THE GULF STREAM
In the famous Twenty-third chapter of his biography of Allamano Father Sales writes: “Unless I am being blinded by a son’s affection I would say that Allamano’s life can be summed up in a single word: the Consolata. It is no exaggeration to say that Canon Allamano lived for “his Consolata,” but what has he passed on to us from his spiritual intimacy with Our Lady, the Consolata?
In a commemoration at Bevera on February 16, 1985, Father Candido Bona remarked: “I did not know Allamano in person; the twenty or more faded photographs we possess leave me unmoved [the same thing could be said about many pictures]. If I were an artist I would choose three and combine them in a single portrait. The first picture shows him as a young priest – it dates from the 1880’s when he became rector of the Consolata Sanctuary. Allamano is young, calm, a little serious, conscious of the task that lies before him […] The second photograph is a classic: it shows him at his desk in Rivoli. He is a picture of strength, decisiveness and will-power […] Finally there is his glowing, paternal face on the golden anniversary of his ordination: serene, confident, kindly, smiling.”
From his intimacy with Our Lady, the Consolata, he transmits to us a way of living and behaving and gives us a special style of formation and evangelization: strength tempered by tenderness and gentleness. In his time Canon Soldati was called the terror of seminarians. Although a basically kind and loving man he maintained an almost military discipline in his establishment. When Allamano assumed the role of spiritual director which included discipline at that time, he obeyed his superior in everything except the manner in which he treated the seminarians.
“Canon Soldati wanted him to act with severity. Allamano believed he could obtain the same results with gentleness.” It was not a question of insubordination but rather of method and Allamano would yield. “The discussion continued at length,” Allamano tells us, “until Canon Soldati stopped, fixed his serious eyes on me and said, ‘They told me I wouldn’t be able to make you bend …’” With tears in his eyes Allamano begged Soldati to let him try his own method. He was 100% successful!
November 27, 1903: Allamano wrote a circular letter to his missionaries who had been working in Africa for little more than a year. Why? Among the missionaries there was a hired carpenter. A problem arose: the carpenter and one of the missionaries lost their temper with blacks who either did not understand them or pretended not to understand.
When Allamano learned of this problem he recommended four virtues that were indispensable for missionaries and reprimanded those involved. “… let me say that I felt great pain in learning that one of you had treated these poor people uncharitably, that in your impatience you had struck them. This caused me great sorrow and enormous pain […] He commanded them in the “name of holy obedience” – and this is the only time he did this – to stop this behavior.
This sad memory never left Allamano and to make sure that this never happened again he would remind his missionaries that the basis of authentic missionary work was gentleness. In a conference on January 10, 1915 he asserted this fundamental principle of missionary methodology: “Experience has taught us that our missionaries succeed to the extent that they are gentle.” (Conf II, pp. 159-164).
In a letter dated November 14, 1911, Canon Camisassa suggested that Allamano be more reserved with the missionaries from the Motherhouse. Some of them took advantage of this familiarity when they arrived in Africa. With the young missionaries and their relatives Allamano acted as a Father – he was down-to-earth and approachable. He could not and would not live in an ivory tower just because some petty individual took advantage of his trust. He made no answer to Camisassa’s suggestion.
During the sufferings of World War I Allamano genuinely felt he was the Rector of the Consolata Sanctuary – the sanctuary of Consolation. “Mothers, wives and soldiers came to the Consolata from everywhere. As the Rector I felt the burden of their sighs and prayers. Some people came asking me to do something for them and all I could do is what the apostles did.” (Conf 23, December 1915; vol. II, pp. 454-455).
One of Allamano’s accomplishments as Rector of the Sanctuary and Residence is not widely known but is as important as his work as a Founder. He found his inspiration in the Consolata, the “kind mother.” If I could give a name to Allamano’s work it would be this: the Gulf Stream.
What I write here is a reaction to the book written for the centenary of Don Bosco’s death (1888) by that well-known and worthy author, Sergio Quinzio: Domande sulla santità – Don Bosco, Cafasso, Cottolengo, 1986. The author presents these three saints as sad, nightmarish and gloomy, overwhelmed by the fear of hell and sexuality etc.
I was worried by the idea that Allamano, Cafasso’s nephew, was also a sad, gloomy saint … Moral theology at that time – and especially in Piedmont – was in crisis. Cold spiritual currents came down into Piedmont from the Alpine valleys – a sort of “intolerable rigorism.” Convinced that austerity and toughness provided the best Christian formation, excellent priests and bishops who were at the same time morally austere, rigid and demanding supported these currents. They instilled more fear than love of the Eucharist in the confessional and as spiritual directors … they believed this was the easiest road to perfection. Those who tried to contested this outlook were called lax. Believing that behavior in the Ecclesiastical Residence were too permissive – almost lax – Bishop Gastaldi closed the Residence.
When Allamano became the Rector of the Consolata Sanctuary (October 2, 1888) he had to convince the Bishop to reopen the Residence. The Bishop only agreed if Allamano would teach moral theology there. Allamano accepted this condition but made one of his own: he would be free to teach St. Alphonsus’ moral theology.
But what about the “Gulf Stream?” South of the Island of Terragona cold and slightly salty water from Arctic currents meet warm water from the Gulf Stream and create a dividing line. A ship crossing this line is in the anomalous situation of having its prow in cold water and its stern in the warm water of the Gulf Stream (13-14 degrees Celsius).
As a teacher, as superior of the Residence and above all as Rector of the Consolata Sanctuary, Allamano eliminated all traces of this rigorism from Turin and from Piedmont. This is one of his greatest accomplishments – it is a gift he made to his diocese. To us, missionaries, he gave the absolute best method of evangelization: kindness, tenderness, the ability to instill hope and optimism – this is the warm stream of love which alone contributes to the welfare of people from every race and culture.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
In our communities and in our apostolate do we believe that gentleness is the most effective way to defuse conflict, to become authentic envoys of the One who said he was meek and humble of heart? Can we replace confrontation with dialogue? Dialogue that never loses hope in the other person?
People want us to be serene and fulfilled individuals – not sad evangelists. Do you believe it possible to combine serious, disciplined and planned commitment with Allamano’s informality and that easy, sincere communication with others that gives rise to fraternal relationships and the exchange of confidences without suspicion?
Father Igino Tubaldo