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Catholic Heroes . . . St. Crispin Of Viterbo

May 17, 2016 saints No Comments


In March 1986, Pope John Paul II visited the Basilica of Our Lady of the Vine (Oak) located in Tuscany, Italy, to proclaim our Lady patroness of the Diocese of Viterbo. The tradition of visiting the image of Our Lady of the Oak began 600 years ago in 1417 when Mastro Baptist Magnano Iuzzante commissioned an image of our Lady to be painted on a tile which he placed near an oak tree at the edge of his vineyard.
Over time many travelers stopped to admire and pray by the image. Whenever someone tried to steal the image, it would miraculously reappear at the foot of the oak tree. In 1467 as the plague raged through Viterbo, 30,000 people gathered at the image to pray for our Lady’s intercession to stop the plague. With prayers answered, 40,000 people gathered at the same image to give thanks that the spread of the plague had stopped.
Over the years many saints have visited the image in addition to Pope St. John Paul II, such as St. Charles Borromeo, St. Paul of the Cross, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and St. Crispin of Viterbo.
On November 13, 1668 in Viterbo, Marcia Antoni, a widow who had married Ubald Fioretti, gave birth to Pietro, who would later take the name of Crispin. She and her husband Ubald took the infant boy to St. John the Baptist Church two days later to have him baptized. When Pietro was still very young, his father died, leaving Marcia a widow once again.
Pietro’s Uncle Francis then accepted responsibility for the boy’s education and enrolled him in a Jesuit school. He also took him on as an apprentice, teaching him the trade of making shoes.
Meanwhile Marcia took Pietro to visit many Marian shrines around Viterbo. One day she took her son to the church of Our Lady of the Oak, and when she stood him in front of the statue of Mary, she told him, “See! She is your Mother and your Lady; in the future, love her as your Mother and your Lady!”
This event left a lasting impression on young Pietro. From that moment on Pietro would build altars wherever he went and decorate them with the “fairest flowers.” Then another event affected Pietro so deeply that he wanted to become a religious.
This second significant event occurred when he witnessed a penitential procession for the intention of an end to a drought in Orvieto, located 30 miles north of Viterbo. Taking part in this procession were some novices from the Palanzana Capuchin novitiate. From the moment that he saw them in the procession, Pietro decided that he wanted to be a Capuchin brother.
Before returning to his home, Pietro met with the Roman provincial minister of the Capuchins who immediately approved of the 25-year-old Pietro’s desire to join the order. He was just as eager to have Pietro join them as Pietro was. However, like many saints who longed to become religious brothers or sisters, Pietro’s family objected — especially his mother.
Pietro reminded his mother of their visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Oak and what she had told him those many years ago. Although his mother finally relented and gave him permission to join the order, the master of the Capuchin Friars Minor was against accepting Pietro. He thought the lifestyle of the Capuchins would be too rigorous for someone with such frail health.
The master allowed Pietro to stay only if he did so as a guest. Then the provincial minister ordered the master of novices to accept Pietro into the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor. On July 22, 1693, when Pietro took the habit of investiture, he also took the name Crispin. He chose that name in honor of his Uncle Francis, since St. Crispin had also been a cobbler. He took his final profession of vows on May 22, 1694.
Crispin’s first assignment was as cook in a monastery at Tolfa, about 50 miles northwest of Rome. In addition, he served as an infirmarian, and, through the intercession of Mary, many of his patients were miraculously cured in the provinces of Rome, Monterotondo, and Albano when he was assigned to those places. These cures were not only physical, but also were spiritual.
When caring for one ill man, Crispin asked him, “Sir, you want the Blessed Virgin to cure you, but tell me, he who offends the Son, does he not also grieve the Mother? True veneration of the Blessed Virgin consists in not offending her divine Son in any way.” After hearing these words the man wept in sorrow, repented of having offended our Lord, and promised to change his habits.
In 1709, Brother Crispin went to Orvieto as quester — or beggar. His new responsibility was to go out into the world and beg for alms. Soon Brother Crispin won many friends with holiness, cheerfulness, and willingness to help people from all walks of life. He not only begged for the needs of the monastery, but he also collected food, clothing, and alms for the poor and homeless. In addition, he ministered to victims of the plague.
His possessed a pleasant demeanor, he had ready conversation for all people, and if anyone stopped him in the street, he would patiently listen to their words. He was both loquacious and gregarious when begging in the world, but once he returned to the friary the brothers rarely heard him say a word as he focused all his attention in being recollected and prayerful.
Brother Crispin was also obedient in all things as long as they did not go against the rule of the Capuchins. He was kind to all persons, even his persecutors. His love of others also included gentle and loving correction. Once he urged another brother, “Peasant, if you want to save your soul, you must observe these three things: Love everyone, speak well of everyone, and do good to everyone.”
As a Capuchin, Brother Crispin was diligent in maintaining the balance of contemplative prayer and apostolic activity. After a long day of begging in the streets of Orvieto, he would return to the friary and immediately would go to Mary’s altar where he would place flowers on her altar and sing her praises.
At night, when it came time to pray matins, he would join the brothers in choir, even though he had been dispensed from attending because of his exhaustion. Inevitably he was the first to arrive in the chapel and the last to leave.
In early May 1750, Brother Crispin became seriously ill and was moved to Rome where he died on May 19. His feast is on May 23. He was the first saint to be canonized by Pope St. John Paul II.
Dear St. Crispin, with your loving devotion to Mary, you cheerfully accepted whatever challenges came your way and ministered to those in need. Help us to love Mary more and more and, by her intercession, help us to attend to those in need regardless of who they are and what they need. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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