One of the most incredible testimonies to the ability of the rosary to bring back a soul from the brink of hell is the life of Blessed Bartolo Longo (1841–1926). Bartolo grew up in southern Italy during a time when Italy was experiencing a very strong nationalist movement. The movement was particularly known for turning people away from Catholicism and her teachings. Bartolo got caught up in this movement during his college years in Naples and fell away from the faith. He became so infatuated with the movement and its ideology that not only did he abandon the Catholicism of his youth, but he also became heavily involved in the practice of spiritualism and the occult. His fascination with mediums and witchcraft led him to participate in many séances, and he was eventually ordained a priest of spiritualism. Later in life, he would state that he had in fact become a servant of the devil and a priest of Satan.
Contrary to what he was promised by the practitioners of the occult, abandoning Catholicism and being ordained a satanic priest did not provide Bartolo with peace and happiness. The opposite actually occurred. After his ordination, he began to experience deep depression and suffered extreme bouts of anxiety. Eventually these spiritual, psychological, and emotional problems led him to seek out the help of a Catholic priest. He was led to a devout Dominican priest, Fr. Alberto Radente, by the advice of friends. A very learned man, Fr. Radente instructed Bartolo in the faith, helping him turn from the occult and renounce his involvement in spiritualism. Bartolo discovered that, once he did this, he began to experience peace and have a deep desire for a conversion of heart. It did not take long for him to completely reject and renounce the false teachings and practices of spiritualism. In his zeal, he even once barged into a séance, raised a rosary high above the attendees, and rebuked the assembly for what they were doing. He warned them that their practices were false and they needed to turn to Catholicism to find truth.
A lawyer by profession, Bartolo continued his legal practice after his initial conversion. Since he had been brought back to Jesus, Mary, and the Church through the instruction of a Dominican, Bartolo decided to become a Third Order Dominican himself. His initiation ceremony took place on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary on October 7, 1871. As part of the ceremony, he was given the name “Br. Rosario.” After becoming a Third Order Dominican, he made a trip to Pompeii in order to help a wealthy countess named Marianna de Fusco with her legal matters. Upon his arrival in Pompeii, he was taken aback by the state of the city, and especially the degradation of the people, both spiritual and material. He was shocked to find that very few practiced Catholicism or understood its teachings. Many people had even fallen into the occult and were practicing the same forms of spiritualism that he had once observed. This situation greatly distressed him because he knew that he himself had led many people away from Catholicism during his stint in the occult.
Historically, the city of Pompeii had not experienced any major development since it had been buried in volcanic ash in 79 AD. Now, as a fruit of the anti-Catholic movement in Italy, the people of Pompeii had fallen away from their Catholic heritage and become spiritually dead. Seeing these things all around him caused Bartolo to fall into a terrible depression. He realized that it was people like him who had helped extinguish the light of faith in souls through the anti-Catholic and spiritualist movements. He feared that, because he had been an ordained satanic priest, the devil still had a stranglehold on his soul. Though Bartolo had undergone a conversion, the situation of Pompeii reminded him of his past and haunted him. He was on the verge of total despair and even contemplated suicide.
As his heart sank deeper and deeper into despair, Bartolo forced himself to reflect upon what Fr. Radente had once said about the life and preaching of St. Dominic. He remembered that the rosary had brought erring souls back to the truth and restored hope to lost souls during the life of St. Dominic. He remembered that the Dominican priest had taught him about how Mary had once made the promise to St. Dominic that those who promote the rosary will find salvation. These words kept repeating in Bartolo’s mind and heart, and were the answer to his despair. The rosary became his way of beating the bondage of Satan forever. At this point, in 1873, he made a firm decision to stay in the valley of Pompeii and promote the rosary. He started immediately by initiating the restoration of an old dilapidated church.
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