Day 3: Retracing our charismatic roots!

Sanctuary: Our Lady of the Flower
Our host community is getting used to the multi-lingual liturgies as the juniors continue to be very enthusiastic in animating the liturgy, especially through song.Our programme for the day is quite busy and involved some travelling in the surrounding areas. Our itinerary today brings us to Bra to visit the Sanctuary of our Lady of the Flower, the minor seminary where Alberione spent some time, the Church of Saint Andrew where Alberione's parents were baptised and which was the parish of St. Joseph Cottolengo. The afternoon brought us to Cherasco, another very significant place for the Pauline Family and then to Narzole.

First stop is a visit to honour Mary, just as our Founder would have done many times. The history of this Sanctuary dedicated to our Lady of the Flower is quite interesting. It was built on the spot where the miracle happened back in  December 1339. A young woman from the area, Egidia Mathis who was heavily pregnant, was returning home when she was cornered by two soldiers who had the intention to violently attack her. In that moment, our Lady appeared and the two soldiers fled with shock. However the shock brought on the birth of her firstborn child in the freezing cold. Miraculously a bush fully in bloom grew up from the ground which Egidia used to protect the child and herself. Every year, the bush flowers in December, continuing to baffle scientists and gardeners as the plant is not a winter plant and its flowering season is in summer. There are numerous 'ex-voto', or 'for graces received', a common Italian tradition which involves artistically representing the scene of the accident where our Lady intervened and saved the people involved. Today, it is also a popular place of prayer for mothers of new-borns who entrust their children to the protection of the Madonna. The small chapel soon became too small to house the numerous pilgrims who frequent it, thus prompting the construction of the Sanctuary.

Ex-voto (for graces received)
So what link does this have with the history of our Family? After the death of her first child, Teresa Allocco (Alberione's mother), put each of her newborns under the mantle of protection of Mary.Often she would bring the young siblings to light candles here. In 1898, the safety of Giovanni Alberione who was involved in an accident was attributed to the intercession of our Lady. The ex-voto of the Alberione family can be seen today in the corridor outside the sacristy. As Fr: Alberione got older, he would pass here often, seeking light and comfort as he began the challenging task of discerning the voice of God in his life. Unknown to him, his mother from the day of his birth had entrusted his priestly vocation to the intercession of Mary.

The seminary which initially accepted Alberione for his studies towards the priesthood no longer exists but has been replaced by a public school. Whilst on the same street, we took the opportunity to visit the Church of St. Clare, noted for its artistic beauty and its influence on Alberione, especially for the ministry of beauty at the service of the Gospel which he entrusted to the PDDM.

Confessional where St. Joseph Cottolengo heard confessions
 The Church of St. Andrew reminded us of the importance of the faith which has been passed onto us from our parents. It was here in this church that both Teresa Allocco and Michael Alberione were baptised and married, and  most probably the place where they first met. Three of their four children were also baptised here. Here, the saintly Joseph Cottolengo celebrated Mass and heard confessions for his fellow villagers.
It was opportune that we took some time to pray here and remember all those who have been instrumental in our faith journey: parents, grandparents, community sisters and brothers, relatives, friends. Many people continue to accompany us with their prayer and for this we are grateful. Photo gallery

Our Lady of Grace
In the afternoon, we made our way to Cherasco, stopping briefly along a side road to view the house where the Alberione family moved in 1886 (James was 2 years old) and remained there until 1910. From his window young James could see the small chapel of Our Lady of Graces, also known as the Madonnina, another favourite stop on the way to school. For years, this small shrine continues to be visited by many.
Alberione expresses his love of our Lady of Cherasco in his first book entitled "The Blessed Virgin of Graces in Cherasco: a humble homage". Throughout his whole life, the flame of his Marian devotion never wavers and indeed he himself would dare to admit: "the grace of God and Mary saved me".

Cherasco is a picturesque town with narrow winding streets, creating a wonderful sense of strolling through history. However, today seemed to be a lot busier than usual. We discovered quickly why! We arrived on the day before the opening of the 5th Annual Snail Fair. It is a great tourist event, drawing people from all over Europe and beyond for this culinary and gastronomical fair. Not having the courage to sample anything on offer, we allowed the 'St. Francis' in us to roam free and we went down to look at and say hello to the snails! Photo gallery

the 5th Annual Snail Festival in Cherasco
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