Saint Annibale Maria di Francia
Apostle of the Divine Will
“When I have completed everything, I will entrust my kingdom to my ministers so that as second apostles they will be Its heralds. Do you believe it is coincidental the visit of Fr. di Francia, who has shown so much interest in the publication of everything concerning My Will? No, no, I have arranged it; it is a providential act of the Supreme Will that wants him as first apostle and herald of the Divine Fiat. As founder of a work it is easier for him to approach bishops, priests and people, and also in his own institute, announce the Kingdom of my Will. For that reason I assist him so much and I give him special light, because to understand a Divine Will, Holy and Eternal, great graces and not a small light but a sun, are needed, as well as great disposition from the one to whom this office is conferred.” (Jesus to the Servant of God Luisa Piccarreta. Volume 20 – November 6, 1926).
The teachings that our Lord gave to Luisa on the Divine Will gave a new characteristic to Father Annibale’s spirituality, which completely transformed his interior life. And so, we can truly say he was one of the first sons of the Divine Will and consequently one of the first apostles of the Divine Will.
Father Annibale met Luisa around the year 1910. For seventeen years, their spiritual friendship grew ever stronger, as we will see, until the day of his birth into heaven on June 1, 1927, which is the day Pope John Paul II selected for his liturgical feast day.
Many times he would go to Luisa’s house; as he was her extraordinary confessor. In his last years, the Archbishop of Trani appointed him director over everything referring to the publication of Luisa’s writings. He was named ecclesiastical censor for the Archdiocese of Trani-Barletta-Bisceglie as well.
He was also the first to begin publishing Luisa’s writings, the first of which was “The Hours of The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ,” which she wrote around the year 1913 or 1914. Saint Annibale made four editions of this book (1915, 1916, 1917 and 1921), all bearing the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur .
Cover of the book «L’Orologio de la Passione di Nostro Signore Gezu Cristo»,
which was the first edition published by Saint Fr. Annibale Maria di Francia in 1915,
translated into Englesh as «The hours of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ».
Among the documents that we have regarding Saint Annibale, there are various letters written by him to Luisa during the last two years of his life (1925-1927). We have selected a few paragraphs to show how the Divine Will made its way in his soul.
In all of his letters, Father Annibale clearly reflects how the Divine Will has come to be the center of his life, of his spirituality, and of his only reason for existence. Here are some paragraphs illustrating this.
« In my current morning meditations- he writes- besides the Hours of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, I am carefully reading and meditating on two or three chapters of your writings on the Divine Will, and the impressions I get are intimate and profound. I see a sublime and divine science in them, although I have not yet been able to penetrate them thoroughly, for my lack of intelligence. It is really necessary to make these writings known to the world now, and I believe they will do a great deal of good. This science of the Divine Will is lofty, and yet these writings dictated by heaven present the doctrine in all its purity and clearness. According to me, there is no human intelligence that could have conceived them. ».
« I continue to read your writings: They are always sublime revelations, with illustrations worthy of the divine Creator, as for example, the comparison of the heartbeat to the one act of the divine Fiat ».
When we say that the Divine Will changed his whole spirituality and his whole life, both interiorly as well as exteriorly, we aren’t saying this as our point of view. No. He himself says it in his own words. And the next paragraph makes it clear just how far the Divine Will wants to go in the souls where it wants to reign.
« I want you to know that since I have totally dedicated myself to the great work of the Divine Will, I practically don’t concern myself at all with my institutes. I talk about it with spiritual people, I keep to this point with those who are able to listen and I promote it as much as I can, even in my institutes… »
As Father Annibale penetrated into Luisa’s spirituality, he came to realize just how necessary it was to make known to the world all the writings on the Divine Will that our Lord made her record, to accelerate the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth, and so that the Divine Will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. In fact, he was providentially appointed not only spiritual director in all matters concerning her writings and their publication, but their ecclesiastical censor as well, as we see by what follows:
« His Excellency, the Archbishop, has given me authority over you regarding your writings and their publication, in other words, to direct you and to see to the publication of your writings. His Excellency, said, “I believe it is the right thing to do.” These faculties cover everything you have written up to this point, and all that you write in the future.
The Archbishop was pleased to put so much trust in me for this work- which is something that Jesus himself has disposed- that he named me Ecclesiastic Reviewer for all the publications of his three dioceses. And he even went so far as to get involved, by giving his authoritative Imprimatur after my Nihil Obstat.
With all this you can clearly comprehend how everything has been Will of God, and that in all things concerning your writings, both present and future, you are subject to my exclusive obedience. »
So, realizing all the importance of these writings of Heaven, he imposes an even harder obedience on Luisa, more severe than that, which her confessors, whom she had always faithfully obeyed, had given her before. Father Annibale writes:
« While reading your writings over the last few days, my attention was caught by the fact that there is a notable time span between one chapter and the next. At times, you go ten to fifteen days without writing. And I asked myself: Is it possible that in these long intervals nothing has transpired between Jesus and the soul? Have his communications stopped for such a long time? Is there nothing to relate from these periods? Who knows how many things the soul is keeping quiet about! And while thinking about this, I happened to find myself at the chapter of May 4, 1906, of volume seven, and I read these words that Jesus says to you:
“My daughter, I want you to be more precise, more exact. I want you to manifest everything when you are writing, because you pass over many things. They serve for you even though you don’t write them, but many things that you omit should serve for others.” »
«Father Annibale writes – in view of the Divine Will which is being manifested here and which has often manifested itself in the same way, in Jesus’s name and by the authority that has been conferred upon me by your ecclesiastical superior, I give you the absolute and rigorous obedience to write each day, each night, each time with total precision, everything that happens between you and Jesus, even the most intimate things. Note very well, that you must write exactly not only the words Jesus tells you, but also the infused lights, which includes those things He makes you understand without speaking to you…»
« For the sake of your peace of conscience, I want to tell you that the obedience to write everything is not under pain of mortal sin. It is given, just to please adorable Jesus more, to give him greater glory, to obtain your sanctification and the good of souls. However, if you should completely fail to write, this would be a great sin.»
If Luisa had written a lot up to this point, in view of this new obedience, from now on her writings will increase even more. Indeed, Luisa was always totally faithful to this obedience, even though it often cost her great deal (as we can read in a number of places in her writings) because she had to write intimate things concerning herself. Father writes:
« Lady Obedience demands that you write absolutely everything that the Lord reveals to you, without omitting anything. It is the word of uncreated Wisdom, and just one word is worth more than the whole universe. So, it is not permissible for you to leave off even a single syllable. If you are not exact in this obedience, I will ask your archbishop for a greater authority ».
When Blessed Annibale had already been appointed ecclesiastic censor of the Archdiocese of Trani, he writes:
« I want to let you know that yesterday, the First Friday of the month, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I presented Volume Three (which I have finished reviewing) to our Lord. Afterwards, I went into the sacristy and signed the Nihil Obstat with the authority given me by his Excellency, the Archbishop of Trani, when he appointed me ecclesiastic censor of his three dioceses. With this, authorization has been given to publish in the whole world these books dictated by our Lord on the Divine Will.
Once I finish reviewing the rest of the volumes that I have not read, I will put my Nihil Obstat on them and will present them to his Excellency, the Archbishop, so that he can put his Imprimatur on each one of them as he promised, as well as on those you have which I have reviewed. This way, everything will be ready for the future. Who knows whom our Lord will make use of?
Do you see how clear Heaven’s plan appears, with the ecclesiastic approval of these writings? Who can resist the Divine Will? »
«His Excellency, the Archbishop has already put his Imprimatur on seven more volumes of your writings. Meanwhile, I am finishing volume two, five and six. Truly the Lord has guided you with immense goodness and charity ».
« I am finishing volume 11, which is full of Divine Will. It is the last of the other seven that I had to finish so that the Archbishop could put his Imprimatur on them. As soon as they are ready I will put my Nihil Obstat on them, and I will send a lay brother to Trani to see the Archbishop, so that he can give his Imprimatur. With this, this most important task of obtaining ecclesiastic approval will have been taken care of, for whatever future event. It will be one matter that is behind us, for which we must give thanks to our Lord with immense gratitude. »
As we will see, it was Father Annibale’s intention to publish all the volumes that Luisa had written up to that time (nineteen); and to do so, he put the children of his own two congregations to work but long before he came to know the rest of her writings, almost immediately after meeting Luisa, he published one of her books, “The Hours of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ,” which we mentioned earlier.
Four editions of this book were made, each edition being of a greater number than the previous one. Requests were received from every part of Italy and even from other countries. Some requests were for fifty copies, and some even for a hundred, such as the request that one of the best-known bookstores of the Vatican made, as St. Father Annibale writes. How did they find out about it? He answered; it is the good God who is working.
One of the best-remembered episodes, according to a number of witnesses, was the time that St. Father Annibale took the book, The Hours of the Passion, to the Holy Father, now St. Pius X (who received him privately on a number of occasions, as did Popes Benedict XV and Pius XI as well). While showing it to him, he was reading a few pages when the pope interrupted him, saying, “Not while standing, Father; this book should be read kneeling. It is Jesus Christ who is speaking.”
Later, two more editions of this book were printed in Italian, two in German (of 25,000 copies per edition!); and editions were being prepared in French, Portuguese, Spanish English and Polish as well.
As St. Father Annibale came to know the rest of Luisa’s writings, penetrating deeply into this spirituality, he became aware of their capital importance and of the absolute necessity of making these volumes on the Divine Will known to the entire world. Then, he assumed the responsibility himself, of heading the work of publishing all of Luisa’s volumes. Although the task was gigantic, as he himself had said, with generosity and complete abandonment into the hands of providence, he began the undertaking. First he reviewed them in order to obtain the Nihil Obstat and the Imprimatur, as we have already seen, and then he began to actually publish them.
From the following paragraphs of his, we can appreciate his immense interest, and the extremes to which Saint Annibale went. It is unnecessary to say that his intentions were truly impressive.
« The publication of the whole set of volumes will be some 25,000 copies. Being the Divine Word who is speaking, the Substantial Word of the Eternal Father, the whole work will be quite voluminous. So, you can understand how great the expense will be but certainly, the great heavenly treasurer isn’t short on resources, even should it cost a million liras (an enormous sum in those times). »
« This task isn’t enormous only for all the reasons I have told you previously, but also for this: The consideration that we are dealing with 25,000 copies of the entire work, of the whole set of volumes, present and future, so it will cost millions of liras.
I assure you that the edition will be very beautiful. I hope to send you the first pages soon, for you to see. »
« Yesterday, I wrote to my typographers in Oria, after they had written me to tell me they needed to buy more type in order to speed up the job. I told them to buy it. Oh, if I only had the strength I did when I was young, I would fly to Oria to dedicate myself to this divine work! »
Now, the rage of the devil couldn’t help but make itself felt. He had to stick his hoof in the works, and do everything in his power to keep these writings from being published and from doing all the good they will do.
This is what Fr. Annibale writes a few months before dying:
« I have entered into a moral and spiritual state in which it seems to me that I see and feel the diabolic work of the infernal enemy. Night and day they attack me, making me feel discouraged and oppressed. I feel profound abandonment and desolation in myself. In a word, I feel an interior state of anguish and pain unlike anything I have ever experienced before. It seems to me that what you wrote to m e about is happening. What I mean is that the demons were filled with rage to see me busy with the work of the publication of your writings. And since they can’t do anything to me externally, since I don’t walk along those paths, they work on my interior to beat me down and make my health fail.
In all this, I also seem to see that God is permitting everything to purify my soul in a very singular way, maybe precisely because of the great task of the publication of your writings. »
« Last night was terrible for me, both physically and spiritually. It was a time of most intense suffering: I couldn’t get any rest at all! The infernal enemy put a thought into my mind: “Stop this publication. You should have never begun it.” But I told the enemy, “No, no, no,” and I blessed Jesus. »
« I will not tell you how I feel the devil- what’s more, many devils- trembling. This is why I perform continuous exorcisms in the name of Jesus. »
« Another sign that it is from God is the tremendous war that the enemy has waged against me to batter me down- which God is permitting- to keep me from beginning my prayers in the Divine Will. »
In the following paragraph, we can see how far the devil went to try to keep these sublime writings on the Divine Will from being published:
« I tell you in the strictest confidence, that to discourage me, the devil took the form of a person whom we know, to bring me some awful, terrible news that gave me such severe heart palpitations that they almost killed me. But afterwards, the deception was discovered.
The enemy suggests this to me: “Don’t you see how this publication is taking you to the grave? Why did you ever get involved in this?” »
But Father Annibale was always faithful to the Divine Will and he never gave up. His life had been completely transformed. And even though he found himself in the midst of a war with the devil, he continued to persevere, especially in his interior. This is what he wrote a short time before dying:
« For some time now, with very few exceptions, I hardly sleep at night, because of insomnia and moral afflictions, oppressions, apprehensions and the like. A lay brother has been watching over me most patiently every night at my bedside, and he prays the prayers of the Divine Will for me. »
He had a very high esteem and appreciation for Luisa. He was very much aware of the “great work of the Divine Will” (as he used to call it) that God was doing in Luisa for the good of all humanity.
« I have kept in my mind that all my afflictions are the love of Jesus who is working in me. Your counsels and suggestions fill me with consolation, but I am still a child in this great science of the Divine Will. I thank you so much for the courage you infuse in me. »
« Once you confided to me that on a certain occasion Jesus had offered you the gift of working miracles and that you declined it. Well, now ask our Lord with faith and love, that you might at least work the miracle of returning my health to me. I ask you this, for these nineteen volumes that I want to publish. Oh, how hell will be annihilated! »
Finally, the work that Saint Father Annibale had begun ended with this death. Still, as we read below, he left us another prophetic sign, which he would have liked to see fulfilled: “The Sons of the Divine Will”. But the plans of the Lord were different. Nevertheless, now he is surely enjoying its fulfillment from heaven.
« In the print shop of the mother house of Messina (in Sicily, the city of his birth and the place where all his works were founded, a little book on the Divine Will is being printed which I believe will have a great effect and will be very pleasing to our Lord. It is the Universal Spiritual Pious Union, which will bear the title, Sons of the Divine Will. It will be organized in the simplest of ways: There will not be any rolls, or rules, nor dues or moral obligations. With the help of the Lord, we will print hundreds of thousands of membership certificates. And if the Lord is pleased to return my health, we will translate them into many languages and circulate them in many nations. »
« I don’t know if you remember that on one occasion you saw how our Lord, because of the sins of mankind, emitted an anguish-filled lament. And shortly afterward he gave out a cry of joy, which also penetrated heaven and earth, and Jesus told you that he was so happy because he saw the sons of the Divine Will appearing in the world. Since the Pious Union does have any rule, persons of any walk of life can belong to it: men, women, religious, lay people or bishops, etc. »…
In conclusion, we could say that St. Father Annibale sowed a seed that he took from Luisa, “The Little daughter of the Divine Will,” and did everything in his power, which entered into God’s plan, to spread it all over the world. Before his death, Father Annibale himself commended the members of the two religious communities he had founded to follow up on the work he had begun, as the next excerpt from one of his letters shows:
« To Canon Vital, one of my dearest priests, and to my young priests, I have been explaining what my idea is concerning the publication of this great work. Being very intelligent and possessing the right spirit, they could be my successors in this great work if the Lord should call me: and they would continue my work using the same methods and system I have been using ».
But unfortunately, after his death, they did not continue what he had entrusted to them.
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So, one can clearly see that St. Father Annibale is like the initiator, the pioneer of the Divine Will, who was to prepare the way for the recognition of the volumes and therefore of all their contents, on the part of the ecclesiastical authority, with the granting of the Nihil Obstat and the Imprimatur. In other words, it was the recognition of all our Lord had communicated to Luisa, and had taught her to live to perfection: the Kingdom of the Divine Will on earth, as it is found in heaven.
Our Lord’s most ardent desire is to give all his children the greatest gift that exists both in heaven and on earth. The gift of the Divine Will is that gift which makes it possible for the creature to return to the order, to its place, and to the purpose for which it was created by God.».
In view of all this, we can say that the canonization of Fr. Annibale Maria Di Francia has more than a prophetic meaning. It is like the beginning of the glorious manifestation of the Kingdom of the Divine Will in a visible way, insofar as a mortal creature can perceive it, and in proportion to the disposition of the will of each one of us, to die completely to our human will, to live always and only by the Divine Will.
We firmly hope that Luisa will also be glorified soon on earth, fully aware that the true glorification of Luisa will be that the Divine Will reign and dominate in our souls as on its royal throne.