An Overwhelming Inspiration

Let us see when and how Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia “discovered” in the Gospel this indication of the Lord. Let’s say, right away when he was neither a  priest nor a cleric; indeed, he did not even know he had the vocation. We believe that in order to fully understand his importance it is necessary to get  into the dynamism of his existence.

Born in Messina in 1851, the young  Hannibal lived directly those moments when united Italy was born, at the price  of so much blood and conflict. Garibaldi with his thousand soldiers  conquered Sicily and the Kingdom of Naples, when the College of San Nicolò,  where he studied, was closed. With his family, he had to move to Naples in his grandmother’s house. It seemed that the world was turning upside down. He  heard of priests and friars throwing away their cassocks, embracing the rifle  and participating in revolutionary activities.

After the formation of the new  Kingdom of Italy it was decided to send him to the Academy of the Nunziatella to launch him on a military career, but fortunately, it was understood that he  was inclined to it.

The young man Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia was overwhelmed, like all adolescents of any era, with many thoughts. When he  went to Church – he preferred the Church of the convent of Porto Salvo which  was quiet − he was attracted by the silence, but then he was assailed by  discouragement: he saw the statue of one saint and then another. He admired  the frescos and felt the stories of those heroes, and he said to himself: ‘I can  never be a saint, for holiness is too transcendent.’

Meanwhile, churches and  convents became empty and faith was persecuted to some extent. Certainly, a  reason there was: often interests and politics had made the clergy not exemplary. A renewal was, therefore, necessary with holy priests who would   revive and once again put the greatness of the faith forward, but they had to be  saints.

His confessor had taught him to pray, so he began to think that only  through prayer one could achieve the goal of obtaining vocations.

In this  phase of interior work was the particular moment that marked his life. One day  while in the Church of St. John of Malta in Messina “he had in mind this  dominant thought – it is Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia himself who narrates it  in third person – i.e. to carry on the greater good in the Holy Church, to save  many souls, to extend the Kingdom of God on earth, no doubt was as  certain as the growth of elect ministers of God and so the excellent and fruitful  prayer would be to ask insistently the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus to send on  earth holy men and elect priests. This idea seemed very clear and indisputable  to him.

Later, he was surprised and struck upon reading in the Holy Gospel  those divine words: “The harvest is great, but the labourers are few: pray  therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out workers in his harvest.”[1]

He was  surprised that none of the preachers known until then, none of the many  devotional manuals ever examined, ever beckoned to what Jesus had  ascertained, indicating clearly its solution.

This intuition-inspiration, “at the  beginning of his spiritual life” when the call to the priesthood was not yet mature in him, was considered “as an invitation addressed to him, to make  himself its Apostle and propagator,” wrote his biographer and successor, Fr.  Francesco Vitale. [2]

Notes

  1. Scritti, vol. 2, 143.
  2. Vitale, 42, 43.
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