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Homily of Cardinal Monterisi during the Mass in commemoration of Mons. Giovan Battista Pichierri

Cathedral of Trani, August 30, 2017

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We are gathered in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in memory of our beloved brother Giovan Battista Pichierri, archbishop of our Church of Trani-Barletta-Bisceglie, after about a month from his sudden departure and return to the Heavenly Father's House.

Indeed, he himself had summoned us on this day, in the Cathedral of our archdiocese, to joyfully celebrate with him the recurrence of the 50th anniversary of his Presbyteral Ordination, which he received at Oria on August 30, 1967.

We could say that he himself had practically arranged everything for this celebration. He invited Cardinal Salvatore De Giorgi, then bishop of Oria, who had chosen him as his secretary and "Delegatus ad omnia". He also invited the bishops of Puglia (for several years he served the Apulian Liceal Seminary and then became a member of the Regional Episcopal Conference), the clergy, religious and lay people of our Church, the Church of Oria and that of Cerignola-Ascoli Satriano, the latter of which he served as bishop for nine years. How could he foresee that things would go otherwise? How true it is that our fragility surprises us! How true it is that our Lord, the Master of time and life, calls when He wants and how He wants ...

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of his priesthood, Mons. Pichierri had prepared and printed a heartfelt "Open Letter" in which he asked all of us to join him in thanking the Most Holy Trinity for the many gifts received during the years he spent as presbyter and bishop. However, he even went beyond that: his celebration would be a milestone in his life, stating in his own words that he was "on the eve of the conclusion of his episcopal mandate" and "towards the 75th year of his age." So he intended to confide his feelings to us on this occasion. Not a "testament," he wrote, but a spiritual memoire, the recapitulatory message of a lifetime: his conclusive exhortation "to stay in a live and active love of Jesus: ‘Manete in dilectione mea’ (Remain in my love) Jesus said during the Last Supper”.

Instead, the Lord arranged things otherwise. On the morning of Wednesday, July 26, immediately and unexpectedly, Jesus, the Spouse of the Church, called His friend to Him, the angel of the Church of Trani-Barletta-Bisceglie, His servant Giovanni Battista Pichierri. Jesus, "as a thief" (as the Lord defined Himself), stole him from our gaze, ... but certainly not from our affection as brothers, children and friends. He created a void in our astonished and sorrowful archdiocese and in so many people who had known and loved him. Many of us asked ourselves, "Why did the Lord do this? Why did He want this?" Of course, as believers, we do not reason like those who have no hope. God's Word makes us answer with the Book of Ecclesiastes: "We know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing can be taken from it. God does it so that people will fear Him” (Ecclesiastes 3:14). Indeed, we add, "so that we can have faith, love and hope in Him". Christ is always the only Spouse and Shepherd of His Church. He prepares an endless joy for all His faithful servants, our resurrection.   

Today, at a distance of one month from the passing of our beloved Bishop Giovan Battista, we can also reflect with a more peaceful spirit on what his presence and his death meant for all of us. Of course, we keep and will always keep in our hearts this simple figure, his sweet and mild face. We will remember the traits of his serene and open soul, even in the most difficult moments and in the days of physical and spiritual suffering. We will remember our meetings with Him, the esteem and friendship he showed us, the fruits that he gave to each one of us gathering them from his rich treasure.

But perhaps this is little: it’s just our personal impression, the image that we have of Mons. Pichierri. We would like to know the figure in which he identified himself and endeavored to acquire. Of course, he bore the name of St. John the Baptist; he was ordained just the day after the commemoration of the Precursor’s martyrdom. He chose him as his own protector and great model, drawing a motto from his words: "He must become greater; I must become less."

We might have a better clue about this, which is found in the three readings proclaimed during this Holy Mass. They are those which Mons. Pichierri had suggested to the master of ceremonies for the celebration of his 50th year of the priesthood. They are a sign of the figures with which He wanted to identify himself, after 50 years of service to the Lord and as he wrote, "towards the conclusion of his Episcopal mandate":

= the prophet Jeremiah at the time of God’s calling (Jer 1: 4-9);

= Christ, the eternal High Priest (Heb 5: 1-10);

= Jesus, the Good Shepherd (Jn 10: 11-16).

Like Jeremiah, Bishop Giovan Battista Pichierri felt CALLED BY THE LORD, "Before God formed him in the womb". He felt the preferential love of Christ that called him, and he replied with love, leaving the small town of Sava to the summit of the priesthood and then of the episcopate. He was astonished to be elevated to be "Prophet to the Nations and ... over the nations and over the kingdoms." In his sincere humility, he would have avoided it, as the prophet Jeremiah said, "I cannot speak ... I'm too young." But he followed his vocation, confident of the Lord's promise: "I am with you and will rescue you ..." and also: " Today I appoint you… to uproot and tear down, to build and to plant.”

Very few times we saw Mons. Pichierri "destroy and overthrow". His innate sweetness and virtue made him similar to Christ, "meek and humble of heart".  Therefore, he preferred to wait and mature, rather than "to destroy and overthrow." He did that when he considered it necessary in extreme circumstances, trusting in the Lord's strength, which would make him "a fortified city and a bronze wall".

Rather, he preferred "to build and to plant". In almost 18 years of service in our archdiocese, as during his life, he built patiently and steadily with a spiritual project that he synthesized in his "Open Letter" (p. 11): "to grow in Jesus Christ to glorify the Father under the work of the Holy Spirit, engaged as a Church, through witness and a missionary life".

During his entire life, Bishop Giovan Battista identified himself in Jesus, the High Priest "according to the order of Melchizedek". He received a great liturgical formation. During the celebrations he maintained a very absorbed attitude. Those who attended the rites and ceremonies presided by him (I remember the annual Blessing of the Oils on Holy Thursday) could verify the great attention that he put into performing accurate Liturgies that inspired reflections and union with the Lord. His prayer was truly a "priestly prayer" for himself and for others. He was genuinely "Mediator between God and Man" and "united the daily offering of his life to God", as he revealed in his Open Letter. This attitude originated from his religious conception of life. Everyone agrees that he was a real "MAN OF GOD".

In addition, Mons. Pichierri supported the people's religiosity. He made every effort to purify it and was present at so many celebrations and events, even very local and particular ones. At the same time, he felt a fervent devotion to the Saints. I would like to recall his efforts to advance the Cause of Beatification of several Servants of God in our Church, and in particular the Cause of Luisa Piccarreta, the mystic of Corato. One could see "with the naked eye" how much Mons. Giovan Battista was attracted and impressed by the very special charism of this extraordinary woman, the charism of total obedience of the soul to the Divine Will.

This religious meaning of living was reflected in his detachment from the world. There was no sign of "worldliness" in him. It seemed that he did not care about material matters, business, news and other "things of the world." We could say that he had the same attitude to politics. This was immediately evident: he was reluctant to follow political affairs, even at the local level, nor did he allow himself to be entangled in them. He paid much attention to the social sphere and not to politics. His deep concern was the good of the people, but all with an upward gaze, "in specie aeternitatis", as a true priest of Christ.

  The other image of Jesus Christ, in which Bishop Giovanni Battista wanted to identify himself was that of the GOOD SHEPHERD. In his "Open Letter" he portrays himself in this way, describing his path as "educator, priest and bishop." He wanted to address his priests, deacons, the consecrated and lay people with feelings of "affection, admiration, complacency and gratitude”, rather than with remarks and reproaches, as expressed in the same letter. He desired for all the true good in the Lord and devoted himself to this, like the Good Shepherd, "who gives up his life for his sheep". He tried to hide the great suffering that he endured during meetings and celebrations, the suffering caused by illness, which weakened him greatly. Only those who knew him closely or as a friend felt the anguish of his soul in the face of misunderstandings, controversies and scandals.

It would be an oversight on my part if I failed to recollect a characteristic which, even from Rome, I noticed in our brother and friend Giovanni Battista: his attachment to the Holy Father. During all his years in the episcopate, he was sustained by faith in the Vicar of Christ, as in St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.

Moreover, Mons. Pichierri had a strong sense of charity and pastoral inventiveness that led him to realize many projects and initiatives in the two dioceses he was responsible for. It is impossible to enumerate them all, even the most important ones. We can say that two of them were particularly nurtured by our late Pastor:

The Synod of Youth, which he conceived with foresight, to give a long-term perspective to the living forces of the diocesan community and to foster a fervor in today's youth, which although an active part of the Church, is undermined by the tentacles of contemporary society.

The First Diocesan Synod, which involved the bishop and our Church since 2012-13. Bishop Pichierri was pleased to conclude it in January of last year. The participation of the diocese, with so many meetings and challenging studies and with decrees and final propositions, made it a launching pad to build our Church as a "MYSTERY OF COMMUNION AND MISSION".

This second Synod is basically the true testament, the legacy that our beloved Giovanni Battista left us. Certainly, our archdiocese of Trani-Barletta-Bisceglie welcomes it as a precious legacy, to be fruitful in time for the good of our people and as a sign of gratitude to our late pastor.

In this Eucharistic Celebration, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the priesthood of our departed brother, even if saddened by his departure, we thank the Lord for the abundant graces He gave us with his presence and his most active pastoral care for our entire community. We also thank him, our bishop, who devoted his life to us. We promise to follow the examples, recommendations and advice he gave us.

We ask the Merciful Judge to give His faithful servant the just reward for the work he undertook from the beginning; "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. Their works follow them". Let us pray to Jesus and the Holy Spirit to send to our Church a new pastor who can take the baton to guide our people on the path towards holiness and the testimony to the resurrection. May the Virgin Mary, toward whom our late pastor had a profound devotion, support our prayers with her motherly protection. AMEN


Cardinale Francesco Monterisi
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