St Felix of Cantalice

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Franciscan brother. Felix of Cantalice, OFM Cap, was born on 18 May 1515 to peasant parents in Cantalice, Italy, He was the third of four sons born to Santi and Santa Porri. They were poor farmers. At about the age of ten, Felix was hired out first as a shepherd to a family at Cittàducale, where he later worked as a farm hand.

Until the age of 28 he worked as a farm labourer and shepherd. He developed the habit of praying while he worked. Toward the end of autumn 1543, Felix entered the newly founded Capuchin friars as a lay brother at the Citta Ducale friary.

In 1547 he was sent to Rome as quaestor of the Capuchin Friary of St Bonaventure, where he spent his remaining 40 years begging alms to help in the friars' work of aiding the sick and the poor.

In Rome, Brother Felix became a familiar sight, wandering barefoot through the streets, with a sack slung over his shoulders, knocking on doors to seek donations. He received permission from his superiors to help the needy, especially widows with many children. It is said that his begging sack was as bottomless as his heart. Brother Felix blessed all benefactors and all those he met with a humble Deo Gratias!, causing many to refer to him as "Brother Deo Gratias".

Felix was so successful in his work that during the famine of 1580, the political leader of Rome asked the Capuchins if they would 'lend' Felix to them so he could collect food and provisions for the entire city. The Capuchins agreed and Felix embraced his new task. He preached in the street, rebuked corrupt politicians and officials, and exhorted young men to stop leading dissolute lives. He also composed simple teaching canticles, and arranged for children to gather in groups to sing them as a way to teach them the catechism.

The plain-spoken Brother Felix was a good friend of St Philip Neri, and an acquaintance of Charles Borromeo. Felix developed a reputation as a healer. As he got older, his superior had to order him to wear sandals to protect his health. Cardinal Santori had offered to use his influence to have the elderly Felix relieved of the difficult task of questing, but Felix refused.

Felix died in Rome in 1587 on his 72nd birthday, and was buried in the crypt of the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. He was beatified on 1 October 1625 by Pope Urban VIII and canonized on 22 May 1712 by Pope Clement XI - the first Capuchin friar in the history of the Order to be canonized.

St Felix is usually represented in art as holding in his arms the Infant Jesus, because of a vision he is said to have had, when the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and placed the Divine Child in his arms.

Pope John Paul II observed that Felix is "shown bearing the Infant Jesus in his arms because in bearing the burdens of the needy he had carried in his arms the poor Christ himself."

The Church of San Felice da Cantalice a Centocelle is named after him. In 19th-century Poland, the Felician Sisters, a religious congregation of Franciscan Sisters of the Third Order Regular, was founded to care for the poor and adopted him as their patron saint.

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