ROME, AUG. 26, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Five hundred years have gone by since the night of Sept. 27-28, 1511, when "God, rich in mercy," knocked on the heart of Jerome Emiliani, a young soldier of Venice and the future founder of the Somascan Fathers, "preparing him to enter into the number of great saints of the 17th century."
Father Franco Moscone, minister-general of the order Emiliani founded, recounted the story of the founding and announced a jubilee for the congregation.
At age 25, Jerome Emiliani (1486-1537) obtained the lordship of a fort located at the valley mouth of Piave: Castelnuovo near Quero, where he went in the spring of 1511. "The dreams of glory vanished at dawn on Aug. 28, 1511, when the castle's garrison surrendered in face of the preponderant forces of the coalition," explained Father Moscone. "The lord was thrown into prison and remained there, chained, for a month. However, during the night of Sept. 27-28, hope flowered again in the prisoner's heart because of an unexpected event."
In the fourth Book of Miracles, kept in the Shrine of the Great Madonna of Treviso, one reads that Jerome entrusted himself to the Virgin Mary, promising to visit her Treviso shrine. Then a woman dressed in white appeared to him with keys in her hand and told him to flee, helping him then to find the road to Treviso.
"In this miraculous event, from the first years of its history, the Somascan Congregation has always seen its origin, the 'sweet occasion that Providence' prepared to awaken in it service of the poor in the Church," observed Father Moscone.
"In the silence of that night," he continued, "Mary's intervention broke the prison chains and, above all, those of Emiliani's heart, disposing him to become a soldier of Christ. That same night the first lines were articulated of a dialogue of love between the Liberator and the liberated that gradually would help Jerome to interpret the signs of the times and to respond in an illumined way to the demands that little by little were being unveiled."
The Somascan Fathers' charism was "born in prison and grew on the street: a charism to one in prison who lives this every day within himself, and without hope, and who only finds on the street the 'home' that 'gives him hospitality.'"
For Jerome, the superior explained, the great emergency of the moment was the reform of the Church. Hence he began a spiritual itinerary that, in 17 years of searching for the will of God, "led him gradually to strip himself of every human security to conform himself ever better to Christ naked on the cross," dedicating his whole self "to contemplation and charitable action, always accompanied by his friend poverty" and favoring "activities that would benefit orphans, with whom he wished to create a small oasis of reformed Christians who would be able to be a living leaven in the general reform of the Church."
His example attracted others, and thus the Company of the Servants of the Poor was born, recognized later by the Church as Order of the Somascan Clerks Regular.
Jerome Emiliani was beatified in 1747 and canonized in 1767. In 1928, Pope Pius XI proclaimed him "Universal Patron of Orphans and Abandoned Youth," acknowledging the merit and originality of the service he rendered.
Five hundred years after the miraculous release of St. Jerome Emiliani, stressed Father Moscone, the Somascan Family is called to look at its founder to revive its hope.
"To descend into Jerome's situation in the month of prison, even if only by way of memorial, requires some fundamental steps that are able to give back life and impulse to a charism that is about to cross the date of 500 years," noted the superior.
The first step, he proposed, consists in "becoming aware of our existential situation as creatures, marked by limitation and sin, which always fetters, and not to fear giving a name to the chains that impede the freedom of the children of God."
The second step is to "raise one's glance recalling the gift of grace granted to St. Jerome and transmitted under the action of the Holy Spirit to the company, and through it, our mother, to each one of us," he continued.
One then proceeds with the recognition "that all this is unmerited gift and that Mary, who accompanied Jerome by the hand through the enemy's field, continues to work also today so that the company will be free and firm, without allowing itself to have the yoke of slavery imposed on it again."
In this context, the superior said, the Jubilee of the 500 years is to "renew the strength and energy contained in the miracle of Sept. 27, 1511, and to confirm that if we put all our faith and hope in the Lord he will continue to do great things in us, exalting the humble."
Benedict XVI marked the jubilee with a message to the Somascan family.
The jubilee celebrations will open in Venice on Sept. 25 and will close officially in Somasca on Sept. 30, 2012.