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Andrea Nt Erba
A pioneer of
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Andrea ~ 1 . Erba
A pioneer of
- Tagay1ay 2010 -
Among the modern apostles who have consecrated
themselves to ,,'ork for the union of the Churches,
outstanding is the figure of Fr. CESARE M. TONDINI
(1839-1907) who deserves to be well known. He was an
ardent and courageous Barnabite from Lodi (Italy), who
had a real passion for the cause of ecumenism and a keen
love for the separated brothers.
In 1862 he founded the" Association of prayers for the
return of our separated brethren of the Greek-Russian
. .
Church to Catholic unity," spreading it across Europe.
He hinlselfwas a pilgrim from East to West as a missionary
and a scientist, a diplomat and a writer, with an enthusiasm
and a boldness that only death could stop.
A scholar and a most pious priest, Fr. Tondini did not see
the results of his apostolic zeal, but his sacrifice and his
faith -, we are sure - h ~ v e helped prepare the present
dialogue between "those who glory in the name of Christ."
A Life for Russia
On January 17, 1856 the Russian Count Petrovich
Shuvalov, after a dramatic spiritual journey leading to his
conversion and the religious vocation, entered the Barnabite
novitiate in Monza.
In that atmosphere of fervent asceticism, he was stricken with
deep emotion aed joyful surprise while listening to the novices
reciting every night in their private chapel, a "Prayer to Nlary
Immaculate for the return of the Eastern Church to Catholic
"Before this period - Shuvalov will write in his memoirs -
very little I had prayed for the conversion of Russia; but in
that life of silence and prayer, I realized that the purpose of
my prayer, after the salvation of my soul, had to be, and for
life, the return of this great and generous nation to religious
unity_ I understood it and asked God to grant it to me."
""Lord, if the circumstances did not allow me to serve my
nation fighting for her, at least let my prayer and, if necessary,
let Iny life be consecrated to her, and may I bring at least a
grain of sand to the magnificent building of her spiritual
The pious practice of the novitiate in tv1onza, which probably
dated frorn 1848, when Pius IX had issued the encyclical
Suprema" aiming precisely at the Eastern Christians, arouse
in the mind of the Russian Barnabite the idea of an initiative
ofprayer to Mary Irrunaculate for the salvation of his Orthodox
Since then the religious situation in Russia became the main
topic of his conversations and his correspondence.
The novices 'Nere fascinated by the words of the ardent
Shuvalov, each other while dreaming of heroic and
exciting projects.
The following year the illustrious converted departed for the
Eternal City, where he had the honor of being received in
private audience by Pope Pius IX; he talked to him about
Russia with such accents of faith and love to touch his heart.
The Holy Father blessed abundantly his prayer intentions and
his action in favor of the beloved homeland, and suggested to
offer, three tinles a day, his life to the Crucified Lord to obtain
the desired grace. "You are a man of desires"- concluded the
Holy Father - "Be assured, your wish win be fulfilled!"
Having been consecrated as a priest, Fr. Augustine Shuvalov
will consume his immolation in Paris, in 1859. The last words
to the confreres were: "Pray for Russia."
Who picked up, as a sacred heritage, his generous aspiration
was one of his fellow novices, a young Italian, a native of
Lodi, who.:vas captivated by the missionary ideal: he put at
the disposaloC'"Fr. Shuvalov's work" most of his possessions
and, most importantly, he consecrated his life to it, swearing
on his grave to fulfill the vow.
That young rnan was Cesare Tondini, a true pioneer of the
Catholic ecumenism in the 1800's, a tireless pilgrim for
Christian unity. For almost fifty years he will travel from West
to East, through all the nations of Europe propagating the
suprelne desire of Jesus .. that all rnay be one:' especially
working for the return of the separated brethren to the Catholic
Sudden inspiration
Tondini was bOTIl in Lodi on January 11, 1839 frorn a \vealthy
faInily \vith firm Christian beliefs. I11 the birthplace he attended
the (.(.S. Francesco" Barnabite school, excelling for the
goodness of his heart, application and profit in his studies.
With a fiery and courageous character, he embraced the road
to the priesthood when only 10 years old, entering the
Congregation of the Barnabites, his educators and teachers in
~ ' l i l a n in the Longone College.
But it was in N[onza that Providence seemed to mark the
destiny of his existence,making him meet Shuvalov and
preparing him for a unique mission.
After the profession of the religious VO\VS, Cesare Tondini
undertook \vith vigor the study of theology and foreign
languages, especially English and Germ?-ll, which he learned
to perfection.
One day while all alone meditating in the recollection of his
room" he had a sudden inspiration, almost if hearing a voice
coming frorn above: "\Vhat Fr. Ignazio Spencer has done for
England, it mus'c be done for Russia!"
(.·The memory of that mornent - he wrote in his diary - has
never been erased frorn my mind, and will never be erased."
From that day on the "cause" of ecurnenism had found a new
apostle and an indomitable advocate.
Ordained a priest on February 2, 1862, the Bamabite made
the resolution to recite during the Holy Mass, at the elevation
of the Chalice, the following short prayer approved by her
spiritual director, the Servant of God Fr. Luigi Villoresi: "My
God, make rne worthy of giving my life and blood together
with your o\vn, to the glorification of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Irnmaculate for the conversion of Russia."
Later, in imitation of Fr. Shuvalov, he will be repeating three
times a day the same tender offer: at his awakening in the
D10rning, at Mass, and in the evening before bedtime.
The day after his ordination, the Superior General Luigi
Albicini inD)rmed him about his intention to send him, the
following June, to Paris at the center of prayer and action,
founded by his Russian confrere before his death. In the French
capital he ,vill lay the foundations of all his ecumenical
activities and its radiating apostolate.
During the waiting months, while working as a professor of
history at the degli Angeli" school in Monza and as
an assistant at the "S. Maria al Carrobiolo Oratorio," Fr.
Tondini devoted himself with his usual zeal and fervor to lay
the foundations of an "Association of prayers for the return
of our separated brethren of the Greek -Russian Church to
Catholic unity." He wanted to name it after Mary Immaculate
not only because he still had a vivid memory of the dogmatic
proclamation in 1854,· but especially because the Virgin,
particularly revered in the East \vas the bond that \vould unite
the Orthodox cOlnnlunity to the Catholic Church.
For the success of the initiative he was able to gather the
111embership of religious souls, of innocent children, of the
sick, of humble faithfuls, of qualified ecclesiastical
personalities, from whom he begged for an ·'Hail Mary," the
Rosary, Holy Communions, visits to the Blessed Sacrament,
celebration of Masses, etc ...
The Blessed rVlother will be the binding force
Fr. Tondini had a firm belief in the efficacy of prayer and was
very careful in exploiting every opportunity to spread his
project. He had an in1mense trust in Mary, recalling the
prophetic words read in a book by Shuva.lov: "Oh, my dear
brothers they will be back, they will be back. .. Not for nothing
they have preserved aJTIong the treasures of their faith, the
cult of Mary; not for nothing they call on her, believe in the
Immaculate Conception, perhaps without knowing it, they
celebrate the holidays ... Yes, Mary will be the bond that will
unite the two Churches, and that will make of all those who
love her a people of brothers under the fatherhood of the Vicar
of Jesus Christ."
In May of 1862 he drew up the official program of the
Association, which was immediately approved and
recornmended by Bishop Carlo Caccia, vicar of the
Archdiocese the first of many Bishops who blessed
the initiative. In a short ti111e thousands of copies of leatlets
reached every part of Italy.
The success was quick and flashy, so that the author thought
to expand the radius of delivery, translating the program into
the main European languages: the Spanish edition was edited
by St. Made1eine Sophie Barat, keenly interested ·in the holy
The young Barnabite also had the good fortune of being able
to talk with Don Bosco, "The S1. Philip Neri of Turin, who
committed himself to the work and promised ,my cooperation,
above all to publish it in Letture Cattoliche, which alone has
1200 copies scattered in various cities of Italy."
A month later Fr. Tondini arrived in the French capital where
he met another saint, the founder of the Blessed Sacrament
Congregation, St. Peter Julian Eyrnard, and where he was able
to explain his project in a circle of Russian exiles Unionist,
passed to Catholicism.
Although the secular press was attempting to mix political
elements and aims, Tondini insisted publicly that it was a
peaceful appeal for a reunion, no more than "a feeble echo of
moving prayer out of the lips and hearts of Christ."
Moreover, his work was essentially based on love, in harmony
with the thought of Pius IX, who had recornmended not to
call enemies those who are joined to us by the bon,ds of faith
and love."
For these reasons and because of the innate sensitivity of his
soul, after a friendly conversation with Prince Orlov, Russian
diplomat in Brussels, Tondini willingly changed the term
with "return to the catholic unity," adjusting his
whole language to the mentality of the brethren separated from
Later, with the experience of prolonged stays in countries of
the East, including Russia, he will use in his style such delicate
nuances that we will have to arrive at today's current
ecumenical dialogue to find similar tones. He \-vill say, for
example, that the Orthodox are disunited "exteriorly and not
for their own fault from the true church on earth," but that
·'fearing God and working with righteousness, they belong to
the soul of the Church and are heirs of the promises ofChrist."
In his numerous writings he urged the Catholics to "pray and
not to judge: we leave the question of responsibility in the
hands of Him who is the very WisdorIl and infinite Charity ...
They have everything to gain to be judged by God, who loves
the souls, rather than by us, as we are led to give to him the
measure of our intelligence and our hearts." With an obvious
but meaningful phrase, he concluded: "The Lord is Father of
our brothers just as he is our Father."
The Italian Barnabite will gain a great esteem among the
Anglicans, who wanted to have him to be the spokesman of
the Holy See in England, making this beautiful testimony:
"You have never said a bitter word against us."
He is the author of a beautiful prayer to the Immaculate Virgin,
interwoven with Teadings of the Greek-Slavic liturgy to allow
the Catholics to pray with the words of the Orthodox; in it the
common expression '''separated brethren" is, with real finesse,
replaced by a less.blunt one, the brethren."
The genial charity of Fr. Tondini went so far as to propose the
cetebration of holy Masses tor the repose of the souls of the
departed Orthodox: a bold request, which \vas approved by
the Holy See with a Breve of April 16, 1896, thanks to the
involvement of Cardinal Giuseppe Sarto, the future St. Pius X.
The Pope's B I ~ s s i n g
Meanwhile the "Association" continued to propagate through
Fr. Tondinl's inexhaustible enthusiasm. He maintained its
candid optimism despite the inevitable difficulties. His method
was so simple and, at the same time supported by an admirable
tenacity: "If a door is shot - he wrote - I will open another."
From the very beginning, through the effective support of the
Superior General of the Bamabites, Francis Caccia, he reached
a desired goal that confirmed hirn in his intentions: the grand
approval by Pius IX, who praised and encouraged the
initiative. (Breve of September 2, 1862).
This was the first public documents that the immortal Pontiff
deigned to bestow indulgences and confirmed them (see
Breves of June 1, 1869, and April 30, 1872). To these must be
added the very special autograph blessing sent privately to
Fr. Tondini from Castelgandolfo on August 5, 1865: "May
God bless you and guide your heart and your intellect."
Especially in France, which had become his habitual residence,
the dynamic preacher became the broadcaster of his religious
thought with articles in newspapers and magazines, through
sennons and lectures, leading to more and more concrete
results: conquered over to the cause 'were Cardinals. Bishops
and Lite very Archconfraternity of Our Lady of
Victories in Paris adopted the program of the Association.
vvhile it 'Nas joined by the pious devotion of the
in reparation for started also in Paris by another friend
and confrere ofShuvalov, Fr. Gregorio Almerici (1822-1917).
After five years of apostolic wanderings that had taken him
even to the Scandinavian countries, Fr. Tondini had the joy of
the formal establishment of his work, on Decenlber 22, 1867,
in the chapel of the St. Paul's College of the Barnabites in
Paris, chosen as the headquarters.
With the hearty approval of most excellent menlbers of the
Episcopate, among whom we like to mention, for being among
the first, the English Cardinal Manning of Westnlinster, who
called it "purely and sincerely Catholic," the Slavonic Msgr.
Strassmayer, Archbishop of Bosnia and Sinnium "who hand-
picked up, like no other, the work of Fr. Shuvaiov," the Belgian
bishop of Namur and Msgr. Deschamps, then Cardinal of
r-v1alines, who became the most strenuous and convinced
propagator, the ';Association of prayers" received, as it were,
the solemn baptlsm in 1867 by the 3
Catholic International
Congress of Malines: an event that aroused wide resonance
in the public opinion.
Although with polemical ainls, it \vas also the subject of anti-
clerical newspapers and anti-Catholic magazines, \vith the
result of getting more interested than ever a large group of
thinkers wondering about the future of the Greek-Russian
Many other bishops, headed by the entire episcopate of
Belgium, established in their dioceses the "holy work": in the
long list of" associates" are included the narnes of eminent
personalities of the 1800's. In France, Darboy archbishop of
Paris, shot in a prison by rebels; Dupanloup bishop of Orleans,
orator and one of the most combative writers; Pie an apologist
of rare power, and Cardinal of Poitiers; Cardinal Perraud,
Superior of the French Oratory; Fillion, Guibert, etc ..
In Italy, Fr. Tondini's idea was sustained by the Barnabite
Cardinal Louis Bilio, one of the principal figures of the Vatican
Council I, vicar general of Leo XIII for the City of Rome;
famous bishops as Nozari di Calabiana, archbishop of Milan;
Gastaldi of Turin; Cecconi, of Florence; Riario Storza of
Naples, in addition to the bishops Speranza, Verzeri and
Canossa, respectively, of Bergamo, Brescia and Verona. Listen
A modern missionary
For its part, Fr. Tondini advocated tirelessly the Association
in Germany, Norway, England, Austria, Switzerland: as a
scientist or as a priest, a diplomat or a simple tourist, he
traveled from nation to nation, winning friends and faithful
associates, thanks also to the charm of his gentle nature, the
fervor of the piety that animated him, the unique quality of a
mul tilingual.
He knew,vell and was fluent in a dozen languages, not
excluding Russian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Norwegian.
Significant document is the resolution of his zeal to have a
Mass celebrated every first Saturday of the month in the InajOr
shrines and churches of Europe for the Unionist intentions:
thus the pious work could nourish in the national temple of
the Sacred Hea]i in in the monastery of Paray-
Ie-Monial, in the Holy House of Loreto, in the Basilicas of
Notre Dame in Paris and Chartres, in the Cottolengo Hospice
in Turin, in Antwerp, Milan, Pavia, Bologna, Ravenna, at the
Seminar of Diakov in Dalmatia, and even in a convent for
women on the seashores of Azott. Since 1866, only in the
cities of Brussels, 150 J'v1asses were celebrated around the:
year in ten different churches.
In 1870 the thirty-one year old Barnabite was in London.,
where his speech on the ""Return to Catholic unity of Russia"
impressed the diplomatic environments of the capital, and so
also on January 1 a conference in Paris on the same subject
drew the attention of Papal Nuncio. Still in the French capital
he brought together a cOInmittee of enlinent personalities in
the field of religion and journalism to awake in the press the
Russian question. The Congress of Catholic \Vorks appointed
him secretary of the Commission with the task to study the
problem: "Holy Land and Christians of the East."
At the same tilne the volcanic Fr. Tondini thought to create a
Catholic literature in Russian, with the help of the Josephite
Sisters of Chambery, who recently had settled in Muscat,
through his intervention. Full of enthusiasm and projects, he
got in contact with the famous convert from Judaism Fr.
Ratisbonne, founder of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion, and
with the non less famous Cardinal Newman converted frorn
the Anglican church, of whom he has us a vibrant portrait
full of sympathy and adrniration.
A delicate period he had to cross when he had to deal with the
Prime Minister Gladstone and the Ritualists: the complaint in
Rome was immediately refuted with crystalline clarity and
He also met the writer Vladimir Soloviev, this "John the
Baptist of the E a ~ t , " as he was called, who had in common
with Tondini the motto: "Jesus must increase, but I must
decrease." For Tondini he appeared as "one of the most
beautiful and sympathetic figure of a prophet"; both were
struck by the coincidence between the date of inspiration from
which the "Association of prayers" was born in Monza and a
vision of the Virgin Mary that the Russian philosopher said
he had experienced in Moscow in May 1862.
But the ideal of the ardent Bamabite was to enter the territory
of "Holy Russia": "the constant and last aim, beyond which -
he wrote - there is only Siberia and Heaven."
He finally succeeded in 1893, after a vigil of years passed
feverishly in surrounding nations. He went to Moscow and
St. Petersburg, where he read scientific reports, but with a
Unionist aim. The following year the unstoppable pilgrim was
a lecturer at the Eucharistic Congress in Reims: Cardinal
Longenieux \vas enthusiastic and introduced him to Pope Leo
XIII as the man capable of making valuable services to the
Church in the ecumenical field.
In 1895 he illustrated his favorite work at the Marian Congress
ofLivomo and at the Genera} Chapter of the Bamabites. From
Rome he ran back to Paris to take care. of the last edition of
his book:"Russia and the union of the a clear
summary of his thought on the subject.
Always jovial and youthful despite having passed sixty, Fr.
Tondini still ran several times in the streets. of the East from
Constantinople to the regions of Bulgaria, from Romania to
Vienna, deploying' a rnultitude of priestly ministry as "veil as
a fervent activity, literary and social.
F or months and months he led a typical missionary life in the
tllountainous areas of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, as
chaplain of the Italian and French workers involved in the
construction of bridges and railroads.
At 4:00 a.m., in the mist of the dawn lit by torches, he
celebrated rv'1ass in the open, then in the midst of hardships
and dangers of every kind, he w"as going to bring the comfort
of faith to groups of workers who were far away, and to the
more than 15 thousand Catholics and Serbs spread over the
vast territory. Because of its ability he was able to get the
permission to open a temporary chapel and a school in Nisch.
In 1883 he was the first to inaugurate, after centuries, the free
exercise of the priestly apostolate.
·'This nomadic life- he wrote - where hardships are not
lacking, although I would find myself to be ridiculous if I
would exaggerates the issue to the point of believing myself
to be one quarter or one-eighth of an apostle, it makes me
feel more and more our status as pilgrirlls on this earth ... ".
A Diplomat and a Writer
One of his great merits as a religious and a scholar was
without a doubt the happy ending, which occurred in 1886,
of the Concordat between the Holy See and Nfontenegro: Fr.
Tondini participated with intelligent zeal and a fine
diplomacy, overcoming not light obstacles. Austria never
forgave him, forbidding him to ever set foot in the domains
of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Appointed a correspondent member of the Academy of
Sciences of Bologna, professor Cesare Tondini de' Quarenghi
- this is the tile he started to use - published a series of
brochures and articles in several languages, about 150, on
scientific-religious themes of particular interest to the Slavic
countries: the reform and acceptance _ of the Gregorian
calendar; unification and setting of Easter at the third Sunday
after the equinox; the choice of the initial meridian and the
uni versal time in Jerusalem; all this to render easier the way
and bring the world back to the fold of Christ.
A greater farne in the learned environment and international
culture were procured to the Barnabite by his work on the
religious issue in Russia, like the French edition of the
"Ecclesiastical rule of Peter the Great," which earned him
an excommunication from the Holy SynodofSt. Petersburg;
the study on the "The Reunion of the Churches in connection
with the national Russian sentiment and with the Orthodoxy";
the pages of "Socialism in its relations with religion and
Italy," etc ...
Perhaps the best contribution in the field of theology by Fr.
Tondini are his two volumes: Supremacy of St. Peter
demonstrated with the texts of the Greek-Russian liturgy,"
Pope oflome and the popes of the Orthodox Church
of the East," which were judged by a Cardinal as of the
most useful and appropriate Catholic apologies, after the great
achievement of the Vatican Council."
His deep spirituality and his tender love for the Virgin dictated
to him elevated meditations on the Eucharist and the
Immaculate Conception, the Assumption and the Divine
Maternity ...
Vle could say that devotion to Nlary was one of the most gentle
characteristics in the life of Fr. Tondini, from the first davvTI
of childhood to the painful decline of old age. Left an orphan
of his lTIother when only six years old, he turned \vith childlike
innocence to the rvladonna and "imitating St. Teresa had asked
her to take her place and had even composed a prayer to this
His later writings, which tlowed from the heart more than
from the pen, are commentaries to the "Magnificat" and an
endless litany of soft names in honor of the Virgin which
ernbellish, also "'lith his calligraphy, the last pages of the diary.
"What matters to me - he said - is not to appear, but to pay my
debt of gratitude to Mary before I die."
In the Father's house
n I899, vvhen 60 years old, Fr. Tondini was recalled to Ron1e
to recover his health: he was the victim of a bronchial
infection, a prelude to more serious lung complications. But
meanwhile, having overcome brilliantly the trial, after few
months he l e f 1 ~ again for France, to resume his dynamic and
multifaceted activities.
A happy coincidence brought him to Constantinople, officially
as a chaplain ,mdcatechist of the Sisters of Our Lady ofSion,
while continuing privately his ecumenical and scientific work
in that important political and religious center of Orthodoxy.
He remained on the banks of the Bosphorus for four years,
edifying all with examples of kindness, patience, and priestly
spirit. But not even the mild climate of the East could prevent
a further weakening of its strong constitution.
As a precaution, the Superior General of the Barnabites,
Ignazio Pica, ordered his transfer, as soon as possible, in the
Eternal City, where he would be surrounded by the loving
care of the confreres. With incredible energy he assumed the
post as Procurator General: he was so pleased to give a little
more service to the Congregation!
He spent the two years in Rome, the last of his life, in the
midst of continued suffering, almost in a slow, relentless
agony. He \vas deeply wounded by the audacity of the
modernist movement, against which he wanted to grasp the
Fr. Tondini, however, was grateful to God for landing in Rome
at the end of his missionary odyssey. Rome was for him the
goal of every man, the Father's house, the fold of the one
l .. nd here, the day sacred to the rnen10ry of the first he
dosed his eyes in the blessed rest invoking the Virgin, very
sweet conlfort of his extrenle haUL at the age of68, comforted
by a special blessing from Pope Pius X.
It \vas Saturday, June 29,1907.
Devoted son and servant of the Church, deep lover of Italy
and of his religious family, Fr. Cesare Tondini stands out in
the second half of the nineteenth century, as one of the most
unique, courageous modern figure of a pioneer to
have the Catholics love Russia and the Russians love
Catholicism." (Fr. Semeria).
His \Nork for the return of the Christian East to the Catholic
Church did not die with him: like all true precursors and
apostles, he threw a seed of grace that certainly will blossom,
no n1atter when. It still awaits those who will assume the
inheritance with the same passion.
On our part vve associate ourselves with hope to the best wish
expressed by a Slavic magazine, giving the amlouncement of
Fr. Tondini's death: "While we raise our prayers to the Lord
for the soul of this great apostle, we hope that Providence
will raise up from the venerable Congregation of the
Bamabites new vvorkers who, follovving in the footsteps of
their Confrere, 'Nill promptly promote the work he had started,
and will conquer with their example other souls in the holy
enterprise. "
A. Composed cy Fr. Tondini with the texts of the Greek·Slavic liturgy.
Full of trust in You, 0 Mother of God ever Virgin,
together with our separated brothers we venerate you
in the Immaculate Conception, the foundation of
salvation, the basis of grace, the support of our
hope.Hear, () Mary, our prayers for these brothers
who, with us, salute you All Holy, the arbiter of the
gifts of God, dispenser of all gifts. Grant that,
understanding the divine authority of Peter called the
Foundation of the Church, the supreme foundation
of the Apostles, guardian of the kingdom of heaven,
unshakable foundation of the faith, finally they will
recognize the authority of the S uprenie Pontiff, whom
they themselves, in the person of Leo the Great,
appointed their o\vn Sheperd, heir to the throne and
the primacy of Peter and head of the Church. Amen.
B Composed about j 8-/.8, is rt?ciied by {he novices in
Alonza, Even beji)rc Fr Shuvainv /)f;'came a Barnabite.
o Marv Irnlnacuiate. \ve are your servants and
rl ~ ~
children of the Catholic Church, and full of trust in
your powerful patronage, humbly beseech you to
\vant to implore from the Holy Spirit an abundance
of his gifts for our separated brethren of the Greek-
Russian Church, so that enlightened by the life-giving
grace, they will return to the Catholic Church, under
the infallible guidance of the Supren1e Pontiff. And
so, joined to us with the bonds of the same faith and
love, they will glorify with the practice of good works
the most August Trinity, and honor you, 0 Virgin
Mother of God, full of grace, now and for all ages"
o Mary, Mother of all Christians, pray for us .
. Pius IX granted the indulgence 0/300 days every time it is
recited, and the plenary indulgence under the usual conditions,
to onyone who reads it every day for a month.