He is the “blessed” founder: could we ever forget? Born in Messina in 1851 to a noble family, he left everything the day he met a blind man in the most squalid suburbs, in the Avignone district, which will become the base of trench-wide activities for the forgotten, orphans, women without hope.
No epic is told in a few lines. That of Father Annibale was. He founded two religious congregations: the Rogationists and the Daughters of Divine Zeal.
The charisma of St. Annibale: Connoisseurs identify him in the so-called intelligence of the Rogate. It’s not hard to understand. The Rogate (Prayer) is nothing but an exhortation and command of Jesus: “Pray (Rogate) the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest“(Matthew 9:38). It is the greatest problem of the faith: the large harvest, namely humanity, to save and promote the fruitful light of the Gospel. On the other side there is the supreme remedy: prayer for labourers for the harvest, the ministers of the alter above all; consecrated to the radical gift of religious life; finally, the other vocations, concretely, every Christian and man in a dynamic commitment to the Kingdom of God. As can be seen, and how the Popes have stressed many times, it is a charisma of great ecclesial scope, of stinging actuality, of irrepressible need. The mission of Father Annibale’s children, whether they are religious or secular followers, is a fascinating mission.
WE CALL HIM “FATHER” ALONG WITH MANY OTHERS IN THE WORLD An irresistible charm…
The testimony of a young man at first sight:
“When I saw him the first time, I felt a voice in my heart saying: “We must break away from the earth”, and I felt a certain sense of fear, since I am attached to the things of this world.
Then I took off my hat and asked my traveling companion, “Who is this priest?” He replied: “He is the canon Di Francia, man of God…”.
“I loved him, from that moment.”
That young man, with brilliant skills, became a priest, then the charm of the “Father” led him to the decision to follow in the heroic struggle among the marginalised.
He was Rogationist, the first successor of the Founder.
His only sadness…
Father Annibale, a man of boundless desires, never satisfied labourer of God, stretching to the world’s borders. Here is how his generous soul expresses itself:
“There were many things to think about: what are these few orphans who are saved, and these few poor who are evangelized, in comparison to the millions who are lost…? I considered the narrowness of my miserable strengths…
and was looking for a way out, and it was broad, immense, in the words of our Lord: Pray…
He looked with eyes of faith…
“In the heart I cherish -he wrote- the ardent desire for the salvation of all the children of the world. I will love and respect the poor of Jesus Christ in a spirit of charity, considering them as suffering members of the
Mystic Body of Jesus Christ”. Moving, extraordinary…
“I seem to have a bond of holy friendship with everyone on earth…
I saw my brother, my Lord in everyone, and the best of what I wanted for me in this life and the next, I also wished for everyone”.
25 SEPTEMBER 1902 Father Annibale came from a mortifying “defeat”: the city council of Messina had denied the annual subsidy of a thousand lira for the children alone in the world and the poor, who flocked to the Antonian Institutes hungry, half-clothed and often dying. They were politicians, avid masons, unable to align themselves with the purest ideals of the Priest and Apostle. The Town Hall, which the Father Annibale liked to call “the temple of civil rights”, surpassed every limit, using squabbles to render the forgotten and small an unworthy enemy. But there was an honest gentleman to hear: he wrote a poem in praise of his labours among the orphans. Touched to the heart by its most cherished ideals, the Father answered with a lyrical, memorable testimony to the educational mission. We transcribe a few stanzas.
I tore them from oblivion, abandonment, pushed into the heart of a daring hope.
Flowers of Italy newborn, the abyss was opened to devour them;
it was not only seeing them with eyes of love that would instantly delight.
O my children, a day will come when you will know my martyrdom and my love, who loves children more than their Father, and for you I implore men and God.
AND WE CONTINUE TO IMPLORE…
Friend, have we kept you interested?
We hope so, because a century after Father Annibale, we have not lost the… vice of provoking solidarity, to implore men and God, so that the number of people able to take on a role of fatherhood and motherhood of so many creatures who don’t know who to call father and mother grows. Like ours
Blessed founder, we say: “I do not ask. gentle friend. a waste of alms. but to get involved for these innocent, which a mother’s face no longer smiles upon”.
In our experience, we are certain: those who love other people’s children, eventually love their own even more. It is the law of psychology, it is primarily the law of grace.