The Cultist that built the most Beautiful Rosary Basilica in Europe

Our Lady of Pompeii  Our Lady of the Rosary

Bartolo Longo - from Satanist to Saint

This image of Our Lady is one I grew up with, seeing it in my maternal grandmother’s bedroom and in the homes of most of our Italian-American neighbors and relatives. And as you travel more and more in the south of Italy, you see the image of Our Lady of Pompeii being venerated, many times, in tiny Shrines, bedecked by flowers and candles, in outdoor Chapels as well as those indoors.  The first time we visited Pompeii, I recognized this image, immediately.  She was a part of my childhood; only I never knew She was from Pompeii; I always thought She was from Sicily.

Again, God does not care how He gets us where He wants us, as long as we get there.  We thought we were going to Pompeii to share the ancient ruins of Old Pompeii with our little grandson and daughter.  Little did we expect to find a treasure and the story that went with it.  Old Pompeii is in ruins, as are most signs of that proud pagan world that existed before Christ.  But what we discovered was that, alive and flourishing, is New Pompeii - thanks to the love and devotion of one man - Blessed Bartolo Longo.

The Miracle of Pompeii

Seldom in history do we find a Shrine and a village that owes its existence to one man and his dream.  As unique as this is, rarer still is a Sanctuary village with the ancient heritage of pre-Christ Pompeii.  As this book is about Our Lady and the miracles that came about through her intercession, you will see how She played an integral part in guiding one man to build Her Shrine, a Sanctuary where the needy could come, with their cares and worries and She would answer them.  But before we go into the wonders of Our Lady of Pompeii, we must delve into the heart and soul of one man, a knight who loved His Lady and wanted to do Her honor.

Where you find the extraordinary, you will find the Holy Spirit guiding the way.  And so it was with Blessed Bartolo Longo, who was in the Hands of the Spirit in his personal life, as well as the founder of one of the most famous and visited Sanctuaries in the history of the Church, especially by Italians and pilgrims from all over the world. 

As we seek him, we find him being guided by the Holy Spirit.  His biographer says of him: “Bartolo Longo was guided by the Spirit as much through the desert as the rich harvest, and through the dark night as in the radiant midday light.  He was conscious of this adventure and he wanted to live it to the full.”  He wanted to live it to the full!  But living it to the full, not even he realized how far he would go.  Before the consecration of the new church, in 1891, he wrote:

“For fifteen years we were continually astonished by the phenomenon that was occurring inside of us without clearly understanding its laws or the nature and force of its purpose.  What was that secret impulse, persistent and untiring, that for so many years had driven us to build this church?”

(Author’s Note)  It reminds us of our Holy Family Mission and the replica of the Holy House we built in Arkansas.  For eleven years we searched and searched for the right place to build our center of evangelization and finally there it was not of our choice but that of God; but like with Bartolo Longo, it was not to be accomplished without blood, sweat and tears spilling onto the pages telling our story.

Bartolo Longo - from Satanist to Saint

But first, let us speak of the man through which this all came about.  Bartolo Longo was born in Latiano (Brindisi) on February the 10th, 1841 to Dr. Bartolomeo Longo and Antonina Luparelli.  His parents were well-to-do, which would enable him to receive a fine education.  As they were devout Catholics, most especially his mother, he and his siblings grew up with a deep love for Mary.  The Rosary was implanted in Bartolo’s heart, as a youth, as his family prayed the Rosary together, every evening, meditating on the Life of Jesus and Mary.  From his earliest years, one could see the characteristics which would catapult him into greatness.  He was charismatic.  He excelled in every thing he endeavored.  He fared well in his studies.  Exposed to music at an early age, he loved to play the piano and the flute, even becoming the conductor of the school band. 

But his parents’ influence would not be always with him.  The time came when he would enter the university!  As is true in many universities, down through the ages, Bartolo was bombarded with deadly liberal, atheistic, anti-Christian heretical courses, especially in a philosophy class given by a fallen-away Priest.  Subsequently, Bartolo fell into the trap and began his sad walk away from the Catholic Church.  He was so completely taken in by his professor and all the hate he was spewing against the Faith, Bartolo too began to rant and rave against the Church. 

But his heart was always seeking the Divine.  The ex-priest took away his anchor in the storm and of need, he found another.  Only this one would help him to sink into the mire of decadence.  Falling in with students who were deeply involved with the occult, he too began to delve into mysticism with his fellow cultists, attending séances.  He got so involved, not being a half-measure kind of person, he was ordained a Priest in a Satanic cult.  As his cult attacked the Church, her Priests, Bishops and Religious, as well as the Holy Rites of the Church, he too piped in; and with all the charisma and training, he had received preparing him for a career in law, he was able to convince others to stray away from Jesus and His Church. 

God waited patiently, but not allowing him to continue harming his soul and that of others, God, through the night and day praying of his mother for his soul, allowed Bartolo to fast so severely, he dangerously jeopardized his health.  Not only his physical health, but his mental as well.  He soon found himself sinking farther and farther into a deep depression.  His exposure to the horrible rituals and practices he witnessed in the cult, so devastated him he suffered a mental breakdown.  But only for a short period, as Jesus could not resist Bartolo’s mother’s pleas.  Still away from Mother Church, he was close to despair, when he heard a voice resembling his deceased father’s voice calling to him: “Return to God!  Return to God!” 

The day finally came in Naples, when in 1864, Bartolo finally concluded his education, receiving a diploma to practice law, which he did in Naples until 1871.  All the Rosaries said, all the supplications by his mother, Our Lady stepped in and sent him to Professor Vincente Pepe, a good friend who taught near Naples.  When Bartolo shared his experiences and the rituals of the cult, the professor became so repulsed and enraged, his outburst stunned Bartolo.  Desperately crying out for help, Bartolo admitted he was deeply troubled.

Vincente introduced Bartolo to a Dominican Priest, well versed in the theology and philosophy of .St. Thomas Aquinas - Father Alberto Radente.  By the grace of God and the intercession of Mother Mary, this dear Priest would serve as confessor and spiritual director, as well as friend to Bartolo.  Father helped him to relinquish all ties with the Satanic cult, once and for all.  He prepared him to receive the Sacraments by giving Bartolo an extensive course in the Faith.  Jesus said, “This kind can be cast out in no way except by prayer and fasting.”  God sent Bartolo a prayer warrior in Father Radente.  He prayed and fasted for his young charge.  I wonder if he knew how great would be the task this young man would undertake for the glory and honor of Jesus and Mary and succeed.

Father taught him the history of the Order, founded by St. Dominic and confirmed by Pope Honorius III in 1216.  He shared what it meant to be a member of the Dominican Order.  He quoted Pope Honorius, who declared, the Dominicans would be “Champions of the Faith and True Light of the world.”  On March 25th, 1871, Bartolo Longo was professed a Third Order Dominican by Father Radente; at which time he was given the name, “Brother Rosary,” because of his great love for the Rosary and Mother Mary.

Grieving over the harm he had done as part of the cult, Bartolo went about trying to repair the horrific damage to the souls of those he had encountered and convinced to lead that diabolical life.  He even visited a séance and raising a medal of Mother Mary, cried out, “I renounce spiritism because it is nothing but a maze of error and falsehood.”  Remembering where he was first exposed to this dangerous, deadly thinking, he went to the universities!  He joined the young people at parties and mingled with them in cafes, sharing how he had been duped into leaving all that was dear to him - Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church.  As brilliantly as he had led unsuspecting students away from the Truth, he now led them back Home to Jesus and the Church.  They were enthralled by his words and testimony, and many conversions came about.  But he wasn’t satisfied.  He wanted to do more, to touch more - for Jesus and Mary.  Father Radente advised him: “If you are looking for salvation, propagate the Rosary.  It is the promise of Mary.  He who propagates the Rosary shall be saved.” 

The more he spoke of Mary and the Rosary, the more he loved Her.  Like St. Paul before him, Jesus had chosen this young man to be an apostle.  But with Blessed Bartolo Longo, he was chosen to be a champion for Mother Mary and the Rosary, becoming one of the foremost modern apostles of the Rosary.  The more you find out about Mother Mary, and how better than the Rosary - the Life of Jesus and Mary - the more you fall in love with Her.  Bartolo was in love!  One day, while deep in prayer, he promised Mother Mary, “I shall not depart from the earth without first displaying before you, the triumph of your Rosary.”

Bartolo is sent by God to Pompeii

Bartolo’s conversion was so powerful, he renounced his legal career and devoted himself to charity and to studying the Faith.  Wanting to dedicate himself totally to Jesus and Mary, he refused several good proposals of marriage.  But this is not the end of the story.  God was not finished with him yet.  Bartolo’s mission was not to end in Naples.  Countess De Fusco entrusted him with the administration of her property in Pompeii!  But God had another plan.  While there, Bartolo was so touched by the poverty of the poor people in Pompeii, starving physically and spiritually, he made a vow to dedicate the rest of his life to providing for these peasants and spreading devotion to the Rosary.  His Plan?  He would begin by teaching them the Catechism.

Bartolo was a little overwhelmed with the breadth of his mission, but he promised Our Mother: “If  it be true that you promised St. Dominic that whoever spreads the Rosary will be saved, I will be saved, because I will not leave Pompeii until I have spread your Rosary.”  Truly words of a twentieth Century Prophet.

Our Lady Comes to Pompeii

He wanted a painting of Our Lady of the Rosary, so that they could pray the Rosary before the image each day.  But he could not afford to buy one.  The Priest who was instrumental in his renouncing Satanism, Fr. Alberto Radente told Bartolo of a painting he had bought in a junk shop for a dollar some time before.  It was in pretty poor condition.  The only reason he bought it, he thought, was to get it out of the junk shop.  We know now it was Divine Inspiration which encouraged him to buy the painting.  He gave it to a Dominican nun, Sister Maria Concetta.  She was not impressed with it, but agreed to hold it for him until he asked for it.

When Bartolo heard the Priest offer the painting, he rushed to see it.  His disappointment was extremely evident.  It was an injustice to put this almost utterly destroyed work in a place where people would pray to Our Lady.  But beggars can’t be choosers, especially when the Hand of the Lord, or His Mother, is writing the script.  Bartolo agreed with the Nun that it was an image of Our Lady of the Rosary.  You could see St. Dominic on one side, and St. Catherine of Siena on the other.  Our Lady was giving the Rosary to St. Catherine, while the Baby Jesus was handing one to St. Dominic.  But it was so ugly!  Bartolo had a great love for Our Lady.  This image was not a becoming likeness of this, the most beautiful woman in the world, whom he revered.  She was very....provincial!  He was not very happy with St. Dominic or St. Catherine either, but he could have lived with their expressions.  It was Our Lady, his Lady.  And if that was not enough, in addition to being worm-eaten, and everything else you could think of, the canvas had a hole in it. 

Sister Concetta spoke softly to Bartolo, trying to persuade him into taking the painting of Our Lady of the Rosary.  He was not happy.  But he had promised he would bring the Confraternity an image of the Blessed Mother, on whom they could feast their eyes as they meditated the mysteries of the Rosary.  And so he took it.

There are two versions of how he got the painting back to Pompeii that evening.  One states that he got a ride on a refuse wagon, and the image was sitting on top of a pile of manure.  The other version says that it was too big for him to carry, so he asked a friend to bring the painting back to Pompeii on his refuse cart.  The friend did not know what was in the wrapped package, and so it sat on top of the dung heap.  No matter which version you choose to accept, Our dear Lady of Pompeii had very humble beginnings, arriving at her appointed Shrine on top of horse manure.

VHis last words were:

“My only desire is to see Mary, who has saved me and who will save me from the clutches of Satan.”

He wrote, in his last will and testament, “I wish to die a true Dominican tertiary in the arms of the Queen of the Rosary with the assistance of my Father St. Dominic and of my Mother St. Catherine of Siena.”

Blessed Bartolo Longo wrote of the Shrine:

“Next to a land of dead appeared, quite suddenly, a land of resurrection and life: next to a shattered amphitheater soiled with blood, there is a living temple to the Virgin Mary; from a town buried in the filth of gentilism, arises a town full of life, drawing its origins from a new civilization brought by Christianity: `The New Pompeii!’....It is the new civilization that openly appears beside the old; the new art next to the old; Christianity full of life in juxtaposition to long surpassed Paganism.”

The cause for his beatification opens

Upon his death, Miracles began pouring in.  The process leading to his beatification opened May, 1934.  But even that would not be easy or swift in coming.  As in life, so in death, it had to be a hard, long road.  His youthful flirtation with the occult and other transgressions were held against him!  Bob says, The decisions the eighteen year old makes, the thirty-five year old has to live with.  And so, it was with Bartolo Longo.  The sins of his youth haunted him to the grave and beyond.

But what Our Lady wants, Our Lady gets.  In 1978, Mary raised a Marian Apostle to the Chair of Peter.  To try to explain with what high regard this Pope holds Bartolo Longo, His Holiness wrote the following:following:

“May this appeal not go unheard.  At the start of the twenty-fifth year of my Pontificate, I entrust this Apostolic letter to the loving hands of Virgin Mary, prostrating myself in spirit before Her image in the splendid Shrine built for Her by Blessed Bartolo Longo, the Apostle of the Rosary.  I willingly make my own the touching words with which he concluded his well-known `Supplication to the Queen of the Rosary:’  `O Blessed Rosary of Mary, sweet chain which unites us to the Angels, tower of salvation against the assaults of Hell, safe port in our universal shipwreck, we will never abandon you.  You will be our comfort in the hour of death: yours our final kiss as life ebbs away.  And the last word from our lips will be your fair name.  O Queen of the Rosary of Pompeii, O dearest Mother, O Refuge of Sinners, O Sovereign Consoler of the Afflicted.  May you be everywhere blessed, today and always, on earth and in Heaven.”

On October 26, 1980 our Marian Pope John Paul II would beatify the Man of Mary, as our Pope addressed Bartolo Longo at his beatification.  On that day, congregated in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, 50,000 believers cheered, “Blessed Bartolo, pray for us.”  His Feast Day is observed on October 6th.

They erected a Chapel in his honor in 1983.  There, they would bring the Apostle of the Rosary to be interred, once and for all, in his final resting place under his Madonna’s throne, where he would have desired to be.

The legacy Bartolo Longo left

Bartolo did not only build a Shrine to his Lady, he instituted a human Shrine to Her - a human Shrine of Hope.  The memory of the helpless souls he and his wife encountered in Pompeii, with neither manna to eat nor the Bread of Life to sustain them, moved Bartolo and his wife to spend a lifetime creating a place, a world, for orphans and children considered incorrigibles.  He writes:

“These wretched creatures, the positivists maintain, are doomed from birth to delinquency and neither prevention nor education can save them from crime.  These bitter and depressing statements of positivist science neither stopped us in our difficult undertaking nor discouraged us: we did not believe in the power of evil but we believed in the redeeming forces of good, in the effectiveness of education.  According to the means provided by endless public charity, I gathered as many youngsters as I could, sons of prisoners, and saw that they were educated according to special methods, and I was able to prove that even children who have an inherent tendency to delinquency, a natural tendency passed down to them by their father and forefathers, can if it is constantly corrected, be modified and sometimes even destroyed.”

Taking his lead from Holy Scripture, to the skeptics, Blessed Bartolo used to say, “If the works are those of God, they will live forever, and otherwise they will perish.”  One hundred years later, the dream is still alive, changing lives and offering hope to all who seek it. 

I do not know why, but even good people do bad things.  Instead of praising God for the gift He gave Italy and then the world through Bartolo, those filled with jealousy and those who coveted what Bartolo had given to the world, accused Bartolo of impropriety concerning the Shrine. 

On the other hand, Pope Leo XIII, hearing of the miracle of the New Pompeii, as early as 1883, issued his first encyclical on the Rosary.  As an act of gratitude for all he was doing, His Holiness granted Bartolo a private audience in 1884.  In 1890, Cardinal La Valletta was appointed Protector of the Sanctuary, and in 1894, Bartolo Longo placed the Shrine and all it encompassed in the hands of the Pope.  Pope Leo XIII accepted it and removing it from under the authority of the Diocese of Nola, declared it, as part of the Papal Estates, immediately under the Vatican’s control and protection.

In 1900, the first enshrinement of the Sanctuary of Pompeii was signed.  As it was also the Holy Year, His Holiness Pope Leo XIII, extolling the great merits of the Shrine, directed the pilgrims: “Go to  Pompeii; go and pray for the Pope in the Sanctuary of the Pope!”

But the ugly tongue of jealousy would not be silent; it spewed its venomous poison once more.  False rumors were spread about the direction and practices of the Shrine.  With this, they thought they would finally succeed in overthrowing the founders and their work.  The false allegations reached the ears of the Pope; now Pope Saint Pius X, as Pope Leo XIII had died.  To compound the seriousness of these accusations, the Church was in the throes of battling the deadly heresy of Modernism.

Disturbed by the allegations, the Pope summoned Bartolo Longo to the Vatican, to present himself at a special audience with His Holiness on November 24th, 1903.  Needless to say, Bartolo was deeply wounded.  He wrote this “justification:”

“My only aim in thirty years of work has been to save my soul and that of my neighbors by spreading the worship of the Rosary and by educating the sons of prisoners, orphan girls, and the children of the newly born Pompeiian town.”

Three years later, in 1906, Bartolo made the final sacrifice, turning over to the Holy See complete direction and supervision of all he had begun in New Pompeii.  But, always obedient, he obeyed His Holiness’ mandate: “you must not die, you must work.”  And so, although wounded, he stayed on, aiding the new administrator and representative from the Vatican.  Like St. Francis before him, he grieved over his dream being in the hands of others.  Unable any longer to be a part of it, his cross was his helplessness to reach out to the ones he loved. 

As we have said before, the Saints’ lives make great reading, but painful living.  Unheralded, a shadow of suspicion towering over his head, he remained at the Shrine, until his death in 1926.  However, the legacy he left us is this magnificent Shrine in honor of Our Lady and the Rosary.  He paid the price, but his life’s dream was fulfilled in the endless procession of pilgrims petitioning Our Lady of Pompeii.  We love You, Mother Mary.

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