On 26 February, the Shrine of St. Gabriel (Italy) will solemnly open the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the death of St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin which occurred on February 27, 1862. Saint Gabriel (Francesco Possenti) was born in Assisi (PG) on 1 March 1838 to an aristocratic family. At three and a half years old he moved with his family to the city of Spoleto (PG).
Lively and intelligent, he was a model student, who liked to dress fashionably, attend the theater and loved to dance. He soon became “the heart and soul of young people of the town”. Wherever he went he spread joy. He had a brilliant career before him. At the age of 18 years he left everything and entered the novitiate of the Passionists at Morrovalle (MC). In the monastery Gabriele found happiness, so much so that he wrote to his father: “my life is a continual joy”.
St. Gabriel spent the last two-and-a-half years of his life at Isola del Gran Sasso (TE) where he died on February 27, 1862 at the age of 24. In the words of his Director, the secret of his holiness was: “that young man worked with all his heart”. His fame exploded in 1892 when the first great miracles began to take place at his tomb. St. Gabriel was declared Blessed in 1908 and a Saint in 1920. In 1926 he became the co-patron of Italian Catholic Youth. In 1959 Pope John XXIII declared him Patron Saint of the Abruzzo region of Italy.
Due to the increasing influx of pilgrims, the construction of a new, grandiose Shrine began in 1970, which can hold 5-6 thousand people. On June 30, 1985, in his historic visit to shrine, Pope John Paul II suggested the Saint as a model for youth. The Shrine of St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin (TE) is among the most popular in Europe.
A Vatican ranking places this among the fifteen most popular shrines in the world. Two million pilgrims arrive every year to pray at the tomb of the young Saint. Known as the Saint of youth and of miracles, St. Gabriel is invoked as a Protector not only in Italy but throughout the world, especially where there is a strong presence of Italian emigrants.
The 150th anniversary year (February 26, 2012 to September 22, 2013) will endeavor to celebrate the sanctity of a young man who in his simplicity and humility reached the heights of holiness.
The celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the Saint’s death was preceded on 20 January by a pilgrimage with an urn containing the Saint’s relics to the city of Terni (birthplace of the father of the saint), and on February 26, 2012 the official opening of the anniversary year will take place in a celebration at which Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation of bishops will preside.
St. Gabriel’s feast day, 27 February, the 150th anniversary of his death, will be solemnly commemorated with the presence of the Superior General of the Passionists, Fr. Ottaviano D’Egidio (at 6:30 AM he will preside at the celebration of the “transitus” of the Saint) and at 11:00 AM Bishop Michael Seccia of Teramo will preside at the solemn Mass and open the Jubilee year.
The Apostolic Penitentiary of the Vatican has granted a plenary indulgence from February 27, 2012 to September 22, 2013, which can be obtained every day by visiting the sanctuary.
On 27 February the Italian Postal Service will issue a special postage stamp dedicated to the anniversary of the death of the Saint. There are numerous events planned over the course of the 150th year. On 11 March, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for culture, will celebrate a Mass (11:00 AM) and will inaugurate an exhibition of contemporary sacred art in which contemporary artists (including Bonechi, Borghi, Calabria, Casentini, Casciello, Ceccobelli, Falconi, Galliani, Giuliani, Kokocinski, Lorenzetti, Mulas, Rainaldi, Riva, Vague) will reinterpret the Annunciation of the Flemish Renaissance. This will be the first time that the exhibit will be open to the public.
On March 12, 12 thousand high school students will go to the Shrine to pray to their Patron Saint for his intercession during the final school exams that will take place within “100 days”.
On 18 March the annual gathering of the “Alpini” (armed forces who serve in the Alpine region of Italy) will take place at which more than 10 thousand visitors are expected. On March 25 the 10:00 AM Mass will be broadcast on Italian cable channel 4. From 27 to 30 April there will be a national meeting of the Passionist lay movement. On 17 June Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, President of the Pontifical Council for the family, will preside at a Mass on a day dedicated to the family. During the months of July and August there will be numerous pilgrimages on foot from various regions of Italy, while on 29 July, hundreds of bikers come from all over Italy for the great feast of motorcyclists led by Bishop Giulio Mencuccini, a Passionist missionary Bishop and biker in Indonesia. In July, the 15th Edition of the Biennale International Exhibit of Sacred Art will be inaugurated.
On 21 August the 32nd annual “Tendopoli” (tent cities) for young people will begin and will conclude on 25 August with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Angelo Comastri, Vicar General for Vatican City. On 26 August, thousands of pilgrims will arrive for the annual popular feast of the Saint, which will culminate with a solemn procession with the urn containing the relics of the Saint (at 5:00 PM). On that day there will also be the 3rd meeting of those named “Gabriel/Gabriella”. During the months of September, October and November other large gatherings are scheduled (1 September: Unitalsi abruzzese; 8 September: Unmil; 9 September: cyclists; 16 September: polyphonic choirs; 14 October: fraternities of Central Italy; 4 November: Padre Pio groups; 11 November: “Fiat 500 Club”).
In 2013 there will be other events, including on 1 September, the celebration of 100 years of the magazine of the Shrine of St. Gabriel “L’Eco”, that is read across five continents.
The celebrations will conclude on September 22, 2013 with the inauguration of the new shrine, to which Pope Benedict XVI has been invited. Additionally, throughout the 150th year there will be numerous pilgrimages headed by the bishops of Abruzzo/Molise, Terni, Spoleto, Assisi, Camerino, Macerata, Fermo regions of Italy as well as from other areas. There will also be 22 parishes dedicated to the Saint in Italy that will hold their own pilgrimages. This will be a 150th year full of activity, life and enthusiasm – a year that will be as full and joyful as was the life of young St. Gabriel.