Despite a difficult beginning, the Capuchin reform grew rapidly and soon became the second largest Religious Order in the Church.
In the sixteenth century, the Capuchins greatly endeared themselves to the people by serving the sick and dying, during the plagues. This was immortalised in the renowned Italian novel, "I Promessi Sposi" (The Betrothed), by Alessandro Manzoni. They became notable also for their outstanding work in the Catholic Counter Reformation. It has been said that the newly founded Jesuits of the time were a force in preserving the Catholic faith of the intellectual class, whilst the Capuchins protected the working class.
The seventeenth century saw the Capuchins spreading from Italy and France throughout Europe and also into North and South America, Africa and the Middle East.
Today, the Order is active in 101 countries and is growing vigorously, especially in the Third World. This growth is particularly evident in countries close to us like India and Indonesia, where the expansion and development is such that Capuchin bishops have been selected from the native-born friars. In the Asia and Oceania area, there are Capuchins working now in Vietnam, East Timor, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.
Being available for the requests of the leaders in the Church, and being always ready to respond to the call of the Missions, have always featured as a high priority for the Capuchins. In Africa alone, at present, about a thousand friars are labouring in 27 countries. They have never feared taking on the most daunting tasks nor the most remote outposts in the Lord's vineyard.
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