Francesco Paolo Gravina Helped the Poor of Palermo

PALERMO, Sicily, NOV. 6, 2000

.- In the context of the Jubilee of governors and legislators, Cardinal Salvatore de Giorgi officially closed the diocesan phase of the process of beatification of Francesco Paolo Gravina, prince of Palagonia and Lercara Friddi and one-time mayor of Palermo.

Prince Gravina lived in Sicily under Bourbon rule from 1800 to 1854. His portrait is not that of a viceroy, but of a figure who experienced suffering and loneliness.

At age 5 he lost his mother. His brother died as a baby. Three sisters entered cloistered convents, and a fourth married. He also married, but the marriage failed from the start. Betrayed for a decade by wife he loved, he decided to separate in secret.

At this time, when he was alone, Gravina underwent a gradual conversion. Before embracing the cause of the poor definitively, however, the city of Palermo elected him mayor. He remained in this post, which his father and grandfather occupied before him, until 1835.

His years as mayor gave him a profound knowledge of his city and of the plight of the poor, and he began projects for the latter's relief. In no time, his aristocratic home was crowded with the poor whom he himself found on the streets of his city.

In 1835 the Bourbons entrusted him with the creation of a beggars' shelter, in which hundreds of miserable people from the streets were housed. By 1839 he was asked to manage a shelter for 1,000 people, including elderly women, girls and boys. Two years earlier, he had founded a religious congregation, the Sisters of Charity of the Prince of Palagonia.

Gravina was determined to liberate the poor, to educate them for work, and to establish centers of assistance in the region. He did not give them money, but his own belongings. Although a lay person in the world, the prince was a man of prayer.

Illness struck him in 1854 and he died surrounded by his poor. His legacy was the congregation of religious and the institutes it directs.

"Today we are one hundred," said Mother Ausilia Bulone of the Sisters of Charity.
"We are concerned with human development and have 12 houses in Italy and Romania. In Sicily, our work comprises numerous orphanages and residences for the elderly. There is also an Association of Friends of the Prince, whose president is Baron Franco Sausa."

During the ceremony concluding the diocesan process of beatification, Cardinal de Giorgi said, "By his life, Prince Gravina demonstrated that it is possible to be holy dministrators, faithful husbands, despite difficulties and betrayals, and agents of charity. We must pray that he may become an example for each one of us."

Mother Ausilia had only one wish: that the prince "become the protector of all mayors."

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