St Annibale’s love for the poor was the result of his love for God. The poor for him were Jesus Christ himself. He loved his neighbour with a supernatural love, even to the extent of sacrificing himself to save their poor souls. This was the finality of his labours, his orphanages, his zeal for the Rogate, the Pious Union, and the religious Congregations he founded. Whatever he had or did was always directed to the love of God and neighbour.
In the declarations of the Father composed for the Rogationists, he wrote:
“Temporal charity must be combined with spiritual charity because the poor need evangelization … But evangelizing the poor without helping them is an unfinished work. We must join both; therefore, this double charity must never fail.”
Charity bound the Father all his life: he loved, well clothed the poor, kissed their feet, and waited on them at table. His walking with physical disabilities and needy persons was moving. In those early times, returning from begging he often happened to give up everything to the poor before he reached the institute. Wearing an apron, he himself sometimes cut the poor’s hair and cleaned from waste material.
Fr Vitale points out that “several times, I saw foul repulsive poor entering the Father’s room and going out clean and well clothed. He himself took care of them because on the side of his bedroom there was a bath. Often he delivered no clothes to the laundry at the end of the week, because he had donated them to the poor; if questioned about it, he used to smile.”
He, used to surprise the superior saying, “Please prepare a special dinner because I have invited a gentleman that cannot be disregarded.” When everything was ready, the Father would open the door and let in a poor pitiable wretch. This was a frequent scene in his life.
The environment where he spent his life was considered the refuse of society and the cases that the Father had to meet were repulsive. They offered no human allure. And yet, he was continuously in the midst of the poor, cleaning, feeding, kissing their feet, and sharing their insects. And to think, he was very clean by nature and education! But he did so for God’s love. Therefore, only God’s love explains the Father’s strong mindedness and perseverance in the midst of difficulties, oppositions, incomprehensions, and persecutions.
His last heartbeats were for the poor. Some days before his demise he recommended Fr Vitale to financially help the poor, mentioning many names and establishing the amount to be given. The Father said in his illness: “I have come in terms with the Lord. I have asked Him to apply only a fifth of the prayers said in our institution for my healing and a tenth of those made by other religious communities. I asked the Lord to rechannel the remaining prayers for so many suffering poor who have no one praying for them.”
Next week: St Annibale – Father of the Orphans: Part 1
Source: Blessed Hannibal Mary Di Francia booklet, Philippines