Biagio Conte, a lay missionary based in Palermo, is seen doing a pilgrimage in a almost deserted street on March 20, 2020, in Palermo, Italy. Conte died Jan. 12, 2023, and his Jan. 17, 2023, funeral in Palermo was attended by thousands. / Photo by Tullio Puglia/Getty Images
CNA Newsroom, Jan 17, 2023 / 15:30 pm (CNA).
Thousands of people attended the Jan. 17 funeral of Biagio Conte, the lay missionary founder of the Hope and Charity Mission who was also known as a “modern-day St. Francis.”
Corrado Lorefice, archbishop of Palermo, Italy, and primate of Sicily, was the main celebrant of the Mass, which was concelebrated by numerous bishops and priests.
The funeral was held in the Palermo cathedral, which was filled to capacity.
According to official figures, approximately 1,500 faithful were present inside the church, and at least 9,000 followed the ceremony on giant screens placed outside and around the cathedral.
In his homily, Archbishop Lorefice stressed that Conte “prayed with trust in God, who was the compass, the North Star of his existence.”
Conte, 59, died Jan. 12 from colon cancer, according to Italian religious news outlet SIR-Agenzia d’informazione.
Lorefice thanked God for the gift of Conte “to the city of Palermo, to the Church, and to the world,” because “he was a faithful lay Christian, a brother who believed in the Word of God to the end.”
The archbishop noted that Conte’s life was a “simple and powerful testimony of his clear love for the Gospel” and he fought peacefully with fasting to demonstrate that “it’s possible to combat all forms of violence, all mafia structures and forms, and not be violent.”
Father Giuseppe Vitrano highlighted the witness of Conte, who lived in Palermo, the capital of Sicily, “a land martyred by the Mafia,” adding that “the Mafia can be defeated with the sanctity of life.”
In the wake of Conte’s death, Lorefice invited people to pray and to “make concrete gestures of charity, reconciliation, and peace.”
Biagio Conte was born in Palermo in 1963.
At age 16, he began working at a construction company owned by his family.
He later moved to Florence and then lived as a hermit in the mountains of inland Sicily.
Later, he made a pilgrimage on foot to Assisi and his story spread throughout the media in all of Italy.
Before going to live in Africa as a missionary, Conte stopped by Palermo to say goodbye to his relatives, but when he saw the situation of the poor people in the city, he decided to stay, and in 1993 he created the Hope and Charity Mission.
From that moment on, various homes for the city’s poor were built, including a shelter for women where at least a thousand women over time have found a place to live with a roof over their heads.
Conte, often referred to as “Brother Biagio,” wore a brown robe and carried a staff and was also noted for his hunger strikes and protests asking the civil authorities to provide greater care for those in need.
This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.