Biagio Conte has died, Palermo mourns the lay missionary who saved the least and preached hope

Biagio Conte has died, Palermo mourns the lay missionary who saved the least and preached hope
Biagio Conte has died, Palermo mourns the lay missionary who saved the least and preached hope

Deafening silence and tears that won’t stop. Biagio Conte died. Brother Biagio, that’s what everyone called him and they will continue to do so even if we will no longer see him walking in the street with his cross and fighting for the weakest to whom he dedicated his whole life. He took them off the street and gave them a home. He embraced them one by one and made them understand that they were precious in the eyes of God. He made them see the light after so much darkness, restoring their dignity as human beings. No one will ever forget it.

“Everything you did to just one of these younger brothers of mine, you did to me”. Brother Biagio put this love of neighbor and of the Father into practice every day.

Who was Biagio Conte

Biagio Conte was born in Palermo on 16 September 1963 into a wealthy family. Son of building contractors, at the age of three he was taken to Switzerland in a boarding school of nuns, returning to Palermo at the age of 9 to then enter the boarding school of San Martino delle Scale for four years. At 16 he dropped out of middle school and started working in his family’s construction business, but a deep spiritual crisis drove him away from his family when he was 20 years old.

He went to settle in Florence and in May 1990 he decided to live as a hermit, retiring to the mountains of the Sicilian hinterland. Afterwards he takes a journey on foot towards the city of Assisi. The journey was made known to the news by the appeals of the family of origin to the Rai broadcast Who has seen?, but Biagio replies live informing of his path. Then he returns to Palermo to greet his family, with the intention of moving to Africa as a missionary, the state of misery in which he finds his city, however, leads him to change his mind.

The birth of the Mission hope and charity

Initially it brings comfort to the homeless of Palermo central station who live in the carriages and on the corners of the city. He fights for them with protests and fasts and obtains the use of some premises in via Archirafi, within which he founded in 1993 the “Mission of hope and charity“. The structure was created for those whom society marginalizes and leaves behind by calling them tramps, alcoholics, vagabonds, foreigners. Biagio Conte called them brothers and sisters.
The old municipal disinfection is now a house that welcomes many people. Subsequently, the female community was born from the former Santa Caterina institute in via Garibaldi. In 2018, after the death of some homeless people in the streets of Palermo, in protest against poverty he decided to sleep on the street, under the arcades of the central post office building, starting a hunger strike that lasted ten days. The Region decides to finance the expansion of the mission in via Decollati and in the former air force barracks, closed for 40 years, “The citadel of the poor and of hope”, a new structure to welcome the many refugees who arrive from far away and land on the coasts of Sicily.

The teaching of Biagio Conte

Biagio Conte’s smile was contagious, his dazzling light. One could not remain indifferent to that charism and that spirit which enveloped everyone. Everyone had a task in the Mission and in the other structures. Everyone put their skills at the service of others and those who had lived on the street for years destroying themselves and forgetting who they were and what they knew how to do, rediscovered that they were still a good carpenter or bricklayer or electrician. Others did the cooking, drove the van or did the gardening.

Brother Biagio taught everyone this, the dignity of work, the beauty of sharing, the possibility of redemption and the importance of hope. Now while everyone is crying, from some corner of heaven Brother Biagio will be asking God to bless us all and he will be greeting us in his way: “Peace and hope to all of you brothers and sisters”.

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