On Friday 13 August 2021 the universal Church celebrated the feast of the famous Capuchin priest Blessed Marco d’Aviano.
Marco was born precisely in Aviano, both a town and comune in the province of Pordenone at the foot of the Dolomites mountain range in Fiuli-Venezia Giulia, in northern Italy, on November 17, 1631. Cristofori and Rosa Zanoni were his parents. His name of baptism was Carlo Domenico. After he received his primitive education from a local teacher, Marco passed on to the Jesuit college in Gorizia. His life story portrays him as being reserved and a dreamer too since fantasy led him. In fact, one day, as the students returned from a walk, Marco went missing at the roll-call. Following days of continuous walking and deadly tired, he knocked at the door of the Capuchins in Capodistria (Koper). Marco’s youthful crisis was solved with his call from God to become a Capuchin. On November 21, 1648 he received the Capuchin habit in the novitiate at Conegliano with the name Marco.
His Capuchin itinerary was not rosy at all. As a matter of fact Marco had to face great difficulties. At first his superiors found it difficult to admit him to studies. However, the Capuchin General Minister of the time, Fortunato da Cadore, intuited that it was wise to admit the young Marco to more education. Marco was ordained to the priesthood on September 18, 1655. Immediately he gave himself for the preaching ministry although not without some worry. He was appointed superior of the Belluno friary in 1670. He was also guardian of Oderzo in 1672. Nonetheless, the weight of responsibility was surely a hindrance for his desire to lead a life of solitude and prayer. Hence, the superiors complied to his wish and had him transferred to Padua. It was in this city that under obedience Marco had to deliver a panegyric. Thanks to this event he was made known to a huge crowd in this city of great learning. This episode was for Marco an extraordinary sign.
In fact, just from that moment onwards Marco’s life espoused an extreme rhythm of life. The intensity of his new life pushed Marco along the streets not merely of the Veneto but also all over Europe. Marco’s preaching ministry and journeys were notable by an ever increasing fame of being a wonder-worker. There are many private and diplomatic reports which extoll this God-given charism in him. There were others who certainly understood these phenomena as reminiscent of fanaticism. In the midst of such fame Marco wisely fled from these honors and instead hid himself in a life of austerity and great mercy. The times he acted on behalf of the poor and the sick Marco made use of a special blessing which was well-known with the people. This put him into some discomfort with church authorities.
His apostolic charism made him famous. Thus, in 1680 he led the first preaching journey starting from Tyrol, Bavaria, Salzburg as well as other Austrian cities. In Linz he met Emperor Leopold I. His relationship with Leopold I was to bear an eminent influence on political life of those days. Even if he had a complex character and was to be at the helm of the empire for some forty years, Leopold I trusted this zealous Capuchin so much so that he was to him a confidant and advisor. One can account for their strong friendship thanks to the lengthy correspondence they maintained with each other. As he left Vienna Marco went to Neuberg where he worked another big sign.
Upon his arrival on the Venetian territory Marco started another journey the subsequent spring. This new journey took him to Flanders together with France. Louis XIV was not happy at all with Marco’s presence in his territory. With the blatant excuse of bureaucratic reasons he did not give permission to the Capuchin to travel through Paris. Louis XIV was so afraid of him that he had Marco accompanied to the border in a very unpleasant way. As the mission of Marco in Flanders was over he returned to Italy, this time passing from Germany and Switzerland. Following repeated calls from the king of Spain, the Pope desired that Marco go to Spain. Since he suffered from sea-sickness Marco tried to obtain a permission through southern France. Louis denied him the permission decisively.
God’s ways are mysterious. Thus, events brought Marco to Vienna and had him prepared for the great and distinctive mission which characterized the second part of his life, in other words the struggle against the Turks. The latter managed to besiege Vienna. Supported by Pope Innocent XI Marco went to the imperial camp. There he exhorted the disinherited army and reunited opposing factions. His encouraging words inspired the soldiers and the brave Jan Sobieksi, with the adamant plea to divine help. Vienna was liberated in 1683. In his correspondence with the Pope Marco admitted that the liberation took place “by a miracle”. Marco continued to persuade at the point of pinpointing strategies. Thanks to his determination he could see the final victory of the invader in Europe at the battles of Budapest (1684.1686), Neuhàusel (1685), Mohacz (1687) and Belgrade (1688), and finally the Karlowitz (1689). In 1684 he persuaded Venice to participate in the Holy League.
When the military campaigns ceased, Marco worked tirelessly to form people’s conscience, combatting sin, forging peace and unity as well as rejecting the ploys of official politics and repelling the strategies to which he felt exposed to, at times even on the part of papal diplomacy itself.
In 1699 he left for the last journey to Vienna. Marco knew that this time it was simply enough. He said: “I can’t do this again but the Pope has given his command”. His great fatigue due to a tumor that was practically consuming him from within put him to bed on 25 July and on August 13 he died. At his bedside there was none other than Emperor Leopold I. After a solemn funeral was celebrated his body was put to rest. Four years after he died, precisely in 1703, his remains were taken to the Capuchin crypt in Vienna next to the imperial tombs. In art Marco is depicted preaching. The Polish painter Matejko, in a famous painting of his that is conserved in the Pinacoteca Vaticana, represented Marco as triumphant on a horse behind Jan Sobieski following the liberation of Vienna.
It was in 1891 wherein his beatification process started both in Vienna and Venice and was terminated in 1904. Pius X introduced the apostolic process which closed in Vienna and Venice in 1920. The Positio Storica was prepared in 1966. In 1990 the Postulatio of his heroic virtue was examined and approved in 1991. Pope John Paul II declared him blessed on 27 April 2003.
During the beatification of Marco d’Aviano, which occurred on Divine Mercy Sunday of April 27, 2003, Pope St John Paul II said this about this great Capuchin:
In a different time and context, Bl Mark of Aviano shone with holiness as his soul burned with a longing for prayer, silence and adoration of God’s mystery. This contemplative who journeyed along the highways of Europe was the centre of a wide-reaching spiritual renewal, thanks to his courageous preaching that was accompanied by numerous miracles. An unarmed prophet of divine mercy, he was impelled by circumstances to be actively committed to defending the freedom and unity of Christian Europe. Bl. Mark of Aviano reminds the European continent, opening up in these years to new prospects of cooperation, that its unity will be sounder if it is based on its common Christian roots (no.4).
Let us now taste some of Marco’s preaching, namely taken from the Flames of divine love, the 11th Colloquy of the heart:
0 my God, wonderful among your faithful ones, I do not deny that, were you to weigh my countless misdeeds in the scales of your justice, I could scarcely expect any other fate than to be cast into the pit of eternal darkness. But you, Lord, have other plans, and your mercy so far outweighs my sin as to put your just anger in the last place of all!
I used to boast of being your enemy, but you not only pardoned all my sins, you counted me as one of your sons and even promised and prepared an inheritance for me in the kingdom of heaven ‐ surely divine generosity to excess! This is why joy overﬂows like a river in my heart and it can say nothing except express gratitude and thanksgiving to you, my God.
My soul wants to share these sentiments and make them known in every way to all creatures made in God’s image, so that each may cry out with a loud voice: “Oh God, may you be praised, thanked, loved, and gloriﬁed”.
But what is this, compared with your magnanimity and mercy? Although eternity cannot be circumscribed or limited in any way, the weight of my obedience will similarly require every moment of my life to be an expression of praise and thanksgiving multiplied thousands and thousands of times, and that all those who, like me, are awaiting the eternity of heaven, can be called to subject themselves to you as sons for ever, so that the impossible may become possible, and strength be drawn from weakness, and that all may ﬁnd their fulfillment in loving you and giving you thanks.
O God, Father of mercies, you made Blessed Mark, your priest, an outstanding herald of conversion and an apostle of communion. Through his intercession and example may we promote effectively the peace which Christ has given us. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.