Francesco da Paola
At the age of 13, young Francesco entered a convent; after a year of probation, however, he left the monastery and continued his research for his own vocational journey. Finally, he chose the life of a hermit and retired to Paola, in a territory owned by his family.
Here he devoted himself to contemplation and mortification, arousing awe and admiration among his fellow citizens. Soon many young people began to flock to his hermitage, eager to place themselves under his spiritual guide, and a small religious community was born.
Thanks to the great spiritual charisma of Francesco, more hermitages followed, and finally he founded his own congregation, the Hermits of Saint Francis of Assisi, later called Order of Minims, approved by Pope Sixtus IV in 1474. The rules to which Francesco di Paola obliged his monks were very hard: along with the traditional Franciscan vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, there was a "fourth vow" of abstinence from meat and other animal products, and fasting during Lent. The name "Minims" referred to the Humility which was to be the imprint of the friars' life.
The saint's emblem "CHARITAS"
Louis XI could not be healed, but Charles VIII, the deceased king's son, wanted to keep Francesco at his court as an advisor, which started a period of favorable relations between the papacy and the French court. In the 25 years he lived at the court of France, Francesco was a man of God and a reformer of religious life, but also exerted considerable diplomatic influence to bring peace among European nations.
For him, Charles VIII built a monastery at Plessis-les- Tours, where on April 2, 1507, Good Friday, Francesco from Paola died. Just 10 years later, in 1519, he was canonized by Pope Leo X.
Miracles of St. Francis of Paola
Francesco had come with his companions to Catona, in the province of Reggio, five kilometers from Villa San Giovanni, and the closest point from the mainland to Sicily. From the small port, transport boats were leaving every day and Francis had hoped that he and his brothers, though lacking money, would find a passage in some of them. A boat was just about to sail, but the captain did not want to carry them for free.
Francesco asked his friars to wait for a moment and knelt down to pray, then stood up and blessed the sea, spread out his cloak on the waves and stepped up on it, keeping a flap high with his stick like a sail, and started the crossing, quickly and safely. Hurriedly, all his companions found places on other boats, accompanied by the shouts and prayers of the witnesses, many of whom, years later, were to declare under oath during the process of sanctification of Francesco di Paola.
The Miracle of the Hanged Man - Arriving at Milazzo in Sicily, Francesco saw a man, hanging from at least 3 days on the gallows; he felt compassion and asked his brothers to untie the corpse; when the hanged man fell into the saint's arms, he opened his eyes and begged him to accept him in the order, where he ended up in prayer the last years of his life.
The Miracle of the Stones - Francesco settled in Milazzo, and on a donated land began the construction of a church on two stones. With regard to these stones, it is said that Francesco lightened their weight, and managed to extract them from the ground by himself, transporting them with his own hands to the designated spot. The two stones are still visible today, surrounded by an iron grate, and they are said to have acquired special, miraculous properties.
The Miracle of the Well - to quench the thirst of workers employed in the construction of the Church, Francesco had dug a well (from which the two famous rocks were pulled out), but brackish water came out. Then, he made a sign of cross on the well, and the water became clear and drinkable. However, he said that, as soon as a cistern for rain water would be ready, the well water would again be salty. And after 14 years, on the very day when the convent had completed the tank, the well water turned salty again, but acquired the property to give health to the sick people who drank with faith.
Love for animals
Martinello - He was very fond of a little lamb that he had called Martinello. One day some men working at the convent in Paola, being hungry, decided to eat the poor lamb. After having cooked and eaten it, they threw the bones and remains into the furnace. Francesco began to look for his pet lamb, and asked the workers if they had seen it; they denied, but when he began to call the lamb, Martinello came from the flames completely whole and alive.
Antonella - There is also a story of a favorite trout, that he called Antonella. One day, one of the priests saw the trout swimming in the pool, caught it, took it home and cooked it. Not seeing the trout, Francesco realized what had happened and asked one of his followers to go to the priest to get it back. The priest shattered the cooked trout on the ground in pieces, which were brought back to Francesco. He placed the pieces into the pool and prayed in the name of Charity. The trout became whole and swam joyously around its pool as if nothing had happened.
Suggested reading and links
- Wikipedia English page: St. Francis of Paola
- Wikipedia Italian page: San Francesco_di_Paola
- Portale of the Minimi congregation
- Portale of the Minimi of Pizzo