(Photo credit: L'Osservatore Romano)
Our Capuchin family rejoiced in early February as two of our brothers were recognised and venerated in the heart of the Vatican. Pope Francis had requested that the relics of St Padre Pio of Pietrelcina and St Leopold Mandic be brought to St Peter's Basilica for the beginning of Lent as a special way to mark this Jubilee Year of Mercy. Both of these Capuchin saints were renowned for their tireless work in the confessional - each spending up to and more than 12 hours a day hearing confession and bringing people to an encounter with the Lord's generous mercy.
The remains of the saints were first brought to the Basilica of St Lawrence outside the walls which is under the care of the Capuchins in Rome.
They were then processed to St Peter's Basilica where they remained for several days. On the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis celebrated a special Mass for more than 1200 Capuchin friars who were present to be commissioned as Missionaries of Mercy. Amongst other things, Pope Francis told the Capuchins in his homily:
“Your Capuchin tradition is a tradition of pardon, of granting forgiveness. Amongst you there are many great confessors. And it’s because they feel themselves sinners. They know they’re great sinners and before the greatness of God they continually pray “Hear, Lord, and forgive”. And because they know to pray like this, they know how to forgive... But you Capuchins have this special gift of the Lord – to forgive... You are men of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of peace.”
(Photo Credit: Reuters)
With the Capuchins so prominently in the news in those days, Crux journalist John L. Allen Jr described the Capuchins as the Denver Broncos (who'd just won the Superbowl) of religious life in an interesting article touching on our history, on some key current Capuchin figures (Cardinal Sean O'Malley, Archbishop Charles Chaput, Raniero Cantalamessa and the recently murdered Bishop Luigi Padovese), as well as mentioning Pope Pius XI's statement: “When times were at their worst and help was sorely needed, in places that were abandoned and no one else would go, there you will find the Capuchin.”
More than half a million pilgrims venerated the relics of the two great Capuchin Saints of Mercy in the few days that they were in Rome. Pope Francis himself was one who venerated them and he has a devotion to both of these Capuchin saints. Archbishop Rino Fisichella was quoted as saying, “The Holy Father has a particular devotion to Fr Leopold because he thinks of him as a priest who gave all his life to the confessional. Not only confession, but also the manner with which he heard confession – and the manner with which he heard confession was mercy”. In fact, when others criticised Fr Leopold for being too lenient with his penitents, his simple and humble response would leave you speechless: “Should the Crucified blame me for being lenient, I would answer Him: Lord, you gave me this bad example. I have not yet reached the folly of your having died for souls.”
We rejoice and give thanks to God for the great example that St Pio and St Leopold are for us, and ask that the Capuchins may continue in their charism to manifest in a real and tangible way the face of God's tender mercy to those who seek it.