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Albert of Trapani

Leopold Glueckert

Albert is probably the earliest canonized saint in the very long list of Carmelite saints and blesseds. He has long been considered one of the model patrons of the Order, as well as patron of the Carmelite schools.

There are very few reliable details of his life, but he was most likely born about the year 1250 to the prominent Abate family. He grew up in Trapani, on the far western end of Sicily. The Carmelites had established a house at Trapani shortly before, and young Albert studied there. He decided to enter the novitiate, and probably took his vows as a Carmelite friar about age eighteen. It is likely that he also was ordained to the priesthood in his native town.

Since he was such a good scholar, he remained in Trapani to teach for some time. Though Albert wrote very little, his reputation as an effective teacher has lived on. But his greatest fame came from his travels throughout Sicily as a vigorous and passionate preacher. Outside of the monasteries and a few cathedral schools, there was no structure for the religious education of ordinary lay people, especially those of the working classes. It had also been only a few centuries since the expulsion of the Saracens from Sicily. Albert understood the war for the minds of the local people over their loyalty to Islam, Christianity, or Judaism.

So the work of mendicant preachers was an essential link between the lives of the working people and their faith and commitment to the Church. Albert was one of the best of those preachers.

In his travels, he not only spoke of God's mercy and the importance of constant prayer, but the absolute need to respond to God's generosity with a moral life. His own life was blameless, as he lived out his own teachings. His skillful preaching won him great renown, but he was even better known for his disciplined, penitential manner, and his robust prayer life. Many families brought their sick or disturbed relatives to him for his prayers, and more than a few cures were attributed to his holiness.

In this earliest century of the Carmelite presence in Europe, the Order was relatively unknown. The desert spirituality which the early hermits had brought with them from the Holy Land seemed out of place in urban and agricultural Sicily. But people quickly learned that prayerfulness furnished a powerful foundation for the words and actions that followed from it. Albert was recognized as a genuine man of God, and many people embraced Christianity because he was so authentic to Jesus' Gospel. He spoke passionately to Christian and Non-Christian alike, and was loved and respected throughout the island.

Because of his effectiveness, Albert was elected Provincial of Sicily about 1296, giving him leadership of all Carmelite houses on the island, and many more in southern Italy. He accepted the election, even though he disliked administrative work. He took up residence in Messina, the oldest Carmelite foundation, and continued his vigorous preaching apostolate from there.

At just the time when Albert was at his finest as an evangelizer and reconciler, Sicily was wracked by violent conflicts for control of the Kingdom. French overlords were expelled by a broad coalition of the local people, beginning with the famous Sicilian Vespers in 1282. They appealed to Pedro of Aragon for support against the French House of Anjou, and two decades of war brought suffering and starvation to the Island. Albert's travels now had to include peacemaking and reconciliation of political factions and armed bands of partisans. The Anjou dynasty had no intention of giving up easily.

In 1301, Messina was under siege by Robert of Anjou, Duke of Calabria, who maintained a tight blockade on the port, preventing any food imports for the starving population. The city council pleaded for Albert to intercede with God for deliverance. In response, Albert celebrated a Mass for relief from the famine, and invited the city fathers and ordinary believers to pray with him. Just as he was finishing, three grain ships managed to dash through the blockade, providing enough food to save the civilians of Messina. The grateful citizens proclaimed it a miracle, and Albert's popularity soared. Robert lifted his blockade and made peace the following year.

After many years of activity, Albert finally retired to a small mountain hermitage where he died in 1307.

The people of Messina brought his body back to the city, and the Archbishop prepared to have his funeral Mass in the cathedral. A charming legend tells the story of a dispute about which requiem Mass to celebrate, when two angels appeared and intoned the antiphon for the Mass of a holy man, indicating that Albert was already in heaven. His body was eventually returned to Trapani, where it is venerated in the Carmelite church, near the lovely statue of Our Lady of the Annunciation. Pope Sixtus IV canonized him in 1476. He continues to serve as a powerful model of scholarship and pastoral preaching.

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As Carmelites We live our life of allegiance to Jesus Christ and to serve Him faithfully with a pure heart and a clear conscience through a commitment to seek the face of the living God (the contemplative dimension of life), through prayer, through fraternity, and through service (diakonia). These three fundamental elements of the charism are not distinct and unrelated values, but closely interwoven. 

All of these we live under the protection, inspiration and guidance of Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, whom we honor as "our Mother and sister."