St. Hannibal Mary Di Francia loved the Madonna so much, especially under the title of Mary Bambina. He wrote verses and hymns, which he sang with raised hands. But the Bambina was the poetry of his heart. His preaching was indescribable, but it felt sublime and loving. He was madly in love with the Bambinella and had himself photographed with her in his hands.
He wanted a statue of the Bambina in each house and a solemn celebration of her feast prepared with novena, prayers, sacrifices, and vigil on the eve. A procession through the house in the evening concluded the feast. He exclaims between prayers and songs: “Long live Mary Bambinella! Long live the beloved by God! Long live the empress of the universe! Long live the sovereign enchantress of hearts!” to which everybody answers: “Long live! Long live!”
Our devotion to Mary Bambina can be traced to a crucial event in Taormina. Fr. Teodoro Tusino recalls:
A hive of about 600 bees donated by Father Anthony Catanese was in the courtyard. On the morning of July 26, 1906, people went to open the beehive but found it empty. Mother Carmela D’AmoreD’Amore informed the Father, who smiled at the news.
The same morning, the sister sacristan was putting things in order when she found a little statue in such an unrecognizable state that she mistook it for Saint Anthony. She brought the statue to the Father when Mother D’AmoreD’Amore informed him about the empty hive. When the Father saw the statue, he exclaimed, ““Oh, this is not Saint Anthony, but Mary Bambina! Addressing the mother superior, he added, “She is the queen bee, and our souls are the bees.”
The Father brought the statue to Messina, made the painter Salvatore Ferro restore it, and the sisters of the Holy Spirit dressed it as a queen. Then the statue was brought back to Taormina. On the night between September 7 and 8, “he sounded the reveille at 11:15 p.m. The community entered the sacristy to pray before the divine Bambinella. Then the statue was brought in procession with candles and songs through the house and was placed in its niche. With the joy of the orphans and accompanied by the harmonium music, we prayed to Immaculate Bambina” in the open loggia. The sky was serene. The candles lit before the sacred statue burned in the still of the night”” (Vol. 35, page 16, see S.C. Vol. 5, page 237).
The color of the statue grew pale at the exposure to sunlight. The Father had it restored again in August 1908. After announcing the statue’s return to Taormina, the Father brought it a few days before November 21, the feast of the Presentation of the most holy Virgin in the temple, to excite his children’s enthusiasm. But, the Bambinella was not the same any longer; she had grown up, wearing a pretty dress with the attitude of blessing with her little hand. The Father expounded his plan to the community. The Bambinella was already three years old; he wanted to commemorate her presentation in the temple, where she lived for twelve years, according to an ancient tradition. Therefore, he made the sisters prepare a room for the Divine Superior. The room was called Conservatorio. The community members were given a Jewish name, and all of them should be at the service of the divine owner to counterbalance her hidden life in Jerusalem’sJerusalem’s conservatory.
On the evening of November 20, the Bambinella was brought to Saint Catherine’sCatherine’s church. The following morning she was accompanied to the institute by two persons who symbolized Madonna’s parents. The Bambinella was warmly welcomed and brought to the altar as soon as they entered the church. Everyone can imagine how the Father fervently greeted her, inviting her to dwell in that house amid her daughters and slaves of love… We quote two strophes the Father wrote on that occasion.
Hail, loving Bambina,
The empyreal fields
Your fragrances breath
The virtues divine
Which the souls refine
To the heavenly wreath.
O tender child, are you coming
In your celestial coat?
O longed for, talk to us
With your holy note!
Make us share a gleam
Of your pretty face;
With your divine grace
Your daughters will be supreme.
On that event, the Father dictated the following inscription:
To the three years old ‑ Immaculate Mary Bambina ‑ who entered the house ‑ of the Daughters of Divine Zeal ‑ by the Heart of Jesus ‑in Taormina ‑ to dwell for twelve years ‑ as she entered the Conservatorio ‑ by the side of Jerusalem temple ‑then unknown ‑ now known and welcomed ‑ by her slaves and daughters ‑ as superior, teacher, mother, and owner.
Beginning in 1908, November 21 was a fixed date for the Father. Until 1920 he never failed to stay in Taormina for the Bambinella’s anniversary, giving her his service as chaplain slave of the divine Bambina.
In 1917, people thought that the danger of torpedoes in the Strait of Messina could prevent the Father from going to Taormina. But, on August 10, the Father wrote from Altamura, “I always keep in mind the Taormina community with the divine superior, who lets me be away until November 15. On that day, she tells me, “Come here quickly, return to my feet!” “Yes, my Lady. With your divine help, on November 21, I will be at your feet as a slave and unworthy son!… (Vol. 34, page 33).
At the end of October, in the days when the military front broke, a ship sank in the strait, perhaps because of a mine. Our Founder and Father Palma decided to pass the strait by a little boat. Writes the Father, ‘‘The waves were strong, and the sea seemed to engulf us. Smashing against the boat, the water sprayed us. We spent our time saying a hundred requiems and other prayers to the most holy Mother, Saint Francis of Paola, Saint Anthony, the holy apostles, etc. Our sailing lasted an hour. We landed at Ringo and got a bus for the station’’ (S.C. Vol. 5, page 257).
On January 23, 1921, her fifteenth birthday, Mary got married to Saint Joseph, according to the ancient missal. From then on, Saint Joseph’sJoseph’s statue was placed near the Virgin Mary in the chapel. Mary’s parents, Saint Anna, and Saint Joachim, were placed to the side them, and the chapel was called ‘‘The room of the divine superior.’’
With the myriad of miracles attributed to Maria Bambinella and the Founder’s incredible devotion to her, Fr. Francis Vitale wrote that the Founder had a little statue of the baby Mary in his room, explaining how he had kept it and how he poured forth his love at her feet. Our Lady wished to show him her appreciation for his most singular devotion to her. She comforted him in his final illness by appearing to him as a little child the day before his death.
O sweet little baby Mary, O sigh of our hearts… come, come!
O our most desired hope: your Throne here confirm,
O Divine Foundress: rise above us,
O beautiful Morning Star;
spread your scent among us,
O Rose, ever fresh and blooming;
speak to us your words of peace and love,
O purest golden cinnamon of the breath of God.
We desire you, we consecrate our hearts to you,
so that you may give them all to the most Beloved of souls, Jesus, the Supreme Good,
We wait for you to offer all of ourselves to you
in a perfect holocaust of sacred slavery,
and all our spiritual and temporal things.
Come, Adorable Little Baby Girl,
do not delay any longer;
it is true a thousand times that we are very unworthy,
but you are the refuge of sinners,
the harbor and asylum of the most unworthy creatures,
provided they are determined not to offend
but to love your Son always.
And it is precisely this resolution that we bring here,
as the best preparation for your coming.
We never want to offend God,
but to always love him above all things
and to always do his Most Holy Will.
O our beloved St. Anthony of Padua,
hasten the beautiful coming
of the sweet Little Baby Queen
and prepare us worthily to receive her. Amen.