After a jam-packed one-day visit to Naples and a Sunday marked by the Angelus prayer with thousands of faithful in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis has a quieter public agenda for today and tomorrow as he prepares for the Wednesday general audience and for Palm Sunday and Holy Week. Palm Sunday is this coming Sunday, of course, and it marks World Youth day on a diocesan level, as well as the start of all the Holy Week activities, especially the sacred Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday and the Easter vigil.
Today I offer the Pope’s words – and actions – at the Sunday Angelus, and then I’ll look at the “miracle of San Gennaro” that took place Saturday in the cathedral of Naples during Pope Francis’ visit.
“THE HOMELESS TODAY BRING YOU THE WORD OF GOD”
Tens of thousands of faithful gathered under the rain Sunday in St. Peter’s Square to recite the Angelus with Pope Francis and hear his traditional Sunday reflections. He began, as is customary, by commenting on the day’s Gospel, where John notes that some “Greeks, Hebrews, had asked the Apostle Philip if they could see Jesus.” Francis said this request actually was the expression of “something universal” as it “reveals a desire present in the ages and cultures, a desire present in the heart of so many people who have heard of Christ, but have not yet met him.”
Francis explained that “we can offer three things to those who want to see Jesus, who search for Him, those who have not yet encountered Jesus or who have lost their faith: the Gospel, where we can encounter Jesus, listen to Him, know Him; the Cross, sign of the love of Jesus who gave Himself for us; and our witness of faith, poor but sincere. “ Francis said this faith can be seen when we live it, when it “is translated into simple gestures of fraternal charity. But mainly, in the coherence of our life, between what we say and what we do, coherence between our faith and our life, between our words and our actions,”
To help people live their faith, the Holy Father explained that he had a gift for those in the square Sunday morning: Holding up a small, pocket-sized Gospel, the Pope said thousands would be handed out in the square so that “we can meet Jesus, listen to Him, and get to know Him.” He made the same gesture last year during Lent when the idea was born with the aid of the papal almoner, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski.
In fact, Pope Francis specified that it would be a number of homeless people from Rome who would be handing out the 50,000 mini-Gospels, doing so with the assistance of religious such as the Missionaries of Charity. Saying this is “a beautiful gesture,” Francis said, “it is the needy, the homeless who will be giving us the Word of God.”
“Take it,” urged the Holy Father, “keep it in your pocket or in your handbag and read a passage a day. God’s word lights up our path. It will do you good!”
Also, after the Angelus prayer, the Pope thanked the people of Naples for the great welcome offered during his apostolic trip on Saturday. He also noted that Sunday marked World Day of Water, promoted by the United Nations. He stated that, “Water is the most essential element for life. The future of humanity depends on our capacity to guard it and share it.” And he appealed to the international community to ensure that the planet’s waters are adequately protected and that no one is excluded or discriminated against in the use of this common good.
A POPE, A PATRON SAINT AND A MIRACLE
If you asked Pope Francis for the highlight of his one-day trip to Pompeii and Naples last Saturday, he’d probably tell you that every visit, every place, every person, every prayer, was a highlight. And, of course, he’d be right.
And then you’d have to ask him: “But, Holy Father, what about the liquefaction of the blood in the reliquary of San Gennaro?! That has not happened in the presence of a Pope since 1848 when Pius IX visited Naples and the blood in the vial in the reliquary liquefied!”
Yes, by all media accounts, and by the very words and witness of Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, archbishop of Naples, another “miracle of San Gennaro” took place on Saturday, March 21, 2015.
At the end of the spontaneous, almost tumultuous visit of the Holy Father that afternoon with priests, deacons and religious in the cathedral, Cardinal Sepe took the reliquary for veneration by Pope Francis and the faithful. As the Pope held the reliquary and kissed it, the cardinal announced the blood of Gennaro “is already halfway liquefied,” adding, “It’s a sign that San Gennaro loves the Pope, who is Neapolitan like us” (photo: news.va)
Pope Francis is reported to have replied: “The archbishop said the blood is half-liquefied. It means the saint loves us halfway. We all have to convert a little more so that he loves us more.”
What does this mean? Was this a supernatural sign of God’s favor on this pontiff who has moved, inspired, taught and prayed with legions during his still young pontificate? How did Pope Francis feel when he saw the solid mass become liquid right before his very eyes? Did he know this had not happened in the presence of a Pope for 167 years?
Above all, you might ask “Who is San Gennaro?”
San Gennaro – St. Januarius in English – is the much-loved patron saint of the archdiocese of Naples and the principal patron saint of the city (Naples has several dozen patrons!), in addition to being the patron saint of the region oif Campania, blood banks and volcanic eruptions. Let’s be clear that Januarius is the patron to prevent volcanic eruptions, and this because of the devastating history of eruptions of Vesuvius that destroyed both Pompeii and Herculaneum, whose amazing ruins can be visited today.
San Gennaro, a bishop of Benevento, is a saint and martyr in both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. According to legendary sources, he died in 305 during the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian near Pozzuoli, at the sulphur mines near Solfatara, where he was visiting imprisoned deacons. The relics – the saint’s head and his blood which was, according to legend, soaked up with a sponge by a Christian woman and placed in two vials – were re-discovered in 1480. Cardinal Oliviero Carafa in 1497 ordered the relics brought to Naples.
What for centuries has been called “the miracle of San Gennaro” takes place three times a year: on his September 19 feast day, on December 16, which marks his patronage of Naples and the archdiocese, and on the Saturday before the first Sunday of May to mark the relocation of the relics to Naples. The first recorded reference to the “miracle of the blood” was in 1389.
In the chapel dedicated to San Gennaro in Naples’ cathedral is a silver reliquary resembling a small carriage lamp, inside of which are two vials. Both contain blood but the larger vial – about four inches in height and about two and a quarter inches in diameter – is about half full of a dark, solid mass, absolutely opaque when held up to the light, and showing no displacement when the reliquary is turned upside down. (photo: gazzettadelsud.com)
During the May, September and December ceremonies, the celebrant, usually the cardinal archbishop of Naples who today is Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, holds the reliquary by its extremities, without touching the glass, and from time to time turns it upside down to note whether any movement is perceptible in the dark mass enclosed in the phial. In a period ranging from minutes to a few hours – and on a couple of occasions, it took several days! – the mass gradually detaches itself from the sides of the vial, become a liquid of a more or less ruby tint, and in some instances has been seen to froth and bubble up and increase in volume.
When the blood liquefies, the celebrant announces, “Il miracolo é fatto” – “the miracle has taken place” – a Te Deum is sung, and the reliquary containing the liquefied blood is brought to the altar rail so that the faithful may venerate it by kissing the vessel. The miracle is also “announced” with a 21-gun salute at the 13th-century Castel Nuovo. Often, in the evening, there are fireworks for which Naples is noted, given the many firework factories in the area.
It is said that, should the blood not liquefy, a huge calamity will happen in Naples, however, rarely has this failed to occur. One especially interesting fact about the liquefaction of the saint’s blood is that it is what is called a recurrent non-medical, physical “miracle” that can be – and has been – studied scientifically.
Speaking of calamities: The story is told how, in 472, Vesuvius erupted violently and thousands of frightened citizens sought refuge in the catacombs where they prayed intensely to San Gennaro. As the volcano subsided, the people gave thanks and declared Gennaro their new patron. Even since, San Gennaro has protected Neapolitans from Vesuvius.
Another story related to the blood of St. Januarius – and attested to by eyewitnesses – reports that a block of basalt at Pozzuoli (where he died), reputed to bear traces of the blood of St. Januarius, grows vividly red for a short time in May and September at the hour when the miracle of the liquefaction takes place in Naples. (source, Catholic Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, Naples archdiocese)