Capuchin brother (1715-1787)
Felix – Giacomo Antonio Amoruso ‐ was born at Nicosia, Sicily, on 5thNovember 1715. He joined the Capuchin Franciscan Order on 10thOctober 1745. He was distinguished for his observance of the strictest poverty, heroic obedience and charity to the sick and to prisoners. He died at Nicosia on 17thMay 1787 and w a s beatiﬁed by Leo XIII on 12thFebruary 1888. He was canonised by Benedict XVI on 23rdOctober 2005.
It is well known that the first Capuchin saint, Felice da Cantalice, contributed in giving a particular tone of humility, poverty and joy to Capuchin holiness. For many lay friars he was almost an irreplaceable model. So it was for Giacomo Amoroso from Nicosia, in the fertile land of Sicily. At twenty eight he began his novitiate in the friary in Mistretta in 1743 and, as well as the name, took on the character and example of the holy brother who had been canonised about thirty years earlier. His vocational path, however, had not been easy, despite having spent his youth in a life of extraordinary virtue. His parents, Filippo Amoroso and Carmela Pirro, who welcomed him into the world on 5 November 1715, raised a large family in poor circumstances, but they were rich in the fear of God and solid Christian witness.
His father Filippo worked as a cobbler in a poorly lit cubby-hole and barely managed to get by. He wanted his son to become expert in this work. Consequently when as Giacomo came of age Filippo entrusted him to the most famous shoe-shop in the city. It had may workers and was managed by Giovanni Ciavarelli. Here Giacomo learned the trade well. As he sat in silence at his work table he managed to instil seriousness, respect and devotion among his other work colleagues. Although he was very young, with his keen faith he not only managed to be part not only of the pious society of Cappuccinelli connected to the friary of Nicosia, but was enrolled and therefore wore the cape of its members with a small Franciscan cowl. With relish he drank in Capuchin spirituality which he lived out in all his actions and during his work.
A witness, who had been his colleague in the shoe-shop, told how when Giacomo entered the work-shop “he used to take off his hat and then greet everyone, saying: ‘In every hour and every moment, may the Most Blessed Sacrament always be praised.’ He always had his head covered because he said that God is everywhere and it is necessary to stay in his presence with reverence, respect and veneration.” If someone teased him he usually replied, “Let it be for the love of God” – a refrain that would become the programme of his entire life. As a “cappuccinello”, when he heard the bell ring in the nearby Capuchin friary, he used to kneel down and pray and invite the others, “Compline is ringing. Servants of God, let us pray the holy rosary to the Blessed Virgin.”
He seemed born to become a Capuchin. But he had to wait many years yet. At eighteen years of age he knocked at the door of the friary, asking to be accepted as a lay friar since he was not educated. He always received a resounding refusal because the poverty of his family required the contribution of his work. However after his parents had died Giacomo asked again. This time he asked the new Capuchin provincial, Br. Bonaventure da Alcara, who was in Nicosia on visitation. (Br. Bonaventura first became Provincial minister in 1741.) Finally, after ten years of waiting, the “cappuccinello” could become a real Capuchin friar, with the name of Felice da Nicosia, determined to followed the same path of Felice da Cantalice, so much so that a number of coincidences occurred: novitiate at twenty eight years of age; professed at twenty nine years; questor for forty three years in place of his birth, Nicosia – like Saint Felice in Rome – and he died at seventy two years of age. A popular biography by Icilio Felici defined him as the “Bisaccia eroica.”
To follow the events of his life is a very easy task. After the novitiate year in Mistretta Brother Felice was sent to his Nicosia where he remained as questor for the rest of his life. In the city he became a well established presence of spirituality in the population, and was therefore untouchable. This explains his unusually long tenure in the friary of Colle in Nicosia, in contrast to the usual practice in the Order. He accepted every kind of work: questor, doorman, gardener, shoe-maker, nurse. He extended the range of his questing beyond the city of his birth to take in neighbouring such regions as Capizzi, Cerami, Gagliano, Mistretta and others. He walked from house to house, recollected and mortified – as one witness states – with the rosary in his hand and “his eyes shut tight as if he were within a cave, always in silence. When I looked at him he always seemed to be recollected in God.” The one expression that everyone had already learned was that of his joyful gratitude, “Let it be for the love of God.” In endearing terms he described himself as ‘the friary’s little donkey’ who after the questing came home with his load like the Sicilian carters.
Along the road he used to instruct the children in the catechism basics. To win their attention gave them bread and beans. In fact he had his own practical method. He took from his pockets little gifts for the hungry, bedraggled children: one nut, three nuts, five beans, ten chick peas – to remind the children about the one God in three persons, the five wounds of the crucified Jesus and God’s ten commandments. Little gifts and kindness made these little lessons in faith concrete. Like Felice da Cantalice on the streets of Rome, he also taught little songs composed on prayers, or the practice of the theological virtues.
When he met poor persons carrying wood or other heavy loads he used to offer his help. However, each suffering found a profound echo in his heart. He allowed himself no peace until he could do something for the needy. He was always already to serve the sick, day and night. Every Sunday he used to go to visit prisoners in jail and took them bread. His superior and confessor Br. Macario da Nicosia attested that Br. Felice “helped everyone, and as much as he could tried to put everything in order in things both spiritual and temporal. He kept bread and meat and other things to give to the needy. If obedience permitted, he would have taken it from his own mouth. He went here and there asking clothes and help from the well-off in order to clothe and help everyone. When he could not help he became quite anguished.”
His superior treated him harshly in the twenty three years that he was his spiritual director. Everyone knew about the reproaches and nicknames he used to humiliate Br. Felice: lazybones, hypocrite, people-cheater, fra Scuntentu. In reply to these harsh and crude terms came the well known refrain, “Let it be for the love of God.” Many times Brother Felice had to play the jester in the middle of the refectory with improvised carnival clothing. Once he had to pretend to distribute out very costly ricotta from a paste of ashes in a wicker basket on his head. Miraculously though it had become real, fresh ricotta, much to the amazement of the friars and the chagrin of the superior.
He was illiterate. His devotion was simple, his words were concrete rather than an intellectual. He was very devoted to the Eucharist, to Our Lady of Sorrows and to Jesus crucified. The sacristan of the Nicosia friary, Brother Francesco Gangi, remembered him this way, “He always told me and encouraged me to learn to do mental prayer, specially that based on passion of Jesus Christ. He told me that the one who meditates on and thinks about the passion of Jesus Christ will not suffer the pains of hell. And he told me this with such heartfelt fervour that he was weeping. Because of my task as sacristan I often had occasion to meet him. Weeping, he would embrace me and told me to pray over the passion of Jesus Christ.”
An account of the numerous facts and anecdotes that flourished like a legend during his life would be endless. However there is one aspect not to be overlooked: his popular, candid faith. As an infallible remedy for every evil he used his “polize” of Our Lady, cut strips of paper printed with devout invocations to the Blessed Virgin written in both Sicilian and Latin. He always had some with him and often distributed them. He hung them on the doors of houses where there were sick or poor people or on the barrels from which he received an alms of wine. He threw them into a fire that had attacked sheaths waiting for threshing, or into some grain blackened by natural disaster, or in to a dry, cracked cistern. Many graces and miracles flourished, often real pranks of Providence.
Finally relieved of every responsibility, with is his physical state already reduced by extreme penance and mortification, he was always available for any kind of service, especially towards the sick in the friary infirmary. While his strength declined in the languor of his seventy two years, his focus on God increased along with his happy and simple obedience. If it can be said that Saint Francis had become the personification of prayer, it may be said that Brother Felice embodied obedience as an act of pure love. This was his ultimate and unique message. At the end of May 1787, ‘u sciccareddu – the little donkey of the friary, having gone down to the cloister to tend to the medicinal herbs that he cultivated for the sick, he collapsed weak onto the flowerbed. In his little bed, having received the sacraments and commending himself to the “mani ‘nchiuvati” (nailed hands), that is, Father Saint Francis, he often invoked Our Lady. On Friday 31 May he asked his superior obedience to die. He received permission after his third request. Radiant in his happy smile, with his last breath he said, “Let it be for the love of God.” Then bowing his head, Borther Felice died.
The Capuchin Order initiated his cause of beatification on 10 July 1828. The apostolic process in Nicosia concluded on 12 July 1848. Pius XI proclaimed his heroic virtue on 4 March 1862. Leo XIII declared him blessed on 12 February 1888. In 1864, after the suppression of the friary in Nicosia, his body taken to the Cathedral in May 1885 and to the new Capuchin church in 1895.
Translation based on article by Costanzo Cargnoni in Sulle orme dei santi, Rome, 2000, p. 95-102
From the Writings of St Bonaventure
St Bonaventure, Opera Omnia, t. VIII, pages 491-492
Shoulder my yoke and your souls will find rest
“Come to me, you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest”. Lord, whom do you need? Why are you calling? What have you in common with us? Truly, Yours is the voice of mercy: “Come to me”, it says, “and I will give you rest”.
How truly wondrous is the condescension of our God, how inexpressible His love! Who has ever done such a thing before? “Who ever heard of such a thing, and who ever saw anything like this?” See, he invites his enemies, exhorts the guilty, and attracts the ungrateful. “Come”, he says “and learn from me. Shoulder my yoke and you will ﬁnd rest for your souls”.
0 sweet and gentle words that bring the life of God, “that cut more ﬁnely than a two‐edged sword” melting us to the core, their overﬂowing sweetness touching the point where soul is divided from spirit!
Awake, then, Christian soul, to the love that is shown in such great kindness, awake to taste its sweetness, to breathe in its perfume. If anyone is insensitive to these things he is ill, he is in exile, he is surely close to death. Be aflame, my soul, I beg you, feast on the sweet mercy and gentleness of your God, on the love of your Spouse, burn with the warmth of your Beloved, feed on his love and relish his sweetness, let no-one prevent you from entering, from holding him and tasting him. What else is there for us to wait for, what more can we desire? In this one thing alone every good thing is ours . But alas for our amazing madness! Our wretched inﬁrmity! Our detestable foolishness! For we are called to rest and we chase after toil, we are offered refreshment yet look for sorrow, we are promised joy and we seek out suffering. What truly miserable inﬁrmity, what most wretched perversity!
In fact it is as if we had become numb and almost worse than idols, for we have eyes that do not see, ears cannot hear, minds that do not reason, and “we substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter”.
0 God, whence comes the correction for Such great perversity? Whence the satisfaction for so great an offence? Nothing like it, for sure, can be found in us, unless you grant it as a gift.
Indeed, you alone can correct us, you alone can make satisfaction for our sins, you alone know what we are made of, you. our salvation and redemption, and this you do only for those who, seeing how low they are cost down in misery, trust in you alone to raise them.
Let us then raise the eyes of our mind to God directly and see where we now lie prostrate, because no-one bothers to stand up if he does not even know he has fallen. But we do know, so “let us cry aloud to God from the depths” to stretch out to us the helping hand of his mercy, that hand which “is not too short to save”.
We must not lose our confidence, “since the reward is so great”. “Let us be confident in approaching the throne of grace”, “sure of the end to which our faith looks forward, that is, the salvation of our souls”.
Let us waste no time, for life is calling, salvation is waiting, tribulation spurs us on “to reach that place of rest”, the abode of eternal joy, the home of “great things past all reckoning, marvels beyond all counting”. “Let Jerusalem be in our minds”, let us long for our homeland, let us year for our mother above: “Let us come in the powers of the Lord” and gaze upon our King, who reigns in meekness over her, our hearts melting in his mercies.
you recognise the humility
of your servant Saint Felix of Nicosia
and revealed to him
the mysteries of your Kingdom;
listen to your beloved Son, meek and humble of heart,
that we may be counted among the little ones of the Gospel
and radiate throughout the world
the light of your wisdom.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever. Amen.