Monday, October 7, 2013

He Was What He Wore: A Faithful Witness

Lest you think I'm dead, I'm not.  The last few weeks have been extremely busy and while eventful on the news front, when time became available to blog I was just too tired.  I had better get back into it.  Someone said to me that blogging is a habit, get out of it and it can be hard to get back into it.  That is true.  So I had better get back into this ministry.
Well some good news to report: the heroic young seminarian, Rolando Rivi, has been beatified.  On Saturday the young seminarian murdered by communists out of hatred for his faith in 1945 was inscribed among the Blessed as a martyr.   I know a number of seminarians and priests will be delighted.
Rolando was an extraordinary young man, he was only fourteen when he was martyred and already studying for the priesthood - he had entered the junior seminary at the age of eleven.  An interesting dimension to this martyrdom was his refusal to divest of his clerical clothes.  He lived in an area of Italy which was, and still is, quite socialist, and there is a great hatred for the Church prevalent among certain groups there.  It was because he wore his cassock that Rolando came to the attention of the communist partisans who kidnapped, tortured and killed him.  Rolando had been advised to take off his clerical clothes, so as not to draw people's attention to him: Rolando refused.  He was martyred on the 10th April 1945.
I'm sure some would say that Rolando's attitude did not help and may have led to aggravating his killers - the more prudent thing would have been to take off his clerical clothes and lie low until trouble passed.  Yes, many did that in times of persecution, we may need to do it ourselves should persecution come to Ireland, the US or other countries in the West.  Heroic and faithful priests had to minister in difficult situations in "mufti": St Oliver Plunkett, St Edmund Arrowsmith and other priests in post-Reformation Britain and Ireland passed themselves off as layman, dressing as such, in order to move freely and undetected. 
But we cannot dismiss Rolando's witness either.  The Church in Italy at that time was not going through a period of persecution, priests and seminarians did not need to go underground in order to minister.  However then, as now, there were people who hated the Church and hated priests and religious, and clerical garb merely identified these consecrated souls, as it should.  Rolando did not give his killers an excuse to kill him, his wearing of his clerical garb identified him as a servant of Christ and it was this which led to his death. 
The lesson for us is clear: we should not be afraid to be identified as servants of Christ and we should wear some emblem of our adherence to Christianity.  For laity a cross or a medal suffices, but for priests and religious it should be their religious clothing.  Often we hear that clerical clothes or religious habits are a barrier to ministry, well I have found from my own experience and the experience of many others that it is not a barrier.  In fact, it is an invitation, an invitation for people to come to you.  Some of those who come will be believers, and some not.  Some will come for help, some to encourage and some to admonish and, yes, some will even abuse you.  We consecrated souls are not meant to fade into the background no more than Christ did.  Blessed Rolando encourages us to take this simple witness seriously.

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