Saint of the Day – 13 August – Blessed Mark of Aviano OFM Cap (1631-1699) – Franciscan Capuchin Friar, Priest, Preacher, Spiritual Advisor, Political Advisor, Peace-maker, Miracle worker and the inventor of Cappuccino – born on 17 November 1631 at Aviano, Italy as Carlo Domenico Cristofori and died on 13 August 1699 of cancer in Vienna, Austria.
Carlo Domenico Cristofori was born in Aviano, a small community in the Republic of Venice (Italy). Educated at the Jesuit College in Gorizia, at 16 he tried to reach the island of Crete, where the Venetians were at war with the Ottoman Turks, in order to preach the Gospel and convert the Muslims to Christianity. On his way, he sought asylum at a Capuchin convent in Capodistria, where he was welcomed by the Superior, who knew his family and who, after providing him with food and rest, advised him to return home.
Inspired by his encounter with the Capuchins, he felt that God was calling him to enter their Order. In 1648, he began his novitiate. A year later, he professed his vows and took his father’s name, Marco, becoming Fra’ Marco d’Aviano. On 18 September 1655 he was ordained a priest in Chioggia. His ministry entered a new phase in 1664, when he received a licence to preach throughout the Republic of Venice and other Italian states, particularly during Advent and Lent. He was also given more responsibility when he was elected Superior of the convents of Belluno in 1672 and Oderzo in 1674.
His life took an unexpected turn in 1676, when he gave his blessing to a nun, bedridden for some 13 years, she was miraculously healed. The news spread far and wide and it was not long before the sick and many others from all social strata, began to seek him out.
Among those who sought his help was Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, whose wife had been unable to conceive a male heir. From 1680 to the end of his life, Marco d’Aviano became a close confidant and adviser to him, providing the irresolute and often indecisive emperor with guidance and advice for all problems, political, economic, military or spiritual. His forceful, energetic and sometimes passionate and fiery personality proved a good complement for Leopold’s Hamlet-like tendency to allow endless doubts and scruples to paralyse his capacity for action.
As the danger of war with the Ottoman Turks grew near, Marco d’Aviano was appointed by Pope Innocent XI (Memorial yesterday) as his personal envoy to the Emperor. An impassioned preacher and a skillful mediator, Marco d’Aviano played a crucial role in resolving disputes, restoring unity and energising the armies of the Holy League, which included Austria, Poland, Venice and the Papal States under the leadership of the Polish king Jan III Sobieski. In the decisive Battle of Vienna (1683), the Holy League succeeded in inflicting a defeat on the invading Ottoman Turks. This marked the end of the last Turkish attempt to expand their power in Europe and the beginning of the long European counter-offensive that was to continue ultimately until the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. This may therefore be considered one of the decisive battles of history. It also put an end to the period of Ottoman revival in Europe.
From 1683 to 1689 Marco participated in the military campaigns, playing a crucial role in promoting good relations within the Imperial army and encouraging the soldiers. He was present at the liberation of Buda in 1686 and at the siege of Belgrade in 1688. He always maintained a strictly religious spirit, to which any violence and cruelty were repugnant. As a result, at the siege of Belgrade several hundred Muslim soldiers successfully appealed to him personally, in order to avoid being massacred upon capture.
In the 2012 Polish and Italian historical drama film The Day of the Siege: September Eleven 1683 about the Battle of Vienna, Marco d’Aviano is portrayed by F. Murray Abraham.
Legend has it that when the Ottomans fled before the European army, they left behind a lot of their strong, bitter coffee. The Christian soldiers, to make this liberated coffee more palatable, mixed it with honey and milk and named the drink after Mark’s Order, the Capuchins and thus Cappuccino was created. It is probably just a fable but I favour believing it, allowing the reminder of a quick prayer to Blessed Mark whenever I drink one. We can never have too many intercessors, can we?
In the judgement of historians, Marco’s influence over Leopold was exercised responsibly, in the sole interests of Christianity and of the House of Austria. In one of his private letters to the Emperor, Marco actually scolds him quite forcefully for granting a benefit to one of his brothers, reminding him that, by so doing, he was only providing ammunition for the enemies of their cause.
Blessed Mark died of cancer on August 13, 1699 in Vienna. He is buried in the Kapuzinerkirche, in whose vault the Habsburg emperors are buried. He was Beatified on 27 April 2003 by St Pope John Paul II.
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