Called to be a Missionary
Before Jesus ascended into Heaven, He left the disciples with what is often called the Great Commission. Jesus told them, "All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Mt 28:18-20)
Sometimes, when we consider the Great Commission given by our Lord, we might tend to think of missionaries taking the Gospel to far flung places in distance corners from where we live. However, the call to take the Gospel to all nations includes our own backyards. The key might be to simply to submit to where the Lord has placed us and then fulfilling our calling in that place.
It Begins at Home
St. Francis di Geronimo (1642 - 1716) who was born near Naples, Italy desired to be sent to India or Japan as a missionary. Instead, he accepted as God's will through his superiors that the region of of his upbringing would be his mission field. And for over forty years, he served as a faithful apostle to the people of the Kingdom of Naples.
Francis was the eldest of eleven children born to his pious parents John Leonard di Girolamo and Gentilesca Gravina. They supported his call to the priesthood even as it was revealed early in his life. As a young man he showed academic and spiritual talents which they helped foster. To further his education, his parents sent Francis away to a Jesuit school in Taranto at the age of sixteen.
The archbishop of Taranto learned of Francis and helped guide him through the minor orders and to be ordained a priest with permission from the pope because he was younger than norm allowed at that time. As a young priest, he was assigned to teach at a Jesuit college for young men.
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Entering the Society of Jesus
After serving as an instructor for five years, Francis desired to enter the order of the Jesuits who had been so instrumental in his own education and formation. He was accepted into the order at the age of 28, and he began his novitiate.
One of his first assignments as part of his formation was to be sent to Leece with another priest to evangelize. Over the course of three years, the two priests helped bring about the conversion of many souls.
Francis was then recalled to Naples where he completed his course work, was professed, and was assigned to Gesu Nova parish. He began his ministry with the task to encourage the faithful to come to Holy Communion. This would involve going throughout the streets to meet people in the marketplace and in their homes and to encourage them to make a good confession and be sure to attend mass and receive our Lord in the Eucharist.
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Stay Home Young Man
Within a few years of beginning his parish work, Francis learned that the Jesuit mission to Japan was to be opened. In his zeal to serve as a missionary, he appealed to his superiors to be sent to Japan or India. The reply to his request was that Naples was to be his Japan and his India. Francis quickly submitted to this decision as the will of God and threw himself with even more energy into his ministry.
Over the next four decades, Francis would have a very active ministry of teaching his flock, administering the sacraments, evangelizing through outdoor preaching, and preaching missions throughout the region.
Francis is perhaps best known as an effective preacher. He would take his message directly to the town squares of villages throughout the region by standing on a small platform, presenting the Gospel, and making himself available for confession. Although he was competing with the sellers of goods and the entertainers, he would catch many fish with his nets as he would often see souls who had been away from the Church for decades come to repentance in the confessional.
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Serving the Soul and the Body
He helped improve the lives of the poor by assisting people in starting small businesses such as making rosaries and setting up a charity pawn shop. And he involved lay people in his work by organizing men into a group that would help him with the countless issues that arose as part of his ministry. They would often be the eyes and ears for him and helped bring to him many souls who needed to make a good confession. And they allowed the parish to reach many more people through their ministry of material needs.
Thus, for several decades, Francis worked in his local mission field and helped fulfill the words of Jesus to make disciples of all nations and teaching them to observe all that He commands. He would travel from village to village and town to town sharing the Good News, dispensing God's mercy through confession, and helping people grow in the virtues. The impact upon the region was profound. Even in his lifetime, he was considered the Apostle to Naples, and through his ministry, he impacted the lives of thousands as he faithfully served until his death at the age of seventy-four.
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Feast Day (Memorial): May 11th