March 23, 2014

Blessed Leopold of Alpandeire

Capuchin Questors - a Dying Breed

"Questing in this form, as Brother Leopold exercised it, has all but disappeared in the Order. .... Blessed Leopold belongs to that great army of Brother Questers who have incarnated in minority the quest of one who seeks out, the quest of the good God who seeks out man because he loves him." (Brother Mauro JΓΆhri, Capuchin General Minister)

Married Life Was Not his Calling

Brother Leopold of Alpandeire was baptized Francis Thomas of Saint John the Baptist on the 29th of June 1864.  Five days before his baptism, he was born the eldest of James MΓ‘rquez Ayala and Jeronima SΓ‘nchez JimΓ©nez, a devout couple. who earned their living by farming in Alpandeire, a small village in the South-West of Spain.

Cheerful, generous and hardworking from his youth, Francis Thomas would start his day by attending Mass and visiting the Blessed Sacrament. As a young man he had even dated a girlfriend but, in the end, his was not calling to marriage and family life.

In 1894, hearing Capuchin Brothers preach in Ronda, 30 year old Francis Thomas decided enter the Capuchin Order saying, "I want to be a Capuchin like them." Five years later, on the 16th of November 1899, at the Capuchin Novitiate in Seville, he entered the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor, changing his name forever to Brother Leopold of Alpandeire.   

A Life Lived Out amidst the Noise of World He Longed to Escape

For a few years he spent the early part of his Capuchin life in solitude and quiet, usually devoting himself to the ministry of gardener in the Friaries of Seville, Granada and Antiquerra.  He made temporary profession in 1900 and was finally professed in 1903. 

In 1914, Brother Leopold of Alpandeira was moved to Granada for the second time in his life and assigned to the ministry of questing. He had become a friar to escape "the noise of the world", yet now he would spend the remaining 50 years of his life, questing in the rowdy city streets for his confreres' daily bread. Such closeness to the people did not hinder his prayer life; rather it helped him to come out of himself, to be helpful and to love in new and unexpected ways. 

Detached, but never distant, he would stop along the way to teach children some catechism and listen to adults' tales of woe. He taught others to trust in Our Lady's powerful help by reciting three Hail Marys and he himself practiced this Marian devotion. Besides, he would often invoke Our Lady under the title - "Mary Most Pure!" He crisscrossed the streets of Granada daily, dispensing alms of love and scattering clouds of sadness that overshadowed people's lives. Indeed, even his pure and penetrating eyes exuded light and serenity.

A Man of Peace Praying for Those who Persecuted Him

Yet the streets he trod were not always just easy pathways strewn, as it were,  with roses, He exercised the questor’s task when Spanish anticlericalism had reached its zenith and priests and religious were despised, if not openly persecuted. Certain people did not hesitate to stone, insult and threaten Brother Leopold as he went about his daily work. "You old tramp," they shouted at him, "Do some work instead of going around begging all the time!" Others were even more blunt in their threats. "You idle good-for-nothing, we’ll soon tie that cord of yours around your neck!", "Just wait, we’re going to slit your throat!" Yet Leopold's only reaction his persecutors was one which paraphrased the Gospel: "Poor wretches, we must feel sorry for them, because they don’t know what they’re doing." All the while, Brother Leopold continued to exude a calmness and gentleness that were the fruits of inner peace, a peace that was derived from his intense life of prayer. 

His Final Years Spent Praying All the More Intensely

One day while he begging for alms as usual, at the age of 89, he fell and broke his thigh. Though he recovered somewhat, his days of questing were over. Brother Leopold devoted his remaining years to a life of intense prayer and union with God. He died at Granada on February the 9th, 1956 and his grave soon became a place of prayer and pilgrimage. He was beatified in Granada by Cardinal Amato, Prefect of the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints, acting on behalf of Pope Benedict XVI, on the 12th of October 2010. Pope Benedict later said of him, "The life of this simple and austere Capuchin religious is a song to humility and confidence in God and a luminous model of devotion to the Most Holy Virgin Mary."

"One must accept what God sends us. He always does the best thing.", "God knows better what is good for us.", "One must not be afraid. Let us go where God calls us." - Blessed Leopold of Alpandeire

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