Religious: Ven. Antonio Margil

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“Nothingness Itself,”
Ven. Antonio Margil de Jesus

The following summary of the life of Father Margil was translated by Fr. Royce W. Hughes, BS. MA, STD from the original Italian, given to him by the archivist of the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Fr. Jaroslav Nemec in November 1992.

The name of Antonio Margil is closely tied to the ecclesiastical history of Central America. In fact, in his History of the Order of Friars Minor, E. Holzapfel writes:
“He must be numbered among the greatest men in American Church History” (Manuale historiae Ordinis Fratrum Minorum, Friburg in Breisgau, 1909, p. 472).
Speaking of his apostolic work, in the Summary of Franciscan Geographic, Historical and Ethnic Bibliography, Marcellino da Civezza said:
“His apostolic life was one of the most splendid epics. Recounted in any way whatsoever, his life is a most interesting story from every point of view” (Saggio di bibliografia geografica sanfancescana, Prato, 1879, p. 603).
Margil was born in Valencia on August 18, 1657. From his parents, Juan Margil and Esperanza Rose, who were poor in earthly goods but rich in virtue, he received a solid religious formation. From childhood he showed clear signs of his vocation to sanctity.

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Ven. Antonio Margil
At age 16, with the permission of his parents, he received the Franciscan habit on April 22, 1673 in the Franciscan Monastery of the Crown of Our Lord in Valencia. On April 25 the following year, having completed the year of novitiate, he was solemnly professed in the Order. He studied philosophy in the Convent of Denia, and theology in the Convent of the Crown in Valencia. He prepared himself with great care for priestly ordination, which he received in 1682. As soon as he was ordained, he showed extraordinary zeal for souls. Assigned to the work of preaching and hearing confessions, he was zealous in preaching the word of God in the public squares, first in Valencia and then in Onda and Denia.

In March 1693 he left the Monastery of St. Anthony in Denia to travel to New Spain as a missionary. He accompanied Fr. Antonio Llinas of Jesus and Mary (d. 1693), a well-known founder of missionary colleges. This was the beginning of the story of the ‘flying missionary.’ As soon as he arrived in Veracruz, he was sent to the College of the Holy Cross in Querétaro, which had recently opened, and was assigned to preaching and organizing missionary expeditions to surrounding areas. For over 40 years, from 1683 to 1726, the year of his death, he endured all the hardships of missionary life with complete faith in God and a manly courage. He covered almost all of Central American on foot, taking nothing with him but his breviary, a staff, and a cross. He went from territory to territory preaching the Gospel, doing good to all. Many received the gift of Faith through him.

Fr. Margil’s most important missionary activities are:
1. His long journey with his companion, another great Franciscan missionary, Fr. Melchior Lopez (d. 1698), which took them to Yucatan, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, as far as the native Talamanca tribe that lived along the border between Panama and Costa Rica.

2. His missionary work among the Indians of the Sierra Nayarit, and then into Northern Mexico, and finally Louisiana and Texas.

3. Founding the missionary Colleges (seminaries) of Christ Crucified in Guatemala City and of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Zacatecas.

4. His wise and prudent direction as superior of the Franciscan missionary communities at the Colleges of Querétaro (1697-1700), Guatemala (1702-1705) and Zacatecas (1722-1725).

5. His spiritual assistance to the soldiers of the French and Spanish garrisons.
Amid all this activity he never weakened in the face of the innumerable difficulties he faced: the impassable roads, the constant dangers, the threats of wild animals and the natives, conflicts among the colonizers, the hatred of evil men who were chastised by his preaching. He was always inspired by an ardent love for others. He had a great spirit of self-sacrifice, and an unshakeable faith in God.

As superior of his missionary brothers, he showed a profound understanding of men. He was wise and prudent in his governance, always their humble servant, but zealous for regular observance of the rule.

In the direction of his own life, he was guided by the virtue of humility, considering himself as “nothing.” He would sign his letters with the expression, “Nothingness itself ” (la misma nada). He explained:
“What would the angles be without God? Nothing. What would Mary Most Holy be without God? Nothing. What would the humanity of Christ be without God? Nothing. Without God, in fact, all of us are nothing, nothing, nothing!”
He lived by the following program of life:
“Do not forget your nothingness, no matter what others may do to you. Despise all things, and your evil will be your good. Do not fear, Antonio, so long as you live, any demon greater than that called ‘I.’”
He had a very special devotion to the Passion of Christ, and promoted the practice of the Way of the Cross, which he established in more than 2,500 places in Guatemala alone, even more than were established by the great promoter of this devotion St. Leonard of Portmaurice.

Fr. Antonio Margil of Jesus died in Mexico City on August 6, 1726, and was buried in the Church of St. Francis in Mexico City. His tomb immediately became a place of pilgrimage.

Fr. Margil’s remains were twice exhumed. They came to rest in 1861 at the Chapel of La Purísima in the metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico City.

They were later removed to Guadalupe Friary in Zacatecas, where they presently can be venerated. The College of Guadalupe de Zacatecas, today the Friary, was the Franciscan missionary college and seminary (Colegio Apostolico) founded between 1703-1707. Fr. Antonio Margil and the other priests who founded and served the early Spanish missions in Texas were all from the College of Zacatecas.

Fr. Margil continues to obtain heavenly favors for those who pray for his intercession. Shortly after his death the process for beatification was begun, but for various extrinsic reasons, only in 1836 was he declared Venerable by Pope Gregory XVI. The Franciscan martyrology commemorates Fr. Margil on August 6, the day of his death.

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