Venice was a place that recalled harsh memories for Eugene of difficulties of being an exile, of the separation of his parents, of financial deprivation and of fear of the revolutionary armies of France.
We needed to distract ourselves from all these emotions, which truly were almost hurtful to us, so much did they make us experience at the same time both pleasure and pain.
In these moments of darkness, there was one shining light that transformed the adolescent’s life: Father Bartolo Zinelli.
I leave to books the descriptions of the beauty of this city; I express here only my impressions in another order of being. How not to tremble at the sight of the places which remind you of the first years of your adolescence, the help that divine Providence lavished on me during this period when my intelligence was beginning to develop. How could my heart not beat at the memory of these admirable men who devoted their spare time to my religious instruction, and who formed me in virtue? It was astonishing to hear me name each of those who had welcomed me in my infancy, to see me cite all the particularities of their life, to show the place that they occupied in the houses where we lived together, and to enumerate, so to speak, all the good which I have received from them. The fact is, no one could understand what profound traces have been left in my heart by the acts of generosity to which I am indebted for a little of the good that is in me, which takes its source in this first education and in the direction which these men of God knew how to give to my spirit and to my young heart.
Father Bartolo Zinelli was a young priest living with his family while hoping to be able to join the Jesuits in more peaceful times. The Zinelli home became Eugene’s place of refuge, and the Zinelli family became his anchor. Don Bartolo’s influence was to be felt in Eugene spirituality and ministry for the rest of his life. (See: ” Human, Christian, Saint: from Experience to Conviction and a Way of Life” – http://www.eugenedemazenod.net/?p=2847)
O blessed Zinelli! What would I have become without you? What thanksgiving do I not owe to God for having provided the acquaintanceship and the affection of such a holy person! Nearly forty years have gone by, and exactly the most dangerous years, under the direction of, and in intimacy with, a veritable saint who, inspired by the most affectionate charity, not only had taken on the task of instructing me in literature, but who fashioned me in virtue, as much by his example as by his precepts! I was the Benjamin of his entire family; it was because of this that he displayed the most affection to me.
Eugene de Mazenod’s Diary, 26 May 1842, EO XXI
An invitation for us to recall, with gratitude and a prayer, those persons who have had an important influence in our lives.