“Holiness does not consist in extraordinary penances, ecstasy and rapture, in wonderful gifts and great works that attract admiration. It consists in the possession of God's grace and friendship, in the possession of love, the exercise of virtue, the fulfilment of the duties of one's own state and in the observance of the divine law. This is the holiness I call ordinary, possible and a duty for all; there is no excuse that can convince us that such a holiness is impossible” –St. Guido Maria Conforti
Guido Maria Conforti was born on March 30, 1865, at Casarola di Ravadese, in the diocese of Parma, Italy to the family of Rinaldo and Antonia Conforti, the eighth of ten children. He attended an elementary school run by Brothers of the Christian Schools in Parma from 1872. Each day on his way to the school he would stop by the church of Santa Maria della Pace (St. Mary of Peace) where he would gaze upon the large crucifix on the altar. It seemed to him the eyes of crucified Christ would look at him and talk to him. “I looked at Him, and He looked at me… and it seemed as though he was telling me many things,” he remarked one day, speaking of “his Crucifix.” “For me it is a miraculous crucifix. I owe my vocation to it,” he told one of his friends in later years.
Feeling called to become a priest, he entered the seminary in Parma at the age of 17. During his studies he experienced an illness where he would pass out for a few hours and was always short of breath. Due to this condition, while his classmates were ordained priests, he was asked to wait. Guided by the wisdom of Blessed Anna Maria Adorni (1805-1893), a holy religious woman who lived in Parma, Guido made frequent trips to the local shrine of Our Lady of Fontanellato seeking her intercession. After being eventually ordained on September 22, 1888, he celebrated his first solemn mass there.“Having read during his seminary years a life of St Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit missionary who died at the gates of China in 1552, he developed a missionary vocation but his requests to be accepted as a missionary by the Jesuits and the Salesians were to no avail due to his poor health.” [Eman Bonnici, Biography of St. Guido Maria Conforti]
On March 9, 1894, at the age of 29, Fr. Conforti wrote to the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, Cardinal Ledochowski: “Since my youth I have always felt the strongest desire to dedicate my life to the foreign Missions and, since I was unable to fulfill this holy disposition at the proper time due to reasons over which I had no control, I decided several years ago to found a seminary for the Emilia region dedicated to this most noble goal. This plan was not weakened in any way by the passing of time or changing circumstances; on the contrary, it became stronger and stronger and, encouraged by the wise counsel of holy persons, I believe it to be inspired by none other than God Himself… I shall offer myself entirely and all I possess in order to fulfill the holy enterprise. I shall thus contribute my own small stone to the great building of which Christ is the cornerstone... Although I am aware of my worthlessness, I shall not be daunted by any contradictions and difficulties; I shall place my trust in the Divine Heart that suffered for all the peoples of the earth and in the protection of the glorious Apostle of the Indies (St. Francis Xavier), who shall mercifully protect me from Heaven.” [Visible Signs of Conforti's Legacy, Excerpts from the 100 year anniversary booklet (1895-1995)] Not having been able to follow, for health reasons, the missionary vocation to which he felt called, on December 3, 1895, feast of St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552), Fr. Conforti, founded the Xaverian Institute for the Foreign Missions (Xaverian Missionaries) at Parma with the sole and exclusive purpose of the evangelization of non-Christians. It was a “daring undertaking”. In 1899 he sent the first two missionaries to China, followed by many others over the years.
In May, 1902, Pope Leo XIII appointed him as Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Ravenna. Many people were amazed because he was only 37 years old. The appointment was unexpected. In his conversation with the Pontiff, Fr. Conforti shared his dream of going to China for the work of evangelization. The Pope told him that his field of work was Ravenna, "the China of Italy", continuing: "I summoned you to Rome in person so that you could hear from the mouth of the Pontiff himself what he asks of you. So be ready to do the will of God and He will give you the grace necessary for the fulfilment of His plan". He was consecrated bishop on June 11, 1902 by Cardinal Lucido Maria Parocchi, at the basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, Rome. He devoted all his energy for the good of the Archdiocese. However, he resigned two years later because of poor health. As he wrote to Pope Pius X his resignation letter, he comments: “It is for this reason, and not to avoid the inevitable suffering and cross of the Episcopal ministry, that I humbly pray Your Holiness to accept my resignation and allow me to retire to the solitude of my Institute for the Mission among the non-Christians, where I shall dedicate the short time that remains for me to live, to the education of young people who yearn to take part in the peaceful conquests of the Faith and martyrdom. I would thus continue to give good service to God's Church, services that are incompatible with the Episcopal character.” [Letter to Pius X, August 10, 1904, Parma, “Red Room”]. Pope St. Pius X reluctantly accepted his resignation in October 1904, and conferred on him the Titular Archbishop of Stauropoli. He returned to his Institute in Parma, where he devoted himself to forming his missionary students.
Regaining his health, Pope Pius X appointed him to the Diocese of Parma in 1907. With all his strength he dedicated himself to the good of the souls entrusted to him, especially those who had moved away from the Lord's path. Throughout his 24 years as Bishop of Parma, he promoted his motto “Christ is all things.” In his efforts to make Christ known and loved, Bishop Conforti spent considerable time visiting parishes, but his main concern centered on religious formation. His spirituality was centered on the person of Christ. Christ was always present in his thoughts and in his heart. Christ was his constant companion in all the actions of his life. He took deep care of the clergy, promoted the religious education of the laity, supported the establishment and development of lay involvement in the Church, especially among the youth. He deeply cared for his diocese, while being deeply involved in the missionary activity “ad gentes”(to non-Christians). [Founder: Saint Guido Conforti, www.xaverianmissionaries.org]
In 1916 he helped to found the Missionary Union of the Clergy, and became its first national president for ten years. He helped organise and attended mission congresses throughout Italy. One of the last significant events of his life was his journey to China in September 1928, which he undertook "as a duty and a need of my heart", notwithstanding his illness and age, visiting his missionaries, having seen by the end of his life, twenty two departure ceremonies of his Xaverian missionaries to the said country. Bishop Conforti died a saintly death in Parma at the age of 66, on November 5, 1931, worn out by his work and apostolic activities. His motto "In Omnibus Christus" (Christ is all things) and "Caritas Christi Urget nos" (The love of Christ urges us) summarized his action and his spirituality.
He was beatified in St. Peter's by Pope John Paul II on March 17, 1996. His Holiness Benedict XVI canonized him on October 23, 2011 in St. Peter's Square. His feast day is November 5.
“The Xaverians went to China, where their Patron, St. Francis Xavier had hoped to arrive. For fifty years China was the only apostolic field of the Xaverians. During his visit to China, St. Guido was heard to exclaim: “In you, O Lord, I place my trust. I will never be let down.”…. In the mysterious ways of Divine Providence, the story of the early Christian communities of the Acts of the Apostles was repeated in the Xaverian family. Persecution caused a scattering and dispersion, this dispersion provided Gospel proclamation to other peoples and lands. Xaverian Missionaries dispersed as a result of the persecution of Mao and now find themselves in Japan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Taiwan, United States, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Sierra Leone, Congo, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Mozambique and Italy.” [Excerpts from the 100 year anniversary booklet (1895-1995)]
LESSONS FROM THR LIFE OF ST GUIDO MARIA CONFORTI
The interior attitude of abandoning oneself with trust into the hands of the Lord guided the life and ministry of St Guido Maria Conforti…. His life was marked by numerous trials, even serious ones. He understood how to accept every situation with docility, welcoming it as an indication of the path traced for him by Divine Providence. In every circumstance, even in debilitating periods of illness, he knew how to recognize God's plan, which led him to build his Kingdom, above all through self-denial and the daily acceptance of God's will, ever more complete with a trusting abandonment. He first experienced and testified what he taught his missionaries, namely, that perfection consists in doing the will of God, following the model of the crucified Jesus. St Guido Maria Conforti fixed his interior gaze on the Cross, which sweetly attracted him. In contemplating the Cross he saw the horizon of the entire world open wide to him, he perceived the “urgent” desire, hidden in the heart of every person, to receive and welcome the good news of the only love that saves. [Benedict XVI, Homily at the canonization of Blessed Guido Maria Conforti, October 23, 2011, St. Peter's Square]
A Model of Christian life for all the faithful: St Guido Conforti is a model of Christian life for all the faithful. He offers an example of a holiness that does not consist of spectacular works, but in the humble faithful and constant fulfillment of God's will in every moment of life. In our own time, in which the faith is constantly threatened by rationalism, secularization, materialism and the pursuit of pleasure in all its forms, Blessed Conforti reminds us that faith is our greatest treasure and we must allow it to inspire us to think, judge, act and behave as Christ, who is the great Model we must imitate and who must be the center of all our thoughts and affection.
As a teacher of faith, he proposes a solid path towards holiness to all the faithful, a holiness that he lived and believed possible for all Christians. [Fr. Guglielmo Camera, s.x., (Postulator for the Cause of Canonization), The Virtues: Why Conforti is a Saint, Feb. 21, 2011]
A Model for priests: The life of St Guido as a priest is well described in the letter he sent to the priests of his diocese, the diocese of Parma, on 2 August 1913, to mark the 25th anniversary of his priestly ordination. He encouraged his priests to imitate Jesus the Good Shepherd, the same programme he tried to live out each day as a bishop and priest: “We must love in the same way as Jesus Christ, who gave his entire self for us. Our preference must be for those who are in the greatest need, and who offer us the greatest opportunity to exercise our charity and acquire greater merits in the sight of God. We must prefer the poor, who are the object of Christ's predilection; we must prefer those who are in physical pain, those who bear the burden of sorrow and who need comfort in their state of solitude and abandonment; these people need a friendly word that points them to heaven, which is promised above all to those who weep and bear misfortune with Christian resignation. We must prefer the children; above all, we must show preference to those who have strayed from the Father's house, for those who hate us because they do not know us, those who blaspheme religion because they have never studied it; for these too we must have a profound charity and reach out to them, as far as circumstances allow and, when nothing else if possible, we must at least pray for their conversion” [Pastoral Letter, 2 August 1913].
God father of all, through the Spirit of your Son, you are the wellspring of all that is good and holy. We praise you for the life of your servant, Guido M. Conforti. In the gaze of your Crucified Son he beheld your love for every creature, and resolved to give himself entirely to the impelling need to make the Gospel known. We thank you for giving him to the Church as a Shepherd, to the Xaverian Missionaries as a Father, and to all as an example of virtue and holiness. We pray to you, through his intercession, increase our faith that we be messengers of your love, witnesses of your hope, and builders of your Kingdom. To you be praise and glory forever. Amen.