The Catholic Church, after over 2,000 years, continues to astound. Just yesterday, while attending a parish mission given by the extraordinary Fr. Christopher Crotty, I learned that an ex-satanic priest is on his way to becoming a Saint in the Church. At first, I couldn’t believe it; I am still having trouble absorbing the enormity of the story. Yet, it is true. There was such a man: Bartolo Longo (pictured above – left.) He was born in 1841 into a wealthy Apulian family in Southern Italy; about a month after the birth of future Saint – Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes. By all accounts, at age 10, after the death of his mother, Longo seems to have begun a gradual slipping away from the Faith, eventually, becoming a wayward law student at the University of Naples. At the time, the still un-unified nation was experiencing a civil war of sorts between the Kingdoms of Italy and the Two Sicilies (of which Naples was a part.) This political and social uncertainty contributed to the epidemic of occultism and satanic practices throughout Naples. In fact, there is a long folk-tradition of witchcraft and spiritualism in Southern Italy that survived the downfall of paganism; symbolized by the image of the strega or town witch-doctor. Soon, Longo began to dabble in witchcraft and started to consult with local mediums. Later, he was “ordained” as a satanic priest. But, all did not go well. For, Longo began to experience demonic visions and nightmares accompanied by increasingly ill health. In desperation, Longo consulted a Catholic friend who recommended that he meet with Dominican priest Fr. Alberto Radente (pictured above – right:) a highly educated cleric who held several professorships at various seminaries and universities; but he was also recognized for his piety – becoming one of the youngest Dominican priors at the age of 28. Radente heard the Confession of Longo and became a lifelong friend and director; the good Father also encouraged him to develop a devotion for the Rosary. In fact, Longo wrote, near the beginning of his conversion: “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.’”
In 1871, Longo became a third-order Dominican and founded a confraternity dedicated to the Rosary. He later married a wealthy widowed countess, who was equally religious, and the couple bestowed much of their money and time to charitable endeavors contributing to the comfort of the poor, orphaned children, the children of prisoners, and the ill. But, in his heart, he still recognized the gross ignorance of the people, stating “Their religion was a mixture of superstition and popular tradition. For their every need…they would go to a witch, a sorceress, in order to obtain charms and witchcraft.” To combat the popular descent into occultism, one of their greatest endeavors, the restoration of a dilapidated Church into a Shrine devoted to the Holy Rosary; the Church is now the Basilica of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary of Pompeii. In the end, Longo and his wife donated the entire property of the Pompeii Shrine to the Vatican. Healings and cures have been associated with the Shrine since its founding and have continued to the present day. In 1980, the former satanic priest was beautified, made “Blessed,” the final step before canonization, by Pope John Paul II. Let us Pray for the intercession of Blessed Bartolo Longo, as we also live in a time of great anxiety and superstition.