The Conversion of St. Camillus

From Felice Ruffini, San Camillo de Lellis (Edizioni Velar)

On the way to Manfredonia

1 February 1575: Camillus with his donkey and baskets containing a ‘quantity of pasta’ left for S. Giovanni Rotondo to go to the friary of St. Mary of Graces to exchange that pasta for good wine. The moment of God for Camillus came from a fraternal exchange between two communities of Capuchin friars.

He arrived in the late afternoon. After unloading the donkey and reinvigorated by a good meal, he began an intense conversation with the custodian of the friary, Fr. Angelo, walking under the bare vine trellis of the orchard.

The voice of the old friar was slow and gentle as he spoke about God and the life of man: God was everything. The rest, all the rest, was nothing! Saving one’s soul, which never dies, was the only task for which to live a short and interrupted life, the life of man on earth.

Our giant moved in part by pride and in part by stubbornness began to crumble. He did not speak, but his heart was moved and deeply troubled. He spent the night without sleeping. In the morning, 2 February, the feast day of the Purification of the Immaculate Mother of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary, after listening to Holy Mass and receiving a candle that had been blessed, he said goodbye to Fr. Angelo, commending himself to his prayers, and he set off again with his donkey, in the direction of Manfredonia.

The tenuous and reddish light of the early sun shone on the stony summits of Gargano and lit the tortuous way that led downwards before diving towards the sea through a horrible valley.

Hammering like the hooves of the donkey on the crushed stone, in his mind there echoed the words of Fr. Angelo: “God is everything…the rest is nothing”.

It was a matter of moments and then Camillus was sobbing like a child, keeling down amongst the stones that were strewn amongst the thistles and brambles. He cried out to God, beating his chest violently: “Lord I have sinned! Forgive this sinner! O miserable and unhappy me who for so long a time did not know you, my God, and I did not love you! Give me time to do penance and to weep for my sins for a long time, until I have worked away every mark left by them with my tears…no more world…no more world!”

     This time grace had won. It had finally fallen on fertile and promising terrain. So many times in the past Camillus had been deaf! But the Lord had not abandoned him and He returned to knock on his door.

Camillus was twenty-five and had to begin all over again. The Church celebrated the Holy Year and gave general forgiveness.