Pope Francis, like a number of other modern popes, has a devotion to Bd. Bartolo Longo. Pope St. John Paul II beatified Bartolo Longo in 1980 and presented him as an exemplar of a life made holy by praying the Most Holy Rosary:
As a true apostle of the Rosary, Blessed Bartolo Longo had a special charism. His path to holiness rested on an inspiration heard in the depths of his heart: "Whoever spreads the Rosary is saved!" As a result, he felt called to build a Church dedicated to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Pompeii, against the background of the ruins of the ancient city, which scarcely heard the proclamation of Christ before being buried in 79 A.D. during an eruption of Mount Vesuvius, only to emerge centuries later from its ashes as a witness to the lights and shadows of classical civilization. By his whole life's work and especially by the practice of the "Fifteen Saturdays," Bartolo Longo promoted the Christocentric and contemplative heart of the Rosary, and received great encouragement and support from Leo XIII, the "Pope of the Rosary." (Apostolic Letter on the Rosary, "Rosarium Virginis Mariae").
However, if you type "Bartolo Longo" into a search engine you'll get some shocking headlines: "The Satanist on the Path to Sainthood"; "Pompeii and a Satanist Turned Saint"; "Satanism, Pompeii and the Rosary — a Bizarre Tale Surrounds Francis' Next Trip."
In 2014 Pope Francis flew by helicopter from the Vatican to Pompeii to visit the only Church dedicated to Our Lady of the Holy Rosary built by a former satanist. The Church has been raised to the status of a pontifical basilica and is home to a miraculous image of Our Lady of the Rosary.
Pope Francis composed a special prayer dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, which he prayed before the sacred painting. His words refer to the deep wounds of sin that plague us and our society:
We entrust our miseries, the many streets of hate and blood, the thousands of ancient and new poverties and above all, our sins. To you we entrust ourselves, Mother of Mercy: grant us the forgiveness of God, help us to build a world according to your heart. O Blessed Rosary of Mary, sweet chain that ties us to God, chain of love that makes us brothers, we will not leave you again. You will be in our hands a weapon of peace and forgiveness, star that guides our path.
Bartolo Longo's life is testimony to the power of the Most Holy Rosary to heal very serious, very deep wounds inflicted by the devil and sin. Bartolo was born on February 10, 1841, the son of devout Catholic parents who daily prayed the Rosary as a family.
Bartolo's father died when he was only 10 years old, his mother remarried and he began to drift away from the Faith. During his studies at Naples University Bartolo became involved with the occult, taking part in séances, fortune-telling and sexual promiscuity. He was drawn deeper into occult practices, becoming a member of a satanic cult and eventually being initiated into the satanic priesthood.
Like many involved in the occult and satanism, he was afflicted with demonic oppression, which was ruining his life. People suffering from demonic oppression experience self-destructive thoughts, self-harming, the urge to actions that are damaging to themselves and others. Bartolo has been described as suffering "despair, fear, hate, anger, an inability to forgive, resentment, and thoughts of suicide."
Sinking deeper into self-destructive darkness, one day Bartolo heard the voice of his dead father beseech him, "Return to God! Return to God!" A friend of Bartolo put him in touch with a Dominican priest, Friar Alberto Radente, who taught him about the healing power of the Most Holy Rosary. At the age of 30 on October 7, 1871, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, Bartolo became a Dominican tertiary and took the name "Rosario."
Following his conversion Bartolo returned one last time to a séance at which he held up a Rosary and declared, "I renounce spiritualism because it is nothing but a maze of error and falsehood." But Bartolo's struggles against occultism didn't stop with that séance. In the town of Pompeii, Bartolo found Catholics trapped by the same superstition and dark practices. He longed to bring them the healing he had found through the Rosary. To this end Bartolo promoted devotion to the Rosary by forming a Confraternity of the Rosary, by restoring a dilapidated church dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary and by personally sponsoring an annual festival in honor of Our Lady of the Rosary. Bartolo also established the Marian devotion the Supplication to the Queen of Victories, first prayed in Pompeii on October 1883, and which is now recited all over the world on May 8, and on the first Sunday in October.
As well as these Spiritual Works of Mercy, Bartolo Longo was inspired by his deep love for Our Lady and the Church to radical Corporal Works of Mercy, in the words of Pope St. John Paul II, transforming "Pompeii into a living citadel of human and Christian goodness." He established orphanages, Sons of Prisoners, Daughters of Prisoners, Daughters of the Holy Rosary of Pompeii and Dominican Tertiaries.
In 1875 Bartolo received a special grace, though he didn't know it at the time. Father Radente gave him a painting of Our Lady of the Rosary. In bad condition, the painting was also of poor artistic quality. If that wasn't enough to put Bartolo off the painting, it had been brought to him in the back of a cart used to transport manure around the farms. However, seeing that it came as a gift from the priest who had helped him in his darkest hour, Bartolo accepted it, paid for it to be restored and placed it in the church he had renovated. The painting portrays Mary seated on a throne holding the child Jesus and handing a Rosary to St. Dominic and St. Catherine of Siena, who are standing at her feet. The moment Bartolo hung the painting in the church, miracles began to happen. On the very first day, 12-year-old Clorinda Lucarelli was completely healed of epileptic seizures diagnosed as incurable.
A year after the first miracle, Bartolo began the construction of a larger church that was completed in 1891, becoming the Pontifical Basilica of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary of Pompeii. Bartolo "Rosario" Longo died in 1926 at the age of 85. His final words were "My only desire is to see Mary who saved me and who will save me from the clutches of Satan."
Blessed Paul VI had a deep devotion to this miraculous painting of Our Lady of the Rosary, and following more restoration work, had it temporarily displayed in St. Peter's Basilica, before its return to Pompeii. During his veneration of the sacred image Pope Paul VI said, "[J]ust as the image of the Virgin has been repaired and decorated ... so may the image of Mary that all Christians must have within themselves be restored, renovated and enriched."
In our own time, with the growing acceptance of depraved evil, satanists are becoming more brazen, raising up statues to Satan and other demons in Detroit and London. In His providence, God has given us Bd. Bartolo Longo, and the personal devotion of so many modern popes, to assist us in battling and defeating Satan through the power of the Most Holy Rosary.
Blessed Bartolo "Rosario" Longo, pray for us.