The Church of St. Alphonsus Liguori, Rome
Sant’Alfonso de Liguori
Sant’Alfonso de Liguori was born in Marianella near Naples on September 27, 1696. The eldest son of a rather large family, belonging to the Neapolitan nobility. He receives solid instruction, studies classical and modern languages, painting and music. He composed a Duet on the Passion, a Christmas song, still famous in Italy, “You come down from the stars,” and many other hymns. He completes his university studies by obtaining the doctorate in civil and canon law and begins to practice in the field of law.
In 1723, after a long journey of discernment, he abandoned his legal career and, despite his strong opposition, became a seminarian. He was ordained a priest on 21 December 1726 at the age of 30. He lives the first years as a priest with the homeless and marginalized youth of Naples. It houses the “Serotine Chapels”. Organized by the young ones, these chapels are centers of prayer, of community, of the Word of God, of social activities and of education. When he dies, there will now be 72 chapels with more than 10,000 active participants.
In 1729, Alfonso left his home and established his residence in the Chinese College of Naples. It is where his missionary experience begins in the interior of the Kingdom of Naples where he meets people who are still much poorer and abandoned than all those wandering children in the streets of Naples.
On November 9, 1732, Alfonso founded the Congregation of the Holy Redeemer, popularly known as “Redemptorists”, to follow the example of Jesus Christ and announce the Good News to the poor and the most abandoned. Since then, he devoted himself entirely to this new mission.
Alfonso is a beauty lover: musician, painter, poet and author. He places all his artistic and literary creativity in the service of the mission, and whoever joins the Congregation demands the same thing. He writes 111 works on spirituality and theology. The 21,500 editions and translations in 72 languages of his works are a great demonstration of the fact that S. Alfonso is among the most read authors. Among his best known works we mention: The great means of prayer, Practice of the love of Jesus Christ, The Glories of Mary, Visits to the Sacred Sacrament. Prayer, love, relationship with Christ and his experience in the field of the pastoral needs of the faithful make Alfonso one of the greatest masters of inner life.
Alfonso’s greatest contribution to the Church is, however, in the field of moral theology, with his Moral Theology, a work born of the pastoral experience of Alfonso, by his ability to answer the practical questions posed by the faithful, and by his daily contact with their everyday problems. It opposes the sterile legalism that is stifling theology and rejects the strict rigor of the time, the mere product of an elite in power. According to Alfonso, they are closed to the gospel because “such a rigor has never been taught and practiced by the Church”. He knew how to put the theological reflection in the service of the greatness and dignity of the person, of the moral conscience, of the evangelical mercy.
In 1762 Alfonso was consecrated bishop of St. Agatha of the Goths at the age of 66, although he tried to refuse this appointment because he felt too old and too ill to be properly devoted to the diocese. In 1775, he was allowed to retire from the office and to live in the Redemptorist community of Pagani where he died on August 1, 1787. He was canonized in 1831, proclaimed Doctor of the Church in 1871, and Patron of Confessors and Moralists in 1950.