Friar Made the Street His Cloister

Leopoldo de Alpandeire to Be Beatified Sunday

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By Carmen Elena Villa

GRANADA, Spain, SEPT. 10, 2010 ( A Capuchin friar who will be beatified Sunday was known for his ability to serve others, making the street his cloister where he attained holiness through working with people.

ZENIT spoke with Capuchin Father Alfonso Ramírez Peralbo, vice-postulator of the cause for canonization of Leopoldo Sánchez Márquez de Alpandeire (born Francisco), a Spanish professed layman of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchins.

Brother Leopoldo’s beatification in Granada will be presided over by Archbishop Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, on behalf of Benedict XVI.
«His sanctity did not consist in doing great social works, creating hospitals or great NGOs,» Father Ramírez explained. «He did not belong to noble dynasties or lineage; he did not speak from chairs or pulpits, because he was not known for his learning, nor did he leave his friary to become a missionary in far-off lands.»
The vice postulator said that Brother Leopoldo attained sanctity in small things and that everything he did, he did as though for the first time. The priest explained, «That was the freshness of each of his acts, reiterated and monotonously repeated, which gave supernatural meaning and filled his whole life.»
Today, the number of pilgrims who annually visit Brother Leopoldo’s tomb exceeds 800,000. «I think that says it all,» added Father Ramírez.
He noted that some 300,000 faithful from different localities, especially from the south of Spain, where there is greater devotion to him, are expected to attend. Andalusian singer Rosa López will open the ceremony with the singing of the Ave Maria, accompanied by pianist Alfonso Berrío.

Francisco, as he was baptized, was born in 1866 in Alpandeire, a small village in the province of Malaga, in the south of Spain.
As a child he was dedicated to raising sheep and goats and cultivating the land, tasks he carried out while praying the rosary. «Those who knew him, recount that when he said: ‘Hail Mary, full of grace,’ it seemed as though he was seeing and speaking with Our Lady,» said Father Ramírez.
Already as a child he cultivated the virtues of generosity and detachment, his vice-postulator said. «He shared his snack with little shepherds who were poorer than himself, or gave his shoes away to someone in need, or gave away the money he earned in the Jerez grape harvest to the poor that he met on the way back to his village.»
Francisco discovered his vocation after hearing the preaching of two Capuchins in Ronda in 1894, in the beatification celebration of Capuchin Friar Diego José of Cadiz.
At 35, Francisco donned the habit in the friary of Seville, where he changed his name to Leopoldo, according to the norms of the order. «His entry in religion was not a noisy conversion; it did not imply a radical change of course in his life, it was enough for him to sublimate the commitments and attitudes he had cultivated up to then,» Father Ramírez noted.
The priest continued: «His love of God, prayer, work, silence, devotion to the Virgin as well as penance already marked his life. From now on, the cross and passion of Christ were for him the objects of meditation and imitation.»
On Nov. 16, 1900, the friar made his first profession. From then on he lived short spells as a gardener in the friaries of Seville, Antequera and Granada. On Nov. 23, 1903, he made his perpetual vows in Granada.
In 1914, Brother Leopoldo traveled again to Granada where he was a beggar, and where he would stay until his death in 1956. «Henceforth, the mountains, the valleys, the dusty roads, the streets, would be the church and cloister of his Capuchin life,» explained Father Ramírez.

Serving others
Notwithstanding his acute sensitivity for the contemplative life, contact with men became his new means to attain sanctity. Far from being distracted, this helped him to come out of himself. The vice postulator noted: «It was an occasion to take upon himself the burden of others, to understand, help, serve and love them. As a fervent devotee of his said, he was ‘different but not distant.'»
Brother Leopoldo could be seen on the streets, barefoot, looking up to heaven with the rosary in his hand. In this way he attracted the attention and help of people passing by. Every time he received alms he prayed three Hail Marys. «Just to hear them would give one real shivers,» noted Father Ramírez, reporting an eyewitness’ testimony.
During the Spanish religious persecution of 1936, the vice postulator noted, Brother Leopoldo was not exempt from calumnies and rejection: «He was insulted and threatened with death. He was stoned almost every day and once he escaped stoning because some men came to his defense.»
In 1953, he fell down some stairs and fractured his femur. When he was able to walk again, he had to use two canes. «He was able to give himself totally to God who was the sole passion of his life,» the priest stated.
Brother Leopoldo died on Feb. 9, 1956. «The news spread a rumor of grief that flowed to the humble convent,» wrote Brother Ángel de León in an article entitled «The Day Friar Leopoldo Died.»
Thousands of Granada’s inhabitants went to see his lifeless body. Brother Ángel recalled: «His crypt is witness of the silent flowing of infinite tears of gratitude. Tough men, hardened by life, narrate prodigies felt in their own flesh or that of loved ones.»
Thus Brother Leopoldo’s reputation of sanctity spread «as an oil stain, without any propaganda,» his vice postulator said.

The priest added that the Capuchin friar gave «witness of the mystery of the poor and crucified Christ by example, and word, by the humble and prayerful rhythm of daily life.»

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