I grew up under the protection of Bishop Hilary. To be honest, I already knew him when he was not yet a bishop or even a baptized Christian: I lived with his family, wealthy people, lovers of culture in all its forms.
Hilary took baptism at the age of 35 and followed a hard journey of seeking the truth, which led him, with effort and sacrifice, to recognize God the Creator and God Incarnate, becoming a champion of Nicene orthodoxy.
He was a wonderful, charismatic person who managed to combine strength in faith and extreme sweetness and meekness in interpersonal relationships. Ilario has never "rowed against", but has always chosen acceptance and constructive discussion. He treated me like a son ...
One day, in a city in Gaul, he met some garrison soldiers: among them was a man a few years younger than him. There was an immediate understanding between the two, and it was strange, in my opinion, that a bishop was so in agreement with a military man. But that soldier was Martino, already baptized, even before Hilary, and like him in search of his truest faith.
In those days, however, the Emperor Constantius sided with Arianism, the creed that rejected the divine nature of Christ. And we know that the games of the powerful are like millstones that crush subordinates. We lived as if hovering on a tightrope between the two banks of a rushing river, always ready to flee. Or die.
Martino had obtained his leave and had come to Pictavium for a while. Ilario now knew the value of that man of few words, who with a single touch made you understand brotherhood: his hand on his shoulder was comfort and liniment to the wounds of the soul. My bishop would have liked to make Martin a deacon of his Church, but the Most High had other plans for all of us: soon after, Hilary was exiled to Phrygia.
Not me. I was no longer with him, because he himself had sent me to Pannonia with Martino, begging me to be his brother and watch over his life.
My journey with Martino was a journey of silence and great light. I cannot express in words the immense emotion of when he converted his mother to Christianity: for him it was the greatest grace received, and it gave him the strength to resist the persecutions that we had to suffer from the Aryan bishops of Illyricum, the insults, the threats, the beatings ... Martino was flogged in public. We decided to leave the country. The evening before leaving, on the bank of a river, while I was cleaning his deep wounds, the marks of the whip on his back, he told me the words of Christ on the cross: “We must forgive them because they do not know what they are doing”.
When we reached Mediolanum, we settled in small isolated cells, forming a tiny hermitage, where we can pray, atone and help anyone in need. But Bishop Ariano Aussenzio drove us from there. I had a great emptiness in my heart, which Martino soon filled by simply saying to me: “Brother, let's go where God guides us and calls us”.
So our tired footsteps took us towards the wide breath of the marina: a long journey, at the end of which we were welcomed by a dawn full of soft colors, with the disc of the sun rising from the calm and clear waters, starting its race in the sky, like a hymn of praise to the glory of the Lord. And in the midst of that immense expanse of water, there was an island, as small as a seed. "There we will go, my brother: there we will seek ourselves, strengthen our faith and follow the indications that God will give us".
We went down to the verdant plain of Albenga: we had to find a way to reach the island. Martin knew that there was a strong and rich Christian community there, which followed the true and ancient faith of the triune God. We were welcomed like family. We knew where to go: the Gallinaria Island would have been our refuge for some time, the immense gift of God to regain balance and serenity.
The people of Albenga, dry in their emotions and apparently tough, used to stealing sustenance from little land and going into the sea to improve their lives, protected us and, without saying it, loved us. It was such a beautiful exchange, so human: prayer and love, and small gestures, as big as the universe. There was a perfect triangle, just as the Trinity is perfect: the island, the port, the mountain, united by a thin and precious thread ...
But after some time we left, because a new time had come ...
I never left Martino, my brother and guide, not even when Ilario returned from exile. The road was to be traveled in two, by now we knew it: I appreciated his silences so full of meaning, that over time I had learned to understand. And he accepted my impulsiveness ...
Martin was an ascetic, a solitary soldier of Christ, who in his solitude had large and strong arms, and ideally extended them to embrace and help the whole world.