The last day of October, we Capuchins celebrate the feast day of St Angelo of Acri. This great Capuchin remains known within the history of the Capuchin Order as a persuasive preacher and thanks to his preaching he interiorised in his hearers an extraordinary love for Christ’s passion.
Born as Luca Antonio Falcone, on October 19, 1669, in the small town of Acri, the little Luca came from humble origins. He was proud of his background. The day following his birth he was baptized in the church of St Nicholas.
A neighbour taught him how to read and write, and he was instructed as well about the foundations of the Christian faith. He attended the parish church of St Nicholas as well as the friary church the Capuchins, at St Mary of the Angels. When he grew up, his uncle on his mother’s side, Fr Domenico Errico, made him study with the hope of becoming, one day, a learned and cultured person. Such a preparation would make him a breadwinner for his mother who was widowed so young.
At twenty years of age Luca Antonio felt draw to the Capuchins. His life story tells us that this happened due to the charismatic preaching of the Capuchin Antonio of Olivadi. However, twice he left the novitiate and returned home. This occurred due to the austerity of our Capuchin life; as well as he missed his Mum so much. Nevertheless, the third time was the time he could start this adventure and keep it alive. It was on November 12, 1690, when Luca Antonio started his novitiate in the Belvedere Marittimo friary bearing the name of Angelo of Acri.
Even at this time Br Angelo was very much tormented by thoughts, doubts and temptations. Fortunately, he was reading the heroic deeds of Br Bernard of Corleone († 1667), whose cause of beatification was underway in those days. Empowered by Br Bernard’s example Br Angelo voiced a deep heartfelt prayer to the Lord and asked him to help him in the great struggle he was in. Thanks to God’s inspirations Br Angelo realized that he was to follow Br Bernard’s example.
Br Angelo made his profession of vows on November 12, 1691, following which he kept upon his path of priestly formation which he undertook very seriously. On April 10, 1700, he was ordained a priest at the cathedral of Cassano all’Ionio at the Easter Solemnity. It was at this time when he started to prepare himself to become a preacher. In fact, from 1702 till his death in 1739, Br Angelo travelled extensively through Calabria and the majority of central Italy preaching Lenten Sermons, retreats as well as popular missions.
His beginnings in the preaching ministry were a complete disaster. Such was the case when he went to the pulpit of San Giorgio Albanese, near Corigliano Calabro. He simply could not remember the text he studied by heart. Thus, since he could not deliver his preaching he left extremely disappointed.
When he took this huge failure to prayer, Br Angelo was inspired to take the decision to preach “Christ crucified and naked, far from esoteric rhetoric and also from the uneasiness of the Tuscan language, but only in his native dialect,” repeating “step by step” what the Holy Spirit would show him to preach, as his heart was so inflamed with zeal and spiritual unction. As Br Angelo followed this was he was an incredible success. His innovative way of preaching practically outdo the style of those who thought of themselves as having reached the zenith of the enlightenment of reason.
The ministry of preaching was coupled with the ministry of hearing confessions, and Brother Angelo spent long hours at the confessional reconciling people with God the Father. He treated sinners with remarkable mercy. He was all the more persuaded that the harshest of situations are to be resolved through charity. For him mercy was the easiest path to bring back sinners to God. Like the Good Shepherd Br Angelo used to go and fetch those who were in need of reconciliation. Furthermore he also cared for the sick and those who suffered injustice. Upon his insistence of the great nobles of Acri, the Sanseverino family, the people were given back their basic rights. For Br Angelo what mattered was the whole person, spiritually and materially.
Another beautiful aspect in the life of Br Angelo of Acri was that after he would preach God’s mercy and hear confessions he would leave behind him some tangible signs such a Calvary image and a statue of Our Lady of Sorrows which are powerful tokens of God’s love which both suffers and offers itself that humanity might have life and have it abundantly.
To such a charismatic person the Order would entrust him with the role of Provincial Minister. While animating the life of his province by his words and deeds Br Angelo offerred the friars five gems to live with: austerity, simplicity, the exact observance of the Constitutions and the Rule, innocence of life as well as unending charity.
Upon reaching the age of seventy Br Angelo went to the Father’s House from our Capuchin friary of Acri. He left behind him peace and well-being for all.
In his circular letter on the occasion of the canonisation of Blessed Angelo of Acri, dated 4 October 2017, Br Mauro Jöhri OFM Cap, our Capuchin General Minister wrote of Br Angelo:
His zeal in preaching and in the pardon offered in the sacrament of reconciliation gave Br. Angelo a strong sensitivity to the suffering of the poor. He strongly and courageously denounced the miserable conditions in which the men and women of his time and place lived. He called for justice for the poor, condemning banking scandals, the arbitrary reduction of the rate of return, the high duties on the cultivation of silkworms, and the unjust and violent confiscation of private property by those who claimed to be leaders of the people. He witnessed to Christian charity by visiting the poor in their homes and sharing the Providence that he himself had received. Nor did he fail to visit the imprisoned, recognizing their dignity and exhorting them to repentance and to the acceptance of punishment, while also defending those who had been unjustly condemned. As a missionary, preacher, and confessor, Angelo of Acri understood and witnessed to how the words of one who proclaims the Gospel must be incarnate in concrete gestures for the sake of the people, the suffering, and those who suffer injustice.
O God, you gave to Saint Angelo, your priest, the grace to call sinners back to repentance through his preaching and miracles. Through his merits and prayers may we worthily mourn for our sins and merit eternal life. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.