At the end of the 12th century and the beginning of the 13th, Western Europe was struck by notable changes at a political, social and ecclesial level:     
 
• feudalism was in crisis and losing its vigour: small states came into existence and supported the rights of individuals against the power of the nobles;
• a relative peace facilitated the development of commerce. New cities came into being and quickly asserted their independence;
• peace encouraged a population explosion; people left the countryside, which was no longer the centre of life. The new town-dwellers organised themselves into corporations with their own laws, while the monasteries, formerly centres of rural evangelisation, lost their influence. At this time, great cathedrals were being built;  
• the Church itself was passing through a strong crisis: there was the interior scandal of the wealth of the hierarchy and inadequate formation of priests; exteriorly, heretical movements seemed to have great success, and caused confusion among the people.
 
Dominic was part of this historical picture. He was born in 1171 at Caleruega in Old Castile, and his parents were Felix di Guzman and Jane of Aza.
Towards the age of seven he was entrusted to a priest uncle for his education and spiritual formation. At the age of fifteen he went to the university of Palencia, and in this period, during a famine, he experienced at first hand the suffering of the people, becoming aware that to study or preach the Word of God meant incarnating it. With characteristic ardour, he sold all his books: I cannot continue to study on dead skins when the poor, my brothers and sisters, are dying of hunger”. 
In 1198 we find him, now a young priest, among the Canons Regular of the cathedral of Osma, where, in silence and prayer, he dedicated himself to contemplation and study in order to know the true face of God revealed in the Scriptures, and, above all, in Jesus crucified. In this period, he also experienced the strength and value of community.
 
His life now seemed to be definitively traced out. But in 1204, chosen by his bishop, Diego, as companion for a delicate diplomatic mission in Denmark, he abandoned Spain and its securities for an adventure that was life-changing both for himself and for others. He was 33 years old, and would never return to his homeland. 
Two particularly powerful meetings were the “crucible” in which the Lord forged for Dominic the heart of a “preacher”.
 
• At Toulouse, he had his first direct contact with catharist and albigensian heresy: he spent the whole night in discussion with his inn-keeper, a catharist heretic, and led him to conversion.  This is how Dominic discovered that he was called to preach to the heretics, to “give flesh” to the face of a compassionate and merciful God and Father who desires the salvation of all.

• At Montpellier, through a meeting with a group of catholic missionaries strongly opposed by the heretics because of their wealth, Dominic felt, like the God revealed in Jesus - “the servant without glory or honour”, that the Gospel could not be proclaimed on the basis of power and might: “Come down from your horses and go out two by two, in voluntary poverty …”.
 
The meeting with the Word and with those starved of bread and of truth would henceforth be for Dominic places of constant contemplation and complete self-giving, and make him into a “living Preaching”.
 
In 1215 Bishop Foulkes of Toulouse appointed him preacher to his diocese. During this time, friends gathered around him to share his zeal for preaching, for the salvation of the brothers and sisters; this first community received official approval for the “Holy Preaching” from Pope Honorius III in December, 1216. 
 
The work of the new preachers was sustained by the prayers of the nuns of Prouilhe, the monastery founded by Dominic for young converted catharist women.

Convinced that “grain goes bad if it not scattered everywhere”, in 1217 Dominic sent his sons to the university cities of Europe, to Paris, Bologna, Oxford and Cologne. 
 
Between 1220 and 1221, Dominic established the ground plan for his Order: the brethren would be entirely “dedicated to the preaching of the Word”, committed to contemplation of the Word and to study, and distinguished by the search for Truth incarnated in an ever more universal fraternity.
 
Consumed by his apostolic passion, Dominic died at Bologna on 6 August, 1221. On 3 July 1234, Pope Gregory IV proclaimed him a SAINT.
 

 
 
 
 

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