Six hundred and five years ago, amid turmoil in the Roman Catholic church, and in the world, a prayer was answered by a miracle that would affect the course of history.
A baby, Francisco D’Alessio, was born, March 27, 1416, in Paola, Calabria,in what is now the nation of Italy. His parents Giacomo and Vienna D'Alessio prayed for years to have a child.Then neighbors reported seeing tongues of fire above the house, and the D’Alessio’s knew this was a sign from God. Francisco, from an early age, demonstrated holiness and worked miracles. In his ninety-one years of life, Francis would heal the sick, raise the dead, walk on water, perform other miracles, and prophesize of wars, popes, and kingdoms.
Yet Saint Francis of Paola, one of the greatest saints, perhaps the greatest, who ever inhabited the Earth, is almost unknown in America, oddly even among generations of immigrant families from Italy. His feast day is April 2, the day on which he did in 1507. Like Jesus, he died on Good Friday.
Legend has it that supernatural light and soft music surrounded baby Francis. Nevertheless, while yet a newborn, he was blinded in one eye by an abscess. The parents prayed, asking Saint Francis of Assisi to heal their baby, and promising to dedicate a year of the boy’s life to study and worship at nearby monastery.
The boy was healed.
The father, Giacomo D'Alessio, in the tradition of the early Christians, and because of his love of animals and his devotion to Saint Francis of Assisi, ate only fruits and vegetables.
In those days apparently fasting for Lent meant the ancient tradition of abstaining from all animal products. Francis followed his father’s way, but would drink milk, only because his mother insisted. Veganism later would be an important factor in the holy life of Francis and his followers. Abstinence from all animal products, combined with obedience to God, and intense and frequent praying, was essential to Francis in his worship and holiness and to that of those who would follow him.
From a young age, Francis preferred hours of solitary praying at home or outdoors to the play of other children. At age 13 Francis had a vision of his namesake saint who told the teen it was time to leave home.
His parents brought him to the St. Mark Franciscan monastery in nearby Argentano, where he became known for exemplary Christian character of love, kindness, generosity.
What’s more, he was at this age already demonstrating powers God bestowed upon him. Among other miracles, Francis was said to have been seen in two places at one time - bilocation.
After the year at the monastery, with his family, Francis made pilgrimages to holy places, such as Assisi and other shrines, and to Rome.
There he saw a Cardinal riding in an ostentatious carriage and shouted that Jesus did not travel so. Cardinal Guiliano Cesarini stopped, addressing Francis, explaining the church had to have finery because the people expected it. That religious leader later died fighting against the Turks, which would have significance in the story of Francis.
At age 14 and no longer a boy, Francis returned to Paola and moved out of the family home to live alone in the woods in a rundown barn, and later in a cave, where he could pray, and commune with God’s natural world, including animals.
Once a terrified young goat was escaping from hunters and ran to the arms of Francis. The hunters astonished and perhaps frightened by the holy young man called off their dogs and went home.
Francis lived alone six years and word of the remarkable young man’s holiness had spread, and by his late teens he was joined in his hermit prayerful life by a couple of other young men.
For Francis and his followers, said by neighbors to be friars of Saint Francis of Assisi, this was the beginnings of the young man of Paola’s religious order, which he named Ordo Fratrum Minorum -- Minims -- which meant to be the least; that is, to be humble, have humility, live minimally. The order’s motto “charitas” means to be charitable, that is to love. The motto was given to Francis in a vision from Saint Michael the Archangel.
Francis and his flock took vows of a life of poverty, chastity, obedience -- and veganism.
More followers emerged and volunteers and a wealthy benefactor helped Francis build a monastery.
Eventually the Roman Catholic church took notice, heard of the holy young man, and sent a representative to look into rumours of the miracle-working holy man of Paola.
Francis showed his God-given miraculous ability to the Vatican representative by holding red hot coal in his hand with no sign of burning or pain to his body.
The miracles and accomplishments and adventures of Saint Francis fill many volumes.
Another example: refused passage on a ship to Sicily for lack of money - Francis used his cloak as a boat and his staff as a sail and traveled to Sicily.
One of his miraculous powers was the ability to make objects move, such as a great boulder that many men together could not budge.
Great gifts bestowed upon Francis seem in proportion to his great love of God and for people and animals. However, he was human, and spoke out strongly when he knew people were sinning. Yet he was forgiving and full of love and compassion.
Francisc's clairvoyance was another of his gifts. He warned with all his might King Ferrante of Naples of the exact date in 1480 that Otrato would be attacked by the Turks. The apparently arrogant king ignored Francis.
Unfortunately, the holy man foresaw precisely what then happened: Turk invaders entered the cathedral in Otrato after a mass and murdered hundreds of Catholics, including children, women, and old men, and tortured and killed the priests and Archbishop Stefano Pendinelli. The Turks also rounded up all the men over age 15 and gave them an ultimatum: renounce your religion and join the Turk’s religion or die. Led by Antonio Primaldo, all 800 faithful Catholics refused, and were beheaded.
Finally understanding, King Ferrante with other leaders marshaled the troops, and the invaders were pushed back and out of the land.
This, it has been said, saved the western world from being conquered.
The power to raise the dead was given to Francis of Paola.
When his beloved nephew Nicholas died, he brought him back to life. The young man thereafter was a friar in the Minim order, whereas before his death, his mother, Francis’s sister, had refused to allow that. Francis is said to have raised five other people from the dead.
What’s more, when his beloved lamb Martinello, and his beloved trout Antonella, in separate incidents, were murdered for food by people who didn’t realize the animals were pets, Francis brought both animals back to life - even after they had been chopped up or devoured.
Francis also had the ability to self-heal; after a severe injury he rested for many days until his body was completely back to normal.
Healing the sick was another of the numerous miracles of Francis.
Against his desire to remain where he was, Francis was told by
Pope Sixtus IV to relocate to France; this was at the request of King Louis XI.
At that time, the eastern side of France was ravaged by plague. People were not dining out or shopping for groceries, but it’s said, they were sickly or dropping in the streets, and in some towns more than half the residents succumbed to the plague.
Wherever Francis went, crowds came out for healing, and he healed them. Filled with compassion, he even healed every person in a hospital by making the sign of the cross.
King Louis XI had a reputation for tyranny, which was not pleasing to Francis.
The royal had suffered a stroke and was paralyzed, and his speech was impaired.
Unluckily for the king, Francis would not heal him. Instead he told the king to focus on healing his soul, and get ready to go to the next world. The king is said to have on his knees begged “The Holy Man”, as he called Francis, for healing, but the humble hermit explained to the king that only God chose whom Francis was allowed to heal.
The ruler known as “the spider” tried lavishing Francis with what the monarch assumed were temptations to The Holy Man, from elaborate meat and fish dishes, to gifts of gold, and fancy living quarters in the castle Plessis - all of which Francis refused. Instead, Francis wanted only to have time alone to pray and to sleep on a board or the floor with a rock for his pillow.
Evidently Francis and the tyrant king over time established a relationship. At the end of his life, the king seems to have repented, instructing his son who would become king, and his daughter Anne who would have powers about equal to those of a queen, to lessen taxation on the people and otherwise treat them better than he had.
King Louis is said to have died in the saint’s arms. Anne, grateful to Francis, whom he also guided, had a church built in his honor.
The humble native of Paola was welcomed by Pope Sixtus IV,
even inviting the humble holy man Francisco to sit beside him.
They would meet privately several times, and it’s believed to not only discuss spirituality but politics. It’s said the advice of Francis to the king of France and of Naples, as well as what he told the pope, helped the geopolitical world.
What Francis wanted from the pope was his approval of the all-plant diet (vegan) for the Minims.
The pope would not approve, which greatly disappointed Francis. Moved by God, Francis prophesized, pointing at the pope’s nephew, saying the young man, Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, would one day be pope, and he would sanction the diet.
That’s exactly what Pope Julius II did in 1505.
Francis also prophesized that the son of Lorenzo de Medici would become pope and make Francis a saint, which he did in 1519, just a few years after the death of the holy man.
He passed away peacefully, after praying and confessing trespasses he was prepared to meet his maker. Several churches and monasteries in a few countries of Europe were dedicated to Francis, and the Minim other grew.
On a side note: It is known one of the Minim friars, Father Boyl, was on a voyage with Columbus to the new world of America. The friar became an apostolic delegate, and advocated for charitas.
The Minim order still exists in 2021 but only has three monasteries as over time others were destroyed or went out of use. A lay person order also exists today, and a few churches in America are named for Saint Francis of Paola and at least one society exists.
It’s said the saint still to this day does miracles.
The world is again in turmoil, perhaps somewhat similar to as it was at the time of the birth of Francis. His charitas is needed in 2021, likely many people would agree.
Dozens of books in several languages have been written about Saint Francis of Paola. The only one in English is “St. Francis of Paola: God’s Miracle Worker Supreme”(1976) by Gino J. Simi and Mario M. Segretti, who stated in their book they would like to write the definitive biography, yet they wrote a fact-filled, fascinating, invaluable account of the saint’s outstanding life.
"So celebrated and revered and well-loved was Saint Francis even centuries after his death, that he was remembered by two masters, composer Franz Liszt and artist Peter Paul Reubens, who seemed inspired, perhaps compelled, to create pieces that honor the Holy Man. Such works of genius is the art of the masters, one might wonder if the creators were hoping people of the future might take notice of the feeling and beauty of the music and the painting and dwell on the life of the great saint.
Liszt Legend 2 St Francis Walking on the Water Horowitz Rec 1947
composed by Franz Liszt (1860s-1870s)
The Miracles of Saint Francis of Paola - painting (1627-1628) by Peter Paul Rubens
If you’re interested in St. Francis of Paola, we would be happy to hear from you.
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