Fratel Biagio Conte Laid To Rest

Biagio Conte is a lay missionary who lived among the poorest of the poor in the Sicilian City of Palermo. Born into a wealthy family, he left everything at the age of 26, as a hermit and pilgrim he imitated Saint Francis of Assisi.

On Jan. 12, a Catholic layman named Biagio Conte, better known as “Fratel Biagio,” died in his native Palermo in Sicily at the age of 59, after a long battle against colon cancer.

He founded the "Mission of Hope and Charity" in 1993, which assists and houses more than 600 homeless and migrants in a dozen of structures.

Around 10,000 mourners were in his Funeral Mass (live streaming in Arcidiocesi di Palermo) in the Cathedral of Palermo.
“How can a city be without God?” (fratel Biagio)

“It’s fratel Biagio who asks us to become SANTI SUBITO: we follow his examples” (Mons. Lorefice) ~Dennis Duene Ruiz.

The son of an upper middle class family, Biagio attended private schools and entered the family construction business until he was seized by a profound spiritual crisis in 1990. At first he went off into the mountains to live like a hermit, then set off on foot for a pilgrimage from Palermo to Assisi, a distance of almost 700 miles, in search of inspiration from St. Francis.

Having lost touch and fearing the worst, at one point his family went on an Italian missing persons TV program called Chi l’ha visto? to appeal for news, compelling Biagio to go on the show live to apologize.

Upon his return to Palermo, he began begging around the central train station to raise funds to care for the homeless persons who congregate there. Out of those efforts developed the “Mission of Hope and Charity,” a sprawling outreach ministry which today embraces three separate facilities in Palermo, collectively serving around 800 persons and 2,400 meals every day, as well as offering shelter, hot showers and basic medical care.

When Pope Francis visited Palermo in 2018, he had lunch at one of the mission’s centers, spending time with the homeless who ate there and with Conte.

While Conte never sought political or ecclesiastical power, he was adept at holding the powerful to account. More than once he organized protests, including his own lengthy hunger strikes, to demand that city officials step up their efforts on behalf of the poor.

For years, Conte was forced to use a wheelchair to get around Palermo because of crippling pain in his legs. In 2014 he traveled to the famed healing shrine of Lourdes and, after immersing himself in its waters, regained the ability to walk. The Archdiocese of Palermo would later declare that doctors “were unable to furnish a scientifically plausible explanation” for his recovery, effectively declaring it a miracle.

“While everyone else in his generation was shouting ‘God is dead,’ he turned his gaze to heaven to see God, that merciful and compassionate God who, in the end, he found in the poor, in migrants, in those who’ve lost everything, including hope,” an admirer once said of Conte.

“He walked, he rejoiced, he sang, he suffered, like St. Francis, who showed him the way.”
John L. Allen, Jr. 

“How can a city be without God?” late Fratel Biagio could often ask. He was such a great hermit missionary of our time.

A well-loved and Beloved lay Franciscan brother has joined the ancestors.
Kindly pray for his gentle soul to rest in peace through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Source: Bishop Shanahan Bulletins

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