SAN GAETANO
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Priesthood - A Vision
The new pope, Leo X, was all set to give magnificence to the church (be it only external), accepted Don Gaetano's resignation although reluctantly because he was going to lose a precious element close to him. Released from his Vatican duties, Don Gaetano increased his charitable activities and this is witnessed by a certain Enrico Danese: "He was exemplary, chaste, humble and merciful, full of every kindness towards the sick. He fed, served and took care of them in person. Regarding his room, it was poor; a meager sack of hay together with a cushion on which he used to rest; a small table and bench with some leaflets and a figure made out of paper. His clothes were roughly woven with white socks and pants Venetian style..."

He was ordained priest on the 30th Sept. 1516, the feast of St.Jerome and there he 'bound his life to the cros'. From his contact with the members of 'Divino Amore' he had become convinced that humility must begin with the priest, so he did not celebrate his first Mass till Epiphany of 1517, after three months of deep prayer, but once he started, he never missed a day, which was not the custom for many priests those days.

His first Mass was at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore on the altar of the Nativity chapel. This might throw a light upon his devotion towards the Nativity Scene culminating in a vision the next year and blossoming into his now famous 'Presepio' or Nativity crib in later life. Now that Don Gaetano had become a priest, he felt he had duties to manage, especially among the poor and sick. Don Gaetano admirably assisted the sick of San Giacomo hospital both physically and spiritually, but together with his brethren from 'Divino Amore', Don Gaetano knew and saw how many sick, (so sick that they were deemed incurable), were wandering aimlessly in the city, shunned by everyone. He persuaded his brethren some of whom had contacts high up in society, to help surmount obstacles and transform San Giacomo from a common hospital into one for incurables. They did not advertise the services given to the derelict sick but these were truly appreciated.

We cannot include everything about the fire of love with which the first year of Gaetano's priesthood was filled, but the gift that he received on Christmas eve of 1517 has to be mentioned. He was praying at the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, precisely in the chapel of the Holy Crib where it is said there are some relics of the Holy Manger, when he moved his arms towards the image of Mary with the Child Jesus. Something incredible happened: The Virgin Mother placed on his outstretched arms "that tender Child, flesh of the Eternal Word". This extraordinary fact we know happened from one of Gaetano's letters written a month later to Sister Laura Mignani from Brescia, a woman of great trust and of whom Gaetano and other brethren priests had become spiritual children. These are the words Gaetano used to describe his vision: "....I boldly found myself, at the time of the Holy Nativity, in this crib; to give me courage I had with me St.Jerome my father, who had the crib so close to his heart and whose remains were placed at the entrance of the same crib; and with a little bit of encouragement from the old man (St. Joseph), from the hands of the Virgin Mary, I took into my arms that little Baby: the Eternal Word Who became flesh. My heart was really hard, you must believe me, because if it were not as hard as a diamond, it was sure to liquefy at that moment... patience...".
On Don Gaetano's own words, we also know that the vision repeated itself in the feast of Our Lords circumcision and again at the Epiphany. For this he was so grateful and he braced himself for "the endless war against the plague of the three enemies: the flesh, the world and the devil; which can be beaten with the help of the Cross".

Nowadays in the Crypt beneath the Blessed Sacrament Chapel of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, there is a statue opposite the altar, the image of San Gaetano holding the Holy Child, and it is by Bernini. This crypt was arranged as a reproduction of the cave in Bethlehem from as early as the 7th century. The Christmas crib here is one of the finest in the world, with statuettes made by Arnolfo de Cambio around 1289. St.Jerome, Doctor of the Church and translator of the Bible into Latin in the 4th century, is buried here. He lived as a hermit next to the cave in Bethlehem, and it was thought fitting to preserve his relics here, in the 'Bethlehem of Rome'. St.Ignatius of Loyola offered his first Mass at the altar in the crypt. The front of this altar is by Vassalettis. The sculpture of the Nativity is from the 15th century. The crypt is not always open to the public but it is possible to see some of it if you look over the balustrade.