This child will do a great work in Secondigliano
Towards the end of the 18th century in preparation to the jubilee of the year 1800, Fr. Cataldo Pumpo, the parish priest of St. Cosma and Damian Church in Secondigliano, invited some missionaries to preach a popular mission in his parish.
People felt confused and worried, because of the new political, social, cultural novelties creeping in from France where the revolution in the year 1792 after dethroning the King had installed a Republic. In a special way the fury was shown against the Catholic Church. Reason and nature became the new beliefs. It was the beginning of atheism. The Republic through the new conquerors spread fast the new revolutionary ideas all over Europe and in the kingdom of the two Sicilies too.
Illuminist, Jansenism, Free Masonry were the ideological movements, which would have influence over the theological, and philosophical thoughts of the time. They generated especially among the simple people confusion and fear. Since the Church was the first target of those who propagated the new ideas therefore the priests were not idle and started fighting the new doctrines.
In Naples, St. Alphonsus was the strongest opponent of these new doctrines creeping in from beyond the Alps. The priests invited to preach the popular mission in Secondigliano were members of the Redemptorist Congregation founded by the Saint. they countered the spreading of the new errors with its primary goal to teach the ignorant, especially those living in the countryside. In order to safeguard the flock, priests and missionaries started moving around from place to place to strengthen people in their faith. Therefore a popular mission was a time of grace for the parish communi
Good mothers used to take their children to the church to be blessed by the priests. Aunt Maria took her child and asked for a blessing. The child looked at the austere and lofty priest with wonder and curiosity. The priest looked at the child, stretched his hand on his head and told his mother: “this child will be a priest, a great preacher, he will be a saint and he will do a great work in Secondigliano”. The child’s name was Gaetano Errico.
Born on October 19,1791 of very good reputation and exemplary Christian parents: Pasquale and Maria Marseglia. He was born in the town of Miano, but his relatives were from Frattamaggiore. She was born in the town of Secondigliano. They married on April 17,1788 in the church of St. Charles over the bridge. They took care of the family with their honest work. Pasquale managed a small factory where pasta was made; Maria worked at the loom, weaving plush. They took extreme care in training in the Christian faith their children first by their example and then by words. When Gaetano grew up the people of the village remembering his parents used to say: “ To have another Fr. Gaetano, it is necessary to have first another uncle Pasquale and another aunt Maria”.
Uncle Pasquale, as the villagers called him, was engaged with the factory. Sometimes due to some financial difficulties he would lose his temper and slap Gaetano whether he was wrong or not. He was a good and tender man. His grandson Benjamin reminds us that he used to always extort him to have the morning and evening prayers. Whenever he used to take him for a walk, while spotting an image of the Crucifix or of the Blessed Virgin he used to lift him and invite him to kiss the holy image.
Once, while talking to his family he said that he would prefer dying without the sound of bells, because his wish was to die without any people and without troubling anybody. On Good Friday, March 28,1834 he died. On that day bells cannot ring. It was the eulogy of the people at her death on April 19,1837 that they said the following: “ Fr. Gaetano’s father was a good man, but his mother was more virtuous and charitable than he”
Gaetano in his childhood loved to go to the Church with his mother, he imitated the elders going in front of the confessor asking for the blessing. He knelt down in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament with so great devotion that he gained the admiration of all. Frs. John Tagliamonte and Michelangelo Vitagliano were his teachers. They appreciated his sense of responsibility and irreproachability. They even congratulated his parents. They would entrust him the supervision of their classes if for some reason they had to be absent. They also charged Gaetano with the tutoring of some classmates who were weak in studies. During free time he built small altars imitating the priests and often his relatives saw him kneeling down in a corner and praying.
He attended the parish regularly, helped to clean it, to prepare the altars, and to keep the sacred vestments in order. He never missed a religious service and preaching. Fr. Pumpo, the parish priest was enlightened by his behaviour and permitted him to receive Holy Communion at the age of seven. Gaetano felt very happy and from that day onwards every eight days he made his confession and received Holy Communion. Fr. Michelangelo Vitagliano will be his confessor till his death.
At home he helped in whatever manner he could, he was obedient. He also helped his father in the factory who appreciated his responsibility and charged him with some added responsibilities. In fact he will send him with the porters on their deliveries of pasta to the nearby villages. In order not to waste time he always carried a book with him to study during the traveling. As soon as a poor man knocked at his door, or he met him on the road, he run to his mother. He told her: “Mammy give me something for the poor that I’ll give him”.
At the age of 10, enchanted by his zeal for the study and his devotion by which he received the sacraments and prayed in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament the priests who knew him at school and in the parish made a decision. They would admit him to the sacrament of Confirmation. Bishop Iorio confirmed him in the Cathedral of Naples on January 2,1802. Fr. Domenic Cafolla was his godfather.
In his village all admired him. The people used to say: “Aunt Maria’s son is a little saint, he is a saint, and he must become a saint”. From his childhood he felt the call to the priesthood. At the age of 14 with his parents’ permission he sought to enter the Capuchin order. There were already two cousins of his members of the community. His request was rejected because as he later wrote: “I was found unfit for religious life”.
In the meantime Joseph Bonaparte, the new king of the Kingdom of the two Sicilies, issued a decree in the year 1807 forbidding the religious orders to accept candidates who were below 18 years old. At the age of 16, advised by his confessor, Gaetano decided to join the diocesan seminary. In January 1808 he received the clerical habit. Due to his family’s poor financial conditions it was presented to him by Mrs. Maria Rossi who found him to be: “a good boy of good manners, devoted and loved by all.”
A few months later the Redemptorists went again to Secondigliano to preach a new mission to the people. Gaetano still was resolved to: “live not in the world but in a monastery”. Once again he decided to apply to their Congregation, but “a Redemptorist priest answered him that it was not possible, and that he would be a priest in Secondigliano”.