On June 13, 1884, Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia had addressed a letter to Leo XIII where after describing his apostolate among the poor and orphans, he kept saying: “At the same time I present to Your Holiness a Prayer recited daily by the Communities of children to implore from the Most High God good workers in the Holy Church, precisely the most holy word of Jesus Christ our Lord: Rogate ergo Dominum messis, ut mittat operarios in messem suam [Mt 9, 38; Lc 10, 2]. I beseech Your Holiness if you would grant partial indulgence and the plenary indulgence at the recitation of the Prayer.” The Secretary of State, Cardinal Mariano Rampolla del Tindaro, had replied: “His Holiness, having read the letter, couldn’t but be pleased with the charitable works which you initiated and promoted, and, for this, he renders to you the deserved praises, motivating you to continue in their realization.”
Having launched the Sacred Alliance and printed the booklet of the Precious Adhesions and the prayers for Vocations, on June 13, 1901, Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia considered the time ripe to forward the request: he turned to Card. Mariano Rampolla, Cardinal Secretary of State, asking him to intercede with Leo XIII to obtain a papal letter of blessing “in honour of the Divine Word,” saying among other things: “In order to greatly propagate the prayer to obtain good evangelical workers, I turned to the Prelates of the Holy Church, Bishops, Archbishops and Cardinals, as those strongly affected vividly by the mission of the good evangelical workers, and are in a position to evaluate the great importance of the Divine Word.” Unfortunately the answer did not correspond to expectations, as we can deduce from the conclusion of the letter of the following June 29: “In everything be glory to the Most Holy Heart of the Divine Founder of the Holy Church, Jesus Christ our Lord and to us all remains the humiliation of not having merited that the sovereign goodness of the Most Holy Father would grant to us this sacred mission to propagate everywhere the prayer to obtain good evangelical workers to the Holy Church.”
On January 28, 1904, Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia turned to the Card. Merry Del Val, Secretary of State of the new Pope Pius X. Having had a positive response on his part regarding the prayer for Vocations, he asked that he would be patron with the Holy Father of the special Rogation, to consider if it was really an ancient evangelical mission but always new, timely and profitable, or rather a mere illusion, and he added: “Could Your Most Venerable Eminence add that the Bishops of Italy, at large, and prominent Cardinals of the Holy Church, and Generals of Religious Orders, with most encouraging letters have praised this propaganda; they have accepted a sacred spiritual alliance with our small Institutions, to which they grant unique spiritual graces and blessings.”
The reply of the Secretary of State did not make him wait too long: “Adhering gladly to the desire that you expressed to me in your letter on the 28th of this month, I did not hesitate to inform the new Pontiff of the pious association of priests that exists in Messina in order to pray to God to grant good workers to the Church. I am pleased, then, to indicate to you that his Holiness has strongly welcomed the fact that the Association was accepted favorably by so many and so significant persons in the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, who recognized in it the way to echo the command of Christ: ‘Rogate Dominum messis, ut mittat operarios in messem suam’ [Mt 9, 38; Lc 10, 2]. Uniting, therefore, with pleasure his prayer to the prayer of those members, His Holiness gives to you and to them the Apostolic Blessing.”
Then, in the hope of being able to make the Pious Union universal, on October 5, 1904, he wrote another detailed letter to the Pope, which reaffirmed the concepts already outlined in other circumstances. About this, he had only expressions of praise and blessings.
Conscious that, if he continued to present the initiative alone, with diffculty, he might have obtained a concession for the whole Church, he took another step. Since he did not let go a chance to preach to the Church hierarchy and laity, he participated in the XVI International Eucharistic Congress, held in Rome on June 1 – 5, 1905, as official representative of the Archbishop of Messina speaking on the Eucharist and the Priesthood. He did the same thing at the Eucharistic Congress of Catania.
Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia took the opportunity of these two meetings to make a proposal: to present a petition to the Pope in order that a verse imploring Vocations from the Lord be added in the Litany of the Saints. Needless to say that the motion was received with great favor (expressed unanimously in both instances!), but then nobody moved concretely.
Having obtained a private audience with Pope Pius X on July 11, 1909, he requested a privilege for the priests of his Institutes: “Your Holiness may willingly and graciously grant permission that in the recitation of the Litany of the Saints in our Institutes, or it may be recited also elsewhere by the Priests of our Institutes: Ut dominum apostolicum et omnes ecclesiasticas Ordines in sancta Religione conservare digneris, one may add: Ut dignos ac sanctos Operarios copiose in messem tuam mittere digneris, Te rogamus, exaudi nos.”
The Pope, approved the request with these words: “We grant but, only in the Institutes to which the appeal refers. July 11, 1909. Pope Pius X.”
In a draft dated September 1910, Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia, after thanking the Pope for having granted to his request, became spokesman of some Prelates and Bishops, asking that the verse in the Litany of the Saints could be introduced wherever one wanted. There was no reassuring response. This, however, did not discourage Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia. On the contrary, he prepared a petition that was translated into Latin and sent not only to many of the Italian Bishops, but also to various parts of the world and to all Superiors General of Religious Orders and Congregations, together with a circular letter with the form of request to be address to the Pope, duly signed, and to be returned to him in Messina. He, then, would forward them to the competent Dicastery.
Thus he gathered about eight hundred adhesions, which he sent to the Sacred Congregation of Rites. At the time its Secretary was the future Patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Pietro La Fontaine (1860-1935).
We prefer to entrust the conclusion of this story to what was written by Fr. Teodoro Tusino: “Unfortunately the hopes of the Father were challenged, it was not a matter of numbers, but of mindset. The novelty was not considered appropriate. In fact, the Sacred Congregation of Rites on February 20, 1913, responded: “Dilata”, meaning the matter was not taken into consideration. Monsignor Canori, conveying the negative result, communicated on the part of Monsignor La Fontaine: “The Lord wants that you pray and to get more
adhesions», and he stressed these words.”
This difficulty, now among many, did not discourage Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia. On November 11, 1914, he was received in audience by Pope Benedict XV, who “was pleased with his mission so small yet significant among all the works the Holy Church has taken.” But he did not obtain more.
After the sad period of the First World War, on December 1, 1920, Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia tried again informing Benedict XV on the spread of the Pious Union and asking for the approval of the association in Messina: “The members enrolled free of charge and without any obligations of conscience, which number around twelve thousand so far, take to heart to pray daily to the Infinite Goodness in order to send to his Church Priests, and numerous and holy workers of the mystical Harvest. To ensure that this spirit of prayer, commanded by our Lord Jesus Christ will increasingly spread and propagate considering the current serious necessity of the Holy Church and peoples, the undersigned petition implores the Charity of Your Holiness to grant the approval to the said Pious Union, raising Messina as the first center of the association, with the faculty of inviting other centers, for the sharing of spiritual goods.” It was a way to draw attention to the prayer for Vocations, but this time it also did not obtain any concrete result. Then, he asked again on April 26, 1921, lamenting to the same Pontiff the absence of prayer for Vocations in the manuals, though there was pray for Vocations. Some days after (May 4), Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia, accompanied by two Rogationist priests and two Daughters of Divine Zeal, was again in private audience by Pope Benedict XV. Here is what happened taking the words of Fr. Francesco Vitale who was present at the audience: “The Holy Father was very pleased by the progress of the Evangelical Rogation and the Anthonian Works, and he wanted to enroll as Member to the Pious Union of the Rogate, saying with a happy and for us, very consoling phrase: ‘I am the first Rogationist.’” And about ten days later he sent a handwritten parchment with which he praised and blessed the Institution.
It seemed that Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia would not succeed in any way to get the attention that the prayer deserved, when a news rekindled hope. The Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation of Propaganda Fide had obtained the inclusion in the Major Litanies of the verse for the conversion of infidels. Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia wondered: “But how can this happen if you do not multiply the number of missionaries? And how can this increase if you do not fervently do what Jesus Christ commanded when he said: ‘Rogate ergo?”
In a letter to Pius XI on 6 November 1923, sure enough, Di Francia repeated his request and on January 2, 1924, he turned to the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, Card. Antonio Vico, asking him to reconsider the inclusion in the Major Litanies the verse for Vocations, because, he noted, “it seems that these two verses are closely connected with each other, and one calls the other.”
Meanwhile, Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia continued the propaganda, he gathered new adhesions, which he sent to Rome, but obviously the matter was not part of God’s designs.
This was the last attempt by Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia in making the prayer for Vocations as the official prayer of the Church. As a zealous worker he had sought that this prayer would be an “ecclesial work par excellence and generator of copious fruits for the Church and for the world” (John Paul II, May 16, 1997), but he could not see the realization of this dream that he brought to work tirelessly for forty years since on the first of June 1927, the Lord called him to himself.
- Biographical Memories, IV, 122.