St Annibale – Father of the Orphans: Part 2

annibale07-smallerUnder the shadow of his anxious and generous Fatherhood, full of love and martyrdom, the Father protected, defended, and guided his children in the way of life. How delighted he was when children called him “Father!” The community of priests were referred to by their names; “Father” was for the Founder, St Annibale, alone. When he returned after an absence, children would kneel down and say: “Bless us, Father” – his eyes radiated with happiness.

During playtime he was often among the boys and girls to cheer them up by being comic, telling anecdotes or engaging in pleasantries aimed at moral teachings. Then, he would let them play.

To prevent the orphans from any stomachache, St Annibale used to taste the food and check whether it was cooked well. He wanted the assistants to provide abundant bread on the tables because he believed that the children should not have to ask for it.

On one occasion, seeing a little girl looking pale, he asked: “How are you feeling?” She responded, “Father, during the night I cannot sleep because of the mosquitoes.” Immediately, he sent for the superior and told her, “Place the mosquito net that you have prepared for my bed at the girl’s bed.”

For him, little orphans were little Christs, and he had the honour to accept some of their food from their spoons to make up his dish.

He had a delicate, gentle feeling of Fatherhood with the orphans. One day, a little girl asked, “Father, water!” He rushed to his room and brought a glass of water, helping the girl drink.  The sister tried to relieve Father from this work but he said, “Please do not intervene when the orphans appeal to me as a Father, as I try to be for them. You cannot imagine my joy in these cases.”

Once he said to Fr. Vitale, ” They call us father and mother, and we must be as such.”

Although what has been portrayed of the Father above may be considered very partial, we can summarise his spirit of love for the orphans and the poor through a letter he once wrote to an atheist, Professor Cannizzaro:

My love for Jesus Christ as true God urges me to obey all his words, arousing in my heart a flame of love for my neighbour. Jesus said, “Love your neighbour. as yourself”; “Give to all who beg from you”; “what you did for one of my least brothers, you did it for me”; and I strive not to deny anyone, venerating Jesus Christ in the poor. Jesus blessed children, loved them with a tender heart, and said: “See that you never despise one of these little ones.”

For this reason I love children so much, and I strive to save them.  I consider that the final end of what Jesus said and did is the salvation of souls. My dearest professor, love for our neighbour up to sacrifice of one’s own life can only subsist in the love for Jesus Christ, God. I am talking about true, humble, intimate sacrifice, not about fanaticism which succeeds in nothing but to appear loving our neighbour.

My dearest professor, if I did not love Jesus Christ, I would be quickly annoyed by my staying in the midst of the most abject poor, depriving myself of everything, and by losing sleep and quiet because of the poor children.

Source: Blessed Hannibal Mary Di Francia booklet, Philippines

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