Around the time when the scandal broke out at St. Gertrude the Great in Cincinnati, I got an inspiration to begin praying a novena. I took out my leather bound copy of The Raccolta and opened it at random. It fell to a series of prayers to Our Lady of Pompeii. So I decided to begin using the novena. As with almost everything else in the spiritual life, I tend to be a doubting Thomas until told otherwise.
When I began praying the novena, I asked for two specific intentions. One of them was fulfilled almost immediately, the other has taken a while longer. However, that’s not the end of the story. In fact, it’s only the beginning because I’ve added countless other petitions to my novena. These include intentions for friends, friends of friends, and people that I have never met who need prayer. In my heart, I know that Our Lady of Pompeii works miracles for those who ask in faith. But I’m sure that some of you are asking, “Well, I’ve never heard of this title. Where does it come from?”
The miraculous image of Our Lady of Pompeii was discovered in a junk shop during the late nineteenth century by a Dominican nun. The image consists of Our Lady enthroned and handing the rosary to Sts. Dominic and Catherine of Siena who stand on either side. The original image was torn and part of it was missing. However, the nuns at the Dominican convent knew that it had miraculous powers and that Our Lady would use it in some way.
Around this time, a man named Bartolo Longo came on the scene. Longo had been raised in a Catholic household, but had drifted from his faith. During his youth, he had become a believer in spiritualism and had played around with ouija boards, seances, and other satanic rituals. In fact, his involvement got so serious that he suffered a nervous breakdown. During this time, one of his professors noticed his fragile psychological state and urged to go to a Dominican priest for spiritual guidance. Longo was eventually re-baptized and became a Dominican tertiary. It was around that time that he decided he would go and preach the Gospel in the valley of Pompeii, an area near the ancient city.
What Bartolo Longo found was a group of people who were not interested in living their Catholic faith. Discouraged, Longo almost found himself at the brink of suicide when he heard a supernatural voice tell him, “One who propogates the Rosary will be saved.” Those words encouraged him and he continued with his mission.
It was then that Bartolo Longo heard about the miraculous image in the Dominican convent. When he was shown the picture for the first time, Longo was shocked. He himself wrote later on: “Not only was it worm-eaten, but hte face of the Madonna was that of a rough country woman, a piece of canvas was missing just above her head, her mantle was cracked. Nothing need be said of the hideousness of the other figures St. Dominic looked like a village idiot. To Our Lady’s left was a Saint Rose. This I had later changed to a St. Catherine of Siena. I hesitated whether to accept this gift.”
Seeing his confusion and perplexity, the Mother Superior of the convent gave him the following sage advice, “Take it with you, you will see that the Bless Virgin will use this painting to work many miracles.” So Longo did as the wise nun said. The image was taken to his house on a cart full of manure.
Soon, word of the miracles performed by Our Lady through this image began to spread throughout the countryside. Three hundred people in the Valley of Pompeii promised that they would pay a penny a month in order for a church to be built to house the image. This basilica was completed in 1881. Thousands of cures, miracles, and conversions are attributed to Our Lady of Pompeii every year and the miracles continue to this day.
Bartolo Longo, the former spiritualist, was also transformed by God. Around the basilica, he founded two orphanages and various other schools for the children and adults of Pompeii. He continued to teach and catechize until his death in 1926 at the age of 85.
For me, the story of Bartolo Longo and Our Lady of Pompeii is inspiring on several levels. First of all, it shows how God continues to search for His lost sheep in spite of every obstacle that they put in His way. It took a nervous breakdown to bring Longo to his sense, but it was the only tool that God had at His disposal. Everything else had not worked out. But then out of that breakdown came a truly miraculous ministry and an amendment of life that lasted until the end.
It is also important for us to remember that God can bring race and beauty out of things that are utterly ugly. The picture of Our Lady of Pompeii is not the one of the most beautiful. Even people with few aesthetic pretences will agree on this. Yet this image is like a magnet for thousands upon thousands. To them, it is not the picture that matters but who it represents and the power of the Mother of God to intercede on behalf on all of her children.
Thirdly, it is highly appropriate that this most sacred image was housed in a Dominican convent and then given to a Dominican missionary. The Dominicans have spent most of the last seven hundred years preaching the Word of God to anyone who will listen. It is not enough for them to merely preach the Word, but to live it and it is that example which brings so many people into their Order every day. Yet the keystone of that life of devotion is a love for the Mother of God. Indeed, Mary is such a strong part of Dominican devotion that it would be very hard to think of them without her. It was to St. Dominic, after all, that Our Lady gave the Most Holy Rosary.
Therefore, I would like to encourage all of you to turn to Our Lady of Pompeii. Big or small, stupid or not, turn to her and ask her to intercede on your behalf with her Divine Son. With God all things are possible!
Our Lady of Pompeii, pray for us!
Bartolo Long, OP, pray for us !