By Br. Ezra Sullivan, OP
On the day of Bartolo Longo’s beatification, October 26, 1980, Pope John Paul II called him a “man of the Madonna”; he later called him “a true apostle of the rosary” and “a layman who lived his ecclesial pledge to the full”. And John Paul II knew what he was saying — his own Marian spirituality was influenced deeply by what, as a young man, he had gleaned from Bartolo’s life and works.
So who was this a man who so profoundly affected the greatest pope of the 20th century and who has had a permanent effect on the way we Catholics venerate Mary? Unfortunately, he is unknown to many of those in the English-speaking world. His name is Blessed Bartolo Longo. Most people who know of Bartolo have heard of him from asides made by John Paul II in his apostolic letter on the rosary — but there is much more to this remarkable man than a few pithy quotes. His feast day is October 6th, and this is his story.
In Bartolo’s time, from the 1860s onwards, the Church in Naples was experiencing a spiritual crisis. Unbelief, rebellion, and the occult were widespread and affecting the souls of the faithful, especially college students. Many of them traded the theology of the saints for the philosophy of atheists, made street demonstrations against the pope, and — perhaps most dangerous of all — dabbled in witchcraft and consulted the famous Neapolitan mediums.
Among the wayward students in Naples, one stood above the rest in the depths of his depravity. As a young man, Bartolo not only participated in the anti-Catholic demonstrations, he not only preached publically and vehemently against the faith, he not only sought psychic mediums with his friends — he went even further and became a Satanic priest. Later on, Bartolo would describe how, in the rites of his blasphemous “ordination”, he promised his soul to a spirit-guide, a demon, which shook the walls and manifested itself with blasphemous shrieks.
For over a year, Bartolo lived under the spell of the demon, practicing the rites that were a mockery of the Church’s holy sacraments. Eventually, Bartolo’s experiences as a priest of Satan became unbearable, for the torments of a demon made him go nearly insane. But his family had not given up on him; through their help, he sought refuge in the sacrament of confession. . . . (continue reading)