue. Always remember that your father preferred to be reduced to poverty than betray the duties of an upright man and a good Christian. Beware of one thing that makes me fear very much for your future. This is your great eagerness to read anything, without checking whether it is good or bad. Do your best to avoid bad books and newspapers, as well as friends who try to lead you away from a virtuous life".
"Father," I interrupted him, crying, "you may be sure that your advice will never be forgotten".
A few hours later he called me again, and with great effort said:
"Severino, if you can, do good to everyone, but never become a guarantor for others’ debts".
He wanted to continue this discussion but could no longer manage it. The parish priest came to visit him several times during the day, and one evening, the last of his life, seeing that he was in immediate danger of death, he wanted to stay and watch over him all night. We were all gathered around the sick man’s bed. The parish priest was praying with us and he would occasionally suggest some brief aspiration. At midnight we saw that our father wanted to tell us something. With huge effort he pronounced these final words of his: "Pray for me at this terrible moment; tomorrow is the day of Mary’s Purification and I trust that this Mother of Mercy will help me at the judgement seat of Jesus Christ. We will not see each other again in this life, but I hope we will see each other in blessed eternity".
While he was speaking he was holding my hands: "Courage," he told me in a barely audible voice, "Courage, Severino, keep firm in your father’s religion until death".
Right then he let my hands go then looked at us almost as if he were saying, "Goodbye". He looked at the parish priest as if to thank him; he let go of the crucifix he was holding in front of him, and while we were saying the prayers for the dying, his dear soul slipped away into the bosom of the Creator.
This happened on the 2nd of February when he was 47 years old. "O my ever beloved father, why have you abandoned me just at the time I had greatest need of you! But God has called you to enjoy what is truly good. And you haven’t abandoned me because you will pray for me from Heaven so that I may exit from this abyss that I have unfortunately been cast into.
Chapter 7. Severino speaks of games at the Oratory.
My family was really in a very sad situation but we needed to resolve something at least to provide the most necessary things for life. Some relatives took care of my younger siblings; my mother seemed to resent so many blows of adverse fortune, but began working as a seamstress which was something she had learned while growing up. And following my father’s advice, I put my tools across my shoulders and set off for Turin again. Up till then I was always guided by my father’s prudence, but right then I was like a young foal set loose to run and jump around heedlessly, in danger of going to ruin. The risks of the big city are serious enough for everyone, but they are a thousand times greater for naïve youngsters.
The year before, my father had got me to meet a certain Felix Turivano, a charitable man who was exemplary in religion. I soon went to him to get some direction and counsel. He found an employer for me who gave me bread and work during the weekdays. But what to do about weekends? Sometimes he took me with him to Mass, Divine Office, to a sermon then left me to do what I wanted. Some of my friends invited me to gamble and play, go to cheap joints or cafes where moral ruination was pretty much inevitable for a young boy who was barely eleven years of age. One Sunday good Mr Turivano asked me, "Severino, have you never heard tell of an Oratory, or recreation park, where lots of kids go to play at weekends?"
"You said something about it last year. Indeed you promised to take me there but never did so".
"This Oratory once used to be at our church of St Francis of Assisi, but now it has gone to another part of the city".
"What do they do at this Oratory?"
"Everyone fulfils his religious duties there, and then they have pleasant recreation".
"What kind of recreation?"
"Jumping, running, bocce (bowls), marbles, piastrelle (shovel-board), stilts, singing, playing instruments, laughing, joking and a thousand other kinds of fun".
"Why have you never taken me there?", I interrupted him, full of anxiety. "How do you get there?"
"I will take you there myself next Sunday, and I will speak to the Director all those amusements and ask him to look after you especially".
The rest of the week felt like years; working, eating, even sleeping I seemed to be hearing music, seeing people jumpjng and playing all kinds of games.
Sunday finally came and at 8 in the morning I arrived at the long-awaited Oratory. I believe, good friends, that you would like to hear something about the things I saw there. It was a field where today you find a pig-iron foundry; a boxthorn hedge surrounded it. There were some three hundred boys split into three groups; some were playing games; some were kneeling around the Director who was seated on a slight rise in one corner of the field hearing confessions; many, having been to confession, paused some distance away to pray.
Having got to this much-awaited place that Sunday, I was astounded. I didn’t want to question anybody because I was ecstatic, like someone who had just discovered a world full of amazing new things which he wanted but had never known existed. One of the boys, seeing I was new amongst them, came up to me in a friendly sort of way: "Friend," he told me, "do you want to play shovel-board with me?"
This was my favourite game, so I very happily accepted the offer. We had just finished the game when a trumpet sounded and everyone fell silent. Everyone left his games and gathered around the Director. "My dear young friends," this man said in a loud voice, "It’s time for Mass, and this morning we will hear Mass at Monte dei Cappuccini, then after Mass we will have something to eat. Those who did not have time to go to Confession today can go next Sunday: don’t forget you have the chance to go to Confession every Sunday".
Having said this, he gave another blast on the trumpet and everyone set out walking in orderly fashion. One of the older boys began the Rosary and all the others joined in. It was almost three kilometres, and although I did not dare join with the others, just the same, encouraged by all this novelty I walked along some distance behind, but joining in with the prayers they said together. When we were about to start up the hill leading to the monastery they started on the Litany to Our Lady. I just loved it, because the plants, the pathways, the wood that covered the mountainside, seemed to echo our singing and made our walk truly romantic.
Mass was celebrated and some of the boys went to Communion. After a brief sermon, and after we had made sufficient thanksgiving we went into the courtyard at the monastery for some breakfast. Thinking I had no right to eat with the other boys, I drew aside waiting to walk back with them, when the Director came up to me and said:
"What is your name?"
"Have you had breakfast?"
"Because I didn’t go to Confession or Communion".
"You don’t need Confession or Communion to have breakfast".
"Then what do I need?"
"Nothing else but a good appetite and the desire to come and get it". And having said that he shook my hand then led me to a basket filled with bread and cherries. After midday we returned and I had lots of fun playing until evening. I wasn’t able to go back to the Oratory for a month and when I went back there I saw a noticeable change. The oratory had shifted to Valdocco, right where later the church and house known as St Francis de Sales was built. This place was better suited and they could introduce the regular practices of piety, recreation, games, evening and Sunday classes.
Chapter 8. Severino talks about a few pleasant episodes.
This is not the place to talk about the history, regulations, and the events that went with the beginnings and progress of this institution; I only intend to tell you about some of the episodes that befell me or which I was witness to.
I attended the Oratory for several months taking part in recreations, games and religious functions such as Mass, catechism classes, vespers, sermons; and when they sang psalms, hymns I took part with much gusto and sang to my heart’s content. I had not yet gone to Confession.
There was no reason not to go, but having let it go for some time I no longer knew how to make the decision to go back to it. Occasionally the Director had warmly invited me and I had immediately said yes; then with one pretext or another I did my best to avoid his fatherly invitations. One day however, he found a very clever way to corner me. So listen how: one Sunday evening I was fully involved in a game which we used call barra rotta. I was fully intent on it and because it was hot I was in shirt sleeves. Caught up with all the fun and tension of the game, and because it was hot and the game went on I was all fired up. In the heat of the game, while I didn’t know if I was in heaven or on earth, the Director called me saying:
"Severino, could you help me do something fairly urgent?"
"With great pleasure. What is it?" I said to him.
"It might cost some effort".
"That doesn’t matter; I can do anything, I’m very strong".
"Put a jacket over your shirt and come with me".
The Director went ahead, and I followed him as far as the sacristy thinking there was something there I needed to carry somewhere else.
"Come with me behind the altar", the Director went on.
"I’m ready, Father".
"Kneel down here".
"Here I am, but now what?"
"You can make your Confession".
"Oh that, yes, but when?"
"But I’m not ready now".
"I know you’re not ready but I will give you all the time you need: I will say a good part of my breviary, and then after you can make your Confession".
"Since that’s what you’d like I will willingly prepare myself, then I will have no more worries about finding a confessor".
I made my Confession much more easily than I thought I would have, because this kindly and expert confessor helped me wonderfully with his wise questions.
From that day, far from finding it repugnant to go to Confession I even found it a great pleasure to approach the Sacrament, and began to go much more frequently.
At that time the church, I have to say, was not a church, but one part of a very poor building. It was a low-slung storage area, very long, and our magnificent ’basilica’ was accommodated beneath this roof. The floor had to be lowered by two steps worth so that you would not bump your head on the ceiling when entering. But this was where our dearest and most majestic functions took place. In one corner there was a raised area where not everyone could go up to preach. It was best suited for the well-known Fr John Borelli. He was so short that he suited it admirably and each weekend evening he would preach with much zeal and much to the satisfaction of the many boys who came to listen to him.
That year Archbishop Franzoni of Turin came to administer Confirmation in the little church. The function had just begun when the bishop went up to the altar, and according to the rite should have put on his mitre, but the roof of the church prevented him from doing so. From this Oratory we used to take really pleasant walks to Madonna di Campagna, Stupinigi, Monte dei Cappuccini, Sassi, Superga and elsewhere.
These walks happened in the following way:
If it was morning the boys all got into a group and walked along the road praying or singing songs and hymns. When they arrived at the place they did their practices of piety, then had breakfast and everyone went off to do his own thing.
Afternoon walks were more fun: for example the one we often did to the Superga. We used take two or even three boxes full of things to eat. Then there was the band which consisted of a violin, guitar, trumpet and tambourine. The boys were not lined up but bunched around the director, who amused them with some story or other. When he got tired of talking, the music started up again - the band or singing. With all the singing and clapping and shouting we made such a racket that it seemed the world was about to end. Once we had arrived at the Superga we visited the huge basilica and after a brief prayer gathered in the courtyard where the director told as the marvellous history of the Sanctuary. Then we had this stupendous snack where, given the late hour, and because of the long walk, the boys could swallow a whole roll in the blink of an eyelid. After some rest we went into the church where we took part in vespers, the sermon and Benediction. Having fulfilled our religious duties this way, we then visited various parts of this magnificent building: the gallery of Popes, the library, the tombs of Savoy’s Royal family, the high cupola and suchlike. As evening approached there was a blast from the trumpet and everyone gathered around the Director. Then began the usual singing, noise and general hubbub all the way from the Superga to Turin.
As we got to the city people fell silent and got into line, then gradually as we got near where someone lived he would drop out of the line and go off home. This way, when the Director got back to the Oratory there were just a few boys left keeping him company. I have to say that one of the glories of these walks was that with so many boys quite unused to discipline of any kind, there wasn’t the least disorder. No brawling, no complaining, no one stealing fruit no matter how many there were, and there could sometimes be six or seven hundred.
At the time I thought these walks were just for sheer enjoyment, but later I learned their purpose and their advantage.
While the boys were enjoying themselves in such a good way, they were free of the risks that young working boys especially usually run on weekends, and at the same time they were fulfilling their Christian duties. It would shore up their good behaviour for the rest of the week.
The walks were such great fun for the boys, that there were few places big enough for the numbers, so instead of going out looking for more boys he had to limit the number who wanted to take part.
Chapter 9. Severino speaks about his studies.
I had finished my primary schooling when I was twelve, but my thirst for knowledge and my craving for reading had led me to read very many books. I had not just read but devoured all the Bible histories I could find. I had studied Royamont, Soave, Secco, Farini, Calmet, Giuseppe Flavio and the Bible itself, translated by Martini. There was no better time for me than the time I could spend reading any kind of history book. Sometimes I would spend an entire night reading. But after having read the Bible histories, I went on to secular ones and newspapers too; even if they weren’t exactly godless, nonetheless they were not appropriate for my age.
The Director at the Oratory kept an eye on my passionate nature and tried to correct it, giving me useful and pleasant books to read. Then when he saw the risks I was running with my craving for reading, he thought of getting me interested in drawing, arithmetic and the metric system. But I was not so interested in those kinds of studies, so he tried to direct me towards more serious studies like Latin and Italian. He would tell me that these were the languages of the learned, and if I were to succeed it would be of some advantage to me. These new studies did not satisfy my insatiable imagination; I felt myself drawn to science, but in a superficial and not a serious way. I abhorred mental effort and all the kind of learning that demanded serious and lengthy application.
That was when something fatal happened! Some of my false friends satisfied my craving by giving me books and newspapers of all kinds, after which I began to find good reading boring, then my prayers dropped off as well as my going to the Sacraments.
The Director of the Oratory had noticed this so he gave me various projects and invitations to my advantage and encouraged me to be more frequent in going to Confession. But my heart was already heading for disaster, and it no longer knew how to decide on doing the good that it loved and avoiding the evil it so much detested. What is said of Medea was also true of me: I see what is best but I choose what is worst. I could no longer put up with reproaches from the Director, so I took the worst decision of all - to leave the Oratory.
Leaving the Oratory and finding myself without money went hand in hand. When autumn came I decided to return home, where they were expecting me, because bricklayers usually spend winter back home bringing with them the results of their labours during summer. But finding myself without money I did not dare present myself to my mother whom I knew was in dire straits. Meanwhile winter was well advanced and here I was without money, food and clothing. In those moments when I was very much at risk a kindly person took me into his home.
He gave me clothes, somewhere to stay, fed me, sent me off to school until spring; and had I followed his suggestions I would have been a happy and upright young man. But when spring came, led on by the invitation of my former friends, I shamefully abandoned my benefactor’s home. Thus began a series of ills that led me to the depths of godlessness.
I spent the year working, reading and gambling, and as a result autumn came and I had nothing but debts. My creditors were pushing me, in fact threatening me; I no longer dared present myself to my usual benefactor whom I had let down so badly. So what was I to do?
Heavens above! If I had had a friend right then to give me good advice I would have been saved from disgrace and crime. There was such a friend, I well knew, but the only one who could have remedied my ills was the only one that I did not want to approach. One friend suggested gambling my way out, but that only led to increasing my misfortune. Is it possible, I was asking myself, that the Severino who was so diligent, hard-working, honourable and even well-off once upon a time, now had to die of hunger or take the dishonourable path? Was I no longer able to pull back from the abyss that I saw before me? One wretched friend, who knew the desperate state I had been reduced to, said to me:
"Severino, I have a suggestion to free you from the anguished state you find yourself in".
"What is that?"
"What I have myself done".
"What is that?"
"Come with me".
"To the church.... the Protestant church”.
"And become a Protestant, maybe? I would rather die of hunger, no longer be your friend; I have always
fought against Protestant beliefs. I am fully convinced that they are outside the way of true religion; and you want me to become a Protestant? I will go begging, die of hunger, but I will never go to that extent".
"Such fervour will pass," he said, "but just think about your miserable state, your commitments; and then
you might think about it".
"Not even that. It would be a heinous thing to do, and I would be doing it consciously".
"Just you think about it: with a bit of self-deceit you can have money, honour, work, otherwise consider the future that awaits you”.
Chapter 10. Severino speaks of his plunge into Protestantism.
So, my good friends, you who are listening to this, pity the disgrace with which I stained my father’s and my own honour. I resisted for a long time and felt I was ready for anything rather than giving myself over to the Protestants; but the gambling, my friends, my abject poverty had brought me to that extent.
"If you don’t want to become a Protestant," my astute comapnion told me one day, "at least go to one of their Ministers. I will put in a good word for you and who knows but he might give you whatever you need to extricate yourself from your terrible situation?"
After a lot of reflection, and a serious struggle with conflicting emotions, I went to the Protestant Minister not for religious reasons, but to ask him for some help. I was welcomed with great courtesy, and it went as follows:
Minister. "What brings you here? Tell me, and you will find in me a true brother in Jesus Christ".
"I find myself in calamitous circumstances; some misfortunes have led me to incur debts that I cannot pay; I wanted to study literature, but I have no money. Could you help me and open the way for me to preserve my own honour and that of my family?"
"Both can be easily done, but first of all it would be essential for you to come to our church and become...".
"But I have no intention of becoming a Protestant".
"Just find out about us".
"And then? If you learn that the Reform professes the true faith, would you then refuse to embrace it?"
"If it is just a question of attending instructions, then I will go. Meanwhile could you help relieve me of worrying about one debt?"
"Take this amount, then tomorrow go to Evangelist N. and he will give you the rest. Take courage, providence is great, trust her".
The following day I went to the person indicated and he gave me the promised sum.
I took it, paid my debt, and in the evening went back to the Minister to thank him. He was very pleased with my frankness; he had told my friend that he wanted to enlighten me so long as I attended lessons, and would stop at nothing so I could make progress in my studies. "If he studies the proper sources," he concluded, "he will certainly be a good propagandist for the Gospel".
"My heartfelt thanks, Minister," I told him, "Thank you for your kindness to me".
"Charitable works do not require thanks; we have to do things in such a way that the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. Now, do you still intend to continue your studies?"
"I am very keen to".
"If you want to apply yourself seriously to studies I will give you a letter to take with you to the Luserna Valley, and there you will be able to complete your studies easily. Note of course that I am not obliging you to become a Protestant, or a Waldensian; I just want you to study your beliefs and ours well, because I am sure that you will be convinced that only our Church professes the religion of Jesus Christ".
"I accept your offer and am ready to leave whenever".
"Come by in three days time and I will give you a letter to take with you. Someone else will go ahead of you to announce your arrival to the right person. But I would advise you not to discuss your plans with any priests because they will immediately start to argue with you, fill your mind with scruples, and then the Lord’s enlightenment will no longer be able to vanquish the darkness that usually clouds the minds of Catholics".
I promised to do what he had suggested and without him talking about my going to church any more, three days later I headed off in the direction of Pinerolo. I was walking mechanically; I no longer knew if what had happened to me was a dream or real. I had given my word, and in line with my character, I would have considered it an unforgiveable fault to have gone back on it. So I was heading for Luserna Valley under the appearances of doing studies, and at the same time finding out about the Catholic and the Waldensian religions.
This was disgraceful, my dear friends, because outwardly it showed that I wanted to become a Protestant: and then, going amongst Protestants, reading their books, following their teachings, putting myself in proximate danger of perversion were all mortal sins, and I believe that precsiely as a punishment for these sins of mine God had allowed me to fall further and further into the abyss to the point where I began to doubt the true religion in which I had had the precious good fortune of being baptised and raised So forgive me for the scandal given. Books, papers, gambling, greed and my friends all conspired together to lead me to ruin.
Chapter 11. Severino speaks of leaving Turin and the death of Bl. Pavonio
Along with the letter I also had an Evangelist accompany me. Evangelists are not Ministers, but they have done some study, and after spending a good part of their life spreading Protestant books, almost as a reward for their zeal they are made Evangelists, meaning they have the task of explaining the Gospel according to their private inspiration.
For a good part of the journey we spoke only of casual things, and in fact he tried to avoid religious discussions. But when we got to Bricherasio he became much more serious. "Look here", he said. "It was in this square that our fathers showed signs of their evangelical zeal and courage".
"What was it? What happened? Tell me; it will relieve the boredom of our journey".
"There was a time," the Evangelist began, "when brute strength tried to impose its religious beliefs; this was the Pope, who amongst others sent in the Dominican, Pavonio. Our people had often advised him to keep quiet and get out while he was safe and sound but he refused to give in and they had to confront him. He boldly stated that he would never cease to preach the Catholic religion until his dying day. Because of his obstinacy he was followed and attacked in this square and torn to pieces by the infuriated mob. Many other obstinate Catholics faced the same fate".
"The Dominican priest was fighting with guns?"
"He had no guns, but he was obstinately preaching against the Waldensians".
"It would seem to me that the Waldensians should have been fighting words with words, convincing him of his errors, confusing him with argument and not killing him".
"But why did he not keep quiet after being told so many times?" His obstinacy got what it deserved".
"Since we are travelling and we have time to discuss religion, I will add something. You have told me that Catholics wanted onioto impose their religion, but from your own words it seems that Catholics wanted to impose it through preaching, and the Waldensians instead wanted to impose theirs through violence. I also recall reading that Fr Anthony Pavonio was not killed by an enraged mob but by some foreign Waldensians sent in from elsewhere, and therefore the infamy of this event should not be laid at the feet of the people of Bricherasio but on the assassins who had taken on this wretched task, and those who invited them".
"You are still very young; little by little as you study the bandage will fall from your eyes and you will see the truth more clearly".
Let me assure you, friends, that my friend’s boasting made me very sad and since later I found sure and plentiful information about the fact I can tell you literally now how it was referred to by reliable writers.
Bl. Anthony Pavonio was born in Savigliano, and entered the Order of Preachers at a young age. With Peter Valdo’s heresy spreading around the provinces of Pinerolo, the Bishop of Turin sent Bl. Pavonio to Bricherasio to preach against these dominant errors. The heretics soon wanted to argue with him, but they were left in disarray and decided on more nefarious means to get rid of him, meaning they wanted him murdered.
It was Easter 1374 when the heretics, seeing the crowds of people abandoning their errors to follow Blessed Pavonio, resolved to carry out their dastardly deed. It would seem that he had some inkling of this, because when Easter week was over, while he was having a shave, he told the barber:
"Do the job well, because I have been invited to the wedding feast". The barber replied:
"I have not heard of any kind of wedding feast in these parts".
"Have no doubt," the priest concluded, "I am telling you the truth. I am invited to the wedding feast". The feast he was talking about became obvious a few days later.
On 9 April, the Sunday after Easter, at 9 in the morning Fr Antonio celebrated Mass in the parish church at Bricherasio after giving a fervent sermon. As he came out of the church into the public square he was attacked by seven hired assassins who savagely killed him, raining blows on him without him offering the least resistance. So he went to the wedding feast of the Lamb carrying the palm of martyrdom.
The veneration of the faithful at the Martyr’s tomb continued until 1854 when his cult was solemnly approved by the Church and Bl. Anthony was listed amongst the Martyrs and Confessors for the Faith. This fact increased my doubts on Protestant claims but my position was such that I could not separate myself from them without at least having done some of the study on the reasons for the credibility of their religion.
Chapter 12. Severino speaks of his studies on the origins of the Waldensians.
When I arrived in the Luserna Valley I was made welcome with so much kindness. "Severino," one of the Waldensian pastors said to me, "thank God that He has enlightened you, for you will find true friends here amongst us. Your mind will certainly have absorbed many Roman prejudices but you will see that these will vanish over time".
"That’s true," I replied, "my thinking has absorbed prejudices; amongst other things the origins of the Waldensians, which we say amongst ourselves is quite obscure. Until today we say that the foundation of the Waldensian Church is totally due to Peter Valdo and I have been assured a thousand times that nobody spoke of Waldensians before him".
"This is one of the Catholic calumnies; take this book and read it carefully. Compare it with the Bible and you will find that our belief is a Gospel one, starting from the Apostles and coming down to us".
The Waldensian Pastor gave me a huge book entitled The Waldensians, or the Catholic Christians of the primitive Church, by Amedeo Bert, Waldensian Minister. In fact the author attempts to tell the origins of the Waldensians and makes them direct disciples of St Paul’s. I knew I was reading a bad book, and that because of my lack of studies I would not be able to discern true from false in its contents; but despite feelings of remorse I took it and read it from beginning to end several times.
The book really caused me consternation because it was based on reliable Catholic authors. By good fortune Providence came to my aid in the follwoing way.
My Pastor took me one day to visit Catholic schools in a nearby town and since he was caught up in other matters, it gave me time to talk with the parish priest in that place.
"Father", I asked him straight away, "What do Catholics say about the book by Amedeo Bert, The Waldensians etc. ?"
"My dear young man", he replied, "check the sources it draws its information from and then you will see for yourself what judgement to pass on its author; you will have no further need of others for rebuttal" .
"But where can I find the works by the authors quoted in it?"
"Come to my place and I will willingly let you see them".
I thanked him and since I had some hours completely free that day, I was able to check what I had read in the book given me by the Waldensian Pastor and offered as a second Gospel.
And of course I can assure you that I was amazed at the inaccuracies and falsifications I discovered. Amedeo Bert quotes a certain Policdorfius to back up his story, a famous professor of theology, and has him say: Three hundred years after Constantine the Great there came a man from Valdis who preached poverty and propagated the Waldensian sect.
Now listen to the actual text by the author he quoted: Eight hundred years after St Silvester, at the time of Pope Innocent II, a certain Peter Valdo was reading or listening to someone else reading the Holy Scriptures, and thought about renewing apostolic life.
As anyone can see, names, years and facts are being attributed to an author who had never imagined such.
He then quotes another author called Marcus Aurelius Rorengo, the Prior at Luserna, who he says calls the Waldensians ’Apostolic’, then introduces him thus: The precise era in which the Waldensians began cannot be firmly established; in the ninth and tenth centuries it was not a new sect; it always existed in the Valley of Angrogna.
I wanted to consult the text by this writer, who far from calling the Waldensians Apostolic, or descendents of or existing since the time of the Apostles, assures us that they began to appear on the scene in 1160.
So it is completely false to have Prior Rorengo saying that we still did not know the origins of the Waldensian sect with any certainty when he clearly says: The Waldensians, to show they were ancient, declared themselves descendents of Valdo who began to form his new teachings in 1160.
Amedeo Bert also has the Prior say that in the ninth and tenth centuries the Waldensians were not a new sect; but he takes no notice of the fact that the writer here is speaking of the Iconoclasts or other heretics, with no mention of Waldensians.
Amedeo Bert puts words into the quoted author’s mouth: They always existed in the Valley of Angrogna.
I also wanted to check this passage in its original, and I noted that after having hinted at the appearance of Peter Valdo in 1160 he continues thus: Some presume that some Waldensians, or the Poor of Lyon who had been expelled from the city, had since this time (1160) been spread out along the Valley of Angrogna, but I believe that this is only the view held in the Dauphiné region’. Bert then makes use of Claudio Seyssel as an authority.
In a book called Disputation, focused on Waldensian errors, Bert has him say: According to the view of most they draw their origins from a certain Leo, a very religious person in the time of Constantine the Great.
I assure you, dear friends, that this prelate says something quite the opposite. He begins the history of the Waldensians with Peter Valdo, and then continues thus: Nevertheless some who wanted to defend this heresy, to win over the view of the ordinary people who know nothing of history, say (fabulantur) that the sect came from a certain Leo who was alive in Constantine’s time. What could be more false than this?
As you can see, my friends, this passage by the Archbishop of Turin has been totally falsified by putting words in the writer’s mouth and saying what he said was a mere fable was something certain. Although I was overcome by impatience at this point, I still wanted to take a calm look at some other authors quoted by Bert, but I found the same bad faith everywhere I looked. What most convinced me of the meanness of Waldensian history was that in general most writers had followed the very same fables produced by minister Bert to prove their antiquity.
After having read all this I reasoned this way. Either these ministers are really very ignorant, or they are writing in bad faith. In either case they should not be given credence, especially in things of great importance like matters regarding eternal salvation. If these who are considered the most learned amongs the Waldensians are spreading such fables, then what about the ordinary lower and poorer populace?
Having told you the errors about the origins of the Waldensians, I hope you now know the true story of this sect as handed down to us by recent or fairly recent authors.
Chapter 13. Severino speaks of the Luserna Valley and the true origins of the Waldensians.
Let me begin then to give you a brief account of the Luserna Valley so you can better understand the true story of the Waldensians who set themselves up here.
By Lucerna or Luserna we mean an ancient and very famous town at the foot of the Alps, six miles from Pinerolo and twenty four from Turin.
If you like, Luserna comes from the German word Lucke which means an exit, or opening, and Luserna is found right at the opening into a valley from which it takes its name, which runs from the Piedmont plains to the Dauphiné region in France. In ancient times Luserna was a forum, a Roman meeting point, and because of the transport or deposits of Italian merchandise to France and French merchandise to Italy, it was of great military impotance. The Luserna Valley has well-cultivated hills and plains; it has lots of small towns like Angrogna, Perosa, S. Martino, Torre Pellice and many other more or less well-known names. This valley and the towns bordering it are mostly inhabited by Waldensians who hark back to Peter Valdo, a rich French merchant from Lyon. They had been Catholics from primitive times. One of his friends who had been angry, began blaspheming, and adding perjury to his blasphemy, suddenly dropped dead. At such a terrible fact, evidently Heaven taking revenge, Valdo was terrified, and resolved to leave all his possessions behind to live a life of poverty, penance and put into practice what the Divine Saviour had said to the young man: If you want to be perfect, go and sell what you posses, give it to the poor and follow me. This happened in the twelfth century, towards 1160.
Up to this point there would be no reason to reproach Valdo. But the error occurred when he had the audacity to declare himself a preacher and said he was an apostle sent by God to preach poverty and condemn possession of wealth as a mortal sin, even when it was acquired legitimately.
Valdo had not done much study and so it became very difficult for him to get his new teaching accepted. Understanding nothing of Latin he thought about translating and explaining the Gospel in the vernacular using some sentences from the Fathers. This is where the crazy idea comes from of the Waldensians having the Bible and the liturgy in the vernacular. Valdo learned some of these writings off by heart then began preaching in the squares, cities and villages.
Ignorant men and women became preachers, but error and scandal followed wherever they went. When news of these disturbances reached John Bolismano, Archbishop of Lyon, he exhorted Peter and his followers to cease this silly enterprise. But their ignorance became pride and they answered the Arcbishop with insults and insolence. The worthy prelate did not lose courage and did everything that prudence and charity would suggest in such serious moments. He began by advising Valdo in private, then he publicaly rejected his teaching, and finally had Valdo, his followers and their teachings formally condemned. Far from any retractions Valdo instead appealed to Pope Lucius III.
He had the teaching carefully studied, and found it so contrary to the Gospel and the Church that he confirmed the condemnation proclaimed by the Archbishop of Lyon and invited Valdo and his followers to abandon this new teaching. It was then that Valdo took off his mask and threw aside the yoke of all authority, refusing to obey the Supreme Pontiff himself. He was then condemned and excommunicated as a rebel and someone who stood in the way of the Church. This happened in 1185.
When these enemies of the faith appeared, many learned men fought against them through their writings. The most ancient writer to speak of the Waldensians was the Abbot of Fontecaldo, a contemporary of Peter Valdo’s. He wrote a treatise against the Waldensians where amongst other things he said: While Lucius III was governing the Church the Waldensians arose, new heretics who were then condemned by the Pope at a Council held at Verona in 1185.
The words of Stephen Bellavilla, a Dominican and also contemporary of Peter Valdo’s will serve as more complete information on the origins of the Waldensians.
Here are his words: ’The Waldensians were called after Pietro Valdo the one who originated their heresy. They are also known as the Poor of Lyon, because that is where they began professing poverty. They called themselves the poor in spirit, because the Lord says: Blessed are the poor in spirit. And indeed they are - they are poor in every spiritual good, all grace of the Holy Spirit.
Chapter 14. Severino talks about how the Waldensians spread and how they joined the Protestants.
Following their condemnation by the Holy See some Waldensians returned to the Catholic Religion from which they had so recklessly separated. But most remained rebels and against the Church. The civil authorities expelled them from Lyon as heretics and disturbers of the peace.
Some then went to Provence and southern France: others became wandering foreigners looking for shelter, so they crossed the Alps and spread out through the valleys of Pinerolo and especially in Luserna Valley and the nearby mountains. That happened in 1220.
They settled amongst the inhabitants of the mountain regions, most of whom were poorly instructed in religion. The Waldensians hoped they could easily spread their false teachings amongst people of this kind. In fact their Ministers, called Barbi, from where we get Barbetti as a way of describing all Waldensians, did everything they could to deceive these good people: but after much turmoil occasioned at gunpoint, amongst which the assassination of Bl. Anthony Pavonio, they were reined in forcibly by the governing authorities.
The Princes of the House of Savoy, seeing that the heretics seemed to be living in peace and were no longer mixing in political affairs, let them be on condition that they did not leave the areas assigned to them; so the Waldensians were left alone, almost unobserved, for three centuries. Over this time, since they had no church they seemed to be more Catholic than anything else, and did not even refuse to go to Catholic priests. They practised the teachings and most of the customs. Over that long period of time and with no one to stir up their errors, the Waldensians had lost their ancient fervour, and in general had fallen into crass ignorance of their own religion; perhaps they would have been totally reconverted to Catholicism if they had not associated with other enemies of the Faith. These were the Protestants, or the followers of Luther and Calvin which we will soon have occasion to speak of.
Around 1536 the Calvinists, who had taken their stance in Geneva, sought to increase the number of followers and seeing the advantage they would gain from joining with a more ancient sect than themselves they went to the Luserna Valley to persuade the Waldensians to embrace Calvin’s teaching. Believing they could regain the glory of their name and find protectors for their beliefs, the Waldensians welcomed the Calvinists as friends.
So having forgotten Valdo’s teachings they began to profess those of Calvin, and from then on the Waldensians became one with the Calvinists and decided to send the young men destined to become ministers or Barbi to Geneva so they could imbibe the principles of the Protestant heresy.
It is worth noting here that the Barbetti, since they became Calvinists, then became even more hostile to Catholicism and insubordinate to civil authority against whom they often rebelled. So to restrain them they were confined to determined towns in these valleys.
Chapter 15. Severino speaks of changes to Waldensian teaching.
At the beginning, much of Waldensian teaching was that of the Catholic Church.
Only as time progressed did they add new and more serious errors. Firstly, Peter Valdo, frightened by the sad event that had happened to his friend, condemned oath-taking, even if done under the correct conditions, and taught that every oath is a sin.
Secondly he said that the poverty of the early faithful, who owned nothing of their own and sold their possessions to give money to the poor, was essential for salvation. Because voluntary poverty can be an effective means of obtaining the glories of Heaven, it is something the Gospel teaches; but to say that Jesus Christ commanded it is an error, because Jesus Christ did not condemn riches but only prohibited acquiring them illicitly and using them badly; he advises voluntary poverty but does not demand it.
Thirdly he condemned offerings, suffrages for the dead.
Fourthly he said that the civil powers have no right to punish evil-doers by death. He had something to gain from this teaching because he had much to fear from civilian authorities due to his own wretched behaviour.
Valdo did not stop at these errors, and when the Church commanded him to cease from his silly preaching he added further errors by teaching that there was no need to obey ecclesiastical authorities. But while Valdo was refusing to submit to ecclesiastical authority, he attributed priestly powers to himself and his followers, administering the Sacraments, celebrating Mass, hearing his followers’ confessions and giving them absolution and similar.
This was Waldensian teaching for around three hundred years. But they later modified it and indeed changed it almost entirely when they joined the Calvinists.
So they began believing that ministers of religion could possess goods without damning themselves, they admitted that oath-taking was no longer sinful, and that evil-doers could be punished by death. Calvinists allowed them to continue not praying for the dead, and no longer fasting for prescribed periods, but they forced them to abolish the Sacrifice of the Mass and all the Sacraments except Baptism. Instead of the divine Eucharist they imposed a sterile commemoration of Jesus Christ’s last Supper, reduced to showing and then eating a piece of bread and a few drops of wine. And the Calvinists obliged the Waldensians to believe that to be saved, faith without works was sufficient, and to profess the horrible blasphemy that man is no longer free but that it is God himself who constrains him to do good or evil. They also adopted the general Protestant principle that any man enlightened by the Holy Spirit can understand the Holy Scriptures of his own accord and no longer needs other spiritual authority in order to know what are his duties and how he should behave. This way the Waldensians abandoned their less perverse teachings to embrace much worse ones. They took on errors which before they had neither professed nor known. with these constant variations, additions, denials of the msot important points of religion, the Waldensians became even more separated from the true Church which remains always the same and always has the same Teacher, as St Paul says: Christus heri et hodie.
Chapter 16. Severino speaks of some curious episodes in Waldensian teaching.
What made me recognise Waldensianism as a phantom religion were the contradicitons I noticed in their current beliefs. I will explain some of the ones I witnessed.
They separated from the Catholic Church, refusing to obey the head established by Jesus Christ, someone always venerated and obeyed by all Catholics beginning with St Peter down to the reigning Pius IX, and meanwhile they set up evangelists, pastors, ministers, tables and synods, moderators, all things the Bible never mentions, nor does the early history of the Reform.
The Waldensians accuse Catholic priests of being paid for their ministry; meanwhile their ministers or pastors have stipends which are eight or ten times greater than those for Catholic priests, and nor do they move a finger, we could say, without being paid for it. ’Your priests’ they tell Catholics ’do not give alms’; but I observed that if the ministers, pastors, evangelists give alms it is always money belonging to others; they give away what they collect from simple folk, and then try to persuade them that since it is such a good religion, they are giving money sent to them from England. Of that money there is always some of it that sticks to the fingers of those who are distributing it!
And for my part I would say that it is a lie to say that Catholic priests give nothing. I have known hundreds who have goods and their life for their neighbour’s benefit. And if I did not remain a victim of misfortune I owe it to a Catholic priest who took me in and gave me what I needed to live, be clothed, fed and educated for many years. and hasn’t the parish priest of our village always been the support of our family? What I say of my parish priest must be true of a thousand others. These priests give away what is theirs, they give money they could sepnd on themselves without needing to give account to anyone else.
Besides, the most serious work of the Protestant pastor and minister consists in the sermon he gives on Sundays; the rest of the week is really just passing time for them. That’s not the case for Catholic priests; they hear confessions at weekends, preach, teach catechism, sing vespers, and during the week they are similarly occupied. I know priests who sometimes spend eight, twelve or even fifteen hours a day in the confessional; on certain days they preach four or five times, and all this is done for free and without the least obligation in terms of their duties, but out of the charity that burns in their hearts and urges them to such sacrifices. Let Protestants give careful consideration to these facts and then say whether the Catholic religion or the so-called Reform ought be called the golden religion.
Protestants cry out against confession and meanwhile condemn those who sin, they name them in public meetings, as well as the evil they have committed and the penance that is imposed. They want only the Bible as their rule of faith, and they rail against Catholics who want it explained through texts or notes from the Fathers, while meanwhile they pretend to explain it arbitrarily and woe to anyone who does not accept their explanations! They cry out against Catholics saying that their Councils, Synods, Bishops and Popes are like a scourge forcing everyone to bend to their beliefs. Meanwhile the Protestants have their synds, ministers, pastors, moderators, evangelists who, contrary to their own teachings, discuss and decide on controversies as they see fit, condemning whoever does not give in; they relieve those in office, vary, add, take away whatever is said in their catechisms.
So tell me in good grace all you Protestants - who made you the teachers of religion? You should only be giving the Bible to your disciples without preaching or speaking or explaining since you say that the Bible alone is the rule of faith and behaviour. You go around extolling the use and reading of the Bible, and then contradict this by your deeds because in the liturgy and prayer books, and in the catechisms you have there are a thousand sentences and ideas and prayers none of which in fact can be found in the Holy Bible.
One day I was surpised while I was reading a devotional book that I had always had with me since I was a child. They forcibly took it off me, saying that the book was full of nonsense against the Bible. I was upset and I told them: "You have taken a book from me that you say contains prayers not drawn from the Bible, so meanwhile why are you trying to teach a catechism that cannot be found in the Bible? Are all those prayers in your catechism taken from the Bible? So you either allow Catholic books or if you want to reject them, then you also have to reject your own".
"Our prayers" they answered, “are all thoughts from the Bible; but that is not the case with Catholic books".
"That’s what you say", I added, "but Catholics say that their books are also thoughts taken from the Bible which are in agreement with what has been revealed there. But you contradict your words by your deeds, because in your books I find prayers that must be said before and after communion, but are they to be found in the Bible?"
The contradictions were even more obvious when I went to hear one or other of the Pastors’ Sunday sermons. Here I witnessed a real Babylon.
Every pastor explains things as he likes and in his own way; one often speaks against the other; it happened to me more than once on the same morning that I heard one pastor teaching that in the Holy Eucharist there was the Body of Jesus Christ and then I’d hear another saying that it was a simple commemoration of the passion and death of the Saviour, or one saying it contained the body of the Saviour while another was saying that Jesus Christ was only there in the Eucharist in transitory fashion, meaning at the moment of consecration.
One day two pastors were preaching from the same pulpit; one was saying that good works were necessary to be saved, drawing his words from the Bible : Fides sine operibus mortua est, faith without good works is dead; the other was emphatically asserting that faith alone was sufficient, but this one was living a godless and wicked life. So I was convinced that every Pastor, every Minister has his own religion, every Father follows his own beliefs and every member of the same family follows the religion that pleases him best.
In this confusion of opinions and ideas I thought of going to one of the pastors to get certain difficulties sorted out.. If we were ever allowed to laugh about serious matters I can assure you that here we have something to really laugh about. Listen. One day I asked to speak to a pastor who told me he was occupied with something that he could not easily leave aside, but I could explain my question to his wife who could then pass it on to him at a better time. On another occasion I succeeded in speaking with the pastor, but in the presence of the maid and the wife surrounded by kids yelling, laughing and crying. They made as much noise as a Carnival. Imagine If I’d dared to hold confidential dicussions in the midst of such a respectable audience!
The best case of all is what happened to me one Sunday evening. As evening came I went to the pastor to ask him for some clarifications on his sermon. I knocked once or twice on the door, and a handsome young lad of about twelve years of age opened it. "Come in", he told me excitedly, "come quickly before my mother kills my father". Having entered the home I saw this woman of almost herculean strength raging aginst the pastor, her husband, who having spent a lot of money in revelry had returned home that evening more drunk than usual. She had grabbed him by the tie around his neck and was hitting and punching him repeatedly, then yelling at him she threw him to the floor, then began kicking him and hitting him all over with a stick.
While the poor pastor was begging for mercy from the infuriated woman, all his children were sobbing and asking their mother not to kill their poor father.
Given my unexpected arrival and hearing my keen reproaches she calmed down, and I was able to pick up the poor distraught man from the floor. Just the right moment to begin a moral or religious discussion!
Amidst so many contradiction on the origins and beliefs of the Reformers, I was able to find just one point on which they all agreed: fighting the Catholic Church. It didn’t matter if you were a Jew, a Turk, a Lutheran, Calvinist or other: just so long as you were not a Catholic you could be regarded as a gentleman. But if by chance there was even a hint that you might become a Catholic, then you are an idot, crazy, and the only way of recovering from your stupidity is to renounce all ideas of becoming a Catholic.
No one could imagine the nonsense they invent about Catholics to ridicule and discredit them. Ignorance, bad faith, greed and similar vices, according to them, are qualities of every Catholic.
For example they preach that Catholics are idolaters, falsely accusing them of adoring images and relics of the Saints and other holy things. One day I was with some pastors and one of the began saying: "I believe, Severino, that you must be very happy now that you are finally far away from the idolatry of the Roman Church".
"How do you mean?"
"I mean that with us you are no longer obliged to adore images and relics". And here he had some most disparaging things to say about some of the most venerated things of religion.
"Pastor", I said, quite upset, "I was with Catholics for many years, and very much involved in their religion, but I never heard anyone preach, not even hint at something against God, the creator of heaven and earth".
"If you’ve never heard something then good for you, but Catholic books are full of these abominable idolatries".
"Excuse me but in any of the Catholic books I have read I have never read what you are saying".
"Also their catechisms...".
"I have read and studied their catechisms for fifteen years; I have never found the sorts of things you are saying".
"If these things were not taught would you believe we would be saying them, printing them and preaching about them everywhere?"
"That is no argument in my view; show me one Catholic book that says you have to adore the saints, images, relics, and then..".
While we were discussing this, one of them ran to get the Bellarmine catechism, one by Cardinal Costa, another by Borglioni and other theologians.
They looked through them and checked as much as they wanted to, but they were left in confusion when they could not find a single point that expressed what they were saying. To the contrary those authors were in perfect agreement in the use of words like devotion, veneration, respect with which Catholics usually express the cult of the saints, images and relics, since they all know the Church’s teaching is that the saints deserve honour as benefactors of humanity and models of Christian life, as friends of God and our kindly protectors with him in Heaven.
The pastors who had been laughing at me were considerably mortified by this event. "You are young", they told me, “so you can be pitied; the bandage has not yet fully come off your eyes. As you make progress in your studies, you will be consoled by true beliefs".
And with such flattering conviction they resolved finally to send me for higher studies in Geneva.
Chapter 17. Severino tells of his departure for Geneva and his arrival on the Gran S. Bernardo.
In the years I stayed in Luserna Valley, and while I was learning their religion, I had not forgotten my other studies and was able to pass the exam to teach high school. I was a teacher there for three years. My position was very delicate since I was not trusted by the Waldensians and in order to live in peace with them I always had to keep my real intentions hidden. At school I never taught things that went in favour of the Waldensians, nor did I utter a syllable against my former religion. I let the students study the prescribed books, but in religious matters I did not speak for or against the Waldensians. It is true that in any argument I was always against them, but they still showed that they were happy with my frankness and openness. Over time, and with study, they said, Severino will become a good believer. So my superiors, to reward me for my concerns, or as they said, to improve me in learning and religion, judged that it would be good to send me to Geneva where those who wanted to become Evangelists, Pastors or Ministers would usually go. But of course I had other plans in mind. At my departure they gave me a companion who also had to go to that city, and to make our trip more interesting we thought of taking the Aosta road and going over the Gran S. Bernardo. When we got to Aosta we stopped there for a day to visit the most interesting things in the town; and while we were satisfying our curiosity, it was around eleven in the morning, there was this marvellous and unexpected tolling of bells.
"What is that?" we asked our guide.
"That", he answered, "is the midday bell".
"But it’s only eleven in the morning."
"Here midday is rung at eleven o’clock".
"Why this strange speciality?"
"It is to remind us of a most glorious event. Once upon a time there was this arch heretic called Calvin, who wanted us to accept his errors. Our forefathers, who not only were and wanted to remain Catholics, but also wanted to hand on their religion since it was the only true one, bravely and energetically opposed the godless rebel. Except that this preacher of Satan, standing boldly against them, got some idlers to use violence and force our ancestors to adopt his errors. At these threats the people stirred and rang the bells to call people to help repel the common enemy. With God’s help they succeeded; so they chased out Calvin and his merceneries, and most of them foreigners. It was eleven in the morning when that happened, so in commeoration of this happy event we have always since then rung the midday bells at eleven o’clock”.
My friend was most unhappy at hearing these words but I was secretly happy, and was content just to give a smile of complacency. We made one more tour around the town then directed our steps towards the peak of Gran S. Bernardo, where we phad planned to reach. The ancients used call this Alpine crest Mons Iovis, or the mountain consecrated to Jove.
It was towards sunset when we found oursevles faced with that marvellous and surprisingly tall mountain. After a fair walk we reached a spot called San Remigio, a little village surrounded by thick ancient forest that gradually thinned out as we climbed the mountain. These trees are very helpful in saving the town from the ruinous spring avalanches. From here until the Gran S. Bernardo hospice we had to climb a further seven kilometres up a steep winding path strewn with debris and with overhanging cliffs.
These are the final traces of a grand road that had been opened through there by the ancient Romans. The more we climbed, the more we became aware of the more rigid climate and the trees were becoming rarer and smaller, until finally there was no vegetation at all. Only some grass on some of the mountain flanks indicated that it was summer, that disappears here almost as soon as it begins. Snow had already begun to fall and was sprinkled on the arid rocks hanging from mountain gorges.
We finally reached the famous plain which the ancients called Summo Pennino, which they named so because it was here that they made sacrifices to the god Penn.
The plain forms a high and very long valley enclosed by high cliffs glistening in eternal snow. It was then and because of the sheer effort of our climb and our insufficient clothing that we felt a keen chill through all our body; we had to open our bags and put on a second layer of clothing.
Looking across that exceptional plain, we were very surprised to find, almost in the centre, a very deep lake.
This is what gives rise to a small stream that runs down the south of the mountain and joins another called the Bautia or Bauteggio, and from there becomes known as the Dora Baltea, the river that after many torturous windings finally empties its waters into the Po near Crescentino.
On the banks of the lake, at the foot of a high cliff is the famous monastery or Hospice of St Bernard.
The origins of this marvellous building go back to very ancient times. From the books that the monks there lent me I was able to find out that it already existed in the eighth century.
It was very much in decline in the tenth century when Bernard, from the illustrious family of Menthon, came to restore it or rather to rebuild it from its foundations. This extrordinary man who already as a layman had practised all Christian virtues in an exemplary way, was the archdeacon at the cathedral in Aosta. Deeply moved by the ignorance of the people who lived in these high mountains and even more so by the misfortunes that often befell travellers crossing the mountains, he was urged on by charity that only looks to doing good and does not calculate the difficulties or the risks. He decided to dedicate his life and everything he had to educating the people. He fought the pagan superstitions and idolatry still reigning there; he pulled down the statue of Jove, and in its place erected a church to the true God. Then to provide shelter against the disasters that travellers were exposed to every day, he built the Hospice that still bears his name today.
He put down the foundations in 972, and soon had the marvellous building erected that has kept the heroism of Christian charity alive for nine centuries. The monks there are called Canons, and they are from the Augustinian Order. Their duty is to put up people for free and help those who are travelling through, often putting their own lives at risk to save the lives of others.
Chapter 18. Severino speaks of some incidents on the Gran S. Bernardo.
I was very anxious to look around and see the all the details of this special high plain that might be the highest spot on earth that has been consistenly inhabited by human beings, when one of the monks hurried towards us warning us to come quickly with him to the Hospice. "Perspiration", he told us, "can be fatal because of the sudden change in temperatures". We accepted his courteous invitation and followed him into the building. We passed quickly through the ground floor where there was the church, refectory, kitchens and large rooms where the ordinary people stayed, and we climbed to an upper floor where the religious were and a few rooms for the better-off travellers. Struck by the exquisite cordiality we were led into a warm room where we were given something to eat; we were hungry and the food satisfied us, seeming to us to be very tasty. After this we visited the rest of the locale and amongst other things we were happy to find in such an almost uninhabited place a precious choice of books, Italian and French newspapers, and a stupendous piano. I love music so much so I ran to the instrument to see how good it was and I found it to be in excellent condition. As soon as I began playing, monks and strangers came in and began to sing; it became a harmonious concert and it all made for a very pleasant evening. A bell rang at ten and that indicated the time for silence and rest.
One monk said in a loud voice: "Each one can say his prayers and go to the cell assigned to him - and may you all have a good night". We were very happy to head off to bed. And just as our appetite had improved the quality of our supper, so our tiredness meant we immediately fell into a deep sleep.
In the morning one of the canons took us for a walk a short distance from the monastery. Just around there there were no trees or shrubs not even a blade of grass to cheer the traveller; only amongst the crags could we see a few mountain herbs like lichens and gentian.
"What do you do?" I asked the good monk.
"We practise charity to our neighbour and most of all to strangers, and we go looking for people who have fallen into danger to save them or at least to offer them the comforts of religion".
"Do you often find people in such danger?"
"It happens very often. When the wind is raging furiously and covers the tracks with snow, or huge masses of ice fall free from the mountain, then woe to the traveller who is caught by surprise! He could be buried under snow sometimes to a fearful depth".
"Whatever can you do in such accidents that is useful?"
"When these storms strike, or strong winds cover over or make the track indistinguishable, as soon as there is a moment of calm we wrap ourselves up in some skins and with a flask of strong liquor and a pickaxe in our hands we head for the most dangerous passes to see if some unfortunate traveller has been covered up.
Certainly alone we could not do great things, but Divine Providence has seen that these dogs - you can see them - come to help us". "Look at them", and he pointed out two of them to me. “These dogs have been taught how to follow the footsteps of lost travellers, and led by their fine sense of smell they run ahead of us and make a path with their bodies; they can tackle rain, ice, snow. We follow them, not without risks, and run along those tracks, and often we succeed in pulling people out of the jaws of death where they have been carried by avalanches".
I was deeply moved by this story and exclaimed: "Blessed is the religion that carries out such marvellous works of charity!"
"Come here", the hospitaller went on kindly, "So you can feel part of this story I will tell you about an accident that happened here not long ago. Do you see this large carcase? It belonged to one of our most faithful dogs. Barrì is what we called him; he helped us save many a poor unfortunate.
When the wind was raging long and violently, it was impossible for us to leave the hosue without being buried alive or dragged into a crevice, so we would tie a little basket around Barrì ’s neck with a flask of liquor inside, another one of wine, and some bread. Barrì would leave with those provisions and facing up to the winds and the storm would run for very long periods. Making a path with his body or digging under the snow, like a mole underground, and guided by his wonderful sense of smell sometimes he succeeded in finding some unlucky dying person. Barrì would then use his paws to uncover the person, then he would get up close and if he could see signs of movement, he would push the little basket off from around his neck and then race home. He would wag his tail, and by his behaviour show us that he had found someone, and we had a sure set of tacks to follow to go and help the unfortunate person who sometimes by that stage we found already on his feet, restored, and already looking for the way out. He saved ten travellers this way. But poor Barrì fell victim to his hard work and skill. One day after a violent storm he went out as usual and ran for hours, until he found a man in one corner of the track who seemed to be dead. Barrì scraped off the snow covering him then he got on top of him to try to give him warmth and bring him back to life. In fact a few minutes later the man regained the use of his senses; but he took fright at the sight of the animal and thinking he was a wild beast running to attack him, he shot him with his pistol. Barrì was killed on the spot. We were able to reach the poor stranger and bring him back to the monastery. Oh, who could express the grief he felt when he learned that he had killed the very one who had saved his life! He was inconsolable, so to give himself some comfort and to pay a kind of tribute to recognise his benefactor he had the body embalmed at his own expense, and saw that it was placed in that magnificent position you can see now".
While we were discussing this, the superior of the monastery, called the Prepost or one in charge, intervened.
"They have really honoured you", I began telling him, "by making you a superior at such a young age".
"Superiors here need to be young", he replied, "because no one gets to old age here. Because of the terrible climate if they are not sent elsewhere after some time they end up in the grave. So our confreres, once they have turned thirty five, are usually sent to parishes our Order runs in the Vallese. The temperature here is constantly around 28 to 30 degrees centigrade below zero. We are only in the first days of August now, and the ground is already covered in snow. We rarely have a truly calm day. This little lake is frozen over for more than ten months of the year, so fish cannot live there. Now come with me to the garden and see our splendid greenery. Some turnips, a few small cabbages and some lettuces for salad, and that’s about all we have. It is things like this that weaken the health even of men with a strong constitution. Only the two months of summer are pleasant enough for living on this peak. And it is over those two months that the best of Europe’s travellers appear each evening at the hospice, most from England, France and Germany". While the kind superior was telling us about all the details of this spot, without noticing it we had walked almost a mile. "Here", he told us, "is the chapel where we bury the mortal remains of the poor people who have perished amidst the ice and snow". Then walking back to the monastery he told us: "We were also visited by Napoleon I on the 20th May 1800. The Emperor was crossing this rugged mountain and spent some time here talking to the monks and visiting the Hospice. The formidable conqueror was moved when he heard about our life, took our needs into account and made some splendid offers. Each soldier in his large army was given a glass of wine".
"But do you ask for money for these expenses? To keep yourselves, preserve the locale, and provide whatever you need for so many travellers?"
"Divine Providence looks after everything. In the church there is a box where the better-off travellers can deposit some alms. To which we add the rent from some buildings the hospice has here and there through the Alps. Some help also comes from Switzerland.
We continued these pleasant discussions when we were advised the the time for our departure was close. Having thanked those incomparable benefactors of humanity sincerely for the kindness and hospitality they had shown us, we left an offering in the box and departed for Switzerland. I was moved to tears at that point. Why, I asked msyelf, are you living apart from a religion that produces such sublime fruits of charity? Why are you following the dictates of a religion so sterile in virtue, with no other encouragement to do good than claiming the principle of philanthropy, but a false one at that?
Chapter 19. Severino speaks about Geneva and Calvin.
We reached Geneva towards nightfall, at an hour when the city looks most beautiful. It is in a delightful location, bounded by considerable fortifications, and built on the lake that bears its name. With all its streets lit up, Geneva charmed us. Given that the reason for this journey of mine was study and religion, I turned my thoughts to learning about the religious state of the city. I knew that the Gospel had been preached here from early Christian times and I also knew that heresy had been introduced here some centuries ago. From books I found I learned that in the 16th century Swingli had introduced the beginnings of the so-called Reform.
In 1530 the people from the Bern Canton together with the Genevans took up arms against the Catholics, tore down their crosses, smashed their sacred images, trod on the consecrated hosts and relics of the saints and ordered heretics to preach regularly in Geneva in the famous cathedral of St Peter’s where Catholicism had been preached for continuously for centuries. Catholics, who made up at least nine tenths of the population, sought to fight this godlessness, but the handful of people running the government forbade all acts of Catholic worship and established that Protestantism was the sole religion of the State. The Epsicopal See was abolished, a Republic proclaimed, and the monks and friars were expelled. Thus Geneva became Protestantism’s Rome, as someone called it, trying to compare it with the centre of Catholicism, the city of Rome. This happened after the true religion had flourished for around one thousand five hundred years, producing many saints for the Church and many souls in Heaven.
The most famous promoter of this false reform in Geneva was Calvin of whom I had heard so much said. Listen, my friends, and I will give you a short account of this so-called Reformer, and that should be enough to persuade you of the absurdity of this wicked reformed teaching.
John Calvin was born in Noyon, a city in France; his father was a procurator called Couvin. The bishop of the city, moved by charity, gave him money for his studies in the hope that he would do well. His father’s business affairs went bad and he incurred a number of judicial sentences; his mother was a woman of ill repute. His brothers and their wives ended up in prison or at least in disgrace. To avoid the family’s digrace Calvin decided to change his name and instead of Couvin called himself Calvin; so under this false name he began to journey from town to town. But his poor moral behaviour accompanied him everywhere he went. He was convicted in Paris for a serious crime, and condemned to be branded on the back with a hot iron. This was by special favour of the Bishop and the Magistrates, since being burned at the stake was the established penalty for his crime. None of this improved him; he became worse. But even putting aside his crimes I simply say that this wicked man established a teaching that made licit the most terrible deeds, and then he set about propagating it.
His preaching disturbed the public peace everywhere and the civil authorities sent for him to be taken in. When he heard knocking on the door, having no other escape, he took a sheet from the bed, tore it in pieces and made a rope to climb out the window, and then he ran and hid in the house of a husbandman. To esape from there he disguised himself as a poor farmer and with a hoe and spade on his shoulders managed to deceive the soldiers of justice and save himself.
A serious author called Rouvrai, French minister in Berne, speaks of this arch-heretic as follows: ’The infamous Calvin, a sordid being, branded in France, concubinage in Strasbourg, theft in Metz, sodomite in Basel, tyrant in Geneva, Calvin, I say, proclaimed freedom of religion, railed against Catholic magistrates calling them Diocletizns or persecutors because they judged heretics. Meanwhile he cursed and swore and if he could have would have imprisoned and put to death anyone who ran contrary to his opinions. It happened that a Spaniard called Michael Serve passed temporarily through Geneva. He did not believe the same things as Calvin about the Blessed Trinity. Calvin had him imprisoned, then commanded that he believe as he did or he would be burned alive. Serveto did not give in so he was consigned to the fire.
From Geneva Calvin made a few sorties into Italy, but as soon as he was recognised as a disturber of the peace he was chased out wherever he went.
Seeing that his efforts were useless, especially after he had been repelled from Aosta, he tried to open a mission in America. His new missionaries embarked to carry the plague of their teachings to people who were still ignorant of the Gospel. But since the Reformers had neither a Head nor guide for religious questions, endless disputes about the Eucharist arose. One said he was inspired by God to teach that in the Eucharist there is the body of Jesus Christ, and another claimed to be equally inspired by the Holy Spirit to believe and teach that the Eucharist is truly the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus C. In the midst of this tumult the head of the mission, named Durando, came to see the absurdity of the Reformation in 1558 and publicly abjured Calvinism and professed the Catholic faith which he defended in speech and writing until he died. And that was the end of the famour Reformed mission Calvin sent to America.
Since his efforts had failed, Calvin decided to consolidate the Reform in Geneva.
He succeeded in fact in making himself head of civil authority; but when he wanted to change the old religion, Calvin found himslef in great embarrassment.
“Let us see some sign”, the people said, “so we can be sure you were sent by God to reform religion. The prophets and apostles confirmed their words through the holiness of their lives and with miracles. Prove your mission with a miracle; that way we will have reason to believe you”. Calvin understood the seriousness of the question, but his immoral life did not allow him to say: observe what I do. So it came back to this: try for a miracle or be regarded as an imposter by everyone. He went for the first one, meaning he tried to do something that might be regarded as miraculous. Listen to the facts. A poor Genevan called Brulleo along with his wife had had recourse to Calvin asking for alms. "Gladly" he told them, "I will help you so long as in all prudence and confidence you give me a hand to carry out a plan I have". The poor unfortunates, in their abject poverty, were ready to do anything, and following the instructions of the new miracle worker, Brulleo pretended he was ill.
Calvin sent out an order for prayers and supplications for a healing to all the churches, but in vain; then the sick man pretended to succumb to his illness and die. Calvin was advised secretly, but indicating that he knew nothing, under the pretext of going for a walk, he was accompanied by many friends. When they arrived at the house where the scene was already prepared they heard the cries and wailings coming from the hypocritical wife, who appeared to be overwrought and desperate.
The inmposter asked what was going on in the house, entered, fell on his knees with all his entourage and in a loud voice to demonstrate his power he called on the man to come back to life: the idea was that his glory should shine before all the people and be witness to the fact that he, Calvin, was truly sent by God to reform the Church.
When the prayer was over, Calvin approached the dead man in majestic fashion, and taking him by the hand said to him: “In the name of Jesus Christ get up and walk”. The dead man didn’t move. He repeated the same command several times and finally the wife ran to him, tried to strike her husband, and then discovered that he was really dead! Imagine the grief, and the curses that desolate woman would have hurled at the imposter. She reproached Calvin and lef the house enraged, then spread the news right throughout the city. This was Calvin’s great miracle.
Such an immoral man assisted by people who were equally immoral did nothing other than attract people caught up in all kinds of vice to the point where the reformers, still experiencing the foundation of the so-called reform, were making godless fruits of the Protestant system known. I could quote what Catholics say about the disturbances created by those strange missionaries but I prefer to limit myself to the words of an author who cannot fall under any suspicion, I mean Luther, worthy teacher and colleague of Calvin’s wickedness. Seeing the turmoil these reformers had created he expressed his complaints in these words: “Most of our followers are living like Epicureans; they are only looking for days of revelry. You would not find such buffoons and monsters amongst the Papists. They call themselves reformers but in reality they are devils incarnate .... They are rogues stuffed with pride and avarice of the kind never found under the papacy. Disorder has reached such a point that if one were to contemplate a gathering of buffoons, fraudsters, userers, the dissolute, rebels, people of bad faith, he would only need to enter one of the cities that calls itself evangelical. I doubt that amongst pagans, Jews, Turks and other infidels one could find such hard-headed and arrogant types where any kind of sentiment, any virtue was extinguished, and amongst who, are all kinds of sinfulness etc”.Cf Lutherus in colloquiis, p. 234.
Chapter 20. Severino speaks about events affecting Catholicism in Geneva.
In 1536 John Calvin was expelled from France for serious crimes, as we have said, and went to Geneva to Minister Farel who appointed him as professor of theology without him ever having studied theology.
Since Calvin was teaching dogma that went against Swingli, he was first blamed then expelled from the city. The decree which banned him and his companions said they were wicked rebels. But soon after, Calvin found a way to return to Geneva, where he was welcomed and made ’Pope’ of Geneva, as his biographer called him.
Then through deception, calumny, persecutions and all kinds of detestable barbarity, he managed to lead a huge number of Catholics into error, such that Geneva became virtually a Protestant city, and the Episcopal See was trasnferred to Annecy, whose bishop however called himself the Bishop of Geneva.
Soon after Calvin’s deaath St Francis de Sales began to lead the people in the Chablais back to the Catholic religion, and at that time the number of Catholics in Geneva also grew. Francis de Sales was made bishop of that diocese. For two centuries Protestants in Geneva used violence against Catholics who made every effort to keep the religion of their fathers; just the same the number of Catholics decreased to the point where last century Geneva had no more than a few hundred. But Divine Providence raised up a man according to God’s heart who reawakened Catholicism and made it flourish amongst Genevans. He was Father Francis Vuarin, native of Savoy and elected parish priest of Geneva in 1808. His knowledge, prudence and piety won him fame throughout Europe, and for thirty six years he ’hammered’ reformist heretics.
He began fighting error with charity, patience, preaching, especially to comfort Catholics who had remained constant in their faith up till then. Then he wrote books, offered to debate with the Protestants who never chose to struggle against a rival whom they deemed far superior to them. They rejected the challenges therefore and began to set traps for him. Possibly they would have repeated the defeat of Bl. Pavonio had the priest’s great reputation not held them back.
Vuarin responded to two great needs, the sick and children. The former always had to go to Protestant hospitals where Catholic priests were not allowed to give the comforts of religion; and children had to attend Protestant schools. In response to these evils Fr Vuarin called on charity of the Catholics, and protection by external powers. He opened a hospital only for Catholics, set up schools for boy which he entrusted to the De La Salle Brothers, and schools for girls, which he entrusted to the Daughters of Charity. Fr Vuarin was consistently helped and guided in his great enterprise by the Supreme Pontiffs Pius VII, Leo XII, Gregory XVI, who not only supported him in his zeal but gave him considerable sums of money to achieve and maintain so many works of charity.
Well-deserving Vuarin died on the 6th September 1843 and his death was lamented by all well-meaning people. His funeral was a real triumph. Thirty thousand Catholics from the city and nearby towns accompanied his remains in an orderly fashion amongst a crowd of what is reckoned to be around fifty thousand Protestants. Minister Cheneviere who was at the Catholic spectacle, one that Geneva had not seen for more than two centuries, said of the emotional cermeony: “Fr Vuarin made us fearful when he was alive, but crushed us when he died”.
When Vuarin took possession of his parish, Geneva had around eight hundred Catholics, but there were ten thousand when he died, meaning he had taken in a third of the population.
This tendency of Genevans to return to the religion of their forefathers did not cease with the death of the zealous pastor; it continued uninterruptedly especially through the zeal of the famous Abbot Mermillot. This venerable prelate through his preaching, writing, and with the help of zealous collaborators won many other Genevans over to the faith. The reigning Pius IX has also turned his fatherly interests towards the Genevans, and rejopicing at the great progress of the faith in the city considered re-establishing the episcopal residence. So in 1864 Abbot Mermillot was consecrated bishop and given the task of residing in Geneva and exercising his episcopal functions there. Amongst jubilant crowds he calmly took possession of the Diocese that Divine Providence had entrusted him with. He was the first bishop to be able to have his residence in Geneva for more than three hundred years.
Currently there are more than twenty thousand Catholics in Geneva and they have three churches open to freely practise their religion. Catholic schools are increasing in numbers daily, as well as in regularity and in freedom to teach. It all bodes well that in a short time the desires and prayers of good people will be crowned by a complete return of Genevans to Catholicism under the leadership of the Successor of St Peter, the Vicar of Jesus Christ.
Chapter 21. Severino speaks of his stay in Geneva.
I was in Geneva to study the Bible, Latin and Greek, but to tell the truth these studies that I had dreamed of for so long were too demanding for my lively nature and for the fact that I was now 27 years of age. I liked science more and preferred history to everything, as well as reasoning and religious subjects, which beyond instruction also served to calm my agitated consicence. The Protestants supported me and held me in high regard.
But their teaching of theology, as they called it, far from reassuring me of their religious principles, made me even more aware of the uncertainty of the so-called reform of theirs. From their own teaching I drew the following conclusion: reformed religion did not exist before Calvin and Luther, so before this prevarication they were Catholics. Who sent them to form a new religion? Did they work miracles? Did it bring them a life commendable for virtue and morality? None of this, therefore from their actions I concluded that their private life was reproachable and that they gave no sign of having been sent by God to reform the Church of Jesus C. Therefore I discerned that their teaching was insufficient a belief to give peace to a man with doubts. It is true that their religion gives a man greater freedom, but this greater freedom leads to unbridled passions.
So a Catholic never becomes a Protestant in order to be a better person but to become a worse one.
I then noted how they condemned tradition, but then went back to tradition to find arguments to give credibility to the Bible, the Apostles Creed, keeping Sundays holy and all the other religious practices they observe and that cannot be found in the Bible.
Furthermore Protestants admit that a good Catholic can be saved; so why should a Catholic abandon his own religion, where he can be saved, to embrace another that leaves him in fearful doubt of his salvation? My teachers noticed that the more I went ahead with my studies, the more I was convinced of the need to make a loyal return to Catholicism, so they tried to be with me wherever I was to stop me being alone with Catholics.
One day while I was with some of my teachers and colleagues we were walking through the city and met a priest who was taking Viaticum to a sick person and was accompanied by some of the faithful. At that sight, and hearing the prayers I called to mind the sad moment when a similarly moving ceremony was carried out for my father, and what came vividly to mind were my father’s dying words: “Live as a good Catholic”. I was almost beside msyelf: "Father, I said, "my beloved father, if you are in Heaven, pray for me". And having said that I drew aside under a porch, made the sign of the cross, knelt down and begged God to open up the way to his mercy for me. They others saw me and that evening they did everything they could to mock me for my reaction to the Blessed Eucharist. I got all emotional then and out of spite said to them: "I have been studying your religion for nine years but my doubts have only increased. I am of a view that Viaticum is of great comfort for someone in extremis. You are all really in contradiction. You do not believe in the Eucharist but you celebrate the paschal supper with great solemnity. If you believe the Body of the Lord is in your supper, then you should believe along with Catholics that you can take it to the sick; if you don’t believe that of what value is your supper? Furthermore, from the Bible and from what you yourselves have taught me it is certain that Jesus commanded us to eat his body and drink his blood; he gave his body and blood to the Apostles under the species of bread and wine and commanded them and their successors to repeat this sacrifice for the remission of sins. That does not mean that the Eucharist is just a figure or commemoration of the sacrifice of Calvary. Jesus Christ solved every doubt when he said: This bread is my body, this drink is my blood, this food is my body sacrificed for you". Corpus quod pro vobis tradetur”.
No one at that moment thought of making any observation, perhaps not to exacerbate my emotions, and all they said was that study and prayer would better enlighten me in the faith; it would get rid of my sadness and iw ould be happier.
Up to this point the Waldensians in Luserna and the Protestants at Geneva had treated me well, and I did what I could to respond to their kindness by getting energetically involved in work whether study or practical, that they asked of me. No one ever insulted my honesty. But there was one wicked individual amongst them who pushed me to do something bad that I will abhor until the end of my life. I will tell you but only so you can be horrified. Please offer me kind forbearance for my disgusting behaviour.
In Geneva it is the custom to write down the place, day and time of conferences or sermons, as they say, then disseminate these amongst the Protestants and Catholics, inviting them to attend. A friend who I think they gave to me so I could keep an eye his moral behaviour, invited me to go with him to a special conference for which, he said, they had not printed the usual posters, but he knew about it and he could take me with him as well Indeed he reassured me that his teachers had given him the task of inviting me. "If you come" he added, "you will become an excellent evangelist".
I went, but that villain led me to being a victim of seduction.
It was the first time that immorality of that kind had stained my conscience. I was twenty seven years of age and my life had always been honourable and upright. I felt such remorse for that terrible action that I had no peace, day or night. But you can imagine my anguish when I became aware that as well as offending the Creator I had contracted a physical disease that could only suggest sad consequences for the future. My superiors took me to a good doctor who offered me all kinds of cures; but after many attempts he finished up telling me that it was a long-term ilness and not an easy one to heal. With those humiliating words I was rabid. I cursed Geneva, my villainous companion, Protestants, Waldensians, and I detested the very moment I put myself into their hands. All useless words.
My teachers decided to remove me from a place where all I did was run them down and speak badly of them and also to try a remedy that could give me back my lost health, they agreed with the doctor’s advice and decided to send me to Genoa where the climate and some well-known medical experts could help me a lot.
Chapter 22. Severino speaks of his friend’s death and going to the Capuchin church.
The change and the mild climate, Genoa’s wonderful position at first produced a noticeable improvement in my health. But it did not last long and after a few days I had fallen back to where I was.
I was in the Protestant hospital and it lacked nothing of what could possibly help me.
It lacked just that one thing that would have calmed my conscience. One day while I was thinking about this and walking around the hospital I heard a nurse call me by name.
"Who is it?" I answered.
"A friend of yours, Paul Bordis, don’t you remember me any more?"
"Bordis.... you’re here..... and you look so sick.....!"
"The miserable thing about it, dear Severino, the miserable thing that led me to this sad state is that I became a Protestant. And now I feel such terrible remorse. Oh woe is me! Here I am stuck in this bed and I don’t know where to turn, nor how to provide for my needs".
"Mr Charbonier, what does he say?"
"Mr Charbonier our Pastor comes almost every day to see me but all he can say is courage, have faith, have faith; But those words don’t give me any comfort. It is my conscience that is pricking me; if I die in this state I am lost and meanwhile here I cannot go to Confession, Communion. O Severino, Severino! You still have time; leave this place, do not let death surprise you in this accursed place".
"Have you explained your doubts to the pastor?"
"Sometimes I have and one day I insisted that he hear my Confession. He answered that I could confess to the Lord and that he alone forgave sins. I told him I knew that very well, that only God forgives sins; but the priests help me to make my confession; "In God’s name absolve me from my sins".
"What did he say?"
"He smiled then added: ’Have faith as this alone will save you’. These are nice words but meanwhile I am suffering terribly in body and in soul. What a terrible disaster I have fallen into!"
"Paul, I share your suffering, because my conscience just like yours is horribly troubled. We were always friends, we were brought up together, went to school together, were at work together, and I will not abandon you. I will try to find what will relieve us both of our worries".
I thought my friend’s illness would continue for some time, but the following day I saw that his life was in grave danger.
"Dear Severino", he said, "I do not know if I will still be alive tomorrow: remember to tell my brother that I have asked forgiveness for the scandal I gave; also tell our old spiritual director that I was ungrateful; ask him to give me absolution if he can; tell him I am the unfortunate Paul Bordis who he had told so many times not to wait until the moment of death to make a good Confession. I didn’t listen; now I want to go to Confession and I can’t. Poor me, I can almost hear the devils coming to drag me down to hell: I wil die and I will die and be damned".
"Paul, have courage, tomorrow I will go and get advice on who can help us and we will both go".
"I will not survive, I will suffocate from coughing, tonight is the last night of my life; oh Severino....".
"Dear Paul, be at peace, while there is breath there is life; but if you unfortunately find that you are at the point of death, ask God to forgive you your sins with all the fervour possible, and promise you will go to Confession the very first moment that you can. If you do that you will certainly find mercy in God’s sight".
His sad prediction came true.
Next morning I went early to see my friend, but he was already a cadaver. Someone who was with him in his final agony assured me that his anguish and remorse were with him till he breathed his last.
Confused and desolate then I left the hospital without knowing where to go or what to do. I mechanically entered a church run by the Capuchins just as one of them was about to celebrate the holy Mass. I attended gladly; it was the first I had been at for many years. I then looked towards a confessional where lots of people were: at the sight a thousand thoughts ran through my mind. I recalled the peace I enjoyed when I regularly went to Confession. this confessional, I said, sighing to myself, could give me the peace I have sought in vain elsewhere. This confessional could have saved my beloved Bordis’ soul. Poor Bordis - where is his soul now?
Right then I took some steps towards the confessional but shame kept me back. I went and sat in a pew, and amidst all my worries and sighs I said: Confession doesn’t cost me anything; it gives my heart peace and does me no harm. And we know that the Saviour gave the Apostles all kinds of faculties amongst which he said: those whose sins you forgive they are forgiven; those whose sins you retain they are retained. So, I concluded, God gave us a way to obtain forgiveness for our sins, and this means, this Sacrament must be administered by his ministers; they are to remit or retain sins, give or not give absolution according to the pentitent’s dispositions. And so that the inner dispositions of the penitent can be known, they have to be made manifest or confessed.
And then... I went to Confession for many years and I was always happy.
Remorse and these pricks of conscience in my heart began when I left off going to Confession. So, I want to go to Confession and let God do with me what he wills. But one particular and not slight difficulty was getting in the way of my good will. When I have been to Confession where will I go? What can I do in my ruined state of health?
This was the way I was reasoning or better, strruggling with myself, as I approached the confessional. I was welcomed with true paternal kindness; I opened my heart and the good confessor listened to everything; then he gave me some saintly advice and at the end said: "Dear friend, Divine Providence has brought you here, God does not want to see you lost. I cannot give you absolution yet because before receiving this Sacrament you msut leave the place and the people you are staying with".
"Where shall I go and what can I do?" I asked.
"Have faith in the Lord’s goodness: I will take care of you; come here tomorrow at this same time and I hope to be able to give you good news".
A ray of hope, a comforting thought arose in my heart; except that when I got back to the hospital I was so exhausted that I immediately went to bed. The emotions, the heart-wrenching death of my friend, my uncertain future made my illness much, much worse. My coughing returned again that day with even stronger and more feverish symtpoms.
The doctor came to see me frequently; but seeing my illness worsen each day, he said that the fresh salty air seemed to be bad for my weak state and he asvised a quick change of climate. Then Mr Charbonier decided to follow the doctor’s advice. Telling me he would never abandon me he asked: "Have you got some place you would prefer to spend some time? I will see that you get there".
"I would gladly go to Turin", I answered, “my mother has been living there now for some time and although she is in difficult straits, she loves me very much and earnestly wants me to be with her".
"You will have this comfort; I will write to someone in Turin and I hope you will also get some help at home with your mother. But I do recommend that you remain firm in the faith and honour the society you belong to".
Chapter 23. Severino speaks of his trip to Turin and his new life in the family.
The doctor’s care did help me recover somehwat from my illness, and a week later I found myself ready enough to set out for Turin. On doctor’s advice my departure was hastened, and more so because the pastor had guessed that I wanted to abandon the sect that I had pretended to put my name to. This was confirmed by somone who had aboserved what had happened at the Capuchin church and had informed the Evangelical pastor. Besides, after the fatal deception at Geneva, and Bordis’ sad death, I could no longer refrain from blaming the people and the actions that had prevented my friend from having the comforts of religion. One thing I regretted and that was not being able to go back to see the Capuchin priest to whom I had promised to return. I thought I could at least fulfil part of my duty by writing the following note:
Dear and reverend father,
The worsening of my illness has prevented me from returning to you. Now I must leave for Turin without being able to see you again; but be consoled that your words were not without good results; I am a Catholic again. Where I am going there is a priest in whom I have full confidence.
I hope he will help me to complete the task you have begun. My illness is getting worse by the day, and I am hurrying towards the grave; the doctors give me ltitle hope of recovery any more, nor of a long life. Pray to God for me that I may soon find myself in such a state that I will no longer fear the hour of my death.
We may not see each other again in this world; May God let us see each other again in blessed eternity. Goodbye. I had only just been able to entrust delivery of this note to a servant when news that it was time for me to leave arrived. I was taken to the station, not without some effort, placed in a compartment on the train with two salesmen for evangelical books who were also travelling to the same city. God helped me and kept me going me on this rough, six hour journey. I got off at Porta Nuova station where I was packed into a buggy which had me at my mother’s place in the blink of an eyelid. The good woman barely recognised the old Severino, given the many years since we had seen each other and the change in me due to both age and illness. We both experienced mixed emotions: tears, sighs and joy.
"Dear Severino", she began, "I very much regret that I cannot do everything I should for you, but I will do what I can to see that you lack nothing".
"God will not abandon us, dear mother. Let us put our hopes in him".
"They had told me that you had become a Protestant and that you had a job where you were earning a lot of money. Is that true?"
"Mother, let’s not talk about this now. I just need to...".
And right then the bell rang and in came the Minister, the Waldensian Pastor.
"Is this the house where Mr Severino is staying? He just came from Genoa", he asked.
"That’s correct", my mother replied. "He was extremly tired when he got here. Now he has gone off to bed to get some rest".
"I know that things are tough for you; so take this money; we will send along our doctor and we will also see that you are not left wanting for anything. But see that you don’t allow any priest to come and visit him because they will immediately start talking about Confession, Our Lady and what not, and this will disturb the poor sick fellow; could even bring about his death. I will come and see you frequently. I am leaving a nurse here who will be able to help, day and night".
In fact I had fallen asleep and the Minister did not want to disturb me, but when I awoke and my mother told me what had happened I knew that I was getting help but at the same time had become slave to the Protestants.
"How kind that man was to me", my mother said. "He gave me money and promised to bring some more next time".
"I look on this money as poison to poison you with, a knife to stab you with".
"Why on earth do you say that? Money is always a good thing, wherever it comes from".
"But that money has been brought by a Protestant minister, and he has given it to you so I will continue being a Protestant".
"And what does that matter? Look here. On Sunday morning I can go to our parish and ask the parish priest for help; in the evening I can go to the Protestant church to get whatever they give to those who attend their services".
"That is bad. That would be done in bad faith. A man should have only one face; if he believes in one set of beliefs he should practise them and not another. Material interests should never induce you to practise a religion that you don’t consider to be good; no two religions can be equally good. Saying that you would go to the Catholic and Protestant churches is like serving both God and the devil".
"I have done that in the past because I did not consider it such a bad thing; I won’t do it again in the future. But how will we survive?"
"By being good Christians, trusting in God. He will help us. Meanwhile mother, I would like to speak with our priest because I do not fell at all well; I want to die in the religion that you and my father brought me up in".
"Calm down. Tomorrow I will call him and he will come for sure".
That was almost the only discussion I was able to freely have with my mother.
After that I was no longer my own master: the nurse, or the evangelist, or the pastor, or a minister were always beside my bed, or in the next room. I learned later that my mother did in fact invite the priest to come and see me; he came and other priests came several times but they were never allowed to get to see me. They were always told I did not want to see them; that my illness was not serious, and that anyway the doctor had forbidden it.
These were lies and deceit because I earnestly wanted to see, if not the parish priest, some priest at least who could help prepare me for death. My fear was that what had happened to poor Bordis was also going to happen to me; and an even greater abhorrence grew of a religion that pretended to support you with money and deceit.
Chapter 24. Severino tells the story of a lively discussion between a priest and a Waldensian minister.
Four weeks had quickly passed of my stay with my mother, and although my life was not threatened by my illness, it nevertheless kept me in bed. I was always promised that a priest would come, and finally one did get to me but in a very chancy way. Let me tell you the story:
A priest whom I knew, in agreement with the parish priest, after having tried several times to get up to my room, but in vain, went to my old Director at the Oratory and told him the whole story. This man had always regarded me with great affection, so he decided to visit me at any cost. One day, it was two in the afternoon, he came along to our house and rang the bell just as the Waldensian minister was by my bedside. He went down to open the door.
"Who are you looking for, Father?"
"I want to speak with Severino who is ill".
"You can’t. He cannot see you; the doctor has strictly forbidden it".
"Then let me just talk to his mother".
"Good morning", said this astute priest to my mother. "I have come to hear how Severino is". Saying that he opened the door to my room, and while the minister was standing there shouting: "You can’t, you can’t", he was already beside my bed.
"Dear Severino" he said to me.
"Oh! Look who’s here.....!"
"Severino, how are you? Do you still remember me? Do you know me still?"
"I certainly do know you. You are my old soul friend; you gave me so much advice which I then forgot about. I am ashamed to look you in the face".
"If you know me, if I am your friend, then why be afraid?"
"It is not you I am afraid of, since you are so good, but I am ashamed because I was ungrateful, because I have done many bad things".
"Father", the Minister said, "Please go because all this emotion you are stirring up in the sick man could prove fatal. You have taken him by surprise; he didn’t want to see anyone, and besides, he doesn’t need anything from you".
"Severino", the priest said, "get a little rest and don’t tire yourself by talking. I will stay a little while and keep you company".
"And I’m telling you to go", said the Minister resentfully, "There is nothing you can do, nothing you can say to this young man".
"There are many things I can do and I have a lot to tell this child of mine".
"Who are you to speak to me so boldly?"
"And who are you to be making the kind of claims you are making?"
"I am a Waldensian Minister, so who are you?"
"I am the Director of the Oratory...".
"What do you want with this sick man?"
"I want to help him save his soul".
"He wants nothing more to do with you".
"Why on earth do you say that?
"Because he is a member of the Waldensian Church and he has no more religious ties with Catholics".
"I had enrolled him long before you in the register of my boys, I was, and I want to continue to be, his boss, and that’s why he has nothing more to do with you, nothing he wants to say any more to the Waldensians".
"I’m afraid Father, that by speaking this way, you are disturbing the man’s consience, and that could lead to certain consequences that you may have to regret later".
"When it is a question of saving a soul I fear no consequences...".
"Stop! Stop right there! Leave - now!"
"How about you stop right there! You are the first one who should be leaving....".
"Do you know who you are talking to?"
"I know very well who I am talking to, and I think you also know who you are talking to".
"You’ve no idea... I have the authority to...".
"Where religion is concerned I respect everyone but fear no one". And right at this moment I fear you even less because I know that this poor sick man is sorry he ever put his name to your beliefs. He wants to die a Catholic.
"This is called seduction. It is a lie".
"That is untrue. Severino, why do you want to persevere in our Church?"
"I want to persevere in the....".
"Take it easy; careful what you are about to say".
"Minister", the priest said; "I suggest you calm down. Just let me ask the sick man some questions. His replies will help both of us".
The minister fell silent and wide-eyed, sat down. The priest turned to me lovingly and began to speak this way: "Listen, Severino: this man has written a book where he repeatedly says that a good Catholic can be saved in his own religion; therefore no Catholic needs to emabrace another religion in order to be saved. All Catholics likewise say that by observing one’s own religion, one can be saved. But they also say that someone who remains a Protestant out of bad faith will certainly be damned..... Now tell me whether you want to leave aside the certainty of salvation and stay with doubt; or, according to Catholics, to the certainty of eternal loss?
"No, no and no again" I replied. "No. I was born a Catholic, I want to die a Catholic - these were the last words my father left me... I am sorry for everything I have done".
Then the minister stood up, put on his hat and turning to the priest, said: "You cannot be reasoned with at the moment: I will return to the better Church. But you Severino, you have cast yourself into an abyss... Remember that they want you to go to Confession, and that Confession, instead of giving you life, will hasten your death". And having said that, filled with indignation he left.
Chapter 25. Severino tells of how he moved elsewhere, and of his unexpected recovery.
After these discussions, which lasted two hours, I was very tired; and I felt such fatigue that I feared I might die that very night, so I immediately asked if I could go to Confession. Given that I was dealing with a Director whom I had known since my childhood, it was just so easy to tell him the story of my life. And since I had never preached or written anything against the Catholic religion I had no need to make any public retractions. With Sacramental absolution, it seemed to me that the priest has taken a huge boulder off my back. My soul returned to a calm that it had not experienced for ten years.
I shook this sacred Minister’s hand, kissed it and kissed it again. I was as happy as anyone could be in this world.
When I had finished my confession, I asked if I could receive holy Viaticum. "Do me a kindness", I told the Director, "and go to our parish priest, and say I am sorry for not greeting him. But tell him why. If he wishes to he can give me some public penance or ask for a retraction; I will gladly do so. If he judges me worthy I would like him to bring me Viaticum. I fear that tonight may be my last night".
I was overwhelemed when the parish priest came to visit me; he assured me he would help me in all my spiritual and temporal needs. Then he brought me the Sacred Host and it filled me with consolation. Following that I had no more desire to live any longer. But a small difficulty surfaced; the fear that the Waldensians would never leave me in peace. In similar cases they used come, come back again, send others, even use civil authorities to safeguard, as they put it, freedom of conscience. To avoid all this and the sad consequences that might result from it I considered it wise to move elsewhere, and I was brought to a house where every corner, or better every stone seemed to be stamped with the blessings of heaven. During this move we feared some disaster, but God was with us and everything went well. My confessor spent the night with me, and as day broke, at the sound of the Angelus, we prayed together, and then he said to me:
"Dear Severino, you are ready for death; this is an extraordinary grace from the Lord. But I can feel some hope welling up in my heart. You were always devoted to Mary...".
"Yes, I never abandoned this devotion, and I really believe it was Mary who put me back on the right road".
"Who knows but this Mother might not want to reward you also in this life?"
"By obtaining your recovery from her Divine Son; so you can help your own mother especially in religious matters because you have told me she is a little weak in her thinking and I fear for her if you are not there".
"I am in God’s hands: tell me what to do and I will do it".
"A novena to Mary Help of Christians".
"With what intention?"
"Asking God for your recovery so long as it not be to the detriment of your soul".
"I really feel I am at the end, but if you advise me to ask for this grace, I will gladly do so: tell me therefore what I ahve to do in this novena if I survive long enough to make it...".
- In this novena you should say three Our Fathers, three Hail Marys, three Glory bes to the Blessed Sacrament, with three Hail Holy Queens, to Mary Help of Christians.
"And if I recover?"
"If you recover you will help your mother as long as she lives, and you will never stop promoting devotion to the Blessed Virgin everywhere, and with anyone when you have a chance and see that it would be useful".
"I will do what you say and may the Lord’s holy name be always blessed".
He then gave me his priestly blessing and I began the novena he had suggested. From that moment my illness seemed to mark time. I prayed every day and every day the Director came to ask me if I was feeling any better, and since he didn’t see any real improvement, he kept saying to me: “Pray with faith; God has some plans for you. Faith and prayer".
The eighth day came; "So, Severino, how are you?", the Director asked me, anxious for news.
"Always the same, no worse, no better, but still ill and without strength".
"Faith and prayer; Mary is a ’Virgo potens’: so courage; tomorrow... who knows... keep hoping...". and he left.
That night I did not sleep at all, and as day broke I felt I was about to leave for eternity. I wanted to call somebody but I had no strength in my voice. I am dying, I told myself, and so I said the following aspiration to myself with all my heart: Jesus, Mary and Joseph may my soul breathe its last in peace with you.
Then two hours passed where I knew no longer if I was dead or alive. Finally, as if I had been shaken awake from a deep sleep, I awoke all covered in perspiration. I begna thinking and I could not sense that I had any illness. I asked for a drink, then some soup, then some more soup. I was well again!.
The confessor came and as soon as I saw him I cried: "I have receovered! I have eaten soemthing, had something to drink. The grace has been granted. I have recoevered".
He answered with joy: "May the Lord’s great kindness always be blessed and may the great Mother of the Saviour be glorified throughout the world! How beautiful and true are St Bernard’s words when he said: never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided.
Chapter 26. Severino’s final years: his mother’s death.
So marvellously recovered as I have explained, I felt strong enough to take up some new work. And I needed to if I was to look after myself and my mother, who completely lacked any luck at all. There was good work available in Turin; but given the friends, companions and places that had earlier been so fatal for me I felt I should go elsewhere. Nor did I think of going back to my home town where sad recollections would have made my stay a bitter pill to swallow.
Amidst all these hesitations the very same Director offered me to a school principal in..... where no one knew anything about my earlier existence. I went there with my mother. Between my school stipend, a small amount for playing the organ at the parish and teaching a few piano lessons, I was able to scrape enough together for our circumstances of life.
I was enjoying my new status, and never ceased telling my pupils and others of the glories of Mary Help of Christians. My mother, who had learned much from her sad experiences, had determined to live a temperate, sober and sincerely Christian life. And since everything came back to me for our survival, I thus had a certain freedom to encoruage her, and even help her correct her faults if that was necessary. The Christian way my father, of beloved memory, used live once again became our family’s way of living; my mother gladly came with me to parish functions and to the Sacraments. My days went back to being a source of consolation, proving that only the practice of religion can strengthen harmony in families and give happiness to those who live in this vale of tears. I spent three years of what I can say were years of peace and reparation; I would have liked them to last forever, but that was an illusion. Nothing under the sun remains stable and whoever lives in joy and abundance today, will end up tomorrow in squallid misery and tears. Deadly cholera had chosen our village to stay - and it was indeed deadly. My mother was terrified; I tried every way to give her courage; I left nothing undone that could help her and ensure her good health. But God had decreed that my mother should die. She was struck down so violently by the disease that she succumbed after just a few hours. She barely had time to receive the comforts of religion. I was able to be with her until her dying breath. I was consoled amidst all this sorrow by the Christian ideas she expressed during her brief illness.
These were her final words: "Severino, God wanted to give you life here on earth, but you have given me eternal life; thank you, I hope to be with your father in Heaven to possess those goods that can never be lost".
I wept for days and prayed so much for her.
Now that I had lost both parents I began thinking about what I should decide for my future. God himself mercifully showed me; my mission was complete; my mother was out of danger: I was to follow her to the grave. Two weeks later I was also struck down by this disease, though not with such threatening symptoms; but a few days later the disease turned into a serious kind of typhoid fever. Thanks to the doctor’s care and the loving assistance of the parish priest the intensity of the illness seemed to mitigate, and after a few days I was strong enough to make the journey back to my home town. After fourteen years of absence I was able to see my old friends and family, and they spared no efforts, out of great charity, to provide for whatever poor Severino, Gervasio’s son, needed. His memory was still held in honour amongst anyone who had had occasion to know him.
I have no illusions about the state in which I now find msyelf, my dear friends. Any improvement in my illness is but a brief prolongation of my life. May God, who has brought me back to you, always be praised and may he generously reward you for all you have done for me.
Now, kind friends, after having heard the adventures which troubled my poor existence, I would like you to join me in some reflections drawn from twenty years of experience and study.
Because just from the study of Protestantism I am fully convinced that only Catholicism contains the truth; so how much more should one be confirmed in faith who studies good books and draws his thinking from true sources? Let us say then that only religion can make a man happy, either in prosperity or misfortune; but that only the Catholic religion can provide this heavenly comfort. All other beliefs boast religious comforts, but all they offer are externals which satisfy the senses but never calm the anguish of the spirit.
Better educated Protestants agree that they do not have ancient origins. They can go back to Calvin, Luther, Pietro Valdo: but further back than that we can find no one who professed their religion. So in no way can they connect their beliefs with the religion and the Church founded by Jesus. Christ.
Not even after Protestants began were they able to agree on the religious system they were offering. In all the books that I have had available to me I have never been able to fully understand what is meant by Protestantism. Even going back to their catechsism and governing decrees I have not found confirmation that Protestantism has any religious principle or system. An example is the definition by the Geneva Senate. In 1824 this Senate gathered to define reformed religion and concluded thus:
Protestantism is an act of independence by human reason in religious matters. (V. Edilio Sen. Gen. Feb. 1824).
This definition takes everything that is sacred and divine away from religion. Reformed religion is one’s own reason. Following this principle we can say that those who deny the holy books, God, the soul, eternity, everything that is superior to human reason, are excellent Protestants.
In England, then, Protestantism is defined as an act by which one believes what he wants and professes what he believes. By saying that, there is no action, not even the worst kind, that Protestantism disapproves of or does not allow. (V. Vatson in Milner Contr. Relig. p. 3). In a catechism printed and commonly used in England we read as follows: Protestantism is detestation of Papism and Catholicism and exclusion of papists and Catholics from any civil and ecclesiastical role. Protestant catechisms in America have almost the same definition.
According to this definition there is no belief in the world that cannot be allied with Protestantism. Turks, Jews, pagans, free thinkers can become excellent Protestants without altering any of their beliefs so long as they detest Catholics and Catholicism.
It is true that in general Protestants do not follow such godless principles; indeed I have known many who are pious, charitable and completely upright. But their good qualities should still be attributed to the Catholic dictates and principles that they have unknowingly preserved and not to Protestantism that has no principles, or if it does have some, are ones we have indicated which lead to an endless series of errors and godlessness.
Another error spread amongst Protestants is the use they make of the Bible. They say they do not believe in the Catholic Church, but meanwhile, from whom did they receive the Bible? If they want to have some certainty with regard to the holy books are they not forced to go back to the Catholic Church and by that fact recognise it as the only repository of the Bible, traditions and all other revealed truths? When Protestants separated from the Catholic Church, did they not receive the Bible from this very Church? So while Protestants say that it is enough for someone to use the Bible, they fall into contradiction. If the Bible is enough, why write catechisms, sermons, keep Sundays holy; why believe in the Apostles Creed? Are all these found, maybe, in the Bible?
Then Protestants say that a good Catholic can be saved so long as he practises his religion; Catholic say the same. With that, we can ask this question: why do you reformed pastors try to lead Catholics into your beliefs while according to you, and us, they can be saved in their own religion? You should cease all kinds of explanations of God’s Word, or preach just this: You Catholics should be happy in your religion, just do your best to practise it and you will be saved. Do not become Protestants otherwise you expose yourself to the great risk of being damned. You should then tell your own followers: Waldensians and Portestants, do you want to ensure the salvation of your soul? Become Catholics. Do you want to live in doubt? Be Protestants.
If Protestants ssay otherwsie they betray their msision, contradict themselves and deceive their followers.
This is why we never read that a Catholic has become a Protestant to lead a better life, or that any Catholic has ever become a Protestant at the moment of his death. On the contrary, there are thousands of pious and learned people who have moved from Protestantism to Catholicism to lead a pious Christian life, and many have converted as they were dying fully convinced that they were ensuring their salvation.
But I am aware that my strength is fading, therefore I will stop speaking against the Protestants.
Instead let us be of one heart and one soul and ask God to show us and them his mercy. May he grant Catholics perseverance and may he led those in error to the right path. And so may everyone take refuge in the loving bosom of the true Church under the leadership of the Supereme Pastor the Saviour established when he said: You are Peter, I give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven; all that you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven all that you loose on earth will be loosed also in Heaven. You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. I have prayed for you Peter, so that your faith may not weaken; confirm your brethren in faith.
May God see that the day soon comes when there is one sheepfold and one shepherd on earth, so we can then be gathered around the one eternal Shepherd, Christ Jesus, in the kingdom of glory forever.
Appendix: Severino’s death.
Severino was thirty years old. His predictions of his imminent death unfortunately came true. None of medical science’s efforts could restore him to health.
He received all the comforts of the Catholic religion with great devotion. His former parish priest was still alive and although failing due to his age he was with him in his final moments. Someone who was there at his death says that these were his final words: May God be praised in everything; he has given me many consolations and tribulations but these latter contributed more than the others to my soul’s good. One of my great comforts is the presence of my parish priest. He was my spiritual director in my childhood; and now he directs, comforts and is with me in these final moments of my life. May God be praised. I separated myself from him but he called me to himself again. I thank him for having made me, and that I was born in the Catholic religion. If it is possible, let my life be made known throughout the world so it may help others by way of example, and also help me make reparation for the scandal I gave. My Jesus, have mercy on me, holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me, poor sinner that I am, as I face death. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit. In manus tuas, Domine, commenda spiritum meum.
With ecclesiastical approval.