Blessed Diego Joseph Lopez

Diego Joseph Lopez Caamano, previously known as Joseph Francis, was born in Spain in 1743. He made his Capuchin consecration to God in 1759. Following ordination, he fulfilled the preaching ministry with great distinction in all over Spain, such that  he was dubbed “another Paul”. Blessed Diego managed to harmonize action and contemplation in an inspiring way. Many recognized in him an extraordinary love for the Cross. He died in 1801 and was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1894.

The story of José Francisco López-Caamaño y García Pérez begins with what might have been a life-changing disappointment for him. Born in Cádiz on 30 March 1743 to José López Caamaño and Maria de Ocaña y García, the young boy had had a difficult childhood, losing his mother when he was nine, and adopted by a cruel step-mother, his spirit beaten down. One day, in 1756, after a poor performance in his philosophy studies, the disillusioned teenager entered the church of us Capuchins in Ubrique, in Spain. At that moment the friars were singing the Liturgy of the Hours. This was a Godly coincidence for Diego. In one of his later letters he wrote: My soul was filled with such a great joy and such an usual admiration that I nearly came out of myself.

Even if he did not like the Capuchins’ religious life at all, this was a moment of an unfathomable grace for him.  He wrote: I asked for a biography of any saint of the Order and they gave me one about our saints Fidelis and Giuseppe da Leonessa. Both were missionaries. Then they gave me a life of the venerable Br. José da Carabantes, the so-called apostle of Galicia. This made my heart burst into flames. Although I was only thirteen years old I longed for solitude, union with God, mortification, etc. Overcome by these desires, without consulting anyone, girded my waist and legs so tightly with rope that unable to breathe and walk I would have to take off one and loosen the other. I wore them for many days.

His irrepressible enthusiasm led him to join the Capuchins in Sevilla on November 12, 1757. He started his novitiate on 31 March 1758 by taking a religious name, Diego José. He later on confided: From that moment it was my ardent desire to be a Capuchin, a missionary and a saint. I even had the ambition to give my blood in martyrdom.

Yet, Brother Diego, during his novitiate, was happy with a mediocre religious life always hinting at the minimum possible. But God did not give up on Brother Diego. As a matter of fact, one day, precisely during a theology lesson, the Lord intervened in his life once more. He wrote: I was aware of a notable interior devotion combined with a great desire to see those exalted things in the same Lord with the blessed. I was aware of the need to abandon everything to follow him and I felt determined to do it.

Following his priestly ordination at Cardona on 24 May 1766 Br Diego started to delve deeper into this endeavor towards holiness. He said: I was committed then to mental prayer. Apart from the two hours of community prayer, I dedicated at least an hour to mental prayer during the night. For six years he seriously dedicated himself to Biblical studies and devout books. The brutal attacks upon the Church and the Pope by the French Enlightenment spurred Br Diego to do something about it with everything that he had at his disposal.

To his spiritual director he said: Unable to read such writings, I had no desire to learn French because of the disgust I felt for the books that came from there on the subject. How necessary holiness is to be able to placate God with prayer and to support holy Church! What a desire to go public to openly confront the libertines! What an urge to preach to the learned and educated people! What ardour to pour out my blood in the defence of everything we have believed until now!

This situation made him more aware of his preaching ministry. In fact, in 1768 we find him preaching in Ubrique with much spiritual success. His Spirit-anointed preaching managed to reconcile the people of Estepona in 1773. For ten years Br Diego traveled Andalucía preaching missions, Lenten courses and novenas. In 1779 we find him also in Granada at Guadix, Baza, and Jerez. In 1780 he was in Porto de Santa Maria, Jaén and elsewhere. In Lent of 1775 he also preached in San Roque at Gibraltar. This year was a landmark in Br Diego’s life since in his life, meeting Fr Francisco Javier González , a minim of San Franceso di Paola. For nine years Fr Francisco Javier González spiritually accompanied Br Diego. Thanks to his counsels he helped Diego to use with the greatest profit the remarkable gift of preaching God gave him.

On June 26 1778, he thus wrote to Br Diego: Yes, God wants to use you, ignorantissimo, and attracted you to the Capuchin Order and to the ministry. Armed with His omnipotence, wisdom and strength, you can declare war on the bullying libertinism and blinding Enlightenment of this dark age. The world contradicts and tries with its hellish Enlightenment to destroy the wisdom of the Gospel and the Christian spirit. When Francisco Javier died on 29 February 1784, Diego chose Juan José Alcover y Higueras, the abbot of the collegial church of El Salvador in Granada, to accompany him in his spiritual journey.

In 1776, at thirty three years of age, he preached a mission in Sevilla. The course of sermons was interrupted by a serious illness. When he had recovered he returned to Sevilla and preached in many churches of the city. In one sermon dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene, later published various times, he resolutely attacked the incredible temerity of the libertines and the Enlightenment philosophers.

Br Diego’s confronted the atheism of the Enlightenment at the University of Granada in 1779, and in Madrid and in Alcalá de Henares in 1783, and the funeral sermons in honour of his spiritual director in 1784 and of a famous Carmelite in 1786 are well-known. His moving reflections criticized features in the press, horse racing, dances, comedies and comedians then at the height of their popularity. Often his words had little consequence because of the popular frenzy that went along with these things, considered works of art in those days. Diego was thinking of the poor as in 1778 when he was preaching at the Town Council of Écija: I am staggered at the very costly comedy theatre, while this town has no hospital for the sick, no hospice for orphans, no adequate barracks for the soldiers. In his mission in Antequera Diego said how as an outcome of the preaching, the principle lords decided to form a congregation to help poor prisoners who died of hunger due to the lack of assistance.

In 1782 at Toledo in the royal estate of Aranjuez many were moved by what he said. The following year he went to Madrid and to Alcalà de Henares. Following an impassioned sermon in the cathedral of Sevilla on Good Friday 1784 in favour of the poor defrauded by Church wealth, some informers managed to have him exiled from the city for many months. He traveled through Andalucía again. In the winter of 1786 he preached a mission for a month in Cuenca. At Zaragoza he reported to the Inquisition various propositions of a poisonous book against religious vows, hence opening a can of worms. From 1787 many Spanish cities welcomed his word in wonder: Abálate, Alcañiz, Caspe, Barcelona, Valencia, Alicante, Cartagena, Totana and Motril.

He also intervened with noteworthy apologetic and spiritual books. His works were published in five volumes in Madrid from 1796-1799. His adversaries though forced him into silence for a few years when he was confined to the friary of Casares until 1792 when he took up again his apostolic itinerary in Andalucía. Two years later he was in Portugal and the provinces of Pontevedra, Coruna and Lugo, then from Oviedo to León, Astorga, Zamora and Salamanca.

His health would no longer permit him to maintain the same pace. He had to reduce the number of his apostolic excursions. After yet another popular mission in Malaga he crossed the strait to Ceuta in 1799. He had begun his first series of preaching there twenty seven years earlier. He spent his last months outside the friary with a devout family in Ronda where he used to retire to rest after the fatigue of his preaching tours and where he had written most of his precious correspondence. It was there that he died prematurely early in the morning on Tuesday 24 March 1801.  It was only in 1894 that pope Leo XIII proclaimed him blessed, arousing an intolerant reaction among non-believers and liberals both in Spain and in Italy.

Diego de Cádiz remains the outstanding apostle of popular missions developed along very effective and well-tried lines. They started with a procession with the image of  La Divina Pastora and the Crucifix, followed by a number of days of prayer meetings, penitential catechesis, sermons and exhortations to re-invigorate Christian life, the evening rosary, guided mental prayer for the people, Christian doctrine and preaching.

Particular sermons were purposely preached at the different states of life such as specific spiritual exercises for the clergy, or for male or female religious, for public authorities and city functionaries. He also preached sermons for the imprisoned. All was done with an eye towards spiritual and moral teaching which concretely answered the various needs. Br Diego’s preaching gave birth to a unique method of transmitting the Word of God assimilated first in the heart through prayer, then given with clarity, simplicity and conviction, able to effectively move wills through a clear gift of grace at work. His preaching was sensitive to the particular differences of various churches, with special respect for the local pastoral activity. All this ended with another penitential procession but without outward show.

He himself admitted that he had met this method in the popular preaching of Saint Bernadine of Siena. In this saint, Br Diego saw an ideal for himself to follow. When preparing his sermons he could not manage to write them, so Diego abandoned himself to the will of God. It was then that he frequently experienced a great intervention of divine help. This is a concrete example of what Paul VI said to the Capuchins in 1974 in an off the cuff comment: “I would say this to you. If you truly live what you are, make your own the words of the gospel: ‘Nolite cogitare, quomodo aut quid loquamini: dabitur enim vobis in illa hora quid loquamini.’ (Matthew 10:19 – “Do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.”) You will be able speak, I would say, from an open heart if your heart is filled with Christ and filled with his holy and lasting and dangerous imitation. The word will flow from your life itself and will be the most effective and persuasive form of your eloquence.”

O God, you adorned Blessed Diego-Joseph with the knowledge of holy things and wonderfully guided him for the salvation of his people. Grant us, through his prayers, To know what is good and right and to preach to all nations the unfathomable riches of Christ, Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever. Amen.

 

Previous articleThe Structure of the Summa
Next articlePetit Brother André Bessette
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.