Friar Francesco
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FRIAR Francesco (in photo), a Franciscan friar from the Basilica of St. Anthony, is a warm-hearted man who always has kind and encouraging words for anyone approaching him with their problems. One late afternoon, a couple of years ago, he was talking to a pilgrim in one of the Shrine’s cloisters when, out of the blue, two shady individuals walked up to him from behind and gave him a powerful blow on his back. It was an entirely unmotivated act of gratuitous violence. Friar Francesco fell to the ground, and the two men ran away with a mean, hearty laugh of satisfaction.

The friar was helped up by some bystanders, and soon began to experience unbearable pain. He was therefore taken to hospital, and an x-ray revealed that, besides a few broken ribs, the left shoulder was displaced and also fractured. From that moment Francesco’s life has become a sort of personal Calvary. So far he has had two operations, days and days of physiotherapy, and he will soon receive his third, and hopefully last, operation.

A few days after the attack, Francesco learned that the two thugs had been arrested on other charges, however he decided against aggravating their situation by denouncing them. He thought that revenge was not the answer.

I decide to recount this episode because a few days ago something vaguely similar occurred to an Italian parish priest in Genoa, the capital of the region of Liguria. Fr. Lorenzo, upon entering his home after celebrating Mass in the parish church, saw three men rummaging through his room, seizing any valuables they could find, including objects of sentimental value that had belonged to his departed parents.

Fr. Lorenzo walked into the room and started to reprimand the burglars. The three, however, unmoved by the priest’s words, started to attack him physically. At this point a violent confrontation ensued, and Fr. Lorenzo, a tall, sturdy former rugby player, actually managed to prevail over the three criminals, who finally fled the scene.

This episode was reported by all the major newspapers in Italy, with some journalists pointing out that Fr. Lorenzo’s behavior was not exactly in line with Jesus’ teachings.

“It’s true,” Fr. Lorenzo replies. “I should have turned the other cheek. This time I failed to follow Our Lord’s teachings to the letter. But when the three thieves, who were stealing objects of great sentimental value started attacking me, I was so angry that I was seized by a powerful discharge of adrenalin. However, I confronted them only with my bare hands and now, to make up for my moral failure, I will celebrate a Holy Mass on their behalf.”

In Matthew’s Gospel we read, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” This is certainly a very difficult precept to practice, however, in this particular case, perhaps the reaction of the parish priest may partly be forgiven. After all Fr. Lorenzo, who is much loved and respected by his parishioners, defended himself only with his bare hands, and finally allowed the three outlaws to flee without being arrested.

To answer violence with violence is, of course, against the teachings of the Gospels and morally unacceptable, but in this case, as underlined by Archbishop Emeritus Vincenzo Di Mauro, a former official of the Roman Curia, “Fr. Lorenzo was simply exercising the right to express his opinion. He said it with his hands instead of his lips, but maybe that was the only ‘language’ which could be understood by the three bad guys, for whom he also offered prayers.”


Updated on September 01 2017