Their epic undertaking has revolutionized the outreach of the friary itself and greatly enriched the community.
In Lonigo, in the province of Vicenza (northern Italy), the friary of the Friars Minor has been given new life.
The residence was among the properties to be “cut,” according to the provisions of the Franciscan Province to which it belongs, for logical reasons: buildings designed to house more than 150 men currently house merely 11.
However, three friars within the community have succeeded in an “epic undertaking,” revolutionizing the activities and functions of the friary itself. “While the number of friars has diminished,” Friar Sandro says, “today the protagonists are the lay volunteers, who are able to raise up again what was thought to be lost!”
The three “revolutionary” friars
The religious complex of San Daniel of the Order of Friars Minor in the town of Lonigo was saved in great part by three friars: the community’s current guardian, Friar Alessio, 46, from Naples; Friar Sandro, 42, from Turin; and Friar Flavio, 55, who is also an artist (his work is on display in new frescoes in public areas of the complex). The three of them, writes the Corriere della Sera, have brought a breath of fresh air to the convent and have managed to reverse the decision to close the friary.
The Order of Friars Minor has a long connection with Lonigo. Fr. Alessio told Lonigo News,
“As a community, we’ve been present here for centuries, with the desire to be close to the people. And the people feel this spirit of ours even today. So the fruits of today are the seeds planted centuries ago.”
Among those fruits are the many volunteers, who are giving back to the community that has served their families for generations. Fr. Alessio explains that they come “as an act of acknowledgement towards our community, remembering the help that the friars have given needy families in the area for decades. Today, we have the children of children who still come to us to say ‘thank you’ for how we sustained their families. And this moves us!”
“Perfetta Letizia” (“Perfect Joy”)
The friars began communicating via Facebook and Twitter, and streaming live liturgical broadcasts on YouTube. They enlarged the cafeteria for students and turned it into a pizzeria, “La Porziuncola,” a place of discussion and dialogue where visitors can taste the “friars’ pizza.” They transformed the former refectory into a café, giving life to the social cooperative “Perfetta Letizia” (“Perfect Joy”), attentive to the weakest and neediest of the region. Since 2017, the co-op has been managing the other buildings on the grounds of the Franciscan friars’ residence, once home to the seminary.
Many ways of serving the community
In addition, the “Osmolwski” house (named after one of the friars who lived in the community) was created, a project that offers welcome and safety to families and women in need. The friars’ farm, “Laudato si,” has been revived, transforming it into an educational environment. Fr. Alessio tells Lonigo News that “after years of absence, we’ve reintroduced domestic animals at the friary: a cow, donkeys, geese and ducks, pigs, sheep …” They also have a soup kitchen that serves dozens of meals a day.
And that’s not all…
“Tau House” and Franciscan Youth
There’s also “Tau House,” run by volunteers: a center for information and assistance to pilgrims, as well as a religious goods store. Not to mention the meetings of Franciscan Youth, a fraternity of young people from 18-30 years old who want to prepare for life by following the example of St. Francis and St. Clare. Lastly, there’s a sports field for boys.
The revolution of the Lonigo friars is a success! Perhaps it can serve as an inspiration and example for other communities in similar circumstances — and for a new generation of vocations to the religious life.