Mark of Aviano (1631-1699)
Mark of Aviano was born on 17 November 1631 in Aviano, Italy, to Marco Pasquale Cristofori and Rosa Zanoni and was given the name Carlo Domenico on the day of his Baptism. He was educated at home and later he attended the school in Gorizia conducted by the Jesuit Fathers.
Fascinated by the lives of heroes and martyrs and moved by holy zeal, he left Gorizia on foot when he was 16 years old and headed for the island of Crete where the Venezians were at war with the Ottoman Turks. He too wanted to be a martyr for the faith. After a few days walk, tired and hungry, the young man arrived in Capodistria and knocked on the door of the Capuchin Convent. He was welcomed by the superior who, after providing him with food and rest, advised him to return home.
Deeply inspired by his encounter with the Capuchins, Carlo felt that God was calling him to enter the order. In 1648, at Conegliano Veneto, he entered the novitiate of the Capuchins. A year later, he professed his vows and was given the name "Fr Mark of Aviano". On 18 September 1655 he was ordained a priest in Chioggia. He lived the next few years immersed in prayer and in fulfilling his duties within the community, dedicating himself without reserve to living as faithfully as possible the Rule and Constitutions.
His cloistered life, however, took a different turn in 1664 when he received the "licence to preach" and was called to the missionary activity of spreading the Gospel throughout Italy, especially during the Advent and Lenten seasons. He was also given more responsibility within the Order when he was elected superior of the convent of Belluno in 1672, and of the convent of Oderzo in 1674.
Fr Mark of Aviano's life changed unexpectedly on 8 September 1676. While preaching at a monastery in Padua, he gave his blessing to Sr Vincenza Francesconi who had been bedridden for some 13 years. Upon receiving Fr Mark's blessing, she was healed. The news of the "miraculous blessing" spread throughout the town, and it was not long before the sick and suffering came in search of him to ask for his blessing.
Fr Mark continued, obedient to his superiors and to the direct instructions of the Holy See, to preach inside and outside of Italy. His preaching was incisive and essential, and he especially educated and encouraged the faithful to repent of their sins and to lead a consistent evangelical life. He always led the public recitation of the "Act of Perfect Contrition", a prayer that was printed and circulated in many European countries. His blessing brought abundant spiritual graces to the faithful, and often miraculous physical healings.
Among those who sought his help and counsel was the Austrian Emperor Leopold I. From 1680 until his death, Fr Mark assisted Leopold I, offering him spiritual guidance and helping him to discern solutions for every sort of problem: political, economic, military and religious. The priest was also appointed by Pope Innocent XI as Apostolic Nuncio and Papal Legate, leaving his convent in Padua for Vienna. He encouraged everyone through his preaching and was successful in freeing Vienna from the Ottoman Turks on 12 September 1683.
From 1683-89 he participated in the military campaigns of defence and liberation, with the aim always to establish and to promote reciprocal friendly relations within the Imperial army, to teach authentic Christian conduct and to help the soldiers spiritually. His assistance re-established peace in Europe (he also helped to bring about the liberation of Buda on 2 September 1686 and of Belgrade on 6 September 1688), and his intercession promoted unity between the Catholic powers in the defence of the faith, so threatened by the Ottoman forces.
Throughout his missions and frequent contact with others, Fr Mark always lived in the presence of God, and indeed it was this union with God that gave him the light of discernment and the ability to give appropriate counsel in the most difficult situations. He once wrote: "God knows that the scope of all of my works is only to do His will. My only interest is God's glory and the good of souls. I am always an obedient son of Holy Mother Church and am ready to shed my blood and give my life for Her".
Capuchin Fr Mark of Aviano died of a tumor on 13 August 1699 in Vienna. As he was patient and strong in facing the difficulties of his apstolate and persecution from the enemies of the Church, so was he equally strong in accepting the suffering that his disease caused him at the end of his life.