Publish date 24-05-2023

by Renzo Agasso

Worn habit, gray beard, light eyes. Sandals and cane. A sort of St. Francis of our times wandered around Palermo. Now he is dead, and his funeral showed how much he was loved. A disorderly procession, of the disorder of affection, of love, of familiarity. People of all kinds, ages, origins, archbishop in the lead, priests and friars, black and white. Poor. Homeless. Victims of life. The humanity that Biagio Conte collected, consoled and accompanied throughout his short life.

Rich as he was, he divested himself of possessions to live on the street, at the station, under the bridge. Without anything. Who made him do it? There were other ways to be Samaritans. Born in 1963, wealthy family, I want I can command. No, he leaves in '90 without saying anything. He reaches Assisi and there, with Francis, he finds the answer. How to change the world? To live as a poor man among the poor. In Palermo, where there is a hidden power that makes a living out of poverty: the cursed mafia that kills not only people but also hope. "Poor Palermo!" Archbishop Salvatore Pappalardo would cry one day at yet another funeral for the murdered.

Biagio Conte changes Palermo with fasting and prayers. The derelict flock in droves, the Mission of hope and charity is born, which bears the company name in its name. Other volunteers join, Providence does its part. A daily miracle. Without noise, without proclamations, without advertising. He is enough, with a stick and sandals, a smile that tastes like heaven. «Biagio is a beam of light, our star», says the current archbishop Corrado Lorefice.

Then the tumor arrived. At only 59 years old. He suffers a lot, surrounded by affection from his poor. Finally, he dies on January 12, 2023. Half of Palermo accompanies him to the cemetery, the other half mourns and regrets him.
The Palermitan of the Quirinale, Sergio Mattarella, writes his sentence: «I learned with deep pain the sad news of the death of brother Biagio, a point of reference, not only in Palermo, for those who believe in the values of solidarity and the dignity of the person, who testified concretely, in an engaging and heroic way. Regret and gratitude towards Biagio Conte must be expressed by consolidating and developing his initiatives in the future so that the memory of his figure is concrete and real, just as his example was".
Biagio is no more. Biagio will always be there.

Renzo Agasso
NP February 2023

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