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from issue no. 04 - 2003

Interview with Cardinal Saraiva Martins

“He is not a saint of the pre-emptive crusade”

The Capuchin friar Marco d’Aviano is remembered especially because he took part in the battle to break the Ottoman siege of Vienna. But that is not the reason for his beatification. As Cardinal Saraiva Martins, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, explains. In answer to those who claim it is a gesture against Islam. Interview

by Gianni Cardinale

friar Marco d’Aviano (1631-1699)

friar Marco d’Aviano (1631-1699)

On 27 April the Capuchin friar Marco d’Aviano (1631-1699) will be proclaimed Blessed in Saint Peter’s Square. His name is linked in a particular way to the battle which, on 12 October 1683, broke the Ottoman siege of Vienna. So much so that in recent times, not least because of the current international scene, several articles have appeared emphasizing the “combative” and “anti-Islamic” role of the friar.
30Days asked for clarification from Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, Portuguese, 71 years old, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints since 1998.

Your Eminence, what is the significance of the beatification of Marco d’Aviano?
José Saraiva Martins: Fundamentally the significance of the beatification of Marco d’Aviano is no different from that of all other beatifications. In raising him to the honors of the altar, the Church recognizes the goodness of his life, lived in the heroic exercise of virtue and in the fulfilling of a particular mission entrusted to him as a Capuchin priest and as an apostolic missionary along the roads of Europe. On those roads where Father Marco preached faith and penitence, vigorously exhorting the crowds who came out in great numbers to hear him, to conversion and to a renewed commitment to Christian practice. He had his hearers repeat the Act of perfect contrition, composed by himself, and urged them to a reawakening of the sense of sin and to a deepening of their own faith. At the end he granted his blessing to all of them, to which the Holy See had attached a plenary indulgence. It is known that what drew the crowds and gave greater weight to his preaching were the extraordinary events which were known to follow his blessing.
Some commentators have emphasized the role played by Fra Marco when Vienna was besieged by the Ottomans in 1683. Are we dealing with an episode of real importance in the economy of the process of beatification?
Saraiva Martins: It’s well to remember first of all that the historical occurrence did not influence the process of beatification. Fra Marco was beatified for the reasons indicated previously and not for his role in the liberation of Vienna. Certainly this historical fact has its own particular value for the entire history of Europe. And in the light of historical knowledge, we know that the intervention of Marco d’Aviano was decisive in breaking the siege of Vienna, on 12 September 1683. As a Capuchin, he did not move of his own will. It was first of all the Emperor Leopold I, who had great trust and firm hope in Father Marco, who requested his presence in Austria, mid- way through August 1683. And it was the then Pope, Blessed Innocent XI, who granted to the friar from Aviano the title of papal legate and apostolic missionary for the occasion. Father Marco, however, didn’t take direct part in the battle. His task was to weld the heterogeneous imperial army together, to unify the divergent opinions of the military chiefs, to exhort the soldiers to pray and have trust and to give everyone the certainty of victory. While the armies were fighting, he was in the little church on the Kahlenberg, deep in prayer.
It has also been said that this beatification has come after years of hesitation caused by unwillingness to create problems in the dialogue with the Islamic world.
Saraiva Martins: In truth, if the beatification has been subject to delay, it isn’t because of eventual problems for dialogue with the Islamic world, but rather because of the complex procedure of the whole process, which there’s no need to go in to here. In effect, since we were dealing with a historical figure of considerable importance, it was necessary to comb the archives and carry out a complete documentary search, which was the only way to understand the character and set his whole doings in the correct light.
And yet Father Marco is sometimes presented as a staunch combatant for the Christian cause against Islam ....
Saraiva Martins: To claim that Marco d’Aviano fought against the Islamic world is to make a claim that is historically false. Marco d’Aviano did not fight against Islam understood as a religion, nor did he back “pre-emptive crusades”, he only made a contribution to defense against an aggressor, the Ottoman emperor of the time, who did not disguise his intention of plucking the golden apple, the city of Vienna that is, so as – it was then believed – to go on and take the whole European garden. Marco d’Aviano, though recognizing the legitimacy of defensive action, was not fundamentally against the Ottoman Moslems. Enough to mention one episode related to the liberation of Belgrade, on 6 September 1688: after the city had been taken by storm, eight hundred soldiers of the Sublime Porte were still barricaded in the stronghold, and would have been put to the sword had not Father Marco intervened personally to save them. A source of the time says that in gratitude the Ottomans “wished to reward him with precious gifts, which were refused by him”, and specifies that his fame as a just man “spread also among the Muslims”.
Has the Muslim world shown signs of irritation at this beatification?
Saraiva Martins: The fact is as things stand there has been no expression of irritation on the part of the Muslim world at the beatification of Marco d’Aviano. Certainly historical events are judged from different perspectives and varying points of view. But – as a Turkish scholar affirmed in a recent television transmission – one is dealing with past events, which history has in some way fully clarified.
Is it true that special security measures were requested of the Vatican authorities for the ceremony of 27 April because of fears of possible terrorist acts?
Saraiva Martins: Not as far as I know, but I can state that such fear would be entirely unjustified.
Finally, on a lighter note, it’s worth mentioning that Fra Marco was in some way related to the invention of the cappuccino ....
Saraiva Martins: Actually it’s more complicated. It seems historically clear that the invention of the cornetto is more related to the liberation of Vienna than the cappuccino. It’s said that during the siege, as some Viennese bakers were preparing rolls during the night from the little flour they had left, they heard the noise of Turkish sappers tunnelling to set mines. They immediately raised the alarm and the threat was averted. And they were therefore given the imperial privilege of moulding their cornetti (in German Gipfeln) in the shape of the half-moon. The cappuccino was then combined with the cornetto, perhaps in reference to Marco d’Aviano.

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