"...And What is Lacking of the Sufferings of Christ, I Fill up in my Flesh for his Body, Which is the Church..." (Col.1:24)

Sunday, October 29, 2017


      I came upon this memoir last week, an experience I wrote about many years ago.  

       The heavy rain was an ocean in my face as I ran to the street corner where I hoped to find the bus back to San Giovanni Rotondo. It was late afternoon approaching evening in March, 1982, and I was in the town of Manfredonia, on the southeast coast of Italy, about 15 miles from San Giovanni Rotondo. The sky had blackened and turned to night. There was no one in sight, all had fled to some familiar shelter and I was disgruntled and a little scared to be alone.

     It hadn't stopped raining on and off for days, but there'd been a long dry spell in this part of Italy and the rain was very much needed. I tried to hold up my umbrella as a shield but then I couldn't see where I was going! So I let the rain smite me. That day I had been doing research at the Manfredonia library for a book I was writing about Padre Pio, but I'd been trekking everywhere for days with camera and notebooks in the many downpours.

     I waited at the bus stop. The dark wet streets sparkled with the beating rain and  small Fiats darted like beetles for home somewhere near. Their passengers looked dry and comfortable inside and I felt a terrible pang as I longed for my home and my family thousands of miles across the Atlantic.  There I was, waiting alone, getting drenched in a town most people never heard of, in a part of Italy most tourists never visit.

     At last a bus came along with the destination "San Marco in Lamis" on the front panel--another town in the vicinity of San Giovanni Rotondo. I let it pass. Fifteen or twenty minutes later another bus with the same sign came, but I had no idea how I would get to San Giovanni Rotondo from San Marco in Lamis and I'd be just as stranded there as I was now. So I let it pass, too. The rain drummed on my umbrella and soaked my fake-fur coat, which had transformed from silky to bedraggled. Fifteen or twenty minutes later another bus came--and again, San Marco in Lamis. The driver stopped when he saw me waiting, and opened the door. I called from the curb, "When does the bus to San Giovanni Rotondo come?" "This is it," he called back.

     I was stunned by my stupidity!  Of course!  San Marco in Lamis was the last stop after San Giovanni Rotondo, so naturally the front sign would show that as the destination.

     I gladly entered, chugged down the aisle dripping water and dragging my paraphernalia, and plopped exhaustedly into a seat with a grand squish. It was quiet inside, a few scattered passengers like shadows in the dimness, sitting in relaxed contentment as if they hadn't come out of the same rain as I had. No one was talking. There was an atmosphere of, how shall I say, otherworldly travelers coming a long way, going a long way.

      We wended out of Manfredonia and plunged into the dark night of the plains of Apulia. I succumbed to the safety and warmth under the lulling drill of the rain on the bus roof and windows. I could see out the driver's window, the headlights shafting the blackness of the storm, and  then we were listening to the drag of the motor and the gear shifts as we steadily climbed the hairpin turns up the Gargano mountain.

     The Gargano mountain, the spur of boot-shaped Italy, is ascended by millions every year for one thing only--to get to Padre Pio (1887-1968). In his lifetime, Padre Pio was known as the Holy Man on the Mountain, the saint who had the stigmata (wounds of Christ), who performed miracles, who cured.  Once, they came to see the living Padre Pio; now it's his tomb. The whole Apulian area has a throbbing medieval history that faded away over the centuries, and The Gargano seemed to disappear in a primeval mist, until Padre Pio came along and put it back on the map. His Christlike love for humanity, for which, along with his stigmata, he became so famous and beloved, passionately prompted him to build a hospital on top of the mountain--which he called not a hospital but a Home for the Relief of Suffering--so the sick of the Gargano could get help immediately without the hour-long winding trip down to the plains.   

     We reached the top of the mountain where the road flattened out on a plateau, and soon the bus was nearing San Giovanni Rotondo. I went up front to be ready to get off, and became aware of a man and young boy sitting in  the front seat behind the driver. The man stood up and peered out the driver's window. He was tall and slender, probably in his early forties, neatly dressed in a long gray coat of fine wool. He turned and spoke to me in Italian. Was I going to San Giovanni, too? Yes. I told him in my basic Italian that I was American and had come to see Padre Pio and was sojourning in San Giovanni Rotondo.

     A  soft smile was on the man's face. It seemed a permanent expression, a way of life. His son was ill, he explained, and he was taking him to Padre Pio. He half-turned to the young boy, about 8 or10 years old, sitting by the window of their seat, bundled in a neat coat and a knitted cap. Through the dimness of the bus light I saw a blue face looking up at me. I felt the sensation of a silent gasp and thought don't show shock! He had a thin, tender face much like his father's, and his skin and lips were totally blue--enamel blue or cadet blue or the blue flame of a gas jet. He sat patiently, no hint of pain or anxiety or fear in his eyes. Just his calm gaze on me as he saw me seeing him. I think I smiled, but it must have been weak.

    The blue boy's father didn't say what was wrong with his son and in my state of sadness and shock, I didn't ask--I assumed it must have to do with his heart or lungs or blood. The father asked me questions; did the bus stop at the church, would the church be open in the evening, would they be able to go down to Padre Pio's tomb? I answered yes to everything, but I was distracted. I did not want to stare at the boy but I did not want to look away, either, as I might give him the impression he was a sight I could not bear to see. I was trying to realize the situation, settle the child's blue face in my heart and know what to say. I was suddenly emotionally involved with these true believers. They had come out of their world, wherever it was, with trust, and were not deterred from taking this slick curving mountain road in a monstrous deluge to put their prayers before Padre Pio. Padre Pio had prophesied this would happen, that the people would come to him in his tomb with their prayers, and there he would be, waiting, and he would not refuse them his intercession.

     We had to switch to a local bus once in  the town of San Giovanni Rotondo. Our Lady of Grace church and Padre Pio's tomb were about a mile and a half up the main road, and we waited near some shops in the piazza for the next local. I kept sliding my eyes to Blue Boy. His gaze had now become a stare of wonder. Americans encountered on a local bus south of the Gargano were not a common sight and I must have been a curiosity. All I could offer was another smile--I had to let Blue Boy know Americans can smile, because maybe I was the only USA he would ever get to see.

     The  bus came. . . We stood together by the front door as we slowly went up the Viale Cappuccini, the main road. My hotel stop came first and the father and I said a friendly, strangely optimistic  goodbye. I dashed to the hotel porch and, still feeling as though the earth had shifted a bit, I turned immediately as I heard the bus take off and saw it diminishing up the hill into night. . .and hope.

     Friends were waiting for me in the hotel and I was swept into answering questions; where had I been? In this weather?  But I was thinking I would never know the outcome for Blue Boy. Was he to be one of Padre Pio's miracles . . .or one of the little suffering ones? Padre Pio had both in his camp. He had cured many children but also, either in bilocation (two places at once) while he was alive, or in an appearance after he died, he told other children that they would soon be with Jesus. As far as I could ascertain from research, just as "Our Lady of the Rosary" told the Fatima children, Francisco and Jacinta, that she would soon come for them and take them to Heaven and they were not frightened (indeed they awaited the moment even while seriously ill with the Spanish Flu, saying their rosaries as Our Lady had asked them to, to save sinners), so, too, the children who received the same message from Padre Pio did not fear that passage. Their fearlessness came from their ability to believe without doubt in Heaven.

     A little more than a year later, in the June, 1983 issue of The Voice of Padre Pio (the magazine published by Padre Pio's friary), there was an item on page 15 among the many graces received through the intercession of Padre Pio; there had been a cure of a child turning blue with encephalitis.  

     It could have been Blue Boy! 

    I had never forgotten Blue Boy and his father. Even if they had not been the ones to receive that grace, their undaunted faith would go on, because, especially in children, you can't undo the imbedded faith in the heart--that is why Padre Pio wanted children to have First Communion very young, to have the spiritual power of the Eucharist before the world impressed its secularism. The faith of Blue Boy and his father was an invincible gift from God, and would keep Blue Boy in good stead. And maybe me, too. In the past year and a half my sister died, the last of family, and my health collapsed into many debilitating illnesses, all at once, one thing after the other. There were times when I felt I was waiting alone in the rain for the bus.    

     Physically, I am semi-incapacitated these days, and struggling with the painful reality of my sister's death. I try to remember what it's like to be able to run through rain, but my legs won't follow through  with my commands, and my back rebels. Then the Blue Boy memoir I had written so long ago suddenly reappeared in a carton of old manuscripts. Reading it, I remembered how I often wondered what made me pass up two buses that rainy afternoon until Blue Boy came along? Where did this otherworldly bus come from, and why did the driver stop for me and open the door (when the previous two drivers had not) so I could call to him and he could answer "This is it."

     The world is a display of supernatural things we seldom recognize or associate with the Divine. Reading my old memoir, I was on that bus again, and I am succoured.

     I pray to become like little children.


Sunday, October 15, 2017


     You are about to touch Heaven. . .

     In the YouTube link below, you are about to hear the Latvian opera singer, Inessa Galante, speaking to Mary, the Mother of God, when you hear the mere two words, Ave Maria. Those two words are the only lyrics to the song she is singing. . .

     I have been an opera lover most of my life and I’ve had my favorites, but I dare say I have never heard anything more beautiful than Inessa Galante’s Ave Maria.

     Sometimes, when we're tired, we catch ourselves 'reciting' the Rosary in the same rhythmic pattern on each bead. We lull ourselves, actually. It's good, then, to kindle our truest emotion, the one we feel deep inside, so that it lifts and moves our warmth, our tenderness, our sentiments, our needs, our love, when we speak Mary's prayer. Listening to Inessa Galante does that for us, even just those two words. I often put the YouTube link on as very low background music and enter my Rosary alive with the emotion and feeling of Inessa’s Ave Maria. I am immediately drawn into my Hail Marys, and I want the Mother of God to know how much I mean the words.

     It's simple: go to the YouTube link below, click on the picture of Inessa Galante's face, and when you hear her singing, pray. When the recording comes to an end, simply click again, replay and continue praying. Repeat the process until you finish your Rosary.

     Ave Maria, a mere two words, I say, but oh., how Inessa offers to Mary this aspiration! It begins with her darker middle tones, then we feel she passionately wants to get nearer to the Mother of God, and her yearning, even a little plea about the pain of life, her love and joy,  soar like a lustrous silk thread arcing far and high, stretching out thinly to reach Heaven itself (this vocal agility and feat is called pianissimo in musical terms, and difficult to do).

     Where did this beautiful music come from? The attribution is always Vavilov/Caccini. (Vladimir Vavilov, Russian composer, 1925-1973, and Giulio Caccini, Italian Baroque composer, 1551-1618), but it is well known and accepted that Vavilov is definitely the composer, not Caccini.  And yet, surprisingly, I still see Caccini's name alone in some places as the composer. As the story goes, Vavilov published the music himself in 1970, ascribing it to "Anonymous" -- a habit of his. The little that is available in English on his life points out that he was also in the habit of using the names of forgotten Baroque composers instead of his own. Vavilov is credited with contributing to the revival of Baroque music in the Soviet Union. 

     Here is an explanation from his daughter (highlighted), reprinted verbatim from the websitehttp://www.origenmusic.com/ave-maria-vavilov.html 

Ave Maria by Vladimir Vavilov
( misattributed to Giulio Caccini).

Ave Maria is usually attributed to Giulio Caccini. It is the biggest musical hoax. Actually it was composed and first performed by Russian guitarist, lutenist and composer Vladimir Vavilov (1925-1973).  In 1970 Vavilov recorded and publish this song on the album “Lute Music of the XVI-XVII centuries” on the Russian Melodia label with  the  song attribution to “Anonymous”.
Almost all songs on this album were composed by Vladimir Vavilov and ascribed to composers of Baroque era. The reason for such a hoax was banal. At that time it was impossible to imagine that the major Russian label will release the music of unknown soviet composer.   As Vavilove’s  daughter Tamara mentioned "My father was convinced that the self-taught works of unknown composer with a trivial name "Vavilov" will  never be published. But he really wanted his music reached the audience and he went so far as to give all the glory to the medieval composers and "unknown authors."
For the first time the "authorship"of Caccini appeared on the record of Irina Bogacheva in 1975, released by the same Melody label. But the world wide success the song got after Irina Arkchipova performed and released the song on the album “Ave Maria” in 1987. Then this song was performed by numerous artists including Inessa Galante, Charlotte Church, Andrea Bocelli, Hayley Westenra and many more.

     There doesn't seem to be a smidgen of any Vavilov ego in his solution for getting his  music to the audience out there -- giving up "the glory" as long as it was heard.  

     A few years later, Vavilov died of pancreatic cancer, impoverished. Although it's not clear exactly how, his music was distributed and the Ave Maria was misattributed to Caccini. A YouTube entry (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOVAJI7SLXEd ) states: "It is believed that the work received its ascription to Giulio Caccini after Vavilov's death, by an organist Mark Shakhin (one of its performers on the mentioned "Melodiya" longplay), who gave the "newly discovered scores" to other musicians; then in an arrangement made by the organist Oleg Yanchenko for the recording by Irina Arkhipova in 1987, then the piece came to be famous worldwide."    

     In time the song -- or aria -- reached the heights of success. Many artists recorded it, and although all are worthy of our attention and listening, Inessa Galante's recording stands at the top. YouTube has many entries of it, some with comments, and has a number of her LIVE concert performances of Ave Maria, as well.  

     Effortlessly, one can't help but feel this great gift of love to The Blessed Virgin Mary. It enters us. Maybe that was the way Vavilov meant it to be and that's why he wanted it out into the audience. Love her, make her known -- that's what Padre Pio always said. My question is: what was Vavilov's spiritual relationship with her, if any, in a Communist Soviet Union? Was there a deep hungering for our faith? Remember the Polish chant of thousands when John Paul II visited Poland: We want God!

     Could a piece of music with only two words, Hail Mary, have contributed in some way to the same feelings in the Soviet Union? Vavilov's daughter said he really wanted his music to reach the audience, even though he attributed it to Anonymous. In Soviet Russia with its declared Atheism, promoting any religion was forbidden. Perhaps this was the only way to kindle the faith.  Or is it my wishful thinking?

     Or. . . could Vavilov have heard this religious aria in some small excerpt or prayer when passing a church, and it persisted in his head? Was he unwittingly evangelizing when he put it all down in musical notes? Did God, who so loved His Mother, grace Vavilov's heart and soul when Vavilov was composing Ave Maria? I feel God graces mine each time I listen and pray with it. God works in mysterious ways. Perhaps Vavilov's daughter's words, "my father was convinced that the self-taught works of unknown composer" give us a clue that it could have come from the heart.

     Most everything available online about Vavilov is in Russian--and I don't speak the language -- so it's frustrating not to be able to find answers. One has to go out on a limb even to make suggestions or ask questions that imply a strange possibility. If anyone knows of the whereabouts of a more interior and personal life of Vavilov,  please let me know.

     Whatever the answer to how Vavilov's Ave Maria was inspired, we owe him our deepest gratitude.
Vladimir Vavilov, 5 May 1925 – 3 November 1973

     Here is the YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PhHm0lzomd


     Here is a Wikipedia bio: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Vavilov_(composer)


Sunday, October 8, 2017


     It's October 7th as I write, time to think again about the Battle of Lepanto. This battle is recognized as the largest naval battle since antiquity, and the most important and crucial in the history of the world. It saved Christianity. It saved our Crucifixes, our altars, our freedom. Yet not many people heard of it, including Catholics.

     In fact, we must always be thinking about the Battle of Lepanto, which took place on October 7th in 1571, when the invading Turks had conquered Cyprus and were at the door of Christian Europe. To Europeans their defense seemed hopeless and it seemed a foregone conclusion that the expanding Ottoman empire would soon be sweeping over the continent, which was already beginning to bicker  over  visions of Christianity. 

     The Turks were ready to surround Italy and from there swoop down, spread over Europe, enslave, behead, and wipe out Christianity altogether. Pope Pius V, a very spiritual Pope (whose name Padre Pio was given when he entered the Capuchin order and whose feast day he always celebrated) had his heart and mind filled with worry and prayer to save Christian Europe from what appeared its imminent fall. With the 22-year old Don John of Austria, who would lead the Christians, he put together a coalition of European Catholic maritime states called The Holy League, which included Spain, Portugal, Genoa, Naples, Venice and the Papal States, and he asked the Catholic nations to pray the Rosary for the success of the impending clash. The Rosary was a popular prayer -- "the beads went through one’s fingers as regularly as the blood through one’s body, as regular as heartbeats and the breathing of the lungs," -- and the Catholics willingly complied.  tp://www.nationalreview.com/article/218921/remembering-lepanto-michael-novak 

     The sea-battle took place in the Gulf of Lepanto, where the Turkish forces were harbored. It was going to be ship against ship, but the Turks had near a hundred more ships than the Christians -- some records quote 280 Turkish, 212 Christian. The two fleets could see each other advancing from two miles apart. "Clouds of arrows" shot forth from the Turkish ships, but Don John of Austria had brought into the battle six new ships with a weapon of surprise not seen before and puzzling the Turks -- cannons. The cannons demolished and sank the Turkish ships they hit. 

     By most accounts the battle lasted some four hours. Do not fail to read the National Review articles by Michael Novak in the links below, with graphic, evocative descriptions. One can almost see the thousands of men fighting on the ships' slippery floors, the large splotches of blood floating on the sea.

     At the time the battle was taking place, Pope Pius V in Rome was seated at a meeting. He suddenly, somehow, knew something, and rushed to the window. He looked out beyond the horizon and knew without doubt (a vision, some say) that over a thousand miles away the battle had been won by the Christians. As I quoted in my previous blog, www.first.padrepiosworld.net/page22.php--

    [Pius V] never rested till he united the forces of Venice, Spain, and the Holy See ... He ordered public prayers and increased his own supplications to heaven. On the day of the Battle of Lepanto, October 7, 1571, he was working with the cardinals when suddenly, interrupting his work, opening the window and looking at the sky, he cried out, "A truce to business, our great task at present is to thank God for the victory which He has just given the Christian army." He burst into tears when he heard of the victory ... In memory of this triumph he instituted for the first Sunday of October the feast of the Rosary, and added to the Litany of Loreto the supplication "Help of Christians"... He left the memory of a rare virtue and an unfailing and inflexible integrity, and was beatified by Clement X in 1672, and canonized by Clement XI in 1712.  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12130a.htm

     As a result of the miraculous Battle of Lepanto, Pope Pius V instituted October 7th as Our Lady of Victory, which later became Our Lady of the Rosary, celebrated every year by the Church. We have just passed September 11th again, the 16th anniversary. I have heard a few people on radio say they were tired of the long ceremony of names, although they were certainly in deep sympathy. But it was in that year of 2001 that our own Battle of Lepanto began.

     The Towers that came down before our eyes were not Christian forts, but they represented the western world of Judeo-Christian precepts, the world we still live in. That is why we must hold on to the memory of those who were killed on that day. And . . .

     . . .to the memory of the Christian world at the time of Lepanto; it would have been exterminated on October 7th, 1571 but for Pope Pius V, Don John of Austria, the thousands of courageous Christians and their leaders who fought the savage battle, and the faithful who prayed the powerful weapon, Our Lady's Rosary.

     In the words of G.K.Chesterton, who wrote an acclaimed poem about the battle, "Lepanto"

                          And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,

                         And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross.

     Padre Pio said his "real mission" would begin after he was gone. It surely includes the Christian world. He also repeatedly said that the Rosary was his weapon. We can see what he means; he prayed throughout the day, even while hearing confessions, and throughout the night, when getting only fragments of sleep. We know for sure that he stopped the spread of Communism in his own southern area -- and we can be sure he did it with the Rosary that was always in his hand. We are not Padre Pios, but we can finger our Rosaries anywhere and send the Hail Marys to the frontline.

     Lepanto tells us that much can be accomplished with our own surprise weapon -- cannons of Hail Marys. Lepanto should be our rallying cry.

   Lepanto. . . His Kingdom Shall Have No End

The Battle of Lepanto: unknown artist, late 16th century

Pius V by Palma il Giovane