St. Paul of the Cross, Missionary

Together with St. Leonard of Port Maurice and St. Alphonsus Ligouri, the founder of the Passionists, St. Paul of the Cross, was one of the celebrated missionaries of the Eighteenth Century. He preached over 180 parish missions and 60 retreats in over 30 dioceses in Italy.


For the most part he preached in villages and small towns, under trying circumstances both by way of climate and location. The people in these places lived “at the margins of society”, They were the “crucified” of his day. One such territory was the swamp ridden “Tuscany marshes”, rife with malaria. St. Paul of the Cross and his companions ministered above all to the simple and poor to whom they preached the “Word of the Cross”.

As for method, Paul of the Cross held substantially in form and theme to the style prevalent in preaching parish missions in the Eighteenth Century. On missions the fear of hell was stressed. Paul of the Cross, of sound theological sense, felt that fear was overly stressed. He therefore counterbalanced and integrated the “preaching of terror” by introducing the daily meditation on the Passion. Paul and his companions believed that this meditation and its centrality were essential to the mission.  In a letter to Cardinal Guadagni (Letters II, 841-843) he speaks of the method of “our” missions and stresses the absolute need to maintain the centrality of the Passion of the Lord.


In the morning, in the church, catechism was taught (for about an hour). In the afternoon or toward evening the principal sermon was given. It was divided threefold: catchetical instruction (about half an hour), a thematic sermon (on the eternal truths; about an hour) and the meditation on the Passion of Jesus (about fifteen to thirty minutes).

One of the important purposes of the parish mission was to encourage as many as possible to approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Catechetical instruction on the sacrament was given to prepare the people. Often St. Paul of the Cross heard confessions, of men only, even in the houses of benefactors where he was staying.


Whenever possible he would visit the sick and other families in need of his ministrations during the mission. He stove especially to bring peace and reconciliation to those who had been enemies for years.

Since Paul of the Cross dealt with the poor and uninstructed for the most part, his language was simple, easily understood. During the Baroque Period it was the vogue to accompany the spoken word with exaggerated actions and gestures. While expounding on the eternal truths some preachers would use a variety of “tricks” to evoke exaggerated emotional responses from the people.

Paul of the Cross was primarily interested in being the instrument of true conversion, and of a deepening faith. The fact that, in later years, he abolished the penitential processions, a practice of the time, shows his wisdom and foresight. Those processions, in fact, only served as an excessive distraction to the people and often were nothing more than an external exhibition.


The clergy and religious were close to the heart of St. Paul of the Cross. Each time Paul preached a mission, he would make certain that, during the same period of time, another religious, frequently his brother Father John Baptist Danei, would give a retreat to the local clergy and religious. Besides parish missions, Paul of the Cross gave about 50 retreats to communities of nuns (Poor Clares, Carmelites and Benedictines). He became spiritual director to many of the religious and laity he had met during the retreats.

Open, public retreats was another form of the apostolate. These were very much like parish missions but were less solemn in character.


Paul of the Cross did not create new forms of evangelisation, but used the methods existent at the time, especially on missions and retreats. Nevertheless, his preaching did have a single and specific focus: the Passion of Jesus as the “miracle of miracles of Divine Love” (Letters II, 726).

Certainly, since the time of Paul of the Cross much has changed radically and decisively. It would be a mistake to strive to duplicate what he had done. We must take under serious consideration the needs of the world today, as did Paul of the Cross for the people of his time. Nevertheless we must and ought to imitate his fundamental attitude: his tireless apostolic zeal and his relationship with “the Crucified and Risen Christ”.
adapted from St. Paul of the Cross, Missionary, Martin Bialas, C.P.
International Annuario, Passionists ’94, p. 14-15


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