"Before entering the Shrine to recite the Holy Rosary with you, I paused briefly before the tomb of Bl. Bartolo Longo and, praying, I asked myself: 'Where did this great apostle of Mary find the energy and perseverance he needed to bring such an impressive work, now known across the world, to completion? Was it not in the Rosary, which he accepted as a true gift from Our Lady's Heart?' Yes, that truly was how it happened!" - Pope Benedict XVI, October 2008
The tomb of Blessed Bartolo Longo can be found in Pompeii'sBasilica of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, a church - interestingly enough - built by a former Satanist.
In 1841, Bartolo Longo was born to wealthy parents in Latiano, Italy. His parents were devout Catholics, but after his mother's death in 1851, Bartolo began to let his Catholic faith fall away. While studying law at the University of Naples, he became involved with a New Age group, and began to dabble in the occult. The movement led him into a Satanic cult, and Bartolo was ordained a Satanic priest.
Lashing out at Catholics, Bartolo would publicly ridicule and attack the Church. However, his life was far from happy. Instead it was marked by extreme depression, paranoia, confusion, diabolic visions, and eventually a mental breakdown. In despair, Bartolo heard the voice of his father urging him to return to God, so he sought the advice of a friend who referred him to Fr. Alberto Radente. Through confession and spiritual direction, Bartolo renounced the all ties to the devil. He wrote,
"As I pondered over my condition, I experienced a deep sense of despair and almost committed suicide. Then I heard an echo in my ear of the voice of Friar Alberto repeating the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary: 'If you seek salvation, promulgate the rosary. This is Mary's own promise.' These words illumined my soul. I went on my knees. 'If it is true. I will not leave this valley until I have propagated your rosary.'"
His later writings also include this powerful quote:
"Just as two friends, frequently in each other's company, tend to develop similar habits, so too, by holding familiar converse with Jesus and the Blessed Virgin, by meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary and by living the same life in Holy Communion, we can become, to the extent of our lowliness, similar to them and can learn from these supreme models a life of humility, poverty, hiddenness, patience and perfection"
In 1871, Blessed Bartolo joined the third order of the Dominicans as a layperson and continued to foster his devotion to the Blessed Virgin and the rosary. He eventually married Countess Mariana di Fusco who helped him found a confraternity of the rosary. Bartolo devoted his life to performing charitable works, teaching catechism to young people in particular, and promoting the rosary. Bartolo also had the Church of the Most Holy Rosary built, which he donated to the Holy See. He died in 1926, saying before he died, "My only desire is to see Mary, who has saved me and who will save me from the clutches of Satan."
Saint John Paul II wrote of Blessed Bartolo in his apostolic exhortation Rosarium Virginis Mariae:
"As a true apostle of the Rosary, Blessed Bartolo Longo had a special charism. His path to holiness rested on an inspiration heard in the depths of his heart: 'Whoever spreads the Rosary is saved!'"
On October 26, 1980, John Paul II beatified Blessed Bartolo Longo, giving him the titles "Man of the Madonna" and "Apostle of the Rosary". Like us Mercedarian Sisters, Blessed Bartolo Longo saw the inestimable value of devotion to Mary as a way to grow closer to Christ and achieve salvation!
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Sr. Jeanette Marie, HMSS