Mary of the Day (April 26, 1467) PART TWO – Our Lady of Good Counsel (Genazzano – Italy)
“She came” yes, but from where? (A Brief History)
If so far the documents are incontrovertible, there is an oral tradition, five hundred years old, which reinforces the prodigious character of the facts regarding this beautiful Marian icon. It unites the belief of two people, very different in geography, culture and language. It is inconceivable to think that these two realities have agreed to deceive everyone for centuries. Father Amedeo Eramo, rector of the Shrine, effectively said this: “Here we are dealing with two peoples who at the same time (for five centuries) affirm this humanly inexplicable fact: the image of the Mother of Good Counsel comes from Scutari (Albania). How is it possible to think of a collective infatuation, a mystification, a common pious invention? “.
S.S. John Paul II, visiting Genazzano just before going to Albania, endorsed this belief: “From Scutari comes the image of Our Lady of Good Counsel here venerated: according to a pious tradition, it migrated from the church that housed it there, thus escaping miraculously the Turkishinvasion of 1467 “.
And at this point we need to say something to frame together both the history and tradition of this event. Indeed, in 1467 the invasion of the “Land of Eagles”, Albania, began by the Ottoman power. This coincides with the extinction of the great athlete of Christ, as he is called the most formidable champion of the Christianity of his time, Giorgio Castriota Skanderbeg. As long as Skanderbeg lived, Albania resisted. With his death the definitive collapse takes place. The Christians fleed further and further north from the Islamic invasion. The last stronghold is Scutari, almost at the border with Montenegro.
“Come back, O pious Mother, come back to Albania soon”
Just outside this city is the Shrine of Our Lady of Shkoder (Scutari). It was built after the fall of communism on the same place where, at the time of the Turkish invasion, a prodigious fresco of Mary and Child was venerated in a little church.
The Albanians have always maintained that it is the same fresco revered in Genazzano. One day, under the pressure of the Turkish offensive, the piece of the wall with the fresco disappeared. Then the sanctuary was reduced by the invaders to an open ruin, but you could still see an empty rectangle on the wall.
In 1967, this ruin was blown up with dynamite by the Stalinist-Maoist government. It was an uncomfortable presence for a state that declared itself to be an atheist already in its Constitution. In fact, for centuries Albanian Catholics, residing above all in the “eagles” mountains, went there to pray: “Come back, come back, O pious Mother, come back to Albania soon”.
The Bishop of Scutari, Paolo Cambsi, came to Genazzano in 1754, where he testifies that in that church there was no longer the Madonna where it was once revered by the faithful, even if they still go there to pray and on some nights, as confirmed even by Turkish sources, there was seen above the building “an unusual splendor (…) like a white cloud”. He adds that the Madonna of Genazzano “is of the same color of which other images of the Blessed Virgin are painted in the aforementioned church”. A century later, in 1878, this attestation is confirmed in a letter to the prior of Genazzano by the general vicar of the diocese of Scutari, Angelo Radoja: “We can say with all sincerity that we have always heard not only from the priests, but much more from our ancestors, who certainly did not have the slightest need to deceive their posterity, that in the little church at the foot of the Scutari fortress between the two rivers Driono and Boiana, there existed the image of the Lady of Scutari (…) and that some years before the Turks got possession of Scutari, it left the church and was carried miraculously to a foreign land, that is to Genazzano “.
In the nineteenth century the Albanian bishops officially proclaimed Our Lady of Good Counsel, the patron saint of Albania. In 1932 there was a great Albanian national pilgrimage to Genazzano, presided over by the Archbishop of Scutari, and of which the newspaper of the Vatican Osservatore Romano spoke extensively. The pilgrims placed a memorial stone still preserved: “Return Our Lady in Albania “.
Before being suppressed by the communist regime, the apostolic delegate Msgr. G.B. Nigris wrote on the 28th of December 1946: that “April 25, 1467 is the date when the fresco would have miraculously detached from the altar and, crossing the Adriatic on a flight among a bevy of angels would have descended to Genazzano”, adding that unfortunately the evidence was destroyed in the «violent Islamization of the country», but that still remains «the widespread and living devotion of Our Lady of Good Counsel, venerated as Patroness of Albania (…) There is no house of Catholics in which the image of Our Lady of Good Counsel is not enthroned “.
One tradition harmonizes with the other. The Genazzano people believe that, from a remote common tradition, there was a couple of Albanians who settled in the town a few days after “Her coming”, they were named Giorgio and Sclavis. After seeing the fresco starting from Scutari, they would have followed it on the waves of the sea. The deeds of the notary M.A. Roses, ranging from 1487 to 1529, speak of six Albanians residing in Genazzano and there is the testament of one of them, a certain Giorgio, in favor of his children. Some families of Albanian origin, still living in Genazzano, say they come from their ancestor Giorgio.
The first existing documents linking Albania to the apparition date back to 1681, but we must bear in mind that the sanctuary was robbed much earlier, which is why Alexander VI excommunicated the thieves in 1502. In 1778, eight elders of Genazzano, laymen and priests, a notary documented a document confirming the old tradition, by which it was declared that the Madonna came from Scutari.
The art critics recognize in the Madonna of Genazzano a wonderfully successful blend of Byzantine iconography with the technique of Venetian color, a painting suitable for the crossroads of the two cultures that was Albania. Four popes went to the Sanctuary of Genazzano. Pope Leo XIII, due to the political impediment that kept him locked up in the Vatican, could never come personally as Pope, however he elevated the church to the rank of basilica and inserted the invocation Mater Boni Consilii (Mother of Good Counsel) in the Loreto litanies. Numerous saints and founders, among them S. Don Bosco and S. Don Orione, pilgrims to the medieval town of Lazio to ask Mary for the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of the Counsel and precisely, in moments of particular difficulty.
THE PRECIOUS GIFT OF COUNSEL
But what is this extraordinary gift of counsel that we can ask Our Lady of Genazzano? We will try to explain it in a few words.
First of all, it one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, who “in their fullness belong to Christ”, according to what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches. That is to say, as St. Louis of Montfort speaks of Him as “the eternal and incarnate Wisdom”, another gift from the Paraclete, one could say that He is also “the eternal and incarnate Counsel”.
And the theologian Fabiàn Rodero explains: “She is the mother of good counsel, first and foremost because she is the Mother of the” Admirable Counselor “(Is 9,5), as Isaiah prophetically calls the Redeemer of the world”.
As if to say that by identifying Jesus Christ with the Good Counsel, we ask this gift from Mary, we ask Her to unite us fully to Her Son, this work of unity by which She is the most adequate and perfect instrument in order to achieve it.
And then the Counsel is what the Lord himself offers us when he tells us: ” I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”(Psalm 32, 8).
Theologians of the Catholic Encyclopedia teaches that the gifts of the Holy Spirit perfects the virtues of those who receive them. And, in the particular case of the Counsel, it perfects us particularly in the virtue of prudence, making us “to do promptly and surely, for a supernatural intuition, what is convenient, especially in difficult cases”.
The lack of such a gift makes us “confused in thought, hasty in our resolutions, imprudent in words, daring in deeds”. In the opposite sense, with the gift of the Counsel “the Christian soul has the sure discernment of the means, sees its own life and faces it fearlessly – as hard and repugnant as it is”. «Now who more than Our Lady – full of grace, who kept everything in his heart and meditated, that all generations will call Her blessed – must enlighten us with her “counsels?”» Writes the rector of the Sanctuary, Father Amedeo Eramo (OSA).
How can we be surprised then if popes, saints, men and women of great faith have come to the feet of the Madonna di Genazzano to ask for this gift of “counsel”, especially in times of difficulty, uncertainty and risk for their apostolic works?