Since I became a volunteer worker in 1995 at our parish in Payatas, Quezon City run by the Sons of Divine Providence Congregation founded by St. Orione, I have dreamed of travelling to his birthplace in Italy. I was therefore filled with great joy when I finally had the chance to visit Italy in 2011. That year, I was a delegate to the World Youth Day in Spain and I made a side trip to Rome.
When I reached Tortona, I could not quite believe that I was looking at Don Orione’s monument, seeing his parish and standing on the land he trod. All these years, I had read about his life and his work only in comic books. Now, there I was, on the feast day of the Madonna, August 29, right at the place where he was born, where he grew up and now hosts the relic of the saint. I felt like I was on top of the world. Feelings of awe and happiness swept over me when I gazed at the body of the saint, the “boss” I had worked for all these 17 years, whose life of service and mission of love have inspired me to help the poor, the disabled, the sick – young and old alike. I shed tears of joy and fulfillment.
The church was full of devotees – people from all walks of life – imploring the intercession of the saint. Its walls were filled with heart-shaped decorations. I saw the famous shoes – worn out from too much walking to reach the poor and the needy; shoes, pairs of which were often given away to the unshod. Standing there, gazing upon the body of the beloved missionary, I thought of the priests in my own parish and others I know who gave up everything and who continue to make sacrifices in order to guide us in our faith. Like Don Orione, they live the life of Christ -- loving, giving of oneself, caring for the neglected and the rejected of society.
I felt extremely lucky that in this whole wide world, the Congregation chose the Philippines as a mission site and of all places, picked my own community in Payatas, Quezon City for their evangelization work. I was among the first youngsters to attend their catechism class. Before I graduated from elementary, I was already one of their volunteers. I had endured many difficulties and hardships in the process of deepening my faith. There, inside the Church of Madonna della Guardia. I understood more fully the meaning of “sacrifice” -- that every act of giving is an offering of love so that each of us will feel Christ-like; that each offering of love makes us all feel we are God’s children, never to be forsaken.
There at Tortona, in his place of origin, I felt grateful that I’ve known Don Orione and that I became his volunteer worker. I also visited Cottolengo, the place for disabled children. And I remembered the years I spent in its local site in the Philippines. I continued on to Rome, to the Congregation’s headquarters where Fr. Joseph toured me and my friend Cindy to all the places where St. Orione started his missionary work. I felt favored and blessed. Not all volunteers get this rare chance. Throughout the tour, I felt the presence of Don Orione.
In his parish church in Rome, I prayed fervently that he would continue to guide me in my service to my fellowmen, that he would make me strong in the face of challenges that would come my way, that he would help me grow in my faith in and love for Christ so that like Don Orione, I may be a good servant.
Likewise, I offered a prayer for Don Orione’s congregation – that all his priests and religious will continue his work of reaching out to all sectors and serving all peoples with faith, hope and love. I prayed that St. Orione will continue to guide, inspire and strengthen all his workers, both religious and laity, that they may remain faithful to the vision and legacy of their founder and that their ranks will grow.
I also prayed for the youth, that St. Orione will lead them closer to a life of service to God and fellowmen, that they will be committed to their faith and united in their desire to live the teachings of Christ. I offered a prayer of thanks for all those who helped me in my trip to Tortona and Rome, especially Fr. Martin Mroz and Fr. Orlando Norniella.
Finally, I prayed that the other volunteer workers will be given a chance to visit the places that were significant to the life and work of Don Orione, that the Congregation and its supporters will find the means to sponsor such meaningful and inspiring trips as I had taken for these others.
St.Luigi Orione, thank you for the experience.
St. Luigi Orione, make me like unto you.
St. Luigi Orione, pray for us. Amen.
~ by: Maria Lourdes “Malou” B. Ybanez- Sto, Niño Chapel