Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia
A Saint for Our Times
Hannibal Mary Di Francia was born in Messina (Italy) on July 5, 1851 in a noble family. In his early youth, during the Eucharistic adoration, he understood by divine inspiration the importance of prayer for vocations. The gospel verses: “The harvest is plenty, but the workers are few! Pray (Rogate) therefore to the Lord of the Harvest, that he may send workers into his harvest’ (Mt 9, 37-38; Lc 10, 2), became the light of his life and the prime inspiration of his apostolic work.
At a very young age, he felt an irresistible call to the priesthood. Impelled by the zeal for the salvation of all, particularly the poor and orphans, he committed himself to the human and spiritual welfare of the people of Avignone, the poorest area of Messina. With his apostolic efforts he transformed that area, and there he founded the Anthonian Orphanages (for girls, in 1882, and for boys, in 1883) where he gathered, helped and educated poor children and young people, caring for their human and spiritual needs. St. Hannibal wrote:
I feel a bond of holy friendship with everyone on earth either of my religion or another, rich or poor, employer or worker, humble and needy people or high aristocracy. I have seen a brother and my Lord in every one of them. The most beautiful things I have desired for me in this life and the next, I have desired equally for all.
His unique spirituality attracted several women and men to commit themselves to the same mission. Thus, in 1887, he founded the Congregation of the Daughters of Divine Zeal, and, in 1897, the Rogationists of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. To them he entrusted the mission to live and spread the spirit of Jesus’ teachings about the need for prayer for vocations, and the need for service to children and the poor.
As a zealous and brilliant priest, he cultivated and preached love for God’s Word, for the Eucharist, the Blessed Virgin and the saints, and showed particular devotion and a spirit of obedience to the Pope and to the Bishops as the successors of the Apostles. He also nourished a strong commitment to the missions.
St. Hannibal felt the same compassion and concern as Jesus for the “exhausted and abandoned crowds, who were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt. 9, 36), Therefore he used every means to spread the “Rogate,” the command of Jesus, to pray the Lord of the Harvest to obtain “good workers,” and considered this an effective means of evangelization and charity. He also established the “Association of Prayer for Vocations,” open to all the faithful. His dream to make this prayer “universal” became true when Pope Paul VI (1964) established the World Day of Prayer for Vocations.
His life and his heroic practice of the Christian virtues came to an end on June 1, 1927 in Fiumara Guardia, near Messina. St. Hannibal is renowned as the “authentic anticipator and zealous master of the modern pastoral care for vocations” and as a “true father of orphans and of the poor.”
John Paul II proclaimed him Blessed on October 7, 1990 and Saint on May 16, 2004.