Saint Francis Of Assisi

The official biography of Saint Francis was written by Saint Bonaventura, who was appointed this task by the Franciscan general chapter in 1260, thirty-four years after Saint Francis’s death.

Saint Francis was born in the city of Assisi on September 26, 1182 and died on October 3, 1226. His father was a prosperous merchant and his mother a noblewoman. He was given the name John by his mother, but when his father returned from France, he changed the name to Francis, in honor of France, the country where he had made his wealth.

Coming from a well-to-do family, Francis had the opportunity to study Latin, poetry, music, Italian, French, the Provencal dialect, and literature. It seemed that Francis was destined to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Around the age of twenty, Francis joined up with the Assisi army and fought against the city of Perugia, but he was taken prisoner and remained in prison for one year. The time he spent in jail was very hard, so much so that he contracted a serious illness when he returned home. His sickness was the turning point in his life. He decided to radically change his lifestyle. To that point he had lived a worldly life, but now he chose to dedicate himself to following Jesus’s model. He began to give money to help the lepers, the poor, and the needy.

Francis’s new life and prodigality were not appreciated by his father, who eventually disinherited him. From then on, Francis lived a life of poverty and absolute simplicity. Soon other young people joined him, giving rise to the monastic Franciscan order. His soul was so pure that he talked with birds, and one day he even tamed a wolf. An example of the pureness of his heart can be found in the “Canticle of the Creatures,” which he composed in 1225.

Saint Francis’s life was short; in fact, he lived only forty four years. After his death, many authors started writing his biography. Some biographies had a hagiographic aim, while others were straightforward accounts, but some data is common to all of them:

Saint Francis was a great traveler. Around the age of thirty he left his hometown to go to Syria. Unfortunately, his journey was interrupted in Dalmatia for an unknown reason, but probably because he couldn’t find a ship to Syria, so he was forced to return to Italy.

In spite of the failure of his first attempted trip to a Muslim country, he set off on another journey to Islamic lands, this time Morocco. To go to Morocco, he crossed France and Spain.

Again he failed to succeed in his plan, because he contracted a serious disease in Spain and once more had to return to Assisi.

His third endeavor to get to an Arab country finally succeeded. He boarded a ship at Ancona in the year 1219, seven years before his death, at the same time the fifth crusade was under way. Once in Egypt, Saint Francis wanted to meet Sultan Malic al-Kamil. Their meeting really happened, and as far as we know, he was treated kindly by the sultan as a guest, and not as an enemy. He received safe conduct and was invited to return to visit Egypt anytime.

From Egypt he travelled to the Holy Land. About two years before his death, he received the stigmata on Mount Verna.

Later, his health worsened and he died in a small church near Assisi called Porziuncola. At his death, his body was taken to Assisi and a basilica was later built in the place where he was buried.

I had the opportunity of going to Assisi three times in my life. The first time was with my parents on a travel to north Italy. It happened many years ago. Even though I was very young and not in a condition to appreciate Saint Francis’s message to humanity, a few things remained etched in my mind. One was the sight of the cilice, which Saint Francis wore to mortify his body.

The cilice was a special garment made of goat hair, which caused considerable suffering to the person who wore it. The flesh was considered a kind of contamination of the soul; therefore, through the mortification of the body, the soul would be purified.

Hearing the story of Saint Francis from my parents, I was struck by the strength of character of this great man who rebelled against his father in order to follow the aspirations of his heart.

The second time I visited Assisi was while I was traveling on a trip organized by the parish priest from the Church of San Cataldo. We visited the basilica, which is divided into three parts: the upstairs basilica, the walls of which are covered with gorgeous frescoes by Giotto; the downstairs basilica, which contains other works of art; and finally the crypt where Saint Francis’s mortal remains are kept. The tomb is placed in a raised position over the altar, and is made without frills of grey square and rectangular stones.

As soon as I knelt to say some prayers and make a wish, I had the sensation that a kind of energy was radiating from his tomb, and then I asked Saint Francis to hear my prayer.

Please, Saint Francis, grant me a gift! You are a very powerful saint and can easily make my wish come true. I love Elisabetta more than life, and I want her to become my wife. There are many hindrances that prevent us from getting married. Please, Saint Francis, remove all the hindrances and help us get married as soon as possible.”

At that time I had fallen in love with a young lady named Elisabetta. She was from Enna as well, and taught Latin and Greek at the high school. I courted her for two years and wanted to get engaged to her. We used to stroll along Via Roma and Belvedere and talk religion. In fact, she was an earnest Catholic, to such an extent that she was once on the verge of quitting her job to become a Carmelite cloistered nun.

One day while we were walking around the Lombardia Castle, she told me of her pilgrimage to Assisi. “I have been struck by Saint Francis’s burial place. I felt a special energy coming from his tomb,” she said.

Now, I don’t know whether or not it was due to autosuggestion because Elisabetta had told me her feelings, but the same strange sensation was now happening to me. While I repeatedly asked San Francis to grant my wish, I felt as if powerful energy was radiating from his tomb and talking to me.

I have spent all my life searching for God,” Saint Francis’s energy seemed to say, “and now you arrive at my tomb and ask me to grant you a trivial wish, Vincenzino!”

I wondered why Saint Francis would consider my wish to get married to my beloved trivial. As time passed, I realized that I had actually requested something really trivial. In fact, human affairs like love, business, careers, and so on are trifles in comparison to the search and love for God, who is the giver of life.

Meanwhile, Elisabetta got married to another man, and I understood that what I had considered a great love was nothing more than an infatuation doomed to dissolve like the fog dispersed by the wind.

True love is not related to a woman or a person. Love is something that you must have inside you. Love comes from your heart and mind, and it stands apart from the appearance and character of the people who you come across and the happenings of life.

Later, I married a lady from Greece, and we now live together in Enna. In the evenings after dinner, my wife and I usually stroll along Via Roma and Saint Francis Square, which is surrounded by old palaces on three sides and by the stately Church of Saint Francis on the fourth. A small green area had recently been attached to the church, with an olive tree and a statue of Saint Francis surrounded by white doves inside it. While my wife and I were going back home and passed by that green, we noticed a fragrance emanating from the area. We turned in all directions but couldn’t spot a flower or a tree from where that subtle scent might be emanating. The following days we passed by the same place again, but we couldn’t smell anything.

A subtle thread was leading me to Assisi for the third time. My Greek wife and I decided to take a car trip across northern and central Italy. We embarked on a ferry in Palermo and landed in Genoa. From there we travelled to Pisa, Florence, and San Gimignano.

While we were admiring the numerous towers of the last town, my wife suddenly cried out, “What about going to Assisi? Is it far from here? Do you remember the fragrance we smelt in Enna near the Church of Saint Francis?”

No, it is not far away. We can go to Perugia first, and Assisi is a stone’s throw from there,” I replied.

We arrived at Saint Francis’s hometown around midday and found lodging in a monastery run by Filipino nuns. We strolled for a while around the medieval city and then arrived at the basilica. My wife was surprised at the sight of the frescoes both upstairs and downstairs.

Even though I am not a Christian,” she said, “and don’t follow any religion, I cannot help being astonished by the religious ardor that was behind these great masterpieces.”

Then we went to the crypt and sat on a pew facing Saint Francis’s tomb. As soon as I sat down, I had the sensation that the same energy that had talked to me many years ago was now speaking again, suggesting the path I should follow to find out who really I was.

Purify your heart, mind, body, and actions, and then you’ll see God inside you!

What was Saint Francis telling me this time? I inferred that he meant that the real kingdom of God is inside every living being, but we cannot find it if our mind is contaminated by too many materialistic desires or our actions are not directed towards the wellbeing of our fellow creatures. I also inferred that prayer and meditation are a good way to purify the mind and get close to God, as long as my actions aim not towards an egoistic goal, but to the love of all creatures.

While I was meditating on what Saint Francis was suggesting to me at that moment, my wife suddenly turned to me. “I have a pain in my heart, and my heart is pounding! I shed tears and I don’t know why. I don’t feel sad and I don’t know why I am crying!”

My wife is not Catholic, and actually doesn’t practice any religion. So we couldn’t understand why such a phenomenon befell her. Maybe the same energy that had talked to me was revealing itself to her in some way.

I left Assisi with a strong devotion to Saint Francis. Every time I had trouble in my life after that, I thought of him and reminded myself that my worldly misfortunes are a mere trifle. What really matters in life is the search and love for God and all His creatures.

Reviewing my encounter with Saint Francis, I reconsidered what my law teacher had taught me a long time ago. She had stressed the importance of the difference between a piece of evidence and a clue. A piece of evidence is a fact that you have seen or heard, or a way that an event can be proved with absolute certainty—evidence that can direct the judge to return his verdict. A clue doesn’t have the strength of evidence, and a mere clue is usually not enough to bring in a judge’s verdict, but if the clues are numerous, unambiguous, precise, and concordant with one another, they can be taken into consideration by the judge in order to pass judgment. In the case of my encounter with Saint Francis, there are five clues that can be admitted as evidence of the existence of another spiritual level that is beyond our ordinary worldly life:

1. The energy that Elisabetta felt while she was praying before the tomb of Saint Francis;

2. The fragrance that my wife and I smelt near his statue while we were strolling in Enna;

3. The energy coming from his tomb that talked to me about the true goals of my life, which were not a mere love of a woman, money, or some other worldly pleasure. Searching for God is the real goal;

4. The energy that I felt when I went to Assisi for the third time. I realized that the kingdom of God is really inside me. I just need purify my mind, my heart, and my actions, and then I can be on the path that leads to the spiritual world;

5. The unusual sensation of pain in my wife’s chest and the tears in her eyes while she was sitting with me in front of Saint Francis’s tomb.

These days, Saint Francis is the master in my daily life. Whenever I am too worried because my business didn’t go well, I remind myself of the teachings he gave me in the crypt in Assisi. The ups and downs of life are mere trifles when compared to meeting God, who stays in the heart of every human.

By minding Saint Francis’s teachings, I live my life in a more relaxed way. I am less anxious. I just juggle the events of life as soccer players do when playing a friendly match.

This is an excerpt from A Hidden Sicilian History by ETTORE GRILLO

Ettore Grillo, author of these books:

– A Hidden Sicilian History

– The Vibrations of Words

– Travels of the Mind


The Carmelite monks of Sicily and Veneto organized a pilgrimage to Lisieux, a town in the north of France where the Carmelite nun, Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, had lived in a convent. The pilgrimage started from Verona, a city in the north of Italy, where the group coming from Sicily joined the other from Veneto.

I could never imagine going on a pilgrimage to the north of France, and I hadn’t even heard of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus. It was a girl named Margherita, who attended Saint Joseph Church in Enna, who proposed I take part in the pilgrimage with her. Despite her young age, she had a degree in classic literature and taught ancient Greek at Enna’s high school.

It is not just a pilgrimage,” she said to me. “It is also a sightseeing tour. We will visit Paris, a few castles by the Loire River, and Versailles.”

I had fallen in love with Margherita, and the chance to go on a trip together thrilled me. So I accepted with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, people’s minds and hearts are changeable, and a few days before the start of the trip she told me that she had changed her mind and wouldn’t come. What to do? I could cancel my booking, but I didn’t, despite the fact that travelling with a group of people who I didn’t know didn’t thrill me at all.

At that time, I feared of travelling by airplane, and that was not my only phobia. I also feared being isolated from other people. What would I do alone on the trip? All the other participants knew one another, while I didn’t know anyone. I resigned myself to being alone for the duration of the trip, but I felt very ill at ease.

After I arrived at the station in Verona, I walked to the meeting place, which was not far away. A girl was waiting there for the rest of the group. As soon as I arrived I seized the opportunity not to be alone.

My name is Vincenzino. What is your name?”

My name is Lucia,” she answered. She was tall and lean and had shadows under her eyes.

Do you want to sit together on the bus?” I asked.

She looked at me with her broad eyes full of surprise. Certainly she would have preferred saying no, but she was too polite to refuse my request.

“Okay,” she answered, “you can sit close to me.”

I was relieved because I had solved my problem of being alone, but over time I realized that I had behaved stupidly. In fact, I had compelled that well-mannered girl to stay with me while she might have preferred to travel with her friends whose company was more enjoyable than mine. I had treated her not as a human being but as a tool to solve my problem.

The trip leader was a Carmelite monk from northern Italy. His name was Father Leo, and he was a very learned person who knew Saint Therese’s life to perfection. He gladdened our trip on the bus by telling biblical stories and, above all, talking about Saint Therese.

Saint Therese of the Child Jesus was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II. She is the youngest person, and the third woman, to be so honored in the history of the Catholic Church. She died from tuberculosis when she was just twenty-four years old.”

What did she do to be declared a Doctor of the Church?” asked one of the pilgrims.

She pointed out the ‘Little Way’ to humans. It does not take vast learning to know God, but it does take humility and simplicity of heart,” answered Father Leo.

We had just visited the Palace of Versailles, and on the bus Father Leo kept telling the humble life story of Saint Therese.

As for me, I couldn’t help comparing a nobleman’s life in the Palace of Versailles to life in a convent. They were two opposite ways of living. I concluded that everyone follows his or her own path according to their destiny and tendencies, but in the end paradise has its gates open to all, because God is inside every human being.

What made an impression on me was when Father Leo told us the story of Saint Therese’s miraculous recovery.

At the end of 1882, Saint Therese was seized by a persistent headache that lasted until Easter of the following year. She was just nine years old. Afterwards, she got worse and the doctor diagnosed a serious rare disease, unusual for a little girl. She was bound to die, but one day while she was praying before a statue portraying Our Lady, she saw the Virgin Mary smiling at her. Suddenly big tears welled in the little girl’s eyes. From then on she started recovering, and five years later she entered the Carmelite convent as a cloistered nun.”

How is it possible,” I asked Father Leo, “that a teenager is allowed to take the vows?”

You are right to ask this question,” he answered, “but Saint Therese got a dispensation from the bishop. Indeed, canon law is not as strict as civil law, thanks to the institution of dispensation. Obviously, if the bishop allowed Saint Therese to enter the convent at a very young age, he did so after due consideration.”

On the way back when we were near the sanctuary of La Salette, I took a seat near another pilgrim. At that moment I saw Lucia laughing for the first time. Now she was sitting near a nun, with whom she was at ease. As for me, I had overcome my stupid fear of being alone.

On the way, Father Leo told us the story of the apparition of Our Lady of La Salette.

“One hundred fifty years ago, La Salette was a small village in Southern France. There were less than one thousand people living there. One day, two children who had been minding the cows on Mount Sous-Les Baisses came back to the village and reported that they had seen a weeping beautiful lady.

According to the children’s account, the apparition, who spoke their dialect, was weeping because people didn’t respect God anymore. The lady gave the children a few messages, which were all based on her wish that human hearts are converted to God.”

Our bus took us up to the top of the mount where the apparition had happened. At that moment, thin mist alternated with clear sky. I had the sensation that the whole area was enveloped in mystery, as if Our Lady had left the imprint of her apparition on the mountain.

When I returned home from the pilgrimage, I saw Margherita with another man. I thought maybe they were just friends, but unfortunately they were already engaged, and six months later they got married.

I had lost Margherita, but I had gained much more. In fact, the pilgrimage to Lisieux and La Salette strengthened my personality. Now I had the sensation of being stronger and less picky. Apparently, the teachings of Saint Therese about keeping a simple and pure heart had worked.

This is an excerpt from A Hidden Sicilian History by ETTORE GRILLO

Ettore Grillo, author of these books

– A Hidden Sicilian History

– The Vibrations of Words

– Travels of the Mind




The cult of the Virgin of Lourdes is followed by many in Enna, and every year in May a train loaded with pilgrims, volunteers, and seriously ill people travels to Lourdes. It is called the White Train. Lourdes is a place for pilgrimages for Catholics from all over the world, and every year around five million visit the cave where the apparitions happened.

In 1858, Our Lady appeared to a little girl named Bernadette Soubirous in a cave called Massabielle in Lourdes. The apparitions occurred for five months, and were initially seen with skepticism by the Catholic Church, but when the apparition revealed herself to be the Immaculate Conception, all doubts were removed. In fact, the little girl couldn’t understand a deep theological concept like that of the Virgin Mary.

The journey from Enna to Lourdes takes forty-eight hours, as the White Train stops continuously to give precedence to regular trains. The volunteer’s main task is serving meals in the train and pushing the wheelchairs once arriving in Lourdes. Only the most expert volunteers look after people with serious disabilities.

One year after Giuseppina’s death, I still acted like an automaton and a dark fog separated me from the rest of the world. The police had investigated the incident for a few months, but I was eventually acquitted. My mother was very worried about me. She had no idea what to do, and confined herself to praying for me. Moreover, every week she used to go to the Convent of Saint Marc to ask the nuns to pray for me as well. She hoped that all those prayers would sooner or later rid me of my heavy depression.

What about going to Lourdes?” she said one day.

I was so clouded that I didn’t have the strength and will to answer her. But she insisted. “Do you want to go to Lourdes on the White Train? It leaves from Enna in ten days. It is a good opportunity to take your mind off your idea you are guilty of Giuseppina’s death.”

I don’t want to go,” I said curtly.

But it is a good opportunity to help the sick!” my mother said.

I actually considered myself a social waste, but the thought that I could be helpful to somebody in need made me feel less despicable. Moreover, I couldn’t remain in a state of inactivity forever. I had stayed at home like a prisoner for a year, but sooner or later I had to come down from my ivory tower.

Okay, I’ll go,” I said, and a feeble ray of hope revived in my heart. Maybe someday I would come back to life as a normal human being.

After twelve months spent in my room reading books, magazines, and listening to the radio, my eyes were not accustomed to daylight. My mother had arranged everything for my journey, including packing my luggage and providing my volunteer uniform, which was brown, while the ladies wore white skirts, white stockings, blue cloaks, and veils similar to those of nuns.

My parents came to see me off at the station and entrusted me to the priest who was the spiritual guide of the pilgrimage. He was from a town near Enna called Valguarnera Caropepe. Father Guido was a red-haired man who, despite the reformation of the Second Vatican Council that had given priests the freedom of dressing, still wore a cassock.

The train was very old, and two special cars dating back to the Second World War had been arranged to accommodate disabled people on stretchers. The two cars still bore the huge red crosses from the war. We didn’t have any hoist, so we had to lift the people on stretchers into the cars by hand. It wasn’t that hard a task, since we had many volunteers to do the work.

We had finished lifting stretchers when I saw a stretcher on wheels coming from the side entrance of the station. On it was a young man who had to weigh nearly 200 kilos. I couldn’t imagine how we were going to get him on the train. It took six of us to lift the stretcher. My arms and legs were still weak after a year of inaction, but through our joint efforts we finally set him on the train.

It was the late afternoon when the train finally left the station. The sun was setting beyond the mountains, and in a few hours we would serve dinner to the pilgrims and invalids.

Meanwhile, I went to my compartment and watched the green countryside and the wheat that waved under the breeze through the window. My eyes were looking outside, but my mind still saw the car plunging down into the ravine with its human load. Apparently, going out of my house had changed nothing. I was as absentminded and depressed as I was when secluded in my room. The environment had changed, but my heart was still shut to life.

Before entering the ferry from Messina to mainland Italy, the train stopped many times to take on more sick people, pilgrims, and volunteers. There were four volunteers in our compartment, but from time to time Father Guido came and sat down to chat with us.

When the train left the station in Catania we started serving dinner. The train was very long, and every volunteer was given the task of serving a certain car. I was told to serve dinner in the car with the people who were the most seriously ill.

I was doing just that when I heard someone call out my name. I turned back, thinking that another volunteer from Enna was calling me, but I didn’t see anybody.

Vincenzino, Vincenzino!” the voice kept calling.

I stopped serving and saw that it was the fat young man that we had lifted on the car that was calling me.

“How do you know my name?” I asked.

It is written on your badge!” he answered.

I was so absentminded that I hadn’t paid attention to the badge on my uniform.

“What is your name?” I asked.

My name is Carmelo, and I want to thank you for the great effort you made in lifting me. As you see, my body is all out of proportion. My weight keeps increasing more and more, and all I can move are my head, eyes, and lips. All the rest is paralyzed like dead flesh. I can see that you are not peaceful but, believe me, your adverse fortune is nothing compared to mine.”

Tears streamed down his big cheeks.

“Can you see the moon and the stars out of the window?” he asked.

I bent my head and Carmelo also slowly turned his head to watch the full moon.

“Ask the moon and the stars if it is right that my body lies on a stretcher from my birth to my death, while my mind is clear and realizes the uselessness of my life.”

His words dumbfounded me. I had thought that only my problems existed and other people were immune from them. After Giuseppina’s death, I had isolated myself in my room, thinking that I was the most unlucky person in the world. But now, Carmelo was opening my eyes to real life; his condition was far worse than mine!

Tell me,” continued Carmelo, “why there are half-men like me? I have done nothing to deserve such miserable luck.

Do you think that my harrowing life derives from God or from a different malicious being? I am completely useless. While you may be helpful to others, Vincenzino, I am just human waste who is kept alive by a moral and criminal code that doesn’t allow society to kill the heap of flesh I am.”

It was as if I had been catapulted to life again. After a long time of seclusion, now in front of me was someone who was talking to me and wanted me to answer him, but I actually didn’t know what to say. I looked around to see if the meals had all been served, and noticed that the other volunteers had done the work in my place. As for Carmelo, he had been fed in advance by a qualified nurse.

As for the second of his questions, my answer sprang from my heart naturally.

“You are not a useless person, Carmelo. Thanks to you, I am coming back to life. I have been living like a vegetable for a year, except for speaking with my mother in monosyllables. Now, talking with you has been as if a thunderbolt has fallen on me. You have shocked me! Now I can see and watch you, while I saw no one before so immersed in my thoughts as I was.”

What happened to you?” asked Carmelo.

It is an old love story that ended tragically, but now I can see that there are people like you who have no hope to live a normal life, while I am in a better condition. You have been like a mirror for me. Through you, I have looked inside myself and realized the uselessness of continuing to torture myself.”

What about my first question?” asked Carmelo.

During my year of insulation, I read many books and magazines. One of the most significant was the Book of Job in the Bible.

Do you know the story of Job, Carmelo?”

I have heard something about him. Job was renowned because of his patience, right?”

Job was a rich, pious man,” I answered, “who later lost all his riches, his children, and even his body became purulent. What have I done to deserve such bad luck?’ Job asked God one day. The answer was that man cannot know what God’s plans for us are. Therefore, Carmelo, accept your situation and do your best to live your life fully, even under such bad conditions.”

The forty-eight hours spent on the train seemed never ending, but the other volunteers in our compartment were cheerful. From time to time, Father Guido also joined us to say the rosary. When we arrived at the station in Lourdes, we had to offload the baggage and take the invalids to the hospitals. Then we volunteers went to the hotel. My task was to carry the invalids from one place to another.

The wheelchairs in Lourdes had a handle in the front, while some disabled people had their own personal wheelchairs that could be pushed. Every day, in the morning and the afternoon, the disabled in their wheelchairs were lined up in the hospital courtyard and the volunteers took them wherever they liked to go. The disabled usually wanted to go to the Massabielle Cave to pray before the statues of Our Lady and Saint Bernadette, or to the baths, which stand in the place where Saint Bernadette found a spring by digging in the ground with her hands. This water was supposed to be miraculous, and several miracles have actually been recorded and corroborated by the Catholic Church. People who wanted to have a bath were just dipped into the water for a few seconds. They got dressed while they were still wet, but the water had the properties of drying immediately, so towels were not needed.

There were frequent Masses both in the cave and in the churches and basilicas. In the late afternoon, the sick and disabled were lined up in the vast square in front of the basilica and Holy Communion was given to them.

One afternoon while I was in the square looking after a sick old man, I lost my faith. I had the sensation that God was just a human creation. I saw the earth and the universe like matter with no spirit inside and no God that could vivify it. It was a real paradox that I had come to Lourdes to strengthen my faith in God and in life, but instead I had become an atheist. I remained in this condition as a disbeliever for several months, but with the passing time I felt that my life was completely empty without Jesus. After the terrible accident with Giuseppina, my only anchor was Jesus. Therefore, my atheism didn’t last long, and for the rest of my life Jesus has been my only safe harbor.

During my staying in Lourdes, I wanted to do my very best to serve the sick people that I looked after. One afternoon I took a sick lady from the hospital courtyard. She was around sixty years old and dressed in black.

Where would you like me to take you?” I asked.

I want to go shopping!” she answered.

In Lourdes, there are so many shops that sell holy images, rosary beads, small statues, and every kind of holy item, that sometimes I had the impression that big business gravitated around the cult of Our Lady.

The sick lady wanted to buy a small golden medal, so we went around many shops to find the item she liked. After two hours of shopping, she found the one she wanted. Afterwards, she wanted me to take her to the top of the hill, as she wanted to cover the Stations of the Cross. At last, after a long day of walking, I took her back to the hospital.

As soon as we arrived at the hospital courtyard, the sick lady got up from the wheelchair and walked at a brisk pace. I looked at her with a slight annoyance. Why had she asked me to carry her around when she was able to walk by herself? But

suddenly the lady started crying out, “It is a miracle! A miracle! I couldn’t walk before. That volunteer can testify to it,” she said, pointing to me.

A few people gathered around me. “Is it true?” one of them asked.


It was really a miracle?” he insisted.

I don’t know,” I answered. “I can only say that the lady was already sitting in the wheelchair when I took her out to the shops. Then I took her to the hill where the Stations of the Cross are, but I cannot say if she was able to walk before I met her.”

Okay, thank you,” said the man who had questioned me, and soon the small crowd of onlookers dispersed.

The following day I heard from the volunteers, whom I used to meet at lunchtime, of a miracle that had happened in Lourdes. I didn’t ask what kind of miracle they were talking about. It possibly referred to the lady that had regained her ability to walk. At the time I had fallen into my feelings of atheism, so I wasn’t interested in the subject.

Many years went by, and that episode seemed to have fallen into oblivion, but one day it came to mind for some reason. I wondered why that sick lady would have deceived me, pretending to have been miraculously cured when she was already in good health. What was the point?

That afternoon in Lourdes was still vivid in my mind. I relived seeing the lady dressed in black sitting in the wheelchair waiting for a volunteer. When I arrived at the hospital, as soon as I saw her I headed for her and grasped the handle of the wheelchair without uttering a word. Once we were in the street, I asked her where to go. Then we went shopping and then to the hill. At last I took her back to the hospital.

I decided that there had to be a rational explanation. Maybe the old lady was lazy and didn’t want to walk by herself. Perhaps she took advantage of me to stroll around Lourdes while sitting comfortably in the wheelchair. Nevertheless, my conjecture collided with the fact that the lady had been admitted to the hospital in Lourdes.

If my memory serves me right, there were two hospitals for sick people at that time in Lourdes, one bigger and one smaller. Neither of them admitted patients that were not disabled. There should be medical records certifying her disability. Being wise after the event, at that time I was very shallow. I should have investigated the matter in depth.

However, if she is still in my mind after so many years, perhaps something supernatural really did happen that afternoon in Lourdes.

This is an excerpt from A Hidden Sicilian History by ETTORE GRILLO

Ettore Grillo, author of these books:

– A Hidden Sicilian History

– The Vibrations of Words

– Travels of the Mind





My natural desire to meet the supernatural and allay my fear of death had, over time, been leading me to the places where it was said that the Virgin Mary appeared to human beings. In my life, I had visited quite a few Marian sanctuaries, a few of them by chance, others of my own free will.

A constant of all the sanctuaries I visited was that Our Lady had appeared to children or plain folk. This made me think about my way of searching for God. I read hundreds of books about enlightenment, meditation, religion, Holy Scripture, and so on. I don’t want to say that my work has turned out to be useless. Learning is better than ignorance, but definitely it is not enough to get close to God, because the path to God can only be covered by the soul and not the intellect. The soul doesn’t need learning, only purity of heart.


One day my wife said, “There’s another important sanctuary that you have not seen yet, called Banneux in Belgium.”

I really didn’t know about Our Lady of Banneux, even though I was always looking for holy places.

“We should go there,” I said. “And we’ll take the opportunity to visit Belgium, which is a small country, but rich in traditions.”

When we arrived in Brussels we found accommodations near downtown. What left me speechless was the view of the Grand Place, which is an architectural jewel. We visited all the tourist attractions in Brussels, and then we moved to Banneux by bus. It is a small village near the city of Liege.

Mariette was the first-born child of seven children. She went to school and catechism, but she didn’t make much progress because she didn’t have time to devote to study, as she had to help her mother in the daily chores. On the evening of January 15, 1933, she was looking out of the window, waiting for her brother who had not yet come home, when she saw a young, beautiful, shining lady in the garden.

Mom!” she called. “I see a lady in the garden. She is the Holy Virgin.”

The apparition appeared eight times. The Virgin called herself “The Virgin of the Poor.” During the second sighting, Our Lady led Mariette to a spring, saying that it should be reserved for Herself and for all nations. As it had happened in other places where the Holy Mother appeared, she also recommended praying, and asked that a chapel should be built in the place where she appeared.

When we arrived in Banneux, the bus stopped next to a square. At the end of the square there was a street that led to the sanctuary. The atmosphere in Banneux was different from other Marian sanctuaries. It was much simpler and there weren’t many shops. We walked towards the chapel and found a water basin on the right, which was where little Mariette had dipped her hands. We too dipped our hands and drank some of the water.

After visiting the chapel, we walked through the woods that bound the water basin. While we were walking, I realized why Our Lady had called herself The Virgin of the Poor. We well-to-do people tend to underestimate the issue of poverty.

It is one of the most serious social problems. Here amid the woods of Banneux, in my mind I saw all the jobless, poor Sicilians that had migrated to Belgium to work in the coal mines after the end of the Second World War. Many of them died trapped underground, while those who survived contracted an illness called silicosis, which was a progressive disease caused by the inhalation of dust in mines.

My mind went to the immigrants that try to reach the Sicilian coast packed in precarious boats, which sometimes wrecked, causing the deaths of hundreds of people, whose only fault is to be poor and searching for a better place to live.

I recalled a butcher in Enna who had a large family. My father used to go to his shop to buy lamb at Easter. Over time, many butcher shops sprang up in Enna, so that butcher couldn’t match the competition and became poor. He took on debts to feed his family, hoping he would be able to pay them, but things didn’t go well. He fell into despair and couldn’t find a way out. One night he left his home and told his wife that he had to cut a few lambs’ throats, but things went differently. He pulled down the shutters in his shop, and instead of cutting lambs’ throats, he cut his own. The following day his blood still leaked through the chink of the shutter, flowing into the street.

There are many tragedies caused by poverty that we don’t know about. Sometimes, even when we know about them we ignore them instead of doing something to try to overcome the scourge of poverty.

Here, where Our Lady of the Poor appeared, I saw in my mind’s eye how many conflicts were sparked off by poverty. Indigence gives rise to social malaise, and then to a Mafia, terrorism, and war. It is not by chance that terrorists and members of the Mafia are recruited from the poorest classes.

We left Banneux and headed for Amsterdam. My wife wanted to visit the Van Gogh Museum, which contains an ample collection of his paintings. He was a genius, but also a very unlucky man who suffered from mental disorders. He was found dead at the age of thirty-seven from a gunshot wound that he likely fired himself.

This is an excerpt from A Hidden Sicilian History by ETTORE GRILLO

Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind




I came in touch with Our Lady of Fatima when I was around sixteen years old. At the time, the crowned statue of the Virgin of Fatima was taken across Italy. The statue arrived in Enna by helicopter and was then taken to the monastery of Montesalvo, where it remained for a few hours. I followed the statue all the way to the playground where the helicopter had landed and then took off.

The following day at school, I talked about Our Lady of Fatima with my schoolmates, who didn’t seem as enthusiastic as me about the coming of the statue.

Have you ever heard about the three secrets of Fatima?” asked Carlo, one of my schoolmates.

He was a priest’s nephew. His uncle, besides being a priest, was also a teacher of Latin at our school.

No, I haven’t. I don’t even know about Our Lady of Fatima,” I answered.

Okay, I’ll tell you what happened on May 13, 1917. That day, Our Lady appeared to three children, named Lucia, Francisco, and Giacinta, in a place called Cova da Iria, and asked them to come to the same place on the thirteenth of each month for five consecutive months at the same time.

The civil and religious authorities didn’t believe the three young shepherds, and Lucia’s mother accused her of lying. On August thirteenth, the three children were arrested and forced to confess that they hadn’t told the truth, but they were unshakable and kept their side of the story. The children couldn’t go to Cova de Iria that day because they were in prison, but Our Lady appeared again to them on August nineteenth, and this time she promised that on October thirteenth, which would be the day of the last apparition, she would give them evidence of the authenticity of the apparition so that everybody would believe them.

On the appointed day, people from all over Portugal came to Cova de Iria to be present at the miraculous event that had been predicted by Our Lady. There were believers and nonbelievers there, as well as civil and religious authorities and many anticlerical journalists.

It was a rainy day. After noon it stopped raining and a cloud enveloped the three children. Our Lady asked Lucia to build a chapel in that place, and announced that the war would be over soon. Then the miracle happened. The sun started twirling in the sky. It was visible to the naked eye. It suddenly seemed that it was falling down toward the crowd. Then it halted before going up again in the sky.”

I listened to Carlo with my mouth wide open. I was really mesmerized by his account, but my mind was turned to the secrets.

“What about the secrets?” I asked.

Oh, they are terrible! You should know that the third secret of Fatima has not been revealed yet. It was given to the Pope by one of the three children to whom the Virgin Mary appeared. In fact, of the three young shepherds, two died very young while the third, Lucia, is still living.”

Do you know the contents of the first two secrets?” I asked.

Yes. In the first secret, Lucia, Giacinta, and Francisco were shown hell. In the second secret, Our Lady said that after the First World War, another would burst forth that would be worse. Furthermore, she said that someday Russia would be converted and the world would enjoy a time of peace.”

Does your uncle the priest know anything about the third secret?” I asked.

No, he doesn’t. Nobody knows the third secret except the Pope. In my opinion,” said Carlo, “there must be something catastrophic in the message. Otherwise, the Pope would have revealed it. Maybe the message talks about the end of the world.”

At Carlo’s words, a shudder of fear ran throughout my body as I linked the end of the world to the end of my life.

More than fifty years had gone by since my conversation with Carlo. Meanwhile, the third secret, which had been kept in the Vatican archives for fifty-six years, was revealed by Pope John Paul II, who said that the secret was related to him.

The text of the third secret was also reported in our local newspaper on June 27, 2000. I read the article, cut it out, and put it into the drawer of my bedside table, where still I keep it.

The article tells the secret and contains a theological comment by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later would become Pope.

Not one catastrophic prediction was contained in the third secret. The real meaning of the message, according to Vatican, is that one can change his or her destiny through prayer and penance.

I had believed that every human being has his or her destiny already assigned and cannot do anything to change it. Now the third secret of Fatima had turned my way of thinking upside down. On the other hand, it is unthinkable that God, who is the giver of life and the creator of all things, is not able to change destiny.

Here is the unabridged text of the third secret:

After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendor that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: ‘Penance, Penance, Penance!’ And we saw in an immense light that is God: ‘something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it’ a Bishop dressed in White ‘we had the impression that it was the Holy Father.’ Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.

Tuy, January 3, 1944

My wife and I were flying from Rome to Lisbon when I told her, who is not a believer, what happened on May 13,1981, at Saint Peter’s Square in Rome.

It was a peaceful afternoon at Saint Peter’s Square when Pope John Paul II was passing through the crowd. Suddenly a Turkish man, who was a professional killer, fired two bullets

at the Pope. The Pope was taken to the hospital unconscious and was about to die, while the attempted assassin tried to run away, but was blocked by a nun named Sister Lucia. Don’t you think that these are singular coincidences?”

What coincidences?” asked my wife.

The first coincidence is the date of the event. Both the first apparition to the shepherd children and the attempt on the Pope’s life happened on the same day, May thirteenth. Furthermore, the person that caught the killer was called Lucia, like the young shepherdess of Fatima.”

Yes, they are astonishing coincidences. Did the Pope survive?”

Yes, he survived, and he had no doubt that it had been Our Lady who had deflected the bullets, which otherwise would have been fatal. The Pope was bound to die, and the prophecy contained in the third secret of Fatima would have been carried out if not for the intercession of the Virgin Mary. Hence, the future and prophecies can be changed if it is God’s will.”

We landed at the airport in Lisbon and remained in the city for a few days before going to Fatima. While in Portugal, we visited Cabo da Roca, which is the extreme western tip of Europe. It is the place where the land ends and the ocean begins. Watching the immense ocean from the top of the headland, I revived the dreams of the great navigators of the past who had left the safety of the land to sail the unknown. Seen from an altitude of 140 meters above sea level, the ocean gave me a sense of immensity and infinity. It was like watching the firmament from above rather than from below.

We arrived at Fatima in the early afternoon and found accommodations in a very good hotel near the sanctuary. A few steps further was a square wider than I had ever seen, and at the opposite end was the sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima. What impressed me was the view of the tombs of the three shepherd children; two were close to each other, while Francisco’s was detached. Near the sanctuary is a museum where the crown of Our Lady is kept. Set in the crown is the bullet that had crossed Pope John Paul II’s body without damaging vital organs. Not far from the square there was a small train that took tourists to the houses where the three children had lived and the hillock where the angel had appeared to them.

We left Fatima bound for another holy place called Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

This is an excerpt from A Hidden Sicilian History by ETTORE GRILLO

Ettore Grillo, author of these books:

– A Hidden Sicilian History

– The Vibrations of Words

– Travels of the Mind