Archbishop Peter A Comensoli preached the following homily on Saturday 12 November at St Brigid's parish, Fitzroy North, at a thanksgiving Mass celebrating the canonisation of St Giovanni Batista Scalabrini, founder of the Congregation of the Missionaries of St Charles Borromeo.
When Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, later Pope John XXIII, and now a saint, made his apostolic journeys as nuncio, he always travelled with the journals of another saintly archbishop, Charles Borromeo. Those journals of St Charles told the story of the very many pastoral journeys he made in the north-eastern regions of Italy. St Charles was the greatest post-Reformation bishop of the 16th century, taking the teachings of the Council of Trent and applying them to the circumstances of his own location in and around Milan.
In a particular way, the journals of St Charles set out his activities in, and pastoral decisions about, the local parish communities where he had made a pastoral visitation and held local synods. He wrote about seminary training, ongoing clergy formation, pastoral visitation to the sick, care of the poor and struggling, sacramental preparation for children, devotional and catechetical instruction of parishioners, and many other topics of faith life. When Pope Roncalli called for the holding of the Second Vatican Council, we can be confident that he had done so having absorbed the pastoral and synodal ways of St Charles.
A young Fr Roncalli got to know an older bishop not long before he died, who also had a keen interest in St Charles Borromeo. That bishop was Giovanni Battista Scalabrini, of the northern Italian Diocese of Piacenza. While Roncalli would be deeply influenced by Borromeo’s writings, it was Scalabrini who had followed and practised in Borromeo’s ways.
As Bishop of Piacenza, Scalabrini conducted five diocesan visitations, during which he would visit all 365 parishes under his episcopal care. He held synods to discuss the issues of the day. And he fostered training for well-formed shepherds’ hearts in his clergy.
Where Borromeo looked to the reform of the local Church in the light of the Council of Trent, Scalabrini’s pastoral ministry drew from the thinking of the First Vatican Council, and the ideas circulating before it. From this, he learnt to be the greatest of pastors to the people under his care, especially encouraging their devotional and catechetical formation.
It was out of this Borromeoen lineage that Scalabrini’s deep attentiveness to the care and formation of Italians outside of Piacenza was fostered. Herein lies the linkage to your own faith story and the great man of God that Scalabrini was. The Congregation of the Missionaries of St Charles Borromeo, established to serve Italian migrants throughout the world, was one of the great works of Bishop Scalabrini. Again, we see the link back to St Charles Borromeo, and to the deep Christian calling to attend, in faith, to the poor and needy, wherever that may be found.
One location where this Scalabrinian way has found a home is here, in St Brigid’s, Fitzroy North, as well as up the road at St Luke’s Parish, Lalor. The seeds planted by that saintly bishop continue to bear fruits. We are now the ones being called to take up the synodal ways of the Church and to renew our missionary endeavours among our local neighbourhoods of grace.
Where the poor and struggling are to be found, where education of the young and catechesis of all is needed, there might we be found in the vision of St Giovanni Batista Scalabrini, who drew on the ways of St Charles Borromeo, and who passed on his ways to St Pope John XXIII. May the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which inspired the pastoral ministry of St Scalabrini, find fruit in us, as we seek to bring Christ to our families.
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli17 November 2023