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?

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  1. Eleanor Rabnett, Oblate Associate says:

    There is a particular joy when through a person or writings we learn something new and interesting as I have this morning. It was Fr. Milesi who saw to it that Eugene would meet and be loved, led, and taught by Bartolo Zinelli. Another connection of wonder and my heart cried for a moment of unexpected joy.

    Like Eugene I too have been on a journey; not physical like Eugene’s, but rather one of healing therapy for PTSD. I have visited old memories which at first terrified me; but with time, prayer and guidance I am slowly walking through them. This is at times a new world to me – one filled with healing, sadness, letting-go and new joy.

    Having just moved into a new home, there are boxes everywhere and “stuff” all over the place. As I sat here this morning, I noticed a letter from mom, written just 2 years before she died and in it some pictures of herself with her friends. Like Eugene who remembered Fr. Milesi with gratitude and joy (rather than just pain of being lost and on the run because he was in exile). I have sat and cried over having a mother who was psychotic but who in the end loved me and was my mom. The tears have been good and may come again but for now I take with me my mom as I begin the day.

    I look for a moment around me – all is a jumble of boxes, papers, messiness and seeming chaos. Yet in this seeming chaos is buried a sense of order and rightness. And eventually there will be a new place for everything and a new way of looking at all of it. Healing and forgiveness changes how I see everything: a new universe, a new world, a new heart opening to receive love and to give love more fully.

    It is still dark outside, and I can see the twinkling lights of a city before me. The streets are quiet but will soon awaken. I am reminded of a time almost 50 years ago when I was doing drugs with some friends. It was just before dawn when I heard footsteps down on the street and I told my friends that it was Jesus coming to find me. But the footsteps passed by and faded away and I said that Jesus did not want me after all.

    I look out again at the quiet city and its lights, Jesus is here with me; along with Eugene and the communion of saints both living and deceased.

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