Chapter 9

Bishop Marello goes to San Martino Alfieri. Ceremonies of honor he receives there. He participates in the centennial Feast of Our Lady of Salve in Alexandria. His first pastoral letter. His solemn entry into the diocese of Acqui.

On first hearing the news of Canon Marello’s appointment as bishop, the people of San Martino Alfieri had experienced exultant rejoicing. They then anxiously looked forward to paying him the tribute of esteem that they felt for him. Even more desirous of this were the monsignor dean who had known him since he was a seminarian, and his brother Victor who then held the office of mayor.

His visit to the town was celebrated with magnificent pomp and a great display of jubilation. That year’s Holy Saturday saw a great crowd at San Martino, some of them even coming from neighboring towns. The pastor, clergy, religious societies, his brother the mayor and the town council went to meet him at the town entrance. After receiving the first honors there and exchanging the first greetings beneath the triumphal festal arch adorning the street, the new bishop walked towards the parish to the joyous pealing of the bells. The crowd pressed together to see his kind countenance; the children pushed through the middle to study him better; and mothers pointed him out to their babies, as he passed by smiling as he blessed them.

On Easter Sunday he celebrated a solemn pontifical Mass, for which our brothers made a special trip from Asti to lend their humble service. After the Gospel he gave the homily thanking the pastor first of all, the town council, and all the people for the honors given him, and then exhorting them to live as suggested by that season and solemn feast. A great show of fireworks crowned the celebrations. He remained there two days, delighting his relatives and the best families with his presence, and leaving everyone with an unforgettable memory of his kindness and gentle charm.

That year happened to be the centenary of Our Lady of Salve, so venerated in the cathedral of Alexandria. The city’s bishop, Giocondo Salvai, invited Bishop Marello for a pontifical Mass attended by their excellencies Pampiro, bishop of Alba; De Gaudenzi, bishop of Vigevano; Porrati, bishop of Bobbio; Riboldi, bishop of Pavia and later cardinal of the Holy Roman Church. Those festivities which ended with the solemn procession carrying the miraculous image of Mary Most Holy had brought to Alexandria faithful from all over the diocese and from neighboring dioceses, as well as many priests from Acqui who hastened to hear their new bishop give the discourse. Bishop Marello developed the theme of the image itself, which portrays the Most Holy Virgin at the foot of the cross in the arms of St. John. His words were so fitting, inspired, and filled with holy enthusiasm that they vividly moved and roused all and made clear to the priests of the diocese of Acqui what an excellent bishop they had received. The new children which divine providence had entrusted to him and which he had begun to love so tenderly were already waiting to meet their new shepherd. With a pastoral letter dated May 31, he opens his heart to them with a warm greeting of peace. The pastoral letter begins thus:

Pax vobis. Peace be with you, venerable brethren and most beloved children. The first word I direct to you is a greeting of peace and best wishes. This greeting and these wishes extend not only to that peace and well-being to which our hearts naturally aspire, but to an incomparably greater good that is wholly supernatural, that true peace announced by choirs of angels to people of good will when Jesus Christ came on earth. This peace is a graced prefiguration in this life of that ineffable joy and love which we call the glory of the afterlife, which within the limits of possibility brings heaven to earth.”

He then continues:

“Sent to you as an unworthy minister of the Church by its visible Head, I begin my mission by extending to you this greeting of peace which I will daily renew for you at the holy altar. The mission I come to perform among you is thus a mission of peace, a mission of communicating peace to your souls.”

God had truly prepared him for this ministry of peace. For many years before becoming bishop, he had already practiced this mission of peace at Bishop Savio’s side as his personal secretary and confidant, and then had continued to practice it as chancellor of Asti’s diocesan curia.

Oh, if only the hallowed walls of that room he occupied in Acqui’s bishopric could tell how his words and actions instilled that precious gift of peace in all who approached him! How many tears he dried, how many disturbed hearts he calmed, how many reconciliations he effected! He once replied to a priest who reported to him some criticisms of his manner of administering the diocese: “The world is unaware of the work accomplished in this room, and it’s better that it remain that way.” In all that he writes in this first pastoral letter we notice a spirit who trusts not in himself, but feels the need of the help and collaboration of all, canons, pastors, simple priests and religious, and above all asks the aid of their prayers. He forgets no one, shows his appreciation for each one’s cooperation, and exhorts all to growing zeal. He exclaims:

“How many youth need a share in the bread of God’s word! How many suffering people can experience consolation by a word inspired by Christ’s charity! How many sinners the Lord wishes to restore to peace of soul through His minister! May there be among you … a holy emulation of zeal for the salvation of souls. You will then one day receive from the Prince of Shepherds your crown of glory.”

He then proceeds to recommend prayer:

“Yes, lift your hearts to God and pray. And pray first of all for the Supreme Pontiff, Pope Leo XIII. The day he officially approved your bishop, his lips and even more so his paternal heart uttered beautiful wishes of peace for Christianity, or rather for all peoples. His aspirations and apostolic energies always look toward propagating the Gospel of peace to every corner of the earth. Pray to the Lord that the wishes of such a loving father be fulfilled, and he might see justice and peace flower among his children again.”

He next encourages the people of his diocese to pray for Cardinal Monaco La Valletta who had consecrated him; and also for the two prelates, Rocco Cocchia, archbishop of Chieti, and Ignazio Persico, archbishop of Damiata, who assisted in the consecration; and further down the list, Bishop Ronco, whom he calls “father and most loving benefactor”; the cathedral canons and clergy of Asti; and himself too in these words:

“The charity joining you to your shepherd already moves you to pray for him. For mercy’s sake, please send God another prayer for those beloved people chosen by divine providence to shower him with kindly affection before he was sent among you. Help him thus pay the debt of gratitude he owes those he must leave behind in order to become totally yours.”

Lastly, he concludes with a prayer which he rightly says should always be on the lips of any good shepherd ready to sacrifice himself for his beloved sheep:

“Oh Lord, help me guard in your name the children you have entrusted to me. Grant that on the day you ask me to render account of their souls I may joyfully respond: ‘Behold I have guarded them all; not one of them has been lost.'”

Marello had intended to officially enter the diocese on the Second Sunday after Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, but Acqui asked him to postpone, and Trinity Sunday, June 16th that year, was agreed upon. He devoutly celebrated Mass at St. Clare’s distributing holy communion to all the families of the house. Our Fr. John Medico of blessed memory, who had assisted him during the Holy Mass, noted that every once in awhile he had to use his handkerchief to dry the tears from his eyes. After Mass he quickly withdrew as usual to a side of the sanctuary to make his customary thanksgiving where, no longer able to restrain his sentiments, he burst out crying so loudly as to be heard throughout the whole Church and Fr. John went to comfort him. The carriage was already waiting to take him to the station. After he gave the last instructions to the priests gathered around him, the brothers, the young aspirants, the students of the little boarding school, and the other families of the house assembled under the porticos to receive a last blessing. He began the invocation “Benedicat vos…“, but could not continue for weeping. General weeping then spread among those good children of his who tenderly loved him as a father. He hastened to climb into the carriage so as to lessen the pain of the departure. In Alexandria Bishop Salvai wanted his company for lunch. Two canons of the Acqui cathedral arrived to meet him there. As a sign of honor, the bishop of Alexandria had ordered each town of the diocese to peal the bells festively at Bishop Marello’s passing and to turn out to pay their respects. At Sezzè, now called Sezzadio, the first town he came to in the diocese of Acqui, a great crowd flooded the station to reverence their bishop and receive his blessing. The same at Strevi. At Cassine the municipal band also came to better express everyone’s joy. When he finally arrived in Acqui, an imposing stately ceremony was held for him. The enormous plaza in front of the station was too small for the huge multitude of exuberant but orderly citizens of every kind. The overflow of people wishing to at least catch a faraway glimpse of him reached even into the public gardens. The city council welcomed him at the station porch with reverent honors. The lawyer Accusani delivers a polished discourse in the name of Minister Saracco, the city mayor. Next the president of the Society of Charity speaks an affectionate few words. Several refined gentlemen follow with polite congratulations. Bishop Marello responds to all with words of fatherly affection and signs of heartfelt recognition. Moving from the porch to get into the coach, he turned to look at the immense multitude surrounding him on all sides, greeting and blessing them all. As he seated himself he was visibly moved.

The dignity and calm with which he performed this action was noted and greatly appreciated by all. From there he set out for the Church of the Sorrowful Mother flanked on both sides by crowds who barely let the carriage inch its way forward. On arriving at this church, he was received with the greatest reverence by the cathedral chapter, clergy, and confraternities. The chapter vicar, Very Rev. Msgr. Pagella, addressed him with an elegant discourse, recalling among other things that Asti had previously given Acqui Bishop Capra who had contributed so much to the diocese, and hoping that Bishop Marello from the same city would also be for the diocese of Acqui a real blessing from heaven.

In the briefest of words, Bishop Marello replied that he had come to invest all his life’s energies for the welfare of the souls entrusted to him. He ended by exclaiming with deep emotion: “Dominus custodiat hanc voluntatem meam!”

Vested with the pontifical robes and preceded by two lines of pastors, priests, seminarians and confraternity members, he processed to the cathedral along Maestra Way, blessing the people who filled the plazas, balconies and window. The city band which had greeted him at the station now played soft melodies in between the processional songs. Once he entered the cathedral and was seated on the bishop’s chair, he listened to the Latin address read by the theologian, Canon Piola, to which he responded also in Latin. He then ascended the pulpit. His speech inflamed with holy charity evidenced the total affection he bore his new children. In the evening a wonderful effect was created by the soft glow which illumined the cathedral, the plaza, the belfry, and the seminary.

I who had accompanied Bishop Marello took leave of him with a kiss accompanied by multiple tears. Canon Buffa came to console me, reminding me that it would be easy for us to come from Asti to visit him. “He’s no longer ours alone,” I replied. “You’re right,” the good canon added, “He’s no longer yours alone, but also ours.”

Amid so many festive receptions and such jubilation, our father’s countenance remained calm and serene, while interiorly his soul was bothered by the thought of beginning to govern a diocese which someone else, as not a few desired, would have been able to administer and guide with outstanding ability and learning. Another pain afflicting his spirit was having to move away from St. Clare’s at such a precarious time. He knew that the house’s financial situation was anything but prosperous or sufficient for the needs of the almost three hundred people who were then living there. On leaving he had left the little that he had at his disposal, including the four thousand liras Canon Buffa of Acqui had given him for the expenses of his entry into the diocese. But how could that be enough?

These thoughts perplexed him, and yet with resignation he placed his trust in the goodness and mercy of the God who forgets no one, and lovingly cares for even the least of his creatures.