Last year we reported the problem the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate had experienced with the placing of Fr. Volpi from the Vatican to oversee the Order. Now, Deo Gratias, there is some hope that an end of the trouble is in sight. This is an adapted and slightly abbreviated report from ‘Eponymous Flower’
(Rome) A surprising encounter witnessed Pope Francis last Sunday, 6th April, attend the Roman city parish of San Gregorio Magno in the Magliana suburbs, and come across the Franciscans of the Immaculate, whose (until recently) blossoming order’s suppression has been overshadowed by the current papacy.
The Salus Populi Romani icon is particularly dear to Pope Francis. On the morning after his election, he left the Vatican unannounced to head down to the Patriarchal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and to venerate the Mother of God before the holy image.
Pope Given a Copy of the Icon of Mary Salus Populi Romani
At the end of Holy Mass in the Magliana, Pope Francis was unexpectedly presented with a copy of the miraculous icon. Still less did the Church leader expect to encounter in his parish visit the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate Conception, or at least the family of Father Stefano Maria Manelli, the founder of this extraordinary order, that was like a beacon of hope in the Catholic religious landscape of the West until the summer of the previous year. Since then, the Order has experienced some dark times.
Family of Founder Manelli Presented to the Pope
After the Holy Mass members of the Manelli family, most notably the couple Pio and Anna Maria Manelli, presented the Pope with the icon in memory of the parents or grandparents Settimio and Licia Manelli. Settimio (1886-1978) and Licia Manelli (1907-2004) are the parents of 21 children. A son, Father Stefano Maria Manelli, is the founder of the religious family of the Franciscans of the Immaculate. He was the Superior General until the summer of 2013. His younger brother Pio, named after Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, who was the spiritual father of his parents, lives with his large family in the parish which Pope Francis visited. Pio and Anna Maria Manelli have nine children. Six of them belong to the Order founded by her uncle Stefano Maria. Two sons are in the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, four daughters Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate. The parents or grandparents, Settimio and Licia Manelli, were recognised by the Church as servants of God. Their beatification process is underway.
The Manelli family is firmly rooted in the Roman suburban parish, which the Pope visited. Last October 30th Father Stefano Manelli offered a Mass of Thanksgiving for his ordination 58 years ago in the parish church of San Gregorio Magno along with many brothers and sisters of his Order. It was a celebration that had to be expressly approved by the Apostolic Commissioner, Father Fidenzio Volpi. After this came the dismissal of Father Manelli as Superior General of the entire Order. Father Volpi was placed by the Congregation of Religious as a delegate of the Holy See to oversee the management of the whole Order.
Traditional Rite and Love of Tradition Was the Young Religious Order’s Undoing
There has been a radical intervention against the flowering of this Order of two liturgical rites, with a strong inclination to Catholic tradition, as a central feature of the Order. The current prohibition against celebrating the traditional rite, promoted by Pope Benedict with the benevolence of the Church, has since disturbed its relationship with the reigning Pope.
It is still unclear why this young religious Order with many vocations was placed under provisional administration. The Congregation of Religious appears to have had clear misgivings with the Order for the sole reason that it had changed from celebrating the ‘new’ rite to the ‘old’ rite, and unlike most religious in the West, could attract many vocations.
Daughter in Law of the Servant of God Painted Icon for the Pope
It was the parish priest of San Gregorio Magno who presented the Manelli family to the Pope and drew attention to the servants of God, Settimio and Licia Manelli. When he introduced Pio and Anna Maria Manelli, he said: “Having a large family in the parish, is a special gift nowadays. In addition, this family has produced many priests and religious. A blessing that should not remain hidden.”
Appeal to the Pope to Get the Order of St. Francis of the Immaculate “Out From the Crypt”
In the ensuing personal conversation they begged Pope Francis, if the Franciscans of the Immaculate could again be “taken from the crypt”, to which the Order has been exiled by the actions of the Congregation of Religious. It was an allusion to the preaching of the Pope, who had previously spoken in his Homily on the Raising of Lazarus from the dead: the Lord commanded, “rise out of the grave”.
Anna Maria Manelli, the daughter-in-law of the Servant of God and sister-in-law of the Founder of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, had made the copy of the icon of Mary herself. Together with her husband, Pio, she handed the Pope a copy of the icon Salus Populi Romani.
Pope Francis smiled, visibly surprised at the unexpected confrontation with the question of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, patted the hands of the couple in thanks for the icon, and said, “Soon, soon”.
“What exactly this ‘soon’ means, one does not know,” said Sandro Magister the Vaticanist. At least it is the most optimistic hope for an early and peaceful end to the provisional administration of the Order.