In January 1798, the 16 year-old Eugene and his father and uncles arrived in Naples.
My stay in Naples was for me an oppressive year of very gloomy monotony. I did not have my good friends the Zinellis any more, I no longer had a fixed task, relationships suited to my tastes and inclination. I can say I wasted my time there.
What a sad existence for a young man of sixteen, to have nothing to do, no idea what to fill his time with, know no one, be unable to see anything, except the church, where I went to serve my uncle’s Mass! The explanation lies in the sad situation to which so many years of emigration had brought us. The money my mother’s diamonds had furnished us with had to be eked out. Hence, no teacher. I was too young to be left alone in a town like Naples, and my father and uncles had so little curiosity that they left Naples, after a stay of a year, without having seen anything or visited any of its environs.
Diary of the Exile in Italy, EO XVI
This begging letter from the former President de Mazenod (who, a few years before, had had 12 servants in his house in Aix) shows Eugene’s changed situation:
“Your past kindnesses embolden me to expose my situation to you frankly. I have foresworn my country forever. I own nothing… My family is made up of four people, that is, my two brothers… my son and myself. By collecting all we own and by means of the strictest, most rigid frugality, all I have left is enough to provide meager nourishment from now until the end of July. Beyond this into the month of August, we will be faced with nothing and be without any resources whatever. Misery and the most abject destitution are our only prospect.” Letter of Eugene’s father to the Count d’Antraigues, 9 January 1798, Méjanes Library
Another building brick in the edifice of Eugene’s spirituality: first-hand experience that contributed to his outreach to the poor and to immigrants in later life.
Is my spirituality formed by life experience, or by theories in books?
“The very greatest things – great thoughts, discoveries, inventions – have usually been nurtured in hardship, often pondered over in sorrow, and at length established with difficulty.” Samuel Smiles