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Blessed James Alberione: Marvellous Apostle of Evangelization

On April 27, 2003, Alberione was beatified by Pope Saint John Paul II, who called him the “First Apostle of the New Evangelization”—a sign for the whole Church that even through an avant-garde apostolate can one achieve holiness.
Blessed James Alberione. (Photo: Creative Commons 0 1.0)

“Truly I belong to Jesus Christ with all my powers, everywhere, in all places. Like Peter, I have wept, hoped, prayed and loved; my trust, however, is greater than all my humiliations.” - Blessed James Alberione

Blessed James Alberione was born in a devout and hard-working Catholic peasant family on April 4, 1884, at San Lorenzo di Fossano, Italy. On completing his high school studies, 16-year old James, fourth son of Michael and Teresa, joined the diocesan seminary.

At the close of December 31, 1900, the fateful night that separated the passing 19th century from the upcoming 20th, he prayed long and fervently before the Blessed Sacrament in the Cathedral of Alba. A special light came from the Monstrance whereby “he felt deeply obliged to prepare himself to do something for the Lord and the people of the new century.”

That this “something” was to translate itself into the apostolate of the “good press,” as he termed it, was itself a miracle of sorts, given the suspicion and distrust with which the Church looked upon media usage in matters Gospel related.

Ordained priest on June 29, 1907, the Lord willed and guided him to announce the Gospel through the media of social communications in the spirit of Saint Paul the Apostle. On August 20, 1914, Father James Alberione laid the foundation of the Society of Saint Paul by opening a press training school in Alba. In 1915, he founded the Daughters of Saint Paul with the same mission. A keen visionary, he started the Union of Lay Pauline Cooperators in 1917, giving lay involvement in his media apostolate its due.

Reading the signs of the times, Alberione went on to found seven other Institutes—Pious Disciples of the Divine Master (1924), Good Shepherd Sisters (1938), Institute of Queen of the Apostles (1957), Institute of Saint Gabriel the Archangel (1958), Institute of Jesus the Priest (1959), Our Lady of the Annunciation (1960) and Institute of the Holy Family (1960). The common charism of all the ten that collectively make up the Pauline Family is to Live and Give to the world Jesus Master, The Way, The Truth and The Life. Of these ten, India is privileged to be blessed with the presence of four viz, Society of Saint Paul, Daughters of Saint Paul, Pious Disciples of the Divine Master and Pauline Cooperators.

The Gospel to the fore

The doubts that assailed the champions of charity of the time concerned helping the new categories of poor who, their hunger for bread apart, had an unquenchable thirst for moral elevation. On the other hand, the use and abuse of the media is an age-old phenomenon. The wind of criticism raging across the centuries, the situation during Alberione’s time being no different. But the response of Alberione, of whom it can be said that he did something very concrete to set matters right, was: “In the same way that others are feeding them with illusory promises, let us give them the Gospel and let us do so with the same instruments that they use for the communication of ideas.” There is no gainsaying the fact that Alberione’s vision of media use to spread gospel values (read human values) essentially concerned men and women of calibre and foresight.

The first such farsighted man and woman of calibre to join him in his arduous mission were Blessed Timothy Giaccardo SSP and Venerable Maestra Thecla Merlo FSP, respectively. Himself a man of faith and action, Alberione committed himself totally to God’s will after the example of Saint Paul who took pride in affirming, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21a). He would even forfeit rest and recreation in favour of long hours of prayer and work, saying, “Nothing is done without fatigue. If you have to teach or prepare a sermon or write a book, you have to think and put your energies into it. That is sacrifice.”

Church’s acknowledgment

The relevance of Alberione to our times lies in the fact that with Baptism enjoining on every believer the duty to proclaim the Gospel, his Mission invites us to a life of sanctification. This, according to Alberione, “is and always consists in living Jesus Christ as he is presented in the Gospel: the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Thus, as we make our sojourn through life, the dream of every believer cannot but be to say with Blessed James Alberione: “Silver and gold, I have none. But I give you what I have – I give you Jesus Christ, Way, Truth and Life.”

Alberione died in Rome on November 26, 1971, aged 87 years. Just before his death, he had the privilege of a personal visit and blessing from Pope Saint Paul VI who, when awarding him the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice on June 28, 1969, had said: “Permit the Pope, dear Father Alberione, to rejoice at this long, faithful and unwearied effort and the fruits it has produced for God’s glory and the good of the Church.” Significantly, the fruits Paul VI referred to were further recognized when, on April 27, 2003, Alberione was beatified by Pope Saint John Paul II, who called him the “First Apostle of the New Evangelization”—a sign for the whole Church that even through an avant-garde apostolate can one achieve holiness.

Ladislaus L D’Souza is Pauline Cooperator and copy-editor with St. Paul’s and Better Yourself Books in Mumbai, India.

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