THE MARIAN MOVEMENT OF PRIESTS
HISTORY OF THE MOVEMENT
On the 8th of May 1972, while Fr. Stefano Gobbi was taking part in a pilgrimage to Fatima and was praying in the little Chapel of the Apparitions for some priests who were rebelling against the authority of the Church, he had an interior inspiration from the Blessed Mother with the invitation to gather all those priests who would consecrate themselves to her Immaculate Heart. During that same month, Fr. Gobbi also received a little sign of confirmation from Our Lady while at the Sanctuary of the Annunciation at Nazareth.
The origin of the Marian Movement of Priests stems from this simple and interior inspiration which Fr. Gobbi received in prayer at Fatima.
Concretely, what was he to do?
In October of the same year, a timid attempt was made, by way of a gathering of three priests, for prayer and fraternal sharing, in the Parish of Gera Lario (Como); a notice of the Movement was given in some papers and Catholic reviews.
By March 1973, the number of priests inscribed was about forty. In September of the same year, at San Vittorino, near Rome, the first national gathering took place, with twenty-five priests taking part, out of
the eighty already enrolled.
Beginning in 1974, the first cenacles of prayer and fraternal sharing among priests and faithful took place. These gradually spread throughout Europe and every part of the world.
Fr. Gobbi many times visited the five continents to preside at the Regional Cenacles, involving about 1200 air flights and numerous journeys by car and train. He conducted
2210 cenacles, of which 1015 took place in Europe, 840 in America, 97 in Africa, 116 in Asia and 142 in Oceania.
This gives evidence of how the Movement has, throughout these years, spread everywhere in an astounding way.
The Marian Movement of Priests has succeeded in expanding in a silent and extraordinary way.
In practically all the countries of Europe, America, Asia, Africa and Oceania, national directors have at this time been appointed and entrusted with the task of gathering the membership and assisting in the formation of cenacles. To these he also entrusted the duty of appointing the various regional and diocesan Directors, stipulating that all be fulfilled in the greatest fidelity to the spirit of the Movement.
In view of the autonomy which is given to each of the national centers, it is difficult to give a precise numerical picture of the M.M.P. But this is not of great importance, as there is question of a “spirit” which escapes external controls and which becomes a reality in the measure in which each priest who belongs to it seeks to live daily his consecration to Mary.
If one were to judge from the letters of inscription, members would now number about four hundred bishops and more than one hundred thousand priests, coming both from the diocesan clergy and from all the orders and religious congregations. As to the laity, since there is no formal inscription we cannot give even an approximate figure, although they certainly number in the millions.
But the inscription itself is nothing other than a way to be recognized as a member and to be contacted in order to register the Cenacles of prayer, and to reciprocally help each other live the spirit of the Movement.
Moreover, it is consoling to note the existence of a large segment of priests who are sympathetic; although they have not yet been inscribed in the Movement, they demonstrate their solidarity with it in various ways and on various occasions. Their number is perhaps even greater than those who have actually been enrolled. If they live the spirit of the Movement, though they are not registered, they are already doing what is essential.
Although, almost imperceptively, we have become a large cohort, it still happens that many priests do not know their confreres who live quite close to them and are also members of the Movement. This happens in areas where the M.M.P. is just beginning, but it also happens in some other places. The reasons for this are the scanty organization we make use of—and this will remain one of our traits— and secondly, a certain reservation (given that we are concerned with a spiritual choice and a commitment that is mainly interior) which makes us unwilling to hand over lists and addresses to just anyone who asks for them. And yet, we are everywhere witnessing the following astounding phenomenon: Our Lady is seeing to it that, through cenacles of prayer and brotherhood, her priests get to know one another, help one another, love one another as brothers and become a cohesive force throughout the entire clergy.
Through the consoling reality of the communion of saints, those priests who have already preceded us into eternal life seem still active members and closer to us than ever. Among them are some cardinals (the first of whom to enroll was Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro, then Archbishop of Bologna),
many bishops (we recall, among others, Bishop Joao Venancio Pereira, formerly Bishop of Leiria and Fatima, who enrolled in 1973 and died in 1985) and thousands of priests who enriched their last years of intense apostolate or of sickness by accepting Our Lady’s invitation and by living it in the Marian Movement of Priests. Of these, it is good to recall a Servant of God, Father Gabriele Allegra, a well-known biblical scholar and translator of the Holy Scriptures into Chinese, whose last work was a translation into Chinese of the book “To the Priests, Our Lady’s Beloved Sons.”
In its wide and rapid spread, the M.M.P. has encountered fewer difficulties than one would have feared. As its characteristic is fidelity to the Church and obedience to legitimate superiors, where these (especially at the episcopal level) have shown themselves sympathetic and encouraging, things have proceeded with greater facility.
It has been a question of exercising more patience in knowing how to wait in those situations where authority has shown itself to be perplexing or indifferent. We are constantly aware of the watchful and enlightening presence of Our Lady, above all as she guides “her” Movement: she comforts us in difficulties, gives guidance to our enthusiasm, and teaches us how to assume with courage the liberty of the children of God, while at the same time preventing the taking of positions not in accordance with, or in outright rebellion to, superiors—a thing which is obviously in contradiction to the second fundamental principle of the Marian Movement of Priests: love for the Pope and the hierarchy united with him.