Our story begins on the left bank of Rosa stream, in the green valley that enters the plane of Fucino.
To recall the life of father don Gaetano Tantalo we started from the cemetery in Villavallelonga. The humble priest was buried here, in the bare ground, as he wished. A wooden cross marks the spot with the simple inscription “m. 13-11-47 don G.T.”.
But that tomb soon became a place of pilgrimage, with people coming from both the local town and Tagliacozzo, where for many years he served as a priest.
On August 24th, 1958, the body was dug up and place in the Tantalo chapel. Some swear to have seen some roses in the point where the priest’s head used to lay inside the grave.
Six years after, a big cross was place at the center of the cemetery, with an inscription that reads:
To remember and thank God’s minister
Father Gaetano Tantalo
With rare example
Of his young life
Give generously unforgettable treasures
Of goodness and sanctity
Honoring and dignifying
On September 3rd, 1980, his mortal coil was places inside a marble sarcophagus inside the church of Saints Leucio and Nicola.
Today many believers visit the church in an atmosphere of silence and veneration. The light filtering through the windows urges to contemplation.
But to start this journey back in time we need to move about 50 kms towards Northwest, until we reach Tagliacozzo.
Once inside the city, we go up the alleys of the old city and we will pass by the church of Saint Peter. The atmosphere suddenly changes, it become more compelling – not only for the epigraph on the left side of the church that tells has that in this very parish house once lived Father Gaetano Tantalo, but also for the atmosphere of austerity and peacefulness emanated from those walls. One inside the church, we can visit the small room where the Villavallelonga priest used to live. The humble decor of that house seems to have stopped on that day of November 13th, 1947, when Father Gaetano, 42 years old, died worn out by his sickness and the punishments he inflicted himself. A small window connects the bedroom to the church. In front of it lies a prie-dieu, where Father Gaetano Tantalo used to kneel and pray while looking inside the church.
Today this part of town is little inhabited. With years, families moved in the other part of town. A third of the population living near the square comes from here. The small houses of the area couldn’t accommodate the needs of the new families, and so the only solution was to descend into the valley. Another phenomenon that contributed to depopulation was emigration. Before the ’70, as many as twenty families moved to the States, seven to Australia, and a lot to Rome.
Nowadays, the area is impoverished and life here is difficult, especially in wintertime. There are less than 10 young families, even if there are more and more foreigners. The community struggles to preserve its identity, despite the centuries of history. Today, the risk is that those marvelous landscape give way to old and abandoned houses. The people here believe that something will change, and hope that some initiatives will be able to give value to the enviable architectural and cultural features of the area.
In the church of Saint Peter, from 1939 till 1949, served one of the most important characters in the history of Marsican church: Father Gaetano Tantalo. The canonization process is about to end, but it seems to have stopped. Believers keep dreaming about this historical proclamation. A few years ago it was submitted a study about is supposed miracle that will play an important role in the final decision.
There are hundreds of anecdotes and episodes about Father Gaetano. For many years, he led a life of sanctity, abnegation, and love of neighbor. Father Gaetano Tantalo was born in Villavallelonga on February 3rd, 1905. He was a unique child: when he was about 6 years old, he fell into a ditch filled with quicklime, from which he emerged unscathed. On February 13th, 1915, when the earthquake struck the region, he was trapped under the debris of his school. He suffered an injury to the head and his eyes popped out. As he told his friend monsignor Palmerini: “A rock fell on my face, hitting me so hard that my eyes popped out. My grandma cleaned them using her apron, then I picked them up and put them back in place”. He became a priest in 1930, and after six years he was appointed parish of Antrosano, and then he was moved in the church of San Pietro Apostolo in Tagliacozzo, where he stayed till his death. In the ’40, he gave shelter to a jewish family that left from Rome to escape the racial laws. In 1943, he gave himself as a voluntary hostage to Germans who wanted to punish the inhabitants of Villavallelonga, accused of being part of the resistance. To Father Gaetano, every human being was his sibling, Jews and protestants as well, and his love was directed not only to spiritual needs, but also to the material poverty of the people he met along his journey. “God’s servant”, Father Gaetano, died in Tagliacozzo on November 13th, 1947, victim of the sickness that penances brought on him. He was only 42 years old.
His remains, buried in the Vallelonga cemetery, were dug up in 1958 and moved inside the family chapel. The Congregations for the Causes of Saints, with a letter handwritten by his prefect, the cardinal Corrado Bafile, on June 13th, 1980, autorizhed the transfer of the remains inside the parish church. In January 1981, bishop Terrinoni started the beatification process. Father Gaetano was declared venerable by the Pope on April 6th, 1995, in reason of his Christian virtues, and his name is place at the foot of a tree along the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations, in Jerusalem. Father Gaetano keeps influencing also the younger generations, and his heroic and Christian virtues will stand the test of time.