HUMAN RIGHTS: The Sicilian lay missionary

Project by Giacomo Palermo valid for 
Magnum Photos Submission, 
World Press Photo,
Pulitzer Prizes.

SICILY. Brother Biagio Conte "the Medieval Contemporary Madly In Love with God" is like describing modern-day Saint Francis. He is the good part of each of us; charitable, courageous and an integral pacifist. A man who fights openly against poverty, indifference, environmental disasters, wars, the Mafia, opulence, corruption, selfishness and racism in a difficult land like Sicily. Born in Palermo from a wealthy family, at the age of 26 he left his life and a future as a rich entrepreneur to dedicate himself completely to the poor, the last ones that contemporary society abandons to their fate. He decided to leave for a long journey that led him to live as a hermit in the mountains of Sicily, arriving on foot to Assisi. In front of the tomb of St. Francis his restless soul finds peace. After the numerous denunciations made by the relatives that didn't give peace for his disappearance, he is searched by all the police headquarters of Italy and also by the famous Italian television transmission Chi l'ha visto?. He returns to Palermo and wants to donate his life to the last ones of the society. He risks his life several times to snatch from the City some structures that have become three large reception centers since 1993, his Cities of Joy that welcome and take care of the needs of over a thousand people a day, thanks to the donations of wealthy Italians and foreigners. Together with him, volunteers from all backgrounds and religions, university students, professors, the brothers and sisters who take care of refugees and the poor from other worlds. Thousands of stories that require timely intervention. They flee from hunger, but more often from war, from persecution. They come from Libya, Tunisia, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Congo, Togo, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Palestine, Iraq. In their country they were farmers, working from morning to night for two, three dollars a month. There are also many students and graduates, some were born into affluence living a dignified poverty. They arrive in Sicily after having faced a harrowing journey, crammed into barges like those arriving in these days in Lampedusa in the Mediterranean Sea. The impact with our big cities is a disaster, they do not know anything about our welfare, they do not understand how it works and how it is distributed. They find reception centers like the one in Lampedusa, structures that are often inadequate for the exceptional waves of migration, living conditions that are not what they had hoped for in their dreams. While waiting for a temporary permit to go wherever they want in Italy and Europe, they go to Biagio Conte's in search of a place to sleep, soup, a piece of bread, a place where they are not treated as different, as strangers. While waiting for their hands to finally clasp their residence permit, they live in a state of suspension. Prisoners of Italian and European bureaucracy, they cannot sign a work contract, they get by in any way they can in order to survive and not feel a burden on our society. In the meantime, they collaborate in the projects of the Cities of Joy and help cook, distribute food and clothing. Muslims, atheists and Hindus know that in these places no one will try to impose another God on them. Brother Biagio teaches them about time; the time of things, the time of nature, the time to love and live. In 2014 Brother Biagio Conte was healed in Lourdes to a vertebrae disease and for this he walked and with a Cross on his shoulders all over Sicily, he was received in private audience by Pope Francis and he was also in France, in Spain in SanTiago Di Compostela, in Morocco for the Universal Episcopal Conference and in England.


These photographs won the Special Prize of the 

"Federazione Italiana Associazioni Fotografiche"

 named after the most influential Italian humanitarian and social photographer of all time 

Tina Modotti.


“An impossible story which has the merit of being true”  (Paolo Mauri - La Repubblica)   The Mediterranean has always been a sea that, rathe...