Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Corleone is a Sicilian city which had a reputation for ferociousness. Its citizens fiercely resisted all attempts at foreign domination, gaining for the city the reputation of animosa civitas and the emblem portraying a lion tearing apart a human heart. In 1605, Corleone was dominated by Spanish rule. It was into this environment that Philip Latino, one of four children, was born on February 6, 1605. His father, Leonard, was a skilled shoemaker. He would bring the poor home and offer them a bath and provide clean clothes, food and drink. Philip followed in his father's footsteps, both as a shoemaker and in generosity.

It is no surprise that, given the age in which he grew up, Philip became adept with the sword. Although he did not look for trouble neither did he back down from a confrontation. When provoked, he proved to be a formidable opponent. He achieved the reputation of being the "number one fencer in Sicily."

One day in 1624, Philip had a skirmish with a man known as Vinuiacitu, resulting in two fractured fingers for Philip's adversary. Sometime later, Vito Canino traveled from Palermo to Corleone ostensibly to compete with Philip for recognition as a skilled fencer. In reality, Vito was an assassin hired by Vinuiacitu to murder the shoemaker who had humiliated him. At the Latino store, Canino challenged Philip to a duel, but Philip refused since he had no argument with Canino. Provoked further, Philip took his dagger and the two stepped outside. When Philip's dagger grazed Canino's head, Canino flew into a rage. At that, Philip realized the seriousness of the duel and returned to the store to retrieve his sword. At altercation's end, Canino had been seriously wounded, his arm permanently disabled. Despite a legitimate claim to self-defense, Philip felt profound remorse for having wounded Canino. The champion fencer asked pardon of the man he wounded. That singular event sparked in Philip a spiritual conversion which eventually led to his becoming a Capuchin.

Before leaving for the Capuchin novitiate at Caltanisetta, Philip asked for his mother's blessing and the support of his brothers and sister. On December 13, 1631, having found freedom and maturity through adversity, the former champion fencer, now known as Bernard, embraced a new lifestyle. Bernard never forgot Canino. The two became close friends. Through the help of benefactors, Bernard saw to it that Canino was provided for.

Bernard took his new life very seriously and strove to be a good Capuchin. Simple and illiterate, with no aspirations for power or prestige, Bernard often exhorted the friars to love God and to do penance for their sins. He spent hours in prayer and meditation. Bernard lived the qualities of "true devotion" urged in the Capuchin Constitutions of Albacina as his inspiration ("Let the brothers be devout and fervent and not content with one or two or even three hours, but spend all their time in prayer, meditation and contemplation"). He learned to love solitude and silence, praying continually. He felt drawn to the eremetical life and often went into the forest near Rimita to pray at a small Marian chapel. For Bernard, prayer lifted his spirit and brought him joy. He understood what it means to ‘pray always’.
Bernard had great devotion to Mary, always calling her "mother." In his bedroom and in an alcove near the kitchen where he was cook, Bernard created an atmosphere of prayer. In both rooms, he had a small altar dedicated to Mary where he would retreat during his free moments between preparing meals, washing dishes, etc. The tall and robust friar, with a somewhat rustic bearing and calloused hands, would adorn his shrine with flowers and fragrant herbs. His spirit of devotion was typically Sicilian - fully expressive of imagination and festivity. Bernard also had a great devotion to the passion and death of Christ. Someone once suggested that he learn to read, to which Bernard responded, "the wounds of Christ our Saviour are all we need to study." One effect of his frequent meditation on Christ's humanity and Passion was that Bernard always responded to others with compassion and calm. Many people sought Bernard just to listen to him speak about God in his own simple way. His simplicity moved many to change their ways.

Charity began at home for Bernard. Within the friary walls, he willingly performed the tasks that no one else liked doing. He never gossiped or talked about others. He had a way of making others feel cared for and appreciated. Bernard consoled many who were troubled and he accomplished this by a hug, a few words of understanding, and by his characteristic smile. Once, in the Palermo refectory, a friar was publicly rebuked. Bernard embraced the humiliated friar and showed so much affection for him that the friar was moved to tears for the tenderness shown.

With great relish he would prepare soup for those who were poor. He was delighted whenever he could be of service to someone else. On a number of occasions, those who were experiencing complications in pregnancy were helped by Bernard, for which he is recognized as a patron of expectant parents.

On January 22, 1667, Sister Death found Bernard in the Capuchin infirmary at Palermo. He was 62 years old. When the news of his death spread, a great crowd of people from all walks of life and social classes came to pay their respects. The nobles of the city accompanied the body to the friary church where the archbishops of Palermo and Monreale presided over the funeral rites. Clement XIII enrolled Bernard among the blessed on April 29, 1768.

The above text with slight changes is by Br. Patrick McSherry OFM Cap and from the Capuchin Sacramentary.

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