Dominic Barberi (1792 – 1849) was born in Viterbo, Italy to a farming family. As a young man he developed a great love for England and its people. He prayed for England constantly, and even offered himself to God for its conversion.
In the summer of 1814 he entered the Passionist Novitiate and began his training for the religious life. It soon became apparent that he had a brilliant mind which was eventually to lead to his being appointed professor of both philosophy and theology. In his early years as a Passionist it was made known to him in prayer that he should preach the word of God in Northern Europe, and especially in England.
Despite his longing to move to England he was convinced that if God wanted it to happen, then God would provide the right opportunity. Dominic was appointed both Superior and eventually Provincial (major superior) of several Italian communities. But he accepted all these appointments (or set-backs) as being God’s will.
Finally, after many disappointments he travelled to Belgium where he established a Passionist community. It was not until Guy Fawkes day in 1840 that he finally arrived in England. He was shocked by the anti-Catholic situation he encountered, and was more amazed to see so little enthusiasm for the faith he had come to proclaim. He had been led to believe that England was on the cusp of mass conversion!
Dominic established the first Passionist community at Aston in Staffordshire. Here he was given a hostile reception by non-Catholics, while members of his own flock were prejudiced against him as a foreigner in a strange black habit. But such was his goodness and concern for everyone, irrespective of their religious denomination, that he was eventually welcomed by everyone. In his preaching parish missions he was extremely effective, often making large numbers of converts; this despite the fact that he spoke with a very heavy Italian accent which at times was almost impossible to understand.
Dominic was the father and herald of modern ecumenism, having a great love and respect for the good faith of his non-Catholic brethren. He received John Henry Newman into the Church – perhaps one of the greatest consolations of Dominic’s life.
Dominic died 27 August 1849 in The Railway Tavern, Reading, worn out by his ceaseless labours. He was fifty-seven years old; he had spent 34 years as a Passionist, and had worked in England for 8 years; and yet most of his life had been offered to God for England. He is buried in Sutton, St. Helens and was beatified in 1963.
A Prayer to Blessed Dominic of the Mother of God, Passionist, Apostle of England
O God who so lovingly raised Blessed Dominic to the heights of holiness, learning and apostolic zeal and made him a powerful minister of your mercy; grant also to us an abundant share of his virtues, that we too, according to our state, may contribute to the realisation of his desire
for the union of all Christians in one fold under one shepherd. Deign now, through his intercession, to grant us the particular grace which we humbly ask of your mercy.
Many before us risked, and lost, their lives to minister to the sick and suffering.
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