MADRID, Spain, MAY 1, 2001 ( Two religious superiors have asked John Paul II to proclaim St. Benedict Menni the universal patron of volunteers.

Pascual Piles, superior general of the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God, and Sister Maria Camino Agos, superior general of the Hospitaller Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, made their plea in a joint letter addressed to the Holy Father, on the occasion of the U.N. International Year of Volunteers.

The two religious superiors point out that St. Benedict Menni "has the right to be considered for presentation as patron of volunteers, both because his vocation as a Hospitaller religious of the Brothers of St. John of God arose while he was a volunteer in Milan, among the wounded of the battle of Magenta (1859), and later, when already a religious, he worked for three years in the battle fields of northern Spain as a Red Cross volunteer, having received the encouragement and blessing of Pius IX in January of 1874."

In the latest issue of Hospitallers magazine, Sister Agos wrote that St. Benedict Menni "was outstanding for his personal and generous offering of himself in moments of social crises, even beyond the borders of his native country; moreover, he coaxed and lead the religious of the Order of St. John of God, to which he belonged, and the Hospitaller Sisters founded by him, to be involved in risky campaigns."

Angel Hercules Menni y Figini was born in Milan in 1841 and died in France in 1914. He was a volunteer during the Franco-Austrian war, the Carlist war in Spain, and during the last cholera epidemic that scourged the Iberian peninsula in 1885. In this instance, he organized a corps of volunteers to meet the emergency.

During Italy´s War of Independence, the cruel battle of Magenta was fought just a few kilometers from Milan, where a great number of wounded arrived. Angel Menni and some of his friends would go to the train station and work as volunteers in carrying the wounded from the platforms to ambulances and private coaches.

He entered the Order of Brothers of St. John of God on May 1, 1860. Having restored the order in Spain, Benedict Menni asked his superiors in Rome for permission to join the Red Cross as a volunteer (1873-1876), and, as a nurse, to help the wounded of the third Carlist war being fought in Spain. As a result, Benedict Menni was permitted to use the Red Cross insignia and flag.

Benedict Menni, the restorer of the Hospitaller Order in Spain, and founder of the Congregation of Hospitaller Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Ciempozuelos, Madrid, in 1881 for care of the mentally ill, was beatified June 23, 1985, and canonized Nov. 21, 1999, by John Paul II, who said: "St. Benedict Menni discovered his vocation precisely when he was engaged in volunteer work in Milan."