Brother Biagio Conte (Palermo, 1963 - Palermo, 2023)

lay missionary from Palermo, has dedicated his life to helping the most needy

Biagio Conte, better known as Brother Biagio, was an Italian lay missionary. Born in Palermo in 1963 in a wealthy family, Biagio Conte experienced a deep spiritual crisis in his twenties, shutting himself away. A few years later, in 1990, he decided to renounce all his material possessions, leading a long period as a hermit in the Sicilian woods and mountains. One day, after getting lost in the snow, Biagio Conte risked freezing to death; rescued by a shepherd, he was hosted in the hermitage of San Bernardo in Corleone, where he made the acquaintance of Saint Francis. Following this experience, Biagio Conte decided to make a long pilgrimage on foot to Assisi, during which he came into contact with numerous needy and marginalised people of all kinds and ethnicities. This gave rise to his vocation to dedicate himself completely to the most fragile people.

Brother Biagio initially thought of moving to India or Africa, with the aim of working as a missionary. However, shortly before leaving, he noticed the extreme poverty present in his Palermo, a city that in the 1990s was torn apart by mafia crimes and misery. It was in this difficult context that Brother Biagio founded, in 1993, the "Mission of Hope and Charity", located in the premises of the former municipal disinfectant factory in Via Archirafi, which he had obtained a concession to use. The mission in Palermo - assisted since 2003 by a women's branch located in the former convent of Santa Caterina and since 2018 by the mission in Castellammare del Golfo - has been offering assistance to the city's most fragile and needy individuals, such as the homeless, the disabled and migrants, for more than 30 years. Every day the missionary centre welcomes hundreds of people, offering them housing and food, medical and legal assistance, cultural mediation and alphabetisation courses for migrants. The 'Mission of Hope and Charity' - which was visited in 2018 by Pope Francis - is also particularly active in the poorest neighbourhoods of the Sicilian regional capital, with more than 300 families receiving basic necessities on a daily basis thanks to the work of the missionary centre's volunteers. During the winter period, a camper van with mission volunteers on board patrols the streets of Palermo, with the aim of meeting people in need and offering them support and assistance.

In addition to coordinating the mission's activities, Brother Biagio distinguished himself throughout his life by organising several peaceful protest demonstrations, with the aim of shaking individual consciences and national and international institutions in front of injustice. In 2018, following the death of several homeless people, Brother Biagio decided to camp out in front of the Central Post Office in Palermo, also carrying out a hunger strike that lasted ten days. As a result of his peaceful protest, the Sicilian Region decided to finance the expansion of the mission in via Decollati, in order to provide shelter and assistance to an increasing number of needy people.

The lay missionary has also spent much of his life defending the rights of migrants. In 2019, Brother Biagio organised another hunger strike to protest the notification of the expulsion decree of Paul, a Ghanaian migrant assisted by the 'Mission of Hope and Charity'. That same year, Brother Biagio made a gruelling pilgrimage on foot from Genoa to Brussels, with the aim of asking the European Union institutions to be more committed in protecting the rights of migrants. On that occasion, Brother Biagio also delivered a missive to the then President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, which read: 'Every man and woman must be respected, they have the right to eat, to have a home, to have a job, it applies to every marginalised person, migrant, immigrant and refugee. We must help every human being, without distinction of colour, nation, religion (...)'.

On January 12, 2023 Brother Biagio passed away after a long illness. The legacy of his precious work of humanity has been inherited by the many volunteers who work daily in the 'Mission of Hope and Charity', assisting the most needy and fighting fervently to ensure that the rights of migrants and the most vulnerable are better safeguarded.

Brother Biagio Conte was honoured as “Righteous reported by the civil society” in the 2024 ceremony.

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