VATICAN CITY, MAY 16, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Among the Church’s newest canonized saints are two who were good friends of each other.
Both were priests and founders of religious congregations. Father Luigi Orione and Father Annibale Maria Di Francia established vast works of social promotion for the poor.
Father Orione (1872-1940) founded the Little Work of Divine Providence.
Father Di Francia (1851-1927) founded the Daughters of Divine Zeal and the Rogationists. He worked for the moral and spiritual redemption of the poor Avignone neighborhood in his native city, Messina.
The two had neither age nor origin in common. Di Francia was from Sicily and Orione was from Piedmont in northern Italy, an important fact given the prejudices of the time, the Italian newspaper Avvenire observed Friday.
They had a first meeting in tragic circumstances.
In 1908, shortly after a severe earthquake in Messina, Pope Pius X named Father Orione the vicar general of the archdiocese.
Messina needed reconstruction. The population had been decimated — about 80,000 died — and homes, churches, convents and institutes were reduced to rubble and ashes.
The new vicar general was regarded in the area as an “intruder.” But from his first days in Messina, Father Orione made his way through the ruins until he reached the Avignone neighborhood, where the “general headquarters of charity” was located.
There, Father Orione found Father Di Francia and was impressed by his personality and holiness, says Rogationist Father Santino Bontempo.
Their visits, meetings and conversations were frequent. Their content was certainly “heaven, projects and the strategy for the rebirth of that city which was so harshly tried,” said Father Bontempo.
Every time Father Orione left Avignone he would repeat a phrase that became famous: “‘But do you know what a great saint you have in Messina?'” said Father Bontempo.
For his part, Father Di Francia would always defend and support Father Orione, whom he called his “guardian angel.” At the end of 1909 he wrote: “This year we have received the singular visit of Don Orione, who has shown us great protection and affection.”
Their friendship consolidated, Father Di Francia loaned “that northern priest” a large sum for his work. In return, Father Orione frequently visited the neighborhood where Father Di Francia worked, and even spent whole nights in the slums.
After his stay in Messina, Father Orione stayed in frequent contact with the other priest through letters.
To highlight the friendship that united the two priests, the respective central commissions for their canonization prepared a pamphlet that shows a photograph of them together. Pilgrims attending the canonization ceremony received a copy of the pamphlet as a gift.