Biagio Vinci: Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice

Chefs in the kitchen at Biagio Ristorante

“Come and Enjoy One of Toronto’s Most Beautiful Patios. . . Owner Biagio Vinci has brought a little piece of Italy to the heart of downtown Toronto for over 30 years,” so it says on the Destination Toronto website. From personal experience I can’t argue with the review. Mr. Vinci and his food are well known to patrons at CMIC’s annual Tastes of Heaven Gala held in the spring.

As a child, Biagio’s mother would invite homeless people for dinner. Today, this chef and owner of Biagio’s Ristorante in Toronto continues to feed the poor in honour of his mother.

Every December, he offers a 3-course Christmas dinner to hundreds of people experiencing homelessness. Mr. Vinci and some of his long-time patrons serve the meal in his restaurant, at his cost.

During the pandemic, he fed intensive care unit workers at local hospitals for free. The Toronto Star reported Biagio as saying, “The idea is to help people who are caring for us a lot. They’re working full time to save lives.”

Biagio is on our Tastes of Heaven Board and has designed its menus since he co-founded the Gala over 20 years ago. He started the event with 6 other men, including former Prime Minister John Turner. To create an event different from the typical banquet, Vinci flew in 3 chefs from Italy. Over the years, the event has been held at various venues, first to accommodate more guests and then in search of the best location. This year, CMIC returned to a sit-down dinner at The Bellvue Manor in Vaughan, ON, in support of Canadian missions.

In February, Biagio received a Papal Honour called Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (For the Church and the Pope). The Papal Honours system encourages aspirations and ideals of the highest standards and values within the Catholic Church. All honours and awards are granted by the Holy Father and the local church only has a role in promoting nominations for such honours.

The Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal is the highest award for distinguished service to the Catholic Church by lay people and clergy. This gold medal is a cross depicting the Apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul. The inscription Pro Ecclesia (For Church) is stamped on the left arm, Et Pontifice (And Pope) on the right. Three small crosses are situated at the end of the left, top and right cross arms, while the coat of arms of the Holy See is on the bottom arm. On the reverse is an image of Christ. A pin of the same design accompanies the medal in a red leather case, as you see in the photo.

The Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal awarded to Biagio Vinci.

A few other clergy and I were present at the Investiture in the St. John Chapel at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Michael in Toronto, along with Biagio’s family and friends. Cardinal Collins spoke of Mr. Vinci’s care for the poor and his association with Catholic Missions In Canada. I personally was proud to hear his Eminence speaking of my friend and colleague in such glowing terms. Biagio is a quiet and humble man, but his pride was apparent on this occasion and rightly so.

Fr. David Reilander, Sheila and Biagio Vinci, Fr. Chris Cauchi (the Vincis’ pastor)

After the Investiture it was not his family and friends who honoured him with a meal, but Biagio feeding us all. He closed his restaurant on a Friday night to thank us for coming and he spared no cost. While there, I sat with some of the volunteers who help Biagio at the December meal for the homeless. They spoke with high praise but were also proud of the assistance they gave, not in a boisterous way but with a sense of having done something for the good of another. I felt privileged to be in their company and wished I could join them, but I’m usually away in the missions at that time of year.

Congratulations Biagio. Well deserved. Thank you for all that you do for the poor, especially for your help and generosity with CMIC’s Tastes of Heaven Gala.

Guests enjoying a celebratory meal at Biagio Ristorante