Friday, November 16, 2007



There is a place in Rome where the first waves of Filipino (OCW) Overseas Contract Worker, and especially Filipinas stationed in that city regularly gather for Mass and socialization every Saturday afternoon. That place is the "Instituto Sacro Cuore" and the Church is the adjoining International Temple of the Sacred Heart. They are located just in front of the entrance to the Termini Station, the major railway station of the capital city of Italy dubbed "Eternal City".

The "SACRO CUORE" (Italian for "Sacred Heart") compound, though no longer the only place where Filipinos and Filipinas gather, is sitill very dear to them because it is so near the train station where they often go to welcome kababayans (countrymen) or to see them off as they leave for other Italian cities where they work.

But "Sacro Cuore" is specially dear to thousands of Filipinos because it is in this Church where they find peace of mind and heart. That is why, from a distance, they instinctively look for the majestic statue of the Sacred Heart that towers above the belfry, and which seems to openly welcome them to His Sacred House of worship and sanctuarial refuge.

Securely they feel, deep in their hearts, that inside God's House they will find not only respite from the hassle of the frantic traffic of Via Marsala (the road along the entrance to the Church and the Institute), but they will also have an opportunity to be reconciled with the Lord through a good Confession or simply have a friendly chat with one of the priests who are assigned to their care.

Many of those who frequent this historical Church including most Romans, however, know very little of the history of the Temple. We sketch these brief historical notes not only for the benefit of the Filipinos who reside in Rome, but also for the information of all those who never went to Italy but may heard about this Church, as well as for the benefit of the millions of worldwide devotees of the Sacred Heart.


The first idea of having a Temple in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Rome came from a Barnabite priest: Fr. Antonio Maresca who was the President of the Apostleship of Prayer and Editor of "The Messenger of the Sacred Heart."

Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) not only approved the idea, but also vigorously promoted it personally and even assigned a recently acquired piece of land on the Esquiline Hill as the site of its future construction.

But those were dark days for the Catholic Church in Italy, and especially for the aging and ailing Pontiff who saw himself as a prisoner inside the Vatican since the Italian troops had occupied the whole of the Pontifical State, including the City of Rome. The Holy Pope unfortunately died without being able to see the beginning of the implementation of his plan.

His successor, Pope Leone XIII (1878-1903) expeditiously made the construction of the proposed Temple one of his priorities at the very beginning of his pontificate. Its cornerstone was laid on August 16, 1879. But the work had to be interrupted in 1880 due to the lack of funds.


Having considered several options, the Pope eventually decided to ask Fr. John Giovanni Melchoir Bosco (a priest popularly known in those days as "Don Bosco") to take care of the stalled project.

This humble priest from Piedmont (Northern Italy) had founded a religious congregation for the education and training of young people, especially poor ones, and had acquired the great reputation of being a very successful fundraiser.

This isn't to say that his congregation was awash with money. In fact, right at that time, it was saddled with huge debts incurred in the organization of several missionary expeditions to South America.

But in spite of this seriously critical economic situation of his congregation, Don Bosco accepted the invitation of Pope Leone XIII as a sign of his loyalty to the Vicar of Christ and of his personal devotion to the Sacred Heart. His acceptance of the project, however, had to be ratified by his council. And this is where a seemingly insurmountable difficulty arose.


When Don Bosco submitted the request of the Pope to his Council, many of the councilors opposed the project simply because they found it to be far above the present financial capabilities of the Congregation. He tried his best to make them realize the honor that such an undertaking would bring to the young Congregation and the spiritual good that such a Church would do.

But when it came to the final deliberation through a secret ballot, the result was: six black peas (negative votes) and only one white pea (positive vote), which obviously, was that of Don Bosco.

The saintly priest smiled as he used to do when faced with great difficulties. He expressed his respect for the result of the votation, although most of those who had voted down his proposal were people he had taken from the streets when they were still very young. He knew they meant well, but he didn't give up right away.

He spoke again to them and with even greater conviction of the need to accept the Pope's proposal. He concluded by telling them, "Let's take another vote. If you give me a yes vote, I can assure you that the Sacred Heart will give us the means to build this Church. He will also enable us to pay all other debts and will likewise give us a beautiful surprise gift; a boarding school to be attached to the Church."

The councilors gasped for breath at the daring words of Don Bosco. Apparently, he was making things more difficult for himself by proposing an additional project. But they knew him all too well. They knew that when Don Bosco spoke that way he was sure of the support of "SOMEONE" who could move mountains. After the young councilors spent some time in silent prayer, they then cast their second vote. The secretary counted seven white peas, and no black ones. The project was approved unanimously!


That was a moral victory for Don Bosco. He smiled again, this time in gratitude. But that was not all. When they set out to examine in detail the plans prepared by the Pope's architect, the councilors pointed out that the Church would be too small; something not worthy of Rome and the Sacred Heart!

In the end, the very ones who had been most vocal in opposing the project at the beginning, suggested that the Church should be bigger and that the plan for the construction of a boarding school be attached to that of the Church. Don Bosco smiled again with obvious satisfaction.

Shortly after, he traveled back to Rome to present to the Pope not only the formal approval of his request, but also the revised set of plans which included an enlargement of the Church and the construction of an adjoining boarding school.

He concluded his presentation with a confident, inspired smile, asking the Pope to approve and bless the new undertaking. As for the expenses, he could offer just one guarantee: "DIVINE PROVIDENCE" would supply what was needed. At that totally unexpected turn of events, Pope Leo XIII, who had listened to Don Bosco's presentation in utter astonishment, smiled in happy condescension.


Immediately after, Don Bosco set in full motion, his well-teste
d "advertising machine". He knocked at the doors of princes and kings; he wrote thousands of circular letters in Italian, French and Spanish, presenting the project, asking for donations and assuring the donors that the Sacred Heart would reward the generosity of the benefactors a hundred fold.

He personally traveled to the main cities of France and Spain, talking to huge congregations in Churches and speaking personally to rich people who could help. Donations continuously kept pouring in to replenish the exhausted funds that were constantly devoured by the ongoing construction.

Not all was smooth sailing. The devil had also set in motion his "demolition campaign" creating obstacles right and left, using the biases of the anticlerical government, the negative insinuations of the Protestant sects that had come to nest on Rome, and which did not leave one stone unturned to oppose or stop the construction of the Temple. The devil used also - believe it or not! - even some Church people and the authors of the previous project to raise difficulties.

Undaunted and persevering, Don Bosco was used to all that. He did not waiver. He kept daring, working indefatigably, and smiling as one who already knew the final outcome.


And the final outcome was the completion of the construction and the consecration of the "International Temple of the Sacred Heart" in a super record time of seven years! The consecration ceremony took place on 14th April 1887 with the participation of cardinals, bishops, priests and thousands of faithful.

During the solemn Mass, celebrated in the morning by Cardinal Parocchi (the Vicar of the Pope for the diocese of Rome), Don Bosco was in attendance among numerous authorities. During the ceremony those near him saw him burst into tears of consolation more than once. The same situation happened on the 16th of May during the Mass that he celebrated at the Altar of Mary Help of Christians in the newly consecrated Church that had cost him so much sacrifice.

The construction of the International Temple of the Sacred Heart in Rome was Don Bosco's last great undertaking. It took a very heavy toll in his failing health. He passed away in Torino just 8 months later on 31 January 1888. In all truth he could say: "Mission accomplished according to the Divine Will of the Sacred Heart of Jesus."

Mr. Jess P. Balon
January-March 2007