Friday, April 13, 2018

Blessed Rolando Rivi

On this day in the year 1945, a 14-year old Italian seminarian named Rolando Rivi died as a martyr in a little town called Monchio, in the province of Modena. Rolando was born in 1931, and began serving Mass at the age of five; he made his first Communion on the feast of Corpus Christi, June 16, 1938. In 1942, at the age of 11, he entered the minor seminary at Marola, and was admired by his teachers as an exemplary student, and a boy of sincere and serious devotion. As was the custom in those days, he was clothed in the cassock, and wore the saturno as part of the regular clerical dress; already at that tender age, he expressed the desire to become a missionary. He was noted as both an excellent singer and musician, and participated enthusiastically in the seminary choir.


The young Rolando was the kind of fellow who shows himself to be a leader in every activity, and his grandmother is reported to have said, with the special wisdom of Italian grandmothers, that he would end up as “a saint or a scoundrel.” Many stories are told of him encouraging his friends to come to church for Mass or devotions after a soccer game. During his summer vacation, he continued to dress and live as a seminarian, with no remission from his devotional life of daily Mass, rosary, meditation and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Many times he said that the cassock was a sign “that I belong to Jesus.”

In the summer of 1944, the seminary at Marola was occupied by German troops, and Rolando was forced to return home; he was able, however, to continue his studies with the local parish priest. He continued to wear the cassock in public, despite his parents’  concerns that this would make him a target of the anticlerical violence then rampant in north-central Italy. And indeed, by the time Rolando returned home from the seminary, his former parish priest had been moved out of the area for safety’s sake. In the years immediately after the collapse of Italian fascism in July 1943, nearly 100 priests were murdered by Communist partisans in the part of the Emilia-Romagna known as the “red triangle.”

On April 10, 1945, a group of these partisans kidnapped Rolando as he was studying in a little grove near his home; his parents discovered both his books and a note from the partisans warning them not to look for him. He was taken to a farmhouse, beaten and tortured for three days, under the absurd accusation that he had been a spy for the Germans; he was then dragged into a woods, stripped of his cassock, and shot twice in the head. The partisans rolled his cassock up into a ball and used it to play soccer.

His father and parish priest discovered his body the following day. He was buried temporarily in the cemetery of the town where he was killed, but translated a month later to his native place, San Valentino. Since the day of his death often falls in Holy Week or Easter week, his liturgical feast is kept on the day of this translation, May 29th. The decree recognizing that his violent death was inflicted “in odium fidei” was signed by the Pope on March 28, 2013, and his beatification as a martyr was celebrated on October 5th of that year. His relics now repose in the church of San Valentino di Castellarano; on his tomb is written “Io sono di Gesù”, Italian for “I belong to Jesus.”

I make bold to suggest that Bl. Rolando is a good person to appeal to if you know any seminarians who need prayers, and especially those who are persecuted for their love of the Church’s traditions; and further, in preparation for next year’s Synod on Youth, that it would not be a bad idea to consider what it was about the Church that Rolando Rivi lived in that enabled him to face martyrdom so bravely at the age of only 14. Beate Rolande, ora pro nobis!

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