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Tuesday, 27 October 2015 00:00

Rome: The transforming power of prayer in Santa Teresa


ROME Italy.
"The transforming power of prayer in Santa Teresa" was the title of the national congress to celebrate the V Centenary of the birth of the St. Teresa, held in Rome on October 10. The ceremony took place at the Gregorian University. They were many participants, coming from various parts of Italy, who filled the large auditorium.


Father Sandro Barlone, SJ, longtime friend of the Teresian Association (TA), opened the congress.  He spoke in place of the Rector of the University because he participating in the Synod.  Then Maite Uribe, President of the TA; Marina Bressan, Director of the TA in Italy, and the President of ACIT Italy greeted the participants. The speakers were Fr. Maximilano Herráiz, Carmelite; Vita Orlando, member of the TA; Enzo Bianchi, prior of Bose; and Fr. Luigi Ciotti, a "street priest," as he likes to be defined.

Francesca Cocchini facilitated the conference and contributed to a climate of friendship that was present in the Auditorium from the beginning, highlighting some statements of the speakers and adding information and clarifications in a timely manner. She also stated that October 10, the date of the birth of Josefa Segovia, had been chosen to celebrate St. Teresa of Avila.


Maite Uribe, after her initial greeting, recalled the words of Paul VI on the occasion of the proclamation of St. Teresa Doctor of the Church, and connected them to the thinking of Pedro Poveda on "something substantial" which is essential to the physiognomy of the TA: the spirit of St. Teresa as a teacher of prayer. Following in the footsteps of St. Teresa, Poveda inaugurates a new style of a Christian, educated, and confident woman. He offers teachers and students of the Academies founded by him, the model of the Saint of Avila: an attractive and audacious personality, capable of breaking down old patterns. She also evoked the words of Pope Francis of October 15, 2014, at the opening of the V Centenary of the birth of St. Teresa which speak of her as a person who goes out and walks the roads of her own time with the Gospel in hand and a deep spirit in her heart.

Fr. Maximiliano Herráiz, Carmelite, teacher of Theological at the University of Valencia and the International Center of St. Teresa and St. John (CITES) which he founded, gave the keynote address. Father Herráiz, longtime friend of the TA, has taught at the Teresianum in Rome. His speech centered on prayer as friendship, which is the message of Teresa. The Book of her Life is a hymn to the love received and given freely and shows her enormous capacity for love. Teresa's experience of human and divine friendship is sealed with truth, which goes hand in hand with freedom. Truth, love, and freedom is the foundation of her life. Love for one another is not improvised, it is born of God and He leads our life: love received and love given freely.


Then second speaker was Vita Orlando, who used the words of Pedro Poveda in 1915 in her tile: “Is not it a right decision that our association bears the name Teresian?” Vita Orlando, member of the TA, teaches Spiritual Theology and Sacred Scripture in the diocese of Monreale and has rich experiences in India and in the slums of Palermo. She has held a political office as Advisor in the city of Terrasini.

Her talk emphasized the constant presence of St. Teresa in situations of urgent evangelization of her time, realizing that at that time they needed strong friends of God. She understood her own time and combined a life of contemplation and action, thus creating a new charism: pray and serve others, pray and serve the Church, which translate into putting the contemplative life to the service of neighbor. It is the same urgency Poveda feels at the beginning of the twentieth century to counteract the growing secularization of society and he invites people who follow his ideas to study the works of Saint Teresa, who is shown as a model of life to become fully human and all God’s. For Poveda, prayer is a constant obsession to follow in the footsteps of Teresa who contemplates Christ's humanity.

Enzo Bianchi is the prior of the community of Bose where men and women of different Christian origins live a monastic experience. This experience is lived in various Italian cities and in Jerusalem.

“Prayer today” is the theme of his talk and he starts with a confession: despite having written many books, he has not written any on prayer because, at his mature age, he has discovered that prayer is difficult. He does not accept the claims, which often we hear, that God is absent and that God is silent because God speaks always; the problem is that we are deaf. Enzo Bianchi feels that he is deaf and prayer requires effort. He gave a historical overview of prayer since 1968 till today, examining the various stages along the way and exposing the dangers of narcissism, individualism and syncretism. Prayer is essentially listening: God speaks. This is the truth that is all over Scripture and the relationship between man and God is authentic listening as Trinitarian prayer is, which is the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This listening leads to friendship, which is received by a person, and this reciprocal relationship is charity. In Christian charity we find, as taught by Teresa, agape and eros.


“Pray and act to build peace and justice” is the theme of Fr. Luigi Ciotti. He was ordained a priest by Cardinal Michele Pellegrino, a great friend of the TA.  He entrusted to him the open street as parish and therefore he sees himself as a street priest. Fr. Ciotti is the founder of Gruppo Abele "to give voice to those who have none" and the Libera Association against the abuses of the mafia in Italy, and he currently hosts over 1500 associations committed to promoting the law.

Being a "street priest" means seeing the face of God in the people of the street. If one believes in God one has to work for justice; therefore, to pray is to act. It is not enough to be good, one needs to be fair. The Christian's duty is to free those who are not free, who are victims of insecurity and exploitation by the mafias. The one who is cowering in fear or who must leave one’s own country and one’s own affections is not free. For peace to exist we need peacemakers; if we do not live as such, life is not real life. He brings up some words that Don Tonino Bello addressed to a group of young people: "become the critical awareness of the world, become subversive Christians like Francis of Assisi; authentic Christianity is always subversive because the gospel is counterculture.”

The Congress ended with a Mass in the Church of the Holy Cross and St. Bonaventure, a beloved place of the TA because Josefa Segovia stayed at that convent during her visit to Rome to seek the pontifical approval of the TA.

Marany Orlando