Monday, January 4, 2021

The Passing of Brother Vincenzo D'Elpidio, the Friar Seeker, Sower of Hope

Brother Vincenzo in front of Statue of Saint Padre Pio

by Antonio Bini

In the friary of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows at  Pescara, following a short illness, the industrious earthly life of Brother Vincenzo D'ElpidIo has come to an end. A popular and much-beloved figure, Brother Vincenzo was a gentle giant, in size, as well as in his extraordinary generosity and above all in his ability to listen, comfort and encourage the many suffering people who came to him each day from all over Italy and also from abroad, as demonstrated by the article published by the German Catholic agency CNA - Catholic News Agency, by Dirk Weisbrod , which tells of his encounter with the friar who is considered among the last heirs of Padre Pio. The Life and Death of Vincenzo D'Elpidio

I met Brother Vincenzo almost twenty years ago, at the beginning of my research focused on studying the figure of Padre Domenico da Cese and his relationship with the Holy Face and with Padre Pio. It goes without saying that, for Brother Vincenzo, the authenticity of the Holy Face, as for his friend Padre Domenico, was beyond dispute.

Servant of God Padre Domenico da Cese, Apostle of the Holy Face

I then wrote a first article in 2005 in which I drew attention to Brother Vincenzo’s testimony regarding Padre Domenico. Over the years our meetings became frequent. He was happy with my commitment, if I didn't come to visit or if he didn’t hear from  me, he would call me on the telephone. I felt his affection, he gave suggestions, he explained singular episodes of the life of Padre Domenico, of his own relationship with Padre Pio that then appeared in an article published in a national weekly. On that occasion he had even asked me to assist him in his meeting with the journalist.  I updated him on the spread of devotion to the Holy Face and the interest in Padre Domenico, to whom he had been a brotherly friend and later an extraordinary advocate for his cause for beatification to which he was strongly committed, having begun this work ten years after Padre Domenico’s death, which took place on September 17, 1978 in Turin, where he had gone to witness the exhibition of the Holy Shroud. Padre Domenico appeared in a dream to Brother Vincenzo imploring him to honor the request of so many devotees who had sent him money – as was used in the past  – for the celebration of  Masses. Brother Vincenzo went to the Shrine of the Holy Face where he verified the existence of two large boxes containing numerous letters still unopened addressed to the deceased Capuchin. He opened them, left the money with the religious superior, had some Masses celebrated, and asked permission to consult the letters which told of extraordinary facts or simple requests for help from Padre Domenico. 

Br. Vincenzo leading devotees of Padre Domenico in prayer at the Shrine of the Holy Face

Starting with this documentation he began, together with Bruno Sammaciccia, scholar of the Holy Face and friend of Padre Domenico, the search for contacts and  further testimonies that then became fundamental for the start of the beatification process,  while not lacking difficulties to overcome due to the hostility of some skeptical confreres who could be counted at most on the fingers of one hand compared to those of the entire Province of the Capuchins of Abruzzo. The work continued in the following years with the collaboration of Padre Domenico's niece, Caterina Petracca, together with her husband Franco Di Lorenzo, who died a few years ago, until the Capuchin Order made the decision to propose to the Archbishop of Chieti, Mons. Bruno Forte, the formal start of the beatification process, with the first phase ending in March 2015 with the granting of the go-ahead (“nulla osta”) from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.  Since that time Padre Domenico has the title of  Servant of God.

Br. Vincenzo with author Paul Badde filming EWTN documentary
on the life of Padre Domenico da Cese  --

Brother Vincenzo foresaw his death. Last February he asked me to help him write his farewell message to the vast community of people who knew him, and who had been following him for many years. He was having difficulty with his right shoulder which he had fractured a few months earlier. I wrote down his thoughts. Then at home I transcribed the text to the computer. He told me to print two copies and  then he signed them both, keeping one – which in the following days he entrusted to the superior of the Friary – and asked me to keep the other which I should disseminate in case – for whatever reason – the Father Guardian did not, being his deep desire to reach the many people whom he had known over time. In September, contrary to previous years, not feeling very well, he wanted to entrust me with his message of greeting to the devotees of Padre Domenico gathered on  September 20 in Manoppello, on the occasion of the 42nd anniversary of the death of the Servant of God. On that occasion, Father Carmine Cucinelli, then rector of the Shrine of the Holy Face, asked me to read the message at the beginning of Mass, aware of the importance that Brother Vincenzo had for so many devotees of Padre Domenico da Cese who were waiting for Brother Vincenzo’s presence.

But getting back to his farewell message. Brother Vincenzo managed to summarize in a few simple sentences the essence of his long religious life, inspired by the poor man of Assisi, with the memory of Padre Pio, who at the beginning of the 1960’s strongly advised him to stay in Pescara, among the people, instead of choosing the cloistered life. Padre Pio was not wrong. As a friar seeking alms, among the people, in the villages and the countryside he had the opportunity to get in touch with many people becoming very well known as the "friar seeker" ("frate cercatore") a figure linked above all to the world of the small farmer. He went about first, on foot, then in a horse drawn buggy and finally in a Piaggio Ape (small three wheeled vehicle) with the words “pace e bene” (peace and good) written on the front.   (see

Significant his reference to Padre Domenico da Cese, in stating that he followed over the years " the teaching of various confreres and in particular that of the Servant of God Padre Domenico da Cese, of the Shrine of the Holy Face. For me he was an extraordinary example of dedication to the Church and of tireless attention to others, whom he welcomed from morning to night, listened to, comforted and invited to prayer and to live in the faith of the Lord." He writes above all that he felt " close to him in the years after his death "so much so that "some people, who were Padre Domenico’s spiritual children, felt they glimpsed in me something of His figure, even from the physical point of view". Then with his usual humility he acknowledges that he is "only a poor friar, not worthy of being compared to the Servant of God."

Br. Vincenzo at Annual Celebration of Padre Domenico at the Shrine of the Holy Face

Yet that "closeness" which Brother Vincenzo describes, was truly perceived in everyday reality by many who felt him to be in continuity with the Servant of God. This was the case for the associations of the Holy Face of Ruvo di Puglia and of Andria – formed by Sister Amalia Di Rella, spiritual daughter of Padre Domenico da Cese. Apart from physical similarities, there was no lack of common charisms. As his age advanced Brother Vincenzo's activity as "seeker" had become much less frequent so that he  could devote himself more to listening to needy or despairing people who turned to him, even if simply for advice or a word of hope. In 1979 the then Archbishop of Pescara Mons. Antonio Iannucci granted him the power of special minister of the Eucharist and authorized him to give a blessing. On Saturdays and Sundays he received many people in the Shrine who lined up to talk to him. In many cases he hugged them, clutching them at length praying, even imposing his hands on their head.  At times I saw him embrace entire  nuclear families. Many felt something mysterious.  One had the impression of receiving positive energy,  but also affectionate attention, with liberation from anxieties and worries. This all took place publicly. There were numerous people who regained peace and serenity, while others regained their faith.

In recent years, spending most of his time in his room, he received many phone calls from people from all over Italy and even from abroad asking for his blessing. In the friary he had his own telephone line, which callers would  rarely find without a busy signal. Since the beginning of November, the growing number of telephone calls from many people worried about not receiving answers –since Brother Vincenzo was being cared for in the friary infirmary – had led the friars to deactivate the telephone line.

At the end of his Funeral Mass, Brother Vincenzo’s message of farewell was read, to great emotion, by the superior of the Shrine Father Franco Nanni. Many people occupied the large space outside the friary following the anti-Covid restrictions. Assisting in keeping order during the service were members of the Prayer Groups of Padre Pio, who at the Shrine have as their guide Father Guglielmo Alimonti, who was close to Padre Pio.

A long heartfelt applause accompanied the conclusion of the reading, with many people in tears. It is certainly no coincidence that the newspaper Il Messaggero, in reporting news of the death of Brother Vincenzo, had written of "sorrow to the Hills” ("dolore ai Colli"), alluding to the populous district in which the Shrine is present. 

During Mass, the presider Father Matteo Siro, who since last July has been leading the province of the Capuchins of Abruzzo, Lazio, and Umbria, highlighted the  uncommon human and religious qualities of the friar who "made Jesus and his gospel approachable", with many people  "having found in him a welcoming heart who knew how to lift up the most heartbroken souls, the most disintegrated families, the poor and also many pregnant women who in their hearts had decided to have an abortion". But with "simple evangelical and persuasive words Brother Vincenzo convinced them to welcome the life that was in them", as confirmed by several testimonies. It is not to be excluded that some of these saved lives were present, blending in among the crowd, which also included many young people.

The action of the good friar also continued in the case of poor families, providing them material aid when possible. In fact, his "questua" (seeking) represented a basic means of social distribution for the local community, collecting offerings of money, oil, wine, wheat, and food -  which were needed to support the Friary and the minor seminary (when it was active)  -  Brother Vincenzo had the opportunity to generously redistribute what was collected in favor of those in need. In various circumstances he also made many boys feel his concern and advice. For this intense activity in 2008 he received public recognition with the award  "Socially useful men", as part of an event organized at the Massimo theater in Pescara.

Brother Vincenzo Sabatino D'Elpidio was born in Guardia Vomano, in the province of Teramo, on February 16, 1932. In 1952, after listening to a preacher who had come to his town- Father Pio Palandrani da Mosciano Sant'Angelo - he made the decision to follow his example, entering the Capuchin friary of Sulmona. Unfortunately, his desire to study and become a priest could not be fulfilled for reasons of age, having limited his studies to the attendance of elementary school only.  They advised him to remain as a religious brother, telling him that he could "become a saint rather than a priest". But this perspective was not easy for Brother Vincenzo to accept at first, though he devoted himself to the personal deepening of his ascetic knowledge and that of doctrinal scriptures, with the constant desire to do better and work for his own salvation and that of the souls to whom he would minister. His limited culture was largely compensated for by his extraordinary faith, so much so that Father Carmine Ranieri, who in recent years was provincial of the Capuchins of Abruzzo, learning the news of his passing, described him as "a man of rock solid faith and great energy which flowed from his physical might."

After nine months they sent him to the Friary of Penne, where he began the novitiate, making his simple profession on February 13, 1954. In early 1960 he was assigned to the Friary of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows where he remained until his death. It was back then a rural area above the hill, with few houses around the friary, which over the years the friar saw grow disproportionately until it became a city within the city.  For years he carried out the tasks of seeker of alms ("questuante"), cook, farmer, wine maker, sacristan, all which kept him busy from morning to night, even neglecting his health and never losing his simplicity and his proverbial good mood.

Br. Vincenzo with Paul and Ellen Badde

Also the German writer and journalist Paul Badde, author of "Face of God" (history of the Holy Face of Manoppello), at the news of Brother Vincenzo and  seeing the images with the immense crowd present at the funeral despite the health restrictions, wrote to me " He was a saint indeed. No one will take his place." 

Br. Vincenzo and Antonio Bini

My last meeting with Brother Vincenzo took place on October 23rd.  At that time he asked me to personally take care of the reprinting of the book containing his testimonies regarding Padre Domenico da Cese, which he himself had provided in previous years,  distributing them  free of charge. Even this last circumstance allows me to conclude by stating that these two  friars  - exemplary expressions of the most authentic Franciscan charism  - today seem to resume a common path, also in the popular imagination of very many people.



Sr. Petra-Maria Steiner presenting Br. Vincenzo with copies of her book  Servant of God, Padre Domenico Da Cese, O.F.M. Capuchin, An Illustrated Biography   





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