Two centuries ago, Fr. Pio Bruno Lanteri (1759-1830), a Piedmontese priest who worked in Turin for fifty years, faced many challenges in his time. It was a turbulent era both in the Church and in secular society. It was a time in which the anti-Christian spirit of the French Revolution was running rampant, a time in which the rigorism of the Jansenists presented a severe God and once more called into question the Pope’s authority, a time in which it wasn’t easy to find any firm points of reference for one’s spiritual life.
It was in this context that Fr. Lanteri, as a young priest, had an extraordinary experience of the Mercy of God. Under the fatherly and friendly guidance of the Jesuit Father Nikolaus von Diessbach, Lanteri discovered the true face of God. It was for him the beginning of a life entirely founded upon a trust in the infinite Mercy of God made manifest in Jesus Christ. He became an ardent witness to it through an apostolic activity that was intense and varied: preaching the Spiritual Exercises and popular missions, offering spiritual direction and confession, circulating books, supporting lay and priestly associations, providing real care for the needy. In all this, he was always careful to guide people “to the truth in love”, showing utmost goodness to all, trying to help everyone take responsibility for his or her vocation with an authentic Christian spirit. And he always pointed to fidelity to the Church and fidelity to Mary as the unfailing guiding lights along the path of the Christian life.
Central to the apostolate of Fr. Lanteri was his collaboration with certain groups called the Amicizie Cristiane (Christian Friendships) founded by Fr. von Diessbach. They were something new to the times, groups of lay people, men and women who were committed, on one hand, to a serious journey of personal spiritual growth and who tried, on the other, to make an impact on the culture by circulating good books. Fr. Lanteri guided and accompanied these groups for no less than thirty years. This will help us understand the enormous esteem Lanteri had for lay people and for their potential in the work of evangelization.
The Oblates of the Virgin Mary
In 1816, with a group of priests from Carignano and Turin, Fr. Lanteri founded the Congregation of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary. He didn’t give them the task of continuing the work of the “Amicizie cristiane”, nevertheless the Oblates always kept alive Lanteri’s sensitivity in securing as much lay involvement as possible. They were quite active, for example, in promoting Catholic Action. Even today, with the extraordinary theological and pastoral developments that have come about since the Second Vatican Council up to the present, the Oblates feel called to take advantage of a greater collaboration with the laity in order to face together with them the challenges of evangelization.