On his journey to Italy with his sister, Eugene revisited Venice. He had spent three years there some 50 years earlier as a young adolescent.
Arrived in Venice. The day did not go by without our going to visit the district of Saint-Sylvestre, in which my sister and I had lived during our infancy. Having first entered into the church which I habitually frequented, I scarcely was able to recognize it, so many changes were made.
I searched there in vain for the tomb where my great uncle of holy memory had been laid to rest; no trace of it remained on the renovated paving stone.
He was referring to Father Auguste-André de Mazenod, deceased in 1795 during the Mazenod’s exile in Venice. He had been Vicar General of Marseille from 1755 to 1801. With emotion he recalled the memory of Father Francesco Milesi, pastor of the parish in which the young Eugene had lived. Milesi later became Patriarch of Venice.
And my venerable friend, the former pastor Milesi, who had heard my confession in my early childhood, who had embraced me so paternally, who so often had provided for my small childish needs in order to relieve my emigrant parents, whom he likewise treated with tact, who loved me, in a word, as his child. It is he who, in his moving solicitude, provided the acquaintanceship of the blessed Bartolo Zinelli and hinted to him what he had to do to instruct me in devotion and in literature. Where was this good pastor Milesi?
Alas! I inquired at the pulpit where he instructed us every Sunday; I inquired at the altar where I served Mass for him so frequently; I inquired with all those who had known him. His soul is in heaven. Oh! yes, his soul is in heaven, I seem to hear each one respond to me; but his body, his mortal remains repose far from here.
… I said Mass at Saint-Sylvestre at the same altar at which I had so often received the body of Jesus Christ in my childhood; for I was led to receive Communion every eight days. I would not be able to express everything that I experienced during the Holy Sacrifice, in tying together these two extremes of my existence: my infancy and my current state as bishop.
Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 26 May 1842, EO XXI
How often we have visited places connected with the memories of people in our childhood whose significance continues to influence us today. Can we hear each place triggering us to exclaim: that person is no longer here but continues to live in my heart and life through the communion of saints?