SAN GAETANO
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Rome - The urge for reform
In all eras, people have had a certain fascination for Rome, each person for a different reason be it for its culture, art, faith, social action or business, not to mention its special attraction for adventurers in Gaetano's time. After a brief stay in Rampazzo, the young Gaetano too felt its call. He was a really cultured young person and as we know of profound faith and saintly ideals, so it is simple to understand his decision to leave Rampazzo and Vicenza behind and transfer to Rome.

Gaetano's first contact with the Eternal City was right after acquiring his degree. A distinguished student, a real model for all his peers, Gaetano wanted a higher perfection and left his native town to seek obscurity in Rome, but here he did not find the city of Saints and Martyrs but a den of sin and decadence, in fact he wrote to Sister Laura Mignani on the 31 July 1517 asking her to "..pray for this city that once was holy and that has now become a Babylon".

In Rome he plunged right into his usual rigorous routine of study, prayer and visits to hospitals and poor houses. He started with unbiased zeal to acquire what was needed for the poor from the well to do. But first he needed a roof over his head and food to eat so he resolved this problem by taking on a job. The position of secretary at the Vatican was bought by him as was the infamous custom of those days, his family providing the funds for this purchase, from money due to him as inheritance. Julius II who was Pope at the time, very soon saw the potential of Gaetano and his noble soul and decided to promote him to Apostolic Protonotary, a higher position close to the Pope himself. Julius II did this in the face of competition from several older candidates possessing more experience than the young doctor at Law. He used to call him: "Dear son and Professor, Gaetano Thiene, writer well known to us".

Those in the Vatican court at this time paid little attention to the truth of the Gospel and were mostly involved in politics and intrigue. Gaetano did not complain or report but reacted to this by trying to imitate Christ in His poverty and showing by example a humble acceptance to the Lord's invitation to remove from one's self what makes one blind to one's own faults before dealing with the shortcomings of others. But, being in the Vatican amidst all this, placed him at a vantage point among Cardinals and Prelates. Soon he took an important share in reconciling the Republic of Venice with the Pontiff. The Pope gave him 'free' the parish of Malo in Vicenza and promised three other benefices as soon as they became vacant. 'Free' because like positions in the Vatican in those times, ecclesiastical benefices large or small were also bought with money according to the value of the income from the benefice. It is pitiful to think that the church had fallen into such a deplorable state, but at the time, these dealings were so common and matter of fact that no one noticed how adversely they were affecting the church of Christ.

This state of affairs became worse because once a benefice was bought, be it a parish or a diocese, it was not necessary for the beneficiary even to be there once a substitute was found to take care of it. The person with the title received the gross income minus the little owed to the person taking care of the benefice. The title holder, as was in the case of Gaetano, did not even have to be ordained! The picture looked foggy but there were rays of light clearing it because not all these absentee beneficiaries were profiteers. There were those who balanced their absence from their parishes, churches or dioceses with important donations. As regards Gaetanoĺ─˘s benefice of the parish of Malo, it was a different question altogether because even though he visited once in a while, he never took a penny for himself from the parish income. It all went to the pastor, and more came out of Gaetano's pockets for the needy of the parish. Because of such acts, during the process of Canonization, the Malo parishioners never called him Gaetano Thiene but the 'Saint in waiting'.

While being in the midst of all this, noticing everything and seeing the hand of God on the church even in this storm, Gaetano felt the first urges to reform his church and give its ministers the dignity needed inside and outside the walls of the temple. It is a little early to mention the Order of Regular Clerics that he would found with others, but at this moment in his life we may be sure that the seed of reform was sown deep in his soul. The first biographers of Gaetano all agree that at this time he was mentioning to those around him: "If God would give me the grace to find three or four people ready to live like the apostles in the observance of the Gospel, we could lead, in the Church of God, the reform desired by everyone".

In Rome there was a small cenacle of priests and lay people who frequently went to Mass and received the Eucharist, prayed together and performed charitable deeds. This was the 'Divino Amore' group or 'Confraternity of Divine Love' which had been founded in 1494, (when Gaetano was still fourteen), by Bernardino da Feltre. As members it had people like Jacopo Sodoleto secretary to Popes, and Gian Pietro Carafa bishop of Chieti and future pope Paul IV. This confraternity was started in Genova through the efforts of the noble Caterina Fieschi Adorno, a future saint. Gaetano was convinced that through groups like 'Divino Amore', lay people could effect good deeds in the world around them. So he started attending this group and found his niche right away, becoming involved to the point of advertising the group wherever he could. He started traveling, attending the group in the cities where it existed, and where it did not, he took it upon himself to found a new one. The entry of Gaetano in the group 'Divino Amore' was important insofar as it made him realize his call to Holy Orders and the need for him to lead the laity through the storm that was descending from the north, that is the erroneous teaching of the Protestants.

Though later when he became a priest he could not still share his life closely with the ĺ─˛Divino Amoreĺ─˘ group, he still followed their progress and encouraged them so that their fervour would not be extinguished. In fact he wrote from Venice on the 17th June 1541 to the brethren of the Company of St.Jerome in Vicenza: "It is to my great satisfaction that God chose you particularly from so many other Christians, and that He gave you such dignity in trusting to you so great a project that you should take care of your sick and feeble brethren and that you perform other spiritual acts of virtue. But I exhort you for the Father's sake, to show respect and honour in these acts the same way you want God to show you respect and honour. Dear brothers, if you really want to console me, do your utmost so that everyone might realize that the act of curing the sick is good and is driven by your charity, and that your deeds are serving as a light and goodness in that enslaved city".

As for his physical way of life, he was again doing his best to live in a humble way. His lodgings were just an empty room with a table and chair and his mattress a sack of hay. But he did not forget to do exactly like he wrote and advised others to do, because he took every opportunity to visit and console the poor and sick and serve them with his own hands. With all this charitable work to be done, he felt hindered by his work at the Vatican, so he sought permission to leave his position so he could realize his spiritual dream.