A desperate man knocked at the office door of canon Giuseppe Cottolengo. It happened on 2nd September 1827.
“Canon, I do not know what to do! My wife lies at the barn, with three small children and one still in her abdomen. She is bleeding heavily and all she needs is a PRAYER and the blessing of a priest.””
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Tuberculosis has ragged the town, people were dying one after the other. Frenchwoman Mary Gonnet was not spared as well, even though she had to care for her three children, and one was to be born soon. She was not accepted to any hospital because they were all afraid of infecting the others.
The tragic experience that has opened the door to thousands of poor
Cottolengo was shocked when he saw the bleeding pregnant mother lying on a pile of straw, smelly, inside a pool of blood and crying in pain with three children beside her.
“All I need is your prayer,” said Mary.
Cottolengo has leaned to her and certainly could not accept the fact that she was leaving this world, just because she was rejected and was left without timely medical care. How can something like this be happening?!
That night Maria Gonnet and her unborn child died. Although the experience was dramatic and tragic, it has left a deep mark in canon’s life and at the same time marked his major life turning point.
The poor are our masters and as such they must be taken, otherwise they could fire us. (Giuseppe Cottolengo)
Giuseppe Cottolengo came to the conclusion that God wants him to open the door to those suffering patients, who have not found treatment and care anywhere else in the city.
On January 17th 1828, with the help of several other ladies, he opened the house in which they accepted discarded, marginalized and poor patients.
After three years, due to the fear of a cholera epidemic, the government has forced Cottolengo to close the house, but this has not stopped the canon at all.
On the 27th April 1832 with the help of doctor Lorenzo Granetti, he opened up a new Little House of Divine Providence (Piccola Casa della Divina Provvidenza) in the center of Turin. The house soon expanded greatly.
Volenteering in Cottolengo
From the community ‘Il Chicco’ in Rome, me and Silva arrived to Turin, where we started our second volunteer experience.
Eight years ago, when I was a novice at Jesuits in Genoa, I first visited Cottolengo (in a month-long experiment that has to be performed by each prospective Jesuit, beside another month performing the Ignatius Spiritual Exercises in silence). The community of Cottolengo has made a deep imprint in my heart.
It is true that at that time, the circumstances were different, I was younger and another path was ahead of me back then. However, when I re-entered the “Piccolo Casa della Divina Provvidenza” I relived that time and again saw a reflection of my life, from that same moment in history until today.
I will write more on how they welcomed us and exactly what we’re doing here in the next article. This time I can tell you a bit more about this little house. Cottolengo said that it will always remain ‘small’, according to a large number of people that are still in need of assistance.
A city within a city
In 1842, when the canon Giuseppe Cottolengo died of typhus, the Cottolengo hospital served more than 1,300 people and was already well known throughout Italy.
Today, there are more than 35 such communities across Italy and around the world. In addition to the patients, hospital is nowadays also accepting disabled, people with mental disabilities, the elderly and all those who otherwise could not afford expensive care.
There is a large community of brothers and sisters of Cottolengo. Hospital dwellers are well taken care by doctors, nurses and many volunteers. We’ll be staying here until June 27th.
Charitas Christi Urget Nos – The love of Christ is our drive
Jesus set a life-long example for Cottolengo on how to make sacrifice for the people, how to heal, receive patients and comfort them.
We can directly observe the work of these sacrificing workers in the community and can safely and honestly claim that the love of Jesus is each and every one’s real drive.
Pearls among us
‘Patients are our pearls,’ Cottolengo repeatedly said to put this phrase in the hearts of his assistants. The same was told to us before we started working in the “Frassati” section, where elderly people are accommodated.
We try to remember this always, when it is difficult and when we are faced with the burdens of their lives.
We are staying in main, core community, which is actually a city within a city. Located close to the center, in one of the poorest quarters of Turin.
In addition to the sections dedicated to various categories of the needy, there is also a hospital with 203 beds. The ‘little house’ is currently accommodated by 420 patients. Total number for all houses in Italy currently stands at almost 1,700.
Trust in God’s precaution
Given the fact that the world is radically turning to direction of individualism and materialism, there are less and less people to stand for people in need.
The community of Cottolengo can feel the situation clearly. In recent years, they are experiencing a dramatic decline in volunteers and new brothers and sisters to cope with this kind of work, and follow the canon.
But, as Giuseppe Cottolengo usually encouraged people:
‘Trust in God’s precaution is always well paid off at the end!’
Once a sister, worried about financial situation, came to see a canon.
‘Canon, we run out of money. How will we manage to take care of all these people?’ she said.
‘You are telling me that there is no money left?’ asked Cottolengo.
‘Yes, none left.’
‘Nothing? Are you sure?’
‘Well’, she said: ‘This coin is the last one.’
Cottolengo smiled, took a coin from her, opened the window and threw it out.
‘Sister, who knows what this coin can do for us. Never stop trusting in God’s precaution!’
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The very next day the house received a large financial support, which saved thousands of patients, accommodated in Piccola Casa.
God knows what he is doing. All is good. Let us pray and hope! (Giuseppe Cottolengo)
As said, I will write more about our work and hospital section, where we are staying in the next article.
We are nonetheless glad of any prayed dedicated to us or any person living or staying at Cottolengo community.