The Very Rev. Father Alfonso Calabrese OFM

Vocations “come and follow me”

The Very Rev. Father Alfonso Calabrese OFM

Custos of the Holy Land (06.07.1968 - 07.05.1969) 
of the Custody of the Holy Land


Father Alfonso Calabrese suddenly returned his spirit to God on 9th August 1974 at the Delegation of Rome.

Born in Ferentino (province of Frosinone) on 12/9/1917, Father Calabrese, after his secondary school studies in Naples and Emmaus, entered the novitiate on 14/9/1935 in Nazareth.
He had made his simple profession in Nazareth on 15/9/1936 and his solemn profession in Bethlehem on 8/12/1939 at the end of the philosophical three-year period. Sent by his superiors to Italy due to a serious form of diabetes from which he was never to recover, he had been ordained priest on 28/6/1942 in Cori (Province of Latina) towards the end of the theological course.

From 1942 until his death he stayed in Milan where he had conceived – and in 1951 officially founded, during the Custodianship of the Very Rev. Father P. Faccio — the "Centro Propaganda e Stampa" for the Commissaries of the Holy Land of which he was the Director until he passed away. Elected Custos of the Holy Land on 6/7/1968 by the General Definitorium o.f.m., it was impossible for him to take up the prestigious and delicate appointment due to his already precarious state of health, which suddenly worsened. He nevertheless continued to direct the "Centro" of Milan.

In the years he spent in our midst with a smile in his heart and on his lips, Father Calabrese took care to continuously lay a veil of modesty over the gifts he had received from the Lord, over an intelligence that hated convoluted paths, over a living and working faith, over a Eucharistic and Marian faith that was so simple as to be surprising at times and over charity that ignored limits and tiredness,

Whilst "the king’s secret it is prudent to keep, but the works of God are to be declared and made known (Tobit 12,7).

Therefore, for those who do not know, they will learn and for those who know and will be pleased to recall, the following list is a rapid overview of the works by Father Calabrese in the service of the Custody of the Holy Land, leaving for the celestial book the life and jealous memory of those who benefited, believers and non-believers, near and far, simple and educated, from the good that this devoted son of the Custody sowed in their hearts day after day.

Faithful to the main aim for which he had wanted it, Father Calabrese put the Milan "Centro" at the service of the Italian and, when required, foreign Commissariats of the Holy Land, stimulating, helping and assisting the activity of these invaluable bodies that give impulse to missionary life. This explains the “Congresses”, the series of which, begun in Assisi in 19027 under the auspices of the Minister General of the Order, and of the Custos of the Holy Land, continued in 1933 in Grottaferrata, became established in 1946 in Assisi and became a tradition in 1951 and 1954 in Rome, in 1958 again in Assisi, once more in Rome in 1971, after an interval which in 1969 saw Commissaries and Deputy Commissaries, not only from Italy but from all over the world, gathered together in Nazareth, in Madrid — in 1970 — the Commissary Fathers of Spain; meetings in 1970 and 1971 with the Commissary Fathers of the United States, Canada and Central and South America, and various parts of Europe.

This also explains the Courses of Spiritual Exercises, the missionary refresher courses and the specialized meetings held in Assisi, Verona, Milan and Rome in 1955, 1956, 1958 and 1964 for the Brothers who with such great love and commitment perform their mission in the Commissariats.

This also explains the over twenty million items of propaganda material published in the form of maps of the Holy Land, posters for the Pro Holy Places Day, leaflets, brochures, booklets, holy images (the splendid multilingual series in colour “Flowers of the Holy Land” is now almost out of print), postcards (a series in black and white with 40 different subjects, another series in colour with 36 subjects, a third one – multilingual and again in colour, of 50 subjects, with Biblical phrases). This explains the hundreds of thousands of religious objects illustrating the Sanctuaries of the Holy Sepulchre, the Annunciation, the Nativity and the Visitation in the form of pictures, medallions, crosses, badges, key-rings and plaques for cars.

Father Calabrese’s love and devotion for the Custody made him do everything for all the missionary Friars operating in Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Cyprus and Rhodes. He also always met their requests, as far as possible, from the most simple ones to the most difficult and complicated, from the strictly personal problems, to issues on worship and the apostolate. Only God knows how Father Alfondo did his utmost for the artistic completion of the Basilica of Nazareth.

The wisdom and exquisite sensitivity with which he used the means of social communication to spread knowledge and love for the Land of Jesus is no mystery.

For example "Eco di Terra Santa", which was published every two months, in thirteen editions for the Commissariats of Italy and Malta, and the Almanac of the Holy Land, or "Pietro ritorna", published in 1965 in Italian, French and English on the Pilgrimage of His Holiness Paul VI to the Holy Land. There was also the "Guide to the Holy Land" by Father Donato Baldi, which in 1973 had its second edition (after the original) with four reprints and about 50,000 copies and the "Message of Mary of Nazareth" by Father Marco Adinolfi, published in 1973 in Italian, English, French, Spanish and German (twenty thousand copies).

Of a more intimately spiritual character, there was the slim volume "Colloquio interiore" by Sister Mary of the Holy Trinity distributed in more than 50,000 copies in the Italian edition alone; (followed by equally successful translations published in Spain, Germany, England and Portugal); and "Il suo nome è Maria" by Gioia Fati, co-published with Fratelli Fabbri in 1965, with over 30 thousand copies distributed. Convinced of the enormous efficacy of audiovisual media in circulating religious knowledge, Father Calabrese, as well as various radio and TV programmes on the major Christian festivities, did not overlook slides, films and documentaries for the cinema, which were directed by Dr. Rinaldo dal Fabbro and with music by the Maestro A. Vitalini.

A series of 48 colour slides on the Pilgrimage of Paul VI in the Holy Land precedes the splendid “Christ in His Land" written by Father Maurilio Sacchi and with his photos and published by the "Centro" in films and slides (526 scenes) with 10 explanatory booklets. Three short films in black and white were made on the request of the Ministry of Education: "The silence of youth", "From the Jordan to Mount Tabor", “The Encounter of Emmaus", and seven short films in colour: "Christmas in Bethlehem”, "The lake of Jesus", "The olive trees of the agony", "The canticle of the Virgin Mary", "The Mother", "The valley below the sea", "Francis, crusader of love".

The feature films included one in black and white "Crusaders without weapons” and two in colour: "The land of Christ" and "Return to the sources". This one, filmed during the Pilgrimage of the Pope in the Holy Land, was previewed by the Supreme Pontiff who wanted to see it in his private screening room.

Most recently, there was the documentary "A path" on the International Holy Land College un Rome, a valid aid to reflect on the “vocation”.

All the documentaries were awarded the greatest national prize; others received special prizes and awards and the “Silver Mercury” was awarded to all the film production. Father Calabrese made the finest – and alas only short – documentary with divine Grace, living his life in Franciscan simplicity and joyful apostolic work, and nurturing "hope full of immortality" (Wisdom 3,4).

Father Marco Adinolfi, o.f.m.


Events calendar


Vigil of Christmas. Bethlehem: 13.30 Entrance of the Archbishop & I Vespers - 16.00 Procession - 23.30 Office & 00.00 Mass - 1.45 Procession to the Grotto


Nativity of the Lord. Bethlehem (St. Catherine): 10.00 Mass Shepherds' Field (Greek & Catholic): 14.00 Pilgrimage


Feast St. Stephen, Protomartyr. St. Stephen: 16.00 Pilgrimage


Feast of the Holy Innocents. Bethlehem:10.00 Mass - 14.00 II Vespers (Vicar CTS)


Octave of Christmas. Beit Sahour: Holy Angels ad pastores

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