By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
LIBERTY, Mo. — At 4 p.m., on Sunday, Aug. 16, St. James Church was packed. There was not one empty pew; parishioners, friends and volunteers all gathered to celebrate with the Missionaries of the Precious Blood on the 200th anniversary of their order’s founding.
The Presider of the celebratory Mass was Most Reverend Joseph Charron, C.PP.S., Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa. The two principal Concelebrants were Bishop John Gaydos of Jefferson City and Father Ken Riley, Chancellor of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. Many Missionaries of the Precious Blood, who serve in the Province of Kansas City and/or the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph were present, among them Fathers Ron Will, pastor, Mark Yates, associate pastor and Bill Walter, priest in residence of St. Francis Xavier Parish- St. Joseph; Father Al Ebach, pastor, Church of the Annunciation, Kearney; Father Joe Miller, pastor, Sacred Heart Parish, Warrensburg; Father Gary Richmeier, sacramental minister, St. James Parish, Kansas City and Father Timothy Armbruster, parochial vicar, St. James Parish, Liberty. The Missionaries of the Precious Blood serve in 17 countries around the world.
The Provincial Director of the Kansas City Province, Father Joseph Nassal, was the homilist. In it he told the history of the order and a short biography of its founder, St. Gaspar del Bufalo.
In the first decade of the 19th century, France, Italy and the Catholic Church were in shambles in the aftermath of the French Revolution and the invasions of Napoleon Bonaparte. St. Gaspar, a young Roman priest, ordained in 1808, had spent several years in exile and prison for refusing to take the oath of allegiance to Napoleon, whose armies occupied the Papal States (the territory in Central Italy governed by the Pope). When he was able to return to Rome after the collapse of the Napoleonic rule in 1814, Gaspar applied to the Jesuit community for admission. He was accepted into the community, but Pope Pius VII summoned the young priest and encouraged him to begin “a missionary movement to renew and reconcile the people whose lives were fragmented and fractured; and the clergy who had sold out during the suppression.”
Three friends, Fathers Francesco Albertini, Gaetano Bonnani and Belisario Cristaldi, encouraged Gaspar, sharing with him their devotions, their work and their social awareness. Father Albertini was deeply devoted to the Precious Blood of Christ. Father Bonnani envisioned “gospel workers,” organized lay people around the corporal works of mercy for the poor and marginalized. Father Cristaldi recognized society’s need for reconciliation and restoration in the aftermath of the French Revolution, and wanted to start a new “revolution” for Christ. With their encouragement and influence, on Aug. 15, 1815, Father Gaspar del Bufalo founded the Missionaries of the Precious Blood in an abandoned monastery in Giano, Italy, about 30 miles from Assisi.
Gaspar believed that of all Catholic devotions, “the Blood of Christ is the foundation and the essence; the most eloquent of symbols.” The readings chosen for the anniversary Mass highlight three symbols that express the power of the Precious Blood: the covenant, the cross and the cup. In Exodus 24:3-8, Moses splashes blood on the altar and sprinkles the people, blessing them and sealing the sacred covenant between God and His people. In St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (2:13-20) he writes, “In Christ Jesus, you who were once far off have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” Father Nassal described it as, “Our membership in the household of God … bought, paid for, signed, sealed and delivered in the blood of the cross.” Luke’s Gospel (22:14-20) speaks of Jesus’ affirmation of that relationship when he took the cup, gave thanks and said, “Take this and share it among yourselves, for I tell you that from this time on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” That cup contained “a new covenant in Christ’s’ blood, which would be shed for many.”
Father Nassal said that the revolution begun by St. Gaspar in 1815 calls for us to “gather in our hearts’ chalice the blood of the poor, the proud, the dying and the despised, the unborn and the unfulfilled, the victim and the violent, the beloved and the betrayer … and proclaim our belief that through Christ’s precious blood we are set free to be for one another and for our world people who overflow with God’s mercy and compassion.”
The Motherhouse of the Precious Blood community in the U.S. was established in 1844 in Peru, Ohio, and then in Cartagena, Ohio, in 1861. At the request of Bishop John J. Hogan, in May, 1874, two members of the Precious Blood Community came to the Diocese of St. Joseph to care for German Catholics. They have had charge of St. Francis Xavier Parish in St. Joseph since 1890 and, since 1977, have served at St. James parish in Liberty. The Kansas City Province was founded in 1965.
The Precious Blood Center in Liberty was the site of an anniversary picnic following the Mass.