It was definitely a call by Our Lady, and it was through a small article precisely in the Echo of Mary which said there wasn't an Italian priest in Medjugorje to look after the Italian pilgrims. I took this as a personal call, and I asked Our Lady to provide a ticket to get there and a place to stay as a sign that it really was for me. Not long after this, whilst having dinner with friends, one of them said he had an extra ticket to go to Medjugorje and that he wanted to give it to someone. Then, at Medjugorje I asked Fr. Slavko about it and he confirmed that Our Lady had called me to stay there so I could better comprehend God's plans.
I spent nearly two years in Medjugorje (1995-97), dedicating my time to the Italian and French-speaking pilgrims, celebrating the Eucharist and especially confessing which took up more time. I would confess up to 8 and 10 hours a day, and it was here that I witnessed the grace of God most powerfully, most visibly and most incredibly. I was in the middle of this grace; it seemed so normal, yet it wasn't normal. Only the grace of God can make impossible things possible.
When I left Medjugorje I particularly asked Our Lady to accompany me, reminding her that she had said: “I shall always be with you.” I consecrated myself to her, but more than a formula it was as though I had passed through her motherly womb at Medjugorje and was reborn. I was given a new style of life, a new way of thinking, and especially a new way of being: of being a man, a Christian and a priest.
That's why I consecrated to her my every step, my every work, my every deed and pastoral activity and everything that the Lord would have prepared for me in the future. I am sure that Mary walks ahead of me, preparing everything, because everything belongs to her. Nothing that I have is mine; it is all hers: everything that I am and that I have. This state of regeneration has led me to a new life which wasn't always understood by those who should have understood.
I began to live the “five pebbles” that Our Lady recommends, and they have fortified my priesthood. When I came back the Bishop entrusted me with a little mountain parish at Vigliatore (province of Messina) which didn't have a resident priest. The people were used to seeing a priest only for Sunday celebrations. I continued to celebrate the Eucharist, to do adoration, to celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours, as though it were a cathedral. My thought was this: “Lord, I'm a priest for You, for Your glory and for the salvation of souls, whether they are present or not. I can't reduce my time spent with You or my love for You only because there aren't many people here present!” Gradually, the people began to come and to share this way of living the faith. I was letting myself be guided by Our Lady in living out the Gospel within the embrace of the Church. It is elementary that the parish should breathe with the lungs of the universal Church, with the Pope and the Bishops through obedience.
We began with preparation for consecration to Mary. Gradually, the parish became more sensitive to the mysteries of God. After the consecration we received a great gift. In fact, we have had perpetual adoration for more than a year, day and night, week after week, month after month. It has been organized around turns of 1 hour per week. So Jesus remains exposed 24 hours a day with the certainty that someone will be present for adoration. Obviously, perpetual adoration came as a fruit of the celebration of the Eucharist; a Eucharist celebrated with attention, without looking at the time, but rather at the encounter with Jesus Who speaks in the Liturgy of the Word, Who gives Himself in the Eucharist and in the need to continue the loving conversation with Him in adoration. It's a miracle! as there are only 2000 people in this parish, and I'm alone, without a minister of any kind.
A lot of help comes from the laypeople for adoration, for the celebration of the Eucharist. But we also have a fraternity called “Little Flock of the Immaculate Mother of the Divine Mercy” the members of which are five sisters who decided to share a communal life; there are also some brothers and some families. These have decided to dedicate their lives totally to the Lord, and as such they are the yeast to the prayer of the parish community.
This fraternity came as a response, partly to God Who placed this call in my heart, and partly to those who desired living the Gospel in a more radical, evangelical way. When I came back to Italy people asked about my experience at Medjugorje, but I didn't know what to say as it was an experience that needed to be put into practice. Instead, I witnessed that I had entrusted myself wholly to the Blessed Mother, that I had returned to her womb and was born again. I proposed (to the parish) a 33-day preparation of consecration to the Most Holy Trinity through Mary. It is Mary who can help us discover that we are children of God, help us live in the heart of the Trinity, and thus, to offer up our lives to the Father for the salvation of the world. A vast movement called “Behold your Mother” was born. Many from all over Sicily have wanted to adhere to it. At the moment six thousand have consecrated themselves. Each lives his consecration in a different way; there are those for whom it is a mere act of devotion, and those who've made it a life-journey. Within this movement, “Behold your Mother,” was born the “Little Flock”fraternity.
We feel that the Lord calls us to offer ourselves to Divine Mercy as a holocaust, a victim; not in a negative sense of suffering, but as a gift - the way Jesus offered Himself - and as a joyous, conscious gift, the way Mary did. It means to be a victim of love for the salvation of souls, and this can be realized in the celebration of the Eucharist, because we unite ourselves to Jesus Who is altar, victim and priest. As a priest I am powerfully aware that in the Eucharist I can reach out to the ends of the earth through uniting my self-offering to that of Jesus. But it is the same for each of us, for we are all called to offer ourselves as “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. This is our spiritual worship,” says St. Paul. It is to continually offer up to the Father the gift of Jesus' life, and the gift of our own life united to His. Then, in day-to-day living, it means to accept everything that the Lord will give us to live, without asking why, but knowing that everything comes from the Lord and that we are to give everything to Him under the action of grace, as a gift, precisely to implore Mercy and the second coming of Jesus.
Through my priesthood I am truly united to the priesthood of Jesus, and it has a universal bearing. To be a priest means to bring men to God and God to men, and not just someone who officiates at the altar or in the confessional; but a service of thanksgiving and offering is rendered to God through the priesthood on behalf of mankind. Through the ministry of confession I take to God all the sufferings and problems of all mankind, of all times. At Medjugorje Our Lady gave me to understand the greatness of the priestly ministry, especially in the sacrament of reconciliation. I had been worried because in the ministry of confession I hadn't noticed that people were being touched by the grace of forgiveness, but at Medjugorje I was given to see great miracles. People arrived, burdened by their sins; and even their faces were sad, stressed and harsh. During confession I saw their souls being revived, and their faces became more luminous. After one year I read that Our Lady had promised she would renew priests in the ministry of confession! In spiritual direction it is important that a priest be father; that he be the image of God's fatherhood and motherhood together, so that this father/mother dimension of the priest can bring healing to souls wounded by a human motherhood and fatherhood that don't reflect the divine fatherhood and motherhood. I strongly feel that these are the times in which God desires giving Himself to souls through Mary, the Church and the priestly ministry.
On one part I feel all the suffering of souls who live a life of sin, but I also see how many feel hurt by the Church, or rather, by men of the Church who may have refused them because of their sins. Jesus says that this is not a time for judging, but for mercy. Confessionals have become court houses instead of being places of mercy, forgiveness and healing. Not only at Medjugorje, but also here the Lord has placed me in touch with wounded souls who've distanced themselves from God because they felt judged by God and by the Church because of their irregular states of life, such as divorce and remarriage, or the deviated forms of sexuality of a lot of young people.
I strongly perceive this suffering. People come, let's say “by chance,” but the Lord makes use of many things to make souls come into contact with the priestly ministry, and especially during celebrations and evangelization souls are given to experience the attraction of love.
I know because I went through it all myself. I experienced refusal; I thought I wasn't good enough for God's love. Then, the Lord made me touch my own nothingness and I felt I wasn't being judged but that He loved me the way I was. Then I understood that only divine love could give me new life if I surrendered myself to Him with complete trust. In those years my prayer was: I give my life over to You...
That was the beginning of my climb back out of the abyss of sin and wounds. It was the Lord who pulled me out. I am aware of my own wretchedness and that despite this I am loved. God uses me to bring His mercy to others. I thank the Lord for my negative experiences of sin, and for my wounds, for through these I came to know God's love, and I am able to understand souls and they feel understood. It is not a human thing, but rather, it is the heart of Jesus in my own heart that comprehends them; it is Jesus Himself that listens to them.
Priesthood thus reaches out to everyone; those you see and those you don't see. There is a universal dimension to priesthood that touches also the souls in Purgatory.
I owe everything to her and I am ever more aware of the fact. Through Mary I discovered the true identity of Jesus, and the powerful action of the Holy Spirit in us. God entrusted Himself entirely to Mary to come into the world, so it is only normal that we should entrust ourselves to Mary to reach God. There is no other way.
(Interviewed by P. Arpad C.)
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