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The Merciful

Saint Francis of Assisi | Saint Anthony of Padua | Don Adriano Fornari | Don Oreste Benzi | Daniele Badiali

 

San Francesco D'Assisi

Francis was born in 1182 to Pietro di Bernardone and the noble Giovanna Pica, in a family in the emerging bourgeois of the city of Assisi that, thanks to their cloth business, had become quite wealthy. After finishing school under the canons of the cathedral, at age 14 Francis dedicated himself completely to the family business. He spent his youth between the happy brigades of Assisi's aristocrats and taking care of his father's affairs in the cloth industry. In 1202, Perugia and Assisi were openly at war. Perugia won the battle and among the captured Assisi people was the twenty year old Francis, who would remain a prisoner in Perugia for about one year.

 

From a historic point of view, the circumstances of Saint Francis's conversion have never been clear and the only sources describing them are the hagiographies. It would appear that his frustrated desire to become a knight and fight in the crusades played an important role, but more than anything an increasing sense of compassion for the weak, lepers, pariahs, the sick and the marginalized influenced his decision. This compassion would then be transformed into a real "fever of love" for his neighbors. His twenty-fourth birthday (1204) marks the beginning of his conversion: he abandoned his friends, his careless youth, for a life of intense prayer, his meeting with and kissing of a leper, his meeting with the crucifix in San Damiano, his pilgrimage to Rome and his first experience with poverty. He gave up his family wealth and restored the three churches of San Damiano, of San Pietro della Spina and of the Porziuncola. In 1208, Francis took on his evangelical and apostolic vocation; in the same year his first companions began to gather around him, becoming the First Franciscan Order. Four years later, Francis consecrated Clare to God by cutting her hair and dressing her, thus officially beginning the Second Franciscan Order.

 

The fame of Francis grew enormously as did the number of Franciscan monks. In 1217, Francis called for the first general chapter meeting of the Order, which was held at the Porziuncola: these meetings arose from the need to set up community life rules, organize prayers, strengthen unity inside and out, and to decide on new missions, and was thus held every two years. At the first one, the great expansion of the order in Italy was organized and missionaries were sent to Germany, France and Spain. During the Fifth Crusade, Saint Francis even went to Egypt. Besides the active life of Francis, who was possibly sick, he felt the continuous need to retreat to solitary places to find himself and pray (for example, the Hermitage of the Prisons of Assisi, on the peaks of Mount Subasio; Isola Maggiore on Lake Trasimeno; the Hermitage of the Cells in Cortona). These places offered the monk the silence and peace that allowed him to pray more intimately. Between 1224 and 1226, by now gravely ill in his eyes, he wrote the "Canticle of the Sun". On October 3, 1226, at age 44, Francis died at the Porziuncola. In 1230 the solemn translation of Saint Francis's body from San Giorgio to the new Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi took place.

Saint Anthony of Padua

Saint Anthony was born in Portugal, in Lisbon, in 1195. In particular for the moral mediocrity, the superficiality and the corruption in society, Anthony felt compelled enter an Augustinian monastery in São Vicente to live in evangelical ideal without compromises. For the occasion of his moving, within the Augustinian Order, Anthony at age 17 took on his first big trip, about 230 kilometers, the distance between Lisbon and Coimbra, then the capital of Portugal. Here he lived with a large community of about 70 members for 8 years (1212-1220). This was an important period for the human and intellectual formation of the Saint, who here relied on valiant teachers and a large library.

 

In Santa Cruz Anthony became a priest in 1220. He asked for and received the permission to leave the regular Canons of Saint Augustine to embrace the Franciscan ideal. For the occasion, he abandoned his baptismal name, Fernando, to take the name of Anthony, the Egyptian hermit who owned the hermitage of Santo Antao dos Olivãis where the Franciscans lived. In the company of Brother Graziano from Bagnacavallo and other Romagna monks, in 1221 Anthony lived in Montepaolo. Here he spent whole days in his grotto (devotedly conserved even today) to live only with God, with the rigor of penitence and intimate prayer, with lengthy readings of the Bible and reflection. The following year, Saint Anthony began his mission as a preacher in Romagna. He spoke to the people, sharing his humble and tortured life, alternating his catechisms with works of pacification. He waited at the confessionals, he personally, or sometimes publicly, confronted heretics. In Rimini, in 1223, an episode took place in which, according to tradition, Saint Anthony convinced a very stubborn heretic who did not want to believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

 

Anthony taught theology in Bologna from age 28 to 30 years old, thus becoming the first theology teacher from the newly formed Franciscan order. Francis of Assisi did not want his brothers to dedicate their time to the study of theology, but for Saint Anthony, given his solid faith and moral integrity, Francis made an exception and allowed him to teach the monks. He was then given the new job of "general preacher" with the option to go freely anywhere he felt was necessary, and, along with six other monks, to represent the Order in front of Pope Gregory IX. Saint Anthony's "Sermons" are considered to be the most famous religious literary work in Padua during the Middle Ages (1229-1231).

 

In the last part of his life, already in poor health, Anthony retreated to the hermitage in Camposampiero to gather his spirits. He died in 1231, at 36 years old and was buried in Padua, in the little church of Santa Maria Mater Domini, the spiritual sanctuary of the Saint during his period of intense apostolic activity. A year after his death, the fame of his many prodigies convinced Gregory IX to speed up the canonic process and declare Anthony a Saint on May 30, 1232, just 11 months after his death. The Church honored his doctrine, proclaiming him "Doctor of the universal church", with the title of Doctor Evangelicus in 1946.


Don Adriano Fornari

Don Adriano Fornari was born on August 31, 1942 in Villabianca, a small town set in the foothills near Modena not far from Sassuolo. The Fornari Family was a simple family, very close knit and religious, not very wealthy but that is exactly why they focused on authentic and important life values. It is in this family atmosphere of good morals that Adriano realized that he wanted to become a priest. In 1953 he began his training to do just that, and this preparation led him first to the Seminary in Fiumalbo and then to the Seminary Metropolitano in Modena.

 

In 1966 in the church of San Giorgio in Sassuolo, Don Adriano received the Sacred Order from Mons. Giuseppe Amici: from that moment on the story of his life intertwined with that of the “Tommaso Pellegrini” Institute and the group of Deaf Modena Citizens. Here he had many jobs: Hearing Councilor of the Provincial Section of Modena of the National Deaf Organization (E.N.S.), National Councilor of the Italian Association of Educators for the Deaf (A.I.E.S.), Representative of the Ministry of Public Education for the state exams for teachers wishing to enter the teaching specialization for the deaf. In 1967 in Bologna he obtained his Diploma of Specialization in teaching the deaf and got his Pedagogy degree in the academic year 1969-70. So, in many ways and under many titles, Don Adriano accompanies the live of every deaf person.

 

Among the various responsibilities given to Don Adriano by his many Archbishops, we find that he worked on many fronts: Vice director and director of the “Tommaso Pellegrini” Institute for the Deaf; President of Caritas Diocesana; Priest of Saliceta San Giuliano; Director of the Caritas Diocesana (reconfirmed several times); Member of the Collegio di Consultori; Episcopal Vicar; Church Administrator of the Church of San Pancrazio; Priest of the Church of Fiorano. He continued to collaborate, until his death, with Don Giuseppe Albicini, his successor and dear friend, for the Confessions and Holy Masses.

The lifestyle that Don Adriano chose was that of being at the service of others. Also in illness, which slowly made him lose the use of his legs, he was an example for everyone for his resignation to the will of God. Don Adriano died on October 23, 2013.

Don Oreste Benzi

Don Oreste was born on September 7, 1925 in San Clemente (Rimini), the seventh of nine children in a modest family. As early as the age of 7, he expressed the desire to become a priest, at age 12 he went to seminary school and in 1949 he was ordained. His first job was as chapel priest at the Church of San Giuseppe al Porto in Rimini. After 1950, for several years, he was a teacher and spiritual leader at the seminary school in Rimini, which today is named after him. After that he taught religion in many Rimini schools becoming a guide for many high school students.

 

In 1969 he gave up all of his responsibilities to dedicate himself fully to his new role as priest, which he held until 2000, in the "Grotta Rossa" neighborhood in the suburbs of Rimini. Here he began an innovative pastor experience with other young priests: to decide everything together with the churchgoers, working with the faithful and not for them, requiring responsibility and awareness of their role as king, priest, and prophet and of their mission throughout history. From the moment in which he was ordained, Don Oreste found himself fulfilling his duty as a priest alongside young people and teenagers, and so he understood the importance of spending time with them. Moved by an innovative spirit, he made a revolutionary proposal for that era: to take disabled children on vacation, who were at that time "closed" in their family homes or in institutions.

 

In 1971, Don Oreste founded the association for the religious training of adolescents “Papa Giovanni XXIII”, which is today called the Community Papa Giovanni XXIII, of which he was general director until November 2, 2007, the day on which he returned to Our Father. The history of the Community Papa Giovanni XXIII is inextricably interwoven with his personal story. In 1973, he opened the first Casa Famiglia of the Community in Coriano, to «give a family to those who are without» and to “regenerate” with love children, disabled persons, people alone and abandoned, the elderly and whoever needed to be welcomed and helped everyday. His compassion for these kinds of people extended to drug addicts, minors without families, nomads, homeless people, prisoners, victims of cults, women working on the streets, and the elderly even when he went on missions. Easily recognizable by his long, threadbare tunic and his rosary always in hand, he changed many people's destiny. All of those that knew him remember his knack for being able to see into people's hearts, to see each person's strengths and uniqueness. The Community Papa Giovanni XXIII was recognized by the Holy See in 2004 as an international association of the faithful with pontifical rights. Today the Community sits down at the table, every day, with more than 41,000 people around the world thanks to 500 different outposts with family homes, fraternities, food banks for poor people, social centers, therapy communities, Bethlehem Mangers for the homeless, open families and prayer houses. Since 2006, APG23 has been part of the United Nations with the status of Consultative Special in the Ecosoc (Social and Economic Council of the United Nations), as a spokesperson for the forgotten people of the world where the world leaders decide on the fate of humanity. Thanks to the strength of its members, volunteers, and those who support it, the Community Papa Giovanni XXIII has carried on the great project of solidarity of Don Oreste: being a family for those who do not have one.

Daniele Badiali

Daniele Badiali was born on March 3, 1962 to a simple family in the countryside of Faenza (Ra). At a very young age he  participated in the experience of Operazione Mato Grosso but, as he was very generous he could not settle for loving from a distance or at arm's length, so at age twenty-two he left to go for two years to Chacas, in Peru. Here he met Father Ugo de Censi and, together with others, he learned humility, his true vocation, and to correct and modify his character. After a period in Bologna, he returned to Peru in 1991, just two months after being ordained, as a “fidei donum” priest, taking on the responsibility of the parish of San Luis, in the Andes. His house immediately became a reference point for many poor people and was constantly full of those “asking for food, asking for medicine, asking, asking, asking...". His days were so busy “with festivals in the villages, retreats with kids, confessions, preparation for first communions, the oratory, seminary lessons to do, not to mention weddings, baptisms, and funerals".

To his friends in Italy he wrote that he did not know "how to describe the suffering I feel in seeing so many sheep without a  shepherd! It is like the suffering I feel when I notice that God counts less and less in the lives of the people I am trying to teach religion to!" While he felt like "a priest at the beginning of his walk of love", he also felt the weight of believing, in particular when compared to the genuine and simple faith of his parishioners. So, while others were charmed by his "contagious joy" and they admired him most for his "great faith", he confessed to feeling like "a sinner, a nonbeliever walking towards the Gospel". “This discovery of my incredulity keeps my feet on the ground, it makes me suffer, but it does not take away my hope in God and His goodness". So, running from one priestly activity to the next, even if he felt the drama of this emptiness and absence of God and "the disappointment that this crucified God is not what people are looking for", he tried to  "learn to live how Jesus told us, to give away our own life". That is why on the evening of March 16, 1997, while returning with his collaborators from his usual priestly duties, when his car was stopped by a group of armed bandits who wanted an Italian hostage to get a ransom from Father Ugo, Daniele did not hesitate at all: “You stay, I will go”, he said to a volunteer who was already going towards the armed group.  They found him two days later in an escarpment with his hands tied and a gunshot wound to the back of the head and his Christians knew that Daniele had succeeded in giving his life for his brothers.  Like Jesus. And given that a love like this cannot be faked, they understood that Daniele had really meant it when he taught them "to look into the face of death as it is the only way to understand which direction to give your life."

 

 

In collaboration with Don Tiziano Zoli, regional director of the Tourism Office of the episcopal conference of Emilia Romagna for Tourism-Sport-free time and pilgrimages.

Last modified Apr 28, 2016

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