JERUSALEM - Ever since its re-establishment in 1847, with the publication of the Apostolic Letter Nulla Celebrior by the Supreme Pontiff Pius IX, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem has had ten different Patriarchs. From Giuseppe Valerga to the current Bishop of the diocese, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, without forgetting Filippo Camassei or Michel Sabbah, all have brought their personal touch to this particular Catholic Church that is the Latin Patriarchate. Today, lpj.org invites you to rediscover the history of the first Patriarchs by telling you ten little-known facts about each of them.
V/ Mgr Luigi Barlassina – Patriarche from 1920 to 1947
Luigi Barlassina was born on April 30th, 1872 in Turin, in the Italian region of Piedmont. Because he lost his father at an early age, his mother brought him up in an atmosphere of great piety and above all great devotion to the Virgin. As we will see several times below, this devotion characterized him all his life: he recited the Act of Consecration to Mary during his first Mass and, when he was appointed Patriarch, he did not fail to honor the mother of Christ by erecting the very famous Marian sanctuary of Deir Rafat.
As soon as he was ordained a priest, Mgr Barlassina promised himself "to celebrate all the Masses of his life, in absolute gratuity, for the intentions of the Blessed Virgin. He kept his word." (Moniteur diocésain, September-October 1957).
While studying at the School of Liturgy and Ceremonies of the Oratorian Fathers in the parish of Saint Philip (where he developed a great passion for the Holy Liturgy), the future Patriarch wondered about the future of his vocation. He was soon entrusted with the direction of the Alfieri-Carrú School of the Daughters of Charity, but these new responsibilities were not enough to satisfy him. Thus, in 1900, at the request of Professor Carlo Olivero, he began to preach in the form of dialogue at the opening of the church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The success was immediate and when he was appointed rector of Santa Pelagia in 1901, the church became one of the most frequented in the city.
In the 1920s, Bishop Barlassina decided to honor the Virgin Mary by granting her the title of "Queen of Palestine" (a title officially recognized in 1933 by the Congregation of Rites). He wrote a prayer about her to be recited after the Salute of the Blessed Sacrament, and erected a sanctuary in her honor at Deir Rafat. Today, there is a statue of the Virgin Mary with the inscription Reginae Palestinae and the angel's greeting ("Hail Mary") in 280 languages painted on the church's vault. A painting of the Virgin watching over Palestine is displayed in the left nave of the sanctuary.
The seminary of the Latin Patriarchate, located in Beit Jala, suffered particularly during the First World War and was in a deplorable state in 1921. Mgr Barlassina, who had been appointed Patriarch one year ago, decided to bring it back to life. He began by completely renovating the premises, which had been badly damaged by the Turkish occupation; he reconstituted the staff by entrusting the Benedictines of the Dormition with the direction of the seminary (his own clergy, reduced by the war, could not take on this task); and he brought young seminarians from Turin, his birthplace. His initiatives did not stop there: he continued to take great care of his seminary even after its rebirth. In 1932, he called upon the Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Betharram to take over from the Benedictines as head of the seminary, and then, still during the interwar period, he created for his seminarians a book on ecclesiastical politeness and a manual of liturgy. He also always made sure to visit them regularly, and gave many conferences in the seminary.
Described as having a generous and good nature, Mgr Barlassina categorically refused to be addressed as "Your Beatitude" or "Monsignor" in any context. He preferred to be called "Father" simply because he wanted to be, according to someone close to him, a "father of souls".
On the occasion of the nineteenth centenary of the Redemption, Pope Pius XI proclaimed a special Holy Year in 1934. For Mgr Barlassina, this was an opportunity to organize great religious ceremonies, including the re-enactment of the Palm Sunday procession from Bethpage to Jerusalem. Carrying large palms high above their heads, the participants climbed the Mount of Olives, walked to the Kidron Valley and finished the procession in the courtyard of the Saint Anne Seminary.
From his early years as a priest, Mgr Barlassina showed a genuine interest in the formation of young people. In 1904, he founded Fides et Robur, a society for young people that combined gymnastics and religious courses. He also created a language school and a choir. Later, particularly concerned about the lack of higher education in his diocese, Mgr Barlassina had the idea of founding a group of Catholic institutions to offer students an adequate and proper education. However, the idea was gradually abandoned.
No one really knows the details of his numerous correspondences, to which Mgr Barlassina devoted many hours. In fact, he never ceased to send multiple documents, often written in several languages (because he spoke Italian, French, English and German), to everywhere in the world. His typewriter, which was often needed at dawn, accompanied him everywhere, even on his car journeys (which he often made very quickly; his driver was always asked to "go faster").
Founded in 1927, the congregation was named the Ancillae (Servants) of Our Lady Queen of Palestine. It later merged with the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion in 1936. Composed of sisters from different backgrounds, the objective of this religious institution was to lay the foundation for conversion among non-Christians, especially among the Jews of Palestine when it was under the British mandate. Gradually, the mission of the Sisters lost sight of its primary objective, especially after the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), and became an institution dedicated to Jewish-Christian dialogue and relations.