33. To Seminarian Joseph Riccio

Dear Little Joe,

I hasten to answer your dearest letter after a period of some days —  I didn’t have any stamps — now I am well provided. So? By this time the decision must have been made already, and with what rectitude.

I have always known you to be inexorable and very firm in your resolutions; I suppose therefore that also in this new circumstance you have shown yourself in the fullness of that iron and tenacious will of yours. You have described to me in all their detail the particulars of the case. Even from a minute report of a matter which is so delicate, it is not really possible for a person far away and outside, that is, outside the situation in question, even with cognition of cause, to come up with a judgment. However, everything considered, it seems to me that the best way to avoid innumerable possibilities of unknown consequences, was exactly reasonable and dignified refusal.  ((The first two paragraphs of this letter refer to a problem that Riccio was faced with at that time,but neither paragraph makes clear what the problem was about.))

Long live the refusals! The refusals, let us understand each other, of dangerous things, because if it is the case of a friend who tells you he will come for a visit after the threshing of the grain, Oh, in this case things would change radically and one should rather cry out: Down with refusals and up with approvals. Ha! Ha! Ha! While I go about making a defense of your refusal, you may have been already conquered and convinced in Agliano by the brilliant and persuasive reasons of that lady and her daughter to abdicate from your resolve to refuse. If this is the case, I would still be well covered because, as I said above, the essence of the fact is entirely in the eventual concurrence of certain small circumstances which would render very opportune, indeed necessary, a conduct on your part different from that which you spoke of in your letter to me.

Enough. We will talk about it after everything is over. Besides, you are not the type of person to allow yourself to be fooled so easily. Keep your eyes open, use a little craftiness of the fox, a little prudence of the Christian: Behold, these are the precautions you may use to protect yourself from all the eventualities, both present and future. And so I will now proceed to something else with the hope that you will explain everything later in your next letter.

You tell me of the thing you did in the first day of vacation in Agliano. Here on my part is my story: having said “goodbye” to you at the gate of San Quirico,27 I took note of the train schedule and returned to the Seminary. Oh how many memories — I visited once again the study hall; I gave once more a sad farewell to those silent corridors and to my little dear room, witness to so many things; I embraced once again some classmates who were still there; and I began to walk slowly and with a heavy heart toward the railroad station.

I had plenty of time and so I forced myself to enter a barbershop. I asked the “beard cutter” for his services, which he offered with the solicitude and especially with an ability which would have shamed a cutthroat. With a face red from the recent battle scars, I boarded the train, and made the trip to Vaglierano. From here, an old bus made me make an hour of solitary penance in its uncomfortable seat. At San Damiano I descended, and I had to swallow the bitter pill of a trip on foot in the sun for the rest of the way to the longed for San Martino.

Finally I arrived! The heart is filled with joy as we see our relatives in good health, our ancestral home, our private room, and all those thousand things that remind us of so many happy events of past vacations. In the midst of all these recollections, it was nice to remember you and all the other dear friends — imagining all of you here with me, anticipating with longing the time when I would actually enjoy the pleasure of your presence.

One thing that in the past years was a source of sadness or callousness, this year was instead a source of great consolation to me: to be at peace with my conscience.28

And so it is: when in the midst of earthly joys we are able to bring in also a ray of light of the joy that comes from heaven, oh, then our hearts are certainly more satisfied and our happiness more complete.

Last Sunday (the first),29 we did nothing less than a military march in search of cherries. I will explain. The Superintendent of Schools, the Rev. G.B. Torchio, pastor of San Martino, extended a formal invitation to the teacher to take the students on a military excursion. The provisions of wine and bread came from the parish rectory; the goal of the trip, that is, the cherry trees to climb were designated and provided for by the assistant pastor (the same who tells me to thank you courteously for the service of your good inkwell which has helped him find, if not a parish of his own, at least a second best.)

Therefore, the clergy, the faculty representative, and the students in good order and perfect discipline made their march, performed scrupulously the maneuvers on those fortunate trees, exhausted the program which required a bellyful of good time, and returned triumphantly to town with songs and “hails.” I assure you, the thousand incidents of that wonderful trip have given me much joy.

In passing, in order not to cause you melancholy with unpleasant news, I will tell you in a hurry that if we had delayed for another day our departure, the Vicar General30 would have postponed it to the twentieth, according to the permission he had just obtained from the Ministry of Public Schools. We escaped by the skin of our teeth, didn’t we?

We are at war.31 Who is able to predict at this time into what terrible sea we are embarking. May God grant that this may not be a war of ruin and of death for the poor king and for poor Italy. The fortunes of war so far hang precariously and uncertainly; courage and numerical superiority do help, but up to a point; and then begins that secret play of factors which are always hidden in the hand of God. Oh, may He not allow that this poor country of ours, after the sacrifice of so much material and of so much blood, be forced into a shameful peace. For, as bad as a government may be, it is never licit to wish that the government of one’s own nation would pass into the hands of foreigners. Rather, we ought to beg heaven that, after the victory over foreign enemies, it may make us conquerors also over the dangerous systems which have been inaugurated by internal enemies — “ut e manibus inimicorum nostrorum liberati serviamus illi”32 — Perhaps when you write me again this thing may have already taken a more determined turn; any prediction would be immature and too uncertain — therefore, until then, we shall not speak of it any further.

Now let us return to ourselves. Have you then started your vacation well also? And Aluffi, what is his situation? Assuredly it is not a beautiful alternative to have to choose between paying several thousand lire or having to march off to war with a rifle. You, also, poor guy, must feel the consequences of all this, since you will not have your dear and faithful vacation companion at your side any more. When shall we see each other? I hope that it will be possible this year to finally realize that so longed for and dreamed of reunion of the two continents, that is, of the banks of the Tanaro. Heck, they, don’t work any harder at the Isthmus of Suez33 to cut a way between the two seas than we here to join those two blessed shores, which awaits nothing else than a nod from us to embrace each other. About this we will make plans later. For now we ought to be satisfied with shortening the distance with writings and news.

What great thing is the mail! It makes us pass heavenly hours together; it joins us in spirit with our most dear friends; it gives us the opportunity of speaking to them at our own leisure the sweet and gentle words of friendship; it gives a means of communicating all the sentiments, all the beats of our heart. Oh. let us often make use of this divine messenger, the mail; let us use it to communicate to one another the joys and sorrows, to laugh and to cry together, to share our hopes and our fears, to encourage and strengthen each other in the difficult path of virtue.

Now I feel a pain to have to say goodbye — but I have to put an end to this writing because I have to give time to other answers which require of me care and urgency. This is also the reason why I have answered you, as the saying goes, in apostolic manner. I am reassured, though, by the thought of having written it as one would write in the language of the heart — God be with you — Remember your Joe during the day and in the moments in which you raise your soul to God in prayer. I have done it and will continue to do the same for you, desirous that in heaven as on earth may be united the names of the two




PS. Remember me every time in the evening you look upon the Tanaro Valley.

  1. A gate in the ancient wall that surrounded the city of Asti. This section of the walls was taken down to make room for the new railroad station and the gate did not existed any more in 1866. Therefore, Marello uses the expression “gate of San Quirico” to denote the area where the railroad station was now located. 

  2. A reference to his qualms of conscience for having left the seminary. Cfr. also Letter 9. 

  3. June 17, the first Sunday of his vacation. 

  4. Mons. Antonio Vitaliano Sossi, Vicar General of the Asti Diocese. The seminarians left for theirvacation on June 11. 

  5. The Third War of Independence was declared on June 20, 1866, and was concluded with the PeaceTreaty of Vienna on October 3, 1866. 

  6. So that, freed from the hands of our enemies, we may serve Him. 

  7. The towns of San Martino and Agliano are located on one side and on the other of the Tanaro River. In 1866 the two banks of the river were not as yet linked by a bridge. Work on the Suez Canal was begun in 1859 and the Canal was inaugurated on November 17, 1869