The First Years

Sr. Camillus de Lellis

From the book RITRATTI DI SANTI by Antonio Sicari (Jaca Book)

An Extraordinary Birth

In 1574, at the age of twenty-four, Camillus de Lellis, from Abruzzo, was a man who was finished, Born to a elderly mother on the Sunday of Pentecost of the holy year 1550, he was a normal child – indeed he was much more robust and taller than normal (as an adult he was taller than almost everybody else by a head or more) – but his mother’s heart was also saddened because of some sad premonitions. Indeed, nobody managed to educate him. At the age of only thirteen, a little irreducible rebel, he began to  accompany his father from one military centre to another, acquiring from him a destructive passion for gambling at dice or cards and from that world the attitude of a vulgar swashbuckler.

A Mercenary Soldier

For a number of years he was a mercenary soldier, risking his life in battles, in fights, in order to gamble the money that he earned in this way. In 1574 he just escaped a shipwreck and after landing at Naples was taken by such a passion for gambling that the phrase ‘also lost his shirt’ truly applied He ended up like a stray dog, a wanderer with nowhere to go; in shame, he asked for alms outside churches with ‘infinite embarrassment’. In the end he had to work on the building of a Capuchin friary, leading two mules loaded with stones, lime and water for the men building the walls.

The Decisive Turning Point

san_camillo_1But nearness to those friars, who had just been reformed and were still at the height of their enthusiasm, was not a matter of no consequence for him. During his journey to the friary of San Giovanni Rotondo, this was the holy year 1575, he met a friar who took him to one side to say to him: ‘God is everything. The rest is nothing. One should save one’s soul which does not die’. During the long return journey, amidst the hollows of Gargano, Camillus reflected. All of a sudden he got down from the saddle, threw himself to the ground and wept: “Lord, I have sinned. Forgive this great sinner! How unhappy I have been for so many years not to have known you and not to have loved you. Lord, give me time to weep for a long time for my sins”. He asked to become a Capuchin but he was discharged from the friary because of a wound that did not stop suppurating.

With the ‘Incurables’

With renewed spirit, Camillus went back to the hospital to which illness seemed to have chained him, the Roman Hospital of St. James, where the most horrible illnesses were treated and where in the past he had even been employed to look after the other patients, thereby earning some money.

At the Hospital of the Incurables there arrived the most repugnant sick people, the rejects of society, who were often horrible to behold, and who were even dumped down at the gates of the building.

Continues –Health care