A special Mass was celebrated by Bishop Nicholas Hudson on Tuesday 27th February at St Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows Church, Archway on the patron saint’s feast day, to mark the end of the parish’s Golden Jubilee year and to install a relic of the saint in the church.
The parish of St Gabriel gets its name not from an archangel but from a young Passionist saint from Italy. The church was founded by the Passionist Fathers of St Joseph’s at Highgate Hill, a religious congregation founded by Saint Paul of the Cross with a special emphasis on the Passion of Jesus Christ. They first came to England in 1843.
St Gabriel was born Francesco Possenti on 1st March 1838 and was baptised on the day of his birth in the same font in which Saint Francis of Assisi had been baptised. The eleventh of thirteen children, he grew up in the town of Assisi until his father’s work took him to Montalta and later to Spoleto in central Italy.
After witnessing a procession where an icon of the Virgin Mary was carried through the streets to Spoleto Cathedral, Francesco felt a call towards a religious vocation and moved to the east coast of Italy to join the Passionist congregation in Morrovalle as a novice in September 1856 when he was 17 years old. Soon after joining he received the habit of the Passionists and took the name Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows.
In his homily Bishop Nicholas spoke of the statue of St Gabriel which depicts him grasping the crucifix close to himself. He drew a beautiful comparison with St John Paul II’s favourite way of praying by clutching the crucifix of which one of his secretaries said, ‘while praying like this the Pope seemed to be speaking with Jesus directly. It clearly gave him strength.’
Bishop Nicholas reflected on St Gabriel’s devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows, and how it ‘must have prepared him for the suffering he would experience, just as Mary found strength in her own hour of need through pondering on all that she saw happening to her Son’. Gabriel contracted tuberculosis twice in his young life, the second time after joining the Passionist order. While living as an invalid, ‘he was deepening all the time in his prayer-life, and he received many spiritual favours from God and Our Lady.’
He added: ‘Pondering especially on these Sorrows which Mary experienced must be the key to what gave Gabriel strength, a strength which enabled him to die a death of deep serenity. Because, if we know anything about Gabriel, it is that he pondered these mysteries in the depths of his heart. If we can learn anything from him today it is that we too should ponder more deeply the Sorrows of Mary. And Lent is a great time to begin.’
After Mass, Bishop Nicholas led the priests and congregation in procession with the reliquary to the enclosure bearing the statue of St Gabriel clutching the crucifix, where the reliquary was installed with a short prayer and blessing.