In the 1960s I had the privilege of working with a number of German Pallottine missionaries in very remote areas of the state of Chhattisgarh, in northern India. My constant interaction with them provided much insight into the life of Pallottines and their founder, St Vincent Pallotti. Among his many saintly qualities what impressed me most was his vision of the Union of the Catholic Apostolate (UAC) within the Catholic Church.
The German missionaries told me that ‘Death to the Jesuits’ and ‘Down with the Pope’ were slogans constantly heard in Rome during the times of St Vincent. Preaching the word of God became extremely difficult and thus the ‘man of ideas’ emerged in him. During those turbulent times Pallotti came up with the idea of spreading the message of the gospel assisted by the efforts of each baptized Catholic. This ‘innovation’ gave birth to the Union of the Catholic Apostolate. It was truly an innovative and unique idea in the church at a time when everyone thought that it was only the responsibility of priests to become missionaries.
It is this unique idea that led Pope John XXIII to make the remarkable statement on the day of his canonization, 20th January, 1963: “Pallotti was an innovator of new ways whereby people could come to know and love God”.
Vincent may have lived a century and half century ago but, looking at our own times, I realize that they are no different from the days when he walked the streets of Rome. Today belief in the gospel message among Catholics is diminishing, faith in the Church is deteriorating, the pews in most of the gigantic churches the world over are often found empty due to lack of church goers, Catholic priests in the west have become an endangered species, consecrated men and women focus more on material resources than the words of the gospel, world religions are fighting among themselves to establish the superiority of one over the other, and the economic disparities among people worldwide are becoming very conspicuous.
It was such troubled times that made St Vincent say:
“I would like to be medicine to strengthen the weak; I would like to be a soft bed, to let tired limbs rest from their fatigue; I would like to be a healing remedy and health, to heal the infirmities of the sick, handicapped, the injured, the deaf and the mute; I would like to be light to illuminate the spiritual and physical blindness; I would like to be life to awaken all the dead to a life of grace or a physical life, or to both. We, the Christians, are called to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it”.
As I understand it Pallotti wanted every baptized person, irrespective of their status in life, to realize that the task in front of Catholics is enormous and everyone has to put in his/her share to bring about the changes that the needs of the hour demand. It was this vision that made him convene the first meeting of UAC on July 14, 1835 with just 15 participants: 8 secular priests, 1 religious priest, and 6 lay people.
When I look back into my own life as a lay person, and an ardent follower of St Vincent Pallotti and his Union of the Catholic Apostolate, I am often reminded of his visit to his aunt Candida Fiorani at Frascati, when he arrived barefoot without shoes and socks. On the way he gave his footwear to someone in need. He was always willing to share what he had, even though it was done at the cost of his own comfort and convenience.
May St Vincent Pallotti and his idea of Union of the Catholic Apostolate give all of us, priests, sisters and lay people, strength to walk as dedicated persons through the troubled times in the world and in the church today!
|Mr. Vincent Philip Co-ordinator Pallottine KREAM Centre (PKC) – Bangalore – INDIA(A Centre for Knowledge, Réhabilitation, Empowerment and Awareness of the Marginalised)|
Asia E-BULLETIN #162