BLESSED JAMES ALBERIONE
The Apostle of the Media: A man who reached for the future
Like Paul, who declared: “The love of Christ urges us on” (2Cor 5:14), at the dawn of the 20th century Blessed Alberione felt interiorly moved by an appeal of love from Jesus in the Eucharist, who yearns to draw all people to himself and who prompted him to begin a new apostolate and a new religious family. Thus the young priest set out on an incredible adventure that, over the arch of many decades, led him to initiate innumerable projects. He started in 1914 with a small group of boys and the command to publish Alba’s diocesan newspaper, and by the end of his life he had founded five religious congregations, four secular institutes, numerous Catholic publishing houses throughout the world, magazines, a network of media centres that he hoped would serve as sources of light for all who visited them.
His original interest in the medium of the press expanded as he realised that the Church of today must be present in the cinema, in television, in the world of music and in every field of human communication furnished by progress. He did not live to see the development of the Internet, but all the languages and instruments of modern communication attracted his interest because he saw them as ways of responding to thesocial and pastoral problems of his time. Participating in Vatican Council II, he had the satisfaction of seing the Council documents acknowledge many of the intuitions he had labored long and hard to concretise.
BLESSED ALBERIONE AND THE MEDIA
“Ancient spirit, new forms.” This was the operative principle of Father Alberione as he strove to fulfill the mission entrusted to him by God. The ancient spirit was that of the Gospel, of St. Paul, of the best tradition of the Church.
The new forms were those suggested by human progress in the twentieth century for the influence of the masses and the mutual relations among people: the press, cinema, radio, television, internet – that is the means of social communication. With admirable ease and courage, Father Alberione entered this field and gave it an authentic sense of apostolate. He stands in the Church as a master in the use of these forms of the Christian apostolate – difficult forms which are undergoing continual improvement.
VENERABLE THECLA MERLO
THE WOMAN COLLABORATOR IN MEDIA APOSTOLATE
In an era characterised by globalisation and interculturality, collaboration has become a great and urgent need, yet one that has proven almost impossible for many. For Thecla, born Teresa, a woman who rose beyond the natural realm to collaborate with Fr James Alberione in the apostolate of the means of social communication, collaboration was a way to understand God’s will in her life. She not only carried out orders given by Fr Alberione, but also sought to grasp his insights, to smooth his path and to help him in every way possible, always seeking the glory of God and the good of all people. She was not only a valuable intermediary between Fr Alberione and the Daughters of St Paul but also of the whole of Pauline family which Fr Alberione founded. Fr Alberione, talking to the Daughters of St Paul, clearly pointed out the greatness of this woman, “You might have other mothers but she alone is your Mother.”
After her final profession, Teresa who had taken the name Thecla (a woman collaborator of St Paul, the Apostle, in spreading the Good News) was appointed the first Superior General. At that time, Superiors and formators were using the title Maestra, in honour of Jesus Master, thus Thecla was now referred to as Maestra Thecla. She immediately assumed this duty in total surrender to the will of God and under the guidance of Primo Maestro (Fr Alberione). With much trust she would exclaim, “I am nothing, by myself I can do nothing but with God I can do everything.” Her docility to God’s will was obvious as she went around forming and uniting the young family and orienting it towards the unique charism that God had granted to Fr Alberione.
Her spirit of collaboration crossed the boundaries of her Institute. The Society of St Paul for example, had printed many books and pamphlets, which were piling up in the storehouse. Through her guidance, the Daughters of St Paul zealously and courageously offered to help disseminate them. The Sisters started visiting families door-to-door. Later, the same activity would be repeated in hospitals, schools, parishes, business corporations and any other opportunity that would reveal itself. The Sisters, who always went out two-by-two, eventually became known as “Postmistresses of God.” Their main intent was to disseminate the Word of God – the Bible, which many came to know as the Good News of Salvation. However, their mission was not always welcomed! Some people openly welcomed them in, while others slammed doors in their faces. The difficulties that this small group encountered from the society were immense. Imagine women, religious women at that, operating printing presses and courageously going out on foot to diffuse publications! Despite the pains and humiliations they were never ashamed of the Gospel!
Under the continued wise guidance of Maestra Thecla, the Daughters of St Paul soon expanded to all corners of the world. Book centres, publishing houses, audio-visual sectors, and even radio and television stations multiplied and spread throughout different parts of the world. And as a leader, Maestra Thecla followed the activities and the well- being of all her Daughters scattered around the world by visits when the opportunities arose. More than anything she is known to have written thousands of letters to them. That was how caring her heart was.
By the time Maestra Thecla passed on, on 5th February 1964 the Daughters were already present in all five continents of the world.
Maestra Thecla is an example of courage, intelligence, faith and wise collaboration. Down through the decades her loving guidance of the sisters and her maternal presence to the whole Pauline family has won her great respect and love from all those who knew her or have heard about her. The Church proclaimed her “Venerable” on 22 January 1991.
“When our hearts are filled with the love of God, we cannot help but pour this love out on the world,” Maestra Thecla once said. Her life was a song of God’s love. A love so immense to the point of exclaiming, “If I had a hundred lives O Lord, I would give all to you.”