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"AT THE HEART OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE" THE CHARISM OF GASPAR DEL BUFALO AS THE BASIS FOR A LAY SPIRITUALITY

John A. Colacino CPPS

This thesis continues and expands one undertaken at the licentiate level at Regis College, Toronto, in 1989. In addition to developing some themes treated there only minimally, this doctoral dissertation represents a general reorientation of the topic. Whereas the previous thesis dealt primarily with the personal spirituality of Gaspar Del Bufalo, the present work strives to show how a form of Christian spirituality that may be termed "gasparian" can have relevance to anyone who looks to Gaspar's figure as a model of life in Christ.

This figure needs little introduction. A native of Rome born on January 6, 1786, Gaspar demonstrated from childhood a strong attraction for the spiritual life and the priestly state. He received his entire education at the Roman College and was ordained to the priesthood on July 31, 1808, having been appointed canon of the Roman Basilica of St. Mark. During the time of his priestly training, Gaspar already distinguished himself as an orator, catechist and zealous worker on behalf of the poor and infirm. Such activities characterized his early ministry as well, although a special interest in the ministry of the word was always evident.

The presence of French officials in Rome since 1798 had a direct effect on the clergy of the city when in 1810 some of their number were required to take an oath of fidelity to the emperor Napoleon. Gaspar's sense of loyalty to the pope would not permit such an oath which he adamantly refused to swear on several occasions. This defiance led to his eventual arrest and exile from the Papal States to northern Italy where he was to spend four years in a number of places under conditions of varying severity and limitation of freedom. This period, in addition to being a time of painful separation from home and family, was a formative one in which Gaspar matured spiritually and, with the counsel of his spiritual director Francis Albertini, he consolidated plans for his future ministry.

Returning to Rome after its liberation in 1814, Gaspar was appointed "apostolic missionary" by Pope Pius VII and charged with the task of reforming faith and morals in the Papal States through preaching popular missions and retreats. With this end in view, Gaspar and a few companions founded a society of secular priests on August 15, 1815: the Congregation of Missionaries of the Most Precious Blood (CPPS). Living in community without vows, this society was to have no other bond but charity and the common purpose of propagating devotion to the blood of Christ through the extraordinary exercise of the ministry of the word.

The reasons for this reorientation are several: not the least of which is the large number of studies already available which outline the contours of Gaspar's personal charism and spirituality, showing how these have been transmitted to the congregation he founded.2 A broader treatment of this way of Christian life is, however, lacking: a study showing how, in the words of John Paul II, the spirituality of Gaspar Del Bufalo lies "at the heart of the Christian life."3
This lacuna in the literature is due, in my opinion, to a limited view of the gasparian charism. Obviously, the historical figure who first embodied a particular way of Christian life, a life whose origin lies in a distinct charismatic endowment of the Church, plays an intrinsic part in the delimitation of that charism's content.

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