In several days we will remember Our Lady of Sorrows. The story is a powerful account, perhaps not as dramatic as Lourdes or Fatima, that has gathered a large following. According to Dictionnaire encyclopédique des apparitions de la Vierge;
On March 22, 1888, in Castelpetroso, two shepherdesses from the north of Italy, Fabiana Cecchino (1853-1939) and Serafina Giovanna Valentino (1854-1931), saw a light coming out of a cleft in a rock, and immediately afterwards, the "Madonna appeared in the center of this light", under the aspect of Our Lady of Sorrows. On April 5, 1888, Diamante Cecchino had the same vision, then Teodora Venditti and her three daughters starting on April 24. Added to this list were Count Acquaderni of Bologna and several ecclesiastics: Bishop Macarone Palmieri, the diocesan bishop; Don Nardone, the archpriest of Boiano; and Don Achille Ferrara, the archpriest of Castelpetroso.
The Virgin Mary appeared under various aspects: in tears, in prayer, etc. Some recognized Our Lady of Carmel, others the Mater Dolorosa, accompanied by the archangel St. Michael and other saints, such as Anthony of Padua and Sebastian. On May 16, 1888, a priest alleged an apparition of Christ bleeding, with his Mother. Healings were reported, including that of a child who was born mute. Thousands of people went to pray at the site.
Bishop Palmieri informed Pope Leo XIII and created a commission of inquiry. On February 23, 1889, he declared: "I experienced an apparition of the Virgin. She appeared to me in the guise of Our Lady of Sorrows." The prelate wished to have a chapel built at the "holy place" of the apparitions. On September 28, 1890, he laid the foundation stone of the shrine, assisted by the bishops of Isernia, Trivento and Termoli, in the presence of 30,000 faithful.
On December 6, 1973, Paul VI declared Our Lady of Castelpetroso patroness of the region. A center for pilgrims was built. In 1993, the shrine was entrusted to the Franciscan brothers and sisters of the Immaculate. On March 19, 1995, Pope John Paul II visited the site.
The principal biblical references to Mary’s sorrows are in Luke 2:35 and John 19:26-27. The Lucan passage is Simeon’s prediction about a sword piercing Mary’s soul; the Johannine passage relates Jesus’ words from the cross to Mary and to the beloved disciple. Many early Church writers interpret the sword as Mary’s sorrows, especially as she saw Jesus die on the cross. Thus, the two passages are brought together as prediction and fulfillment. Saint Ambrose in particular sees Mary as a sorrowful yet powerful figure at the cross. Mary stood fearlessly at the cross while others fled. Mary looked on her Son’s wounds with pity, but saw in them the salvation of the world. As Jesus hung on the cross, Mary did not fear to be killed, but offered herself to her persecutors.
The feast of Our Lady of Sorrows commemorates the seven great sorrows which Mary lived in relation to Her Son, as they are recorded in the Gospels or through Tradition. Today we are invited to reflect on Mary's deep suffering:
1. At the prophecy of Simeon: "You yourself shall be pierced with a sword - so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare." (Luke 2:35).
2. At the flight into Egypt; "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt." (Mt 2:13).
3. Having lost the Holy Child at Jerusalem; "You see that your father and I have been searching for you in sorrow." (Luke 2:48).
4. Meeting Jesus on his way to Calvary;
5. Standing at the foot of the Cross; "Near the cross of Jesus there stood His mother." (John 19:25).
6. Jesus being taken from the Cross;
7. At the burial of Christ.
Also recorded are the seven promises made by Our Lady;
“I will grant peace to their families.”
“They will be enlightened about the divine Mysteries.”
“I will console them in their pains and I will accompany them in their work.”
“I will give them as much as they ask for as long as it does not oppose the adorable will of My divine Son or the sanctification of their souls.”
“I will defend them in their spiritual battles with the infernal enemy and I will protect them at every instant of their lives.”
“I will visibly help them at the moment of their death. They will see the face of their Mother.”
“I have obtained this grace from My divine Son, that those who propagate this devotion to My tears and sorrows will be taken directly from this earthly life to eternal happiness, since all their sins will be forgiven and My Son will be their eternal consolation and joy.”
We must remember that Mary suffered many things that we suffer through the course of our lives. As proof of this suffering, and understanding of our plight, she offers these promises and consolations in direct proportion to the pain which she knows we suffer. It seems that nowhere else is she more fully our “mom” that when she acts in her power as Our Lady of Sorrows.