A “Gangbanger’s” Journey to Sainthood—Meet Peter Armengol

St. Peter Armengol by Vincenzo Carducho

By Larry Peterson

Imagine being a dad with a teenage son who has seemingly turned his back on you. He has rejected the values you have worked so hard to instill in him and he does not seem to care about anything but his own selfish wants. You wonder how this could be.

He is 19 years old and you have not seen him in over a year. A sense of despair has gripped you. You are alone in your living room. You fall to your knees and begin to pray for your boy.

Besides your wife and fourteen-year-old daughter, you have other things on your mind. You are a respected Police Chief in a city of two million people where a major    political convention is scheduled to take place in two days. You have been asked by the Police Commissioner to coordinate the security forces on the perimeter of the convention center. You have a job to do and right now it takes precedence over other things.

At 6 p.m. on the first night of the convention, protesters begin massing on the east side of the center. You can see that they are well organized and plan to create mayhem. At 9 p.m. the crowd numbers several thousand and the screaming and yelling is getting intense. Suddenly, the crowd, urged on by several masked protesters, surges forward and then breaks into a charge.

Dressed in riot gear, you are standing at the forefront of your men and in your hand is a taser. One man is charging right at you when suddenly he stops short, falls to his knees, and drops his hands to his side. You hurry up to him and yank off his mask. You are stunned because you are looking down at your son. He is crying and telling you he is sorry. You lift him to you and you hug each other. The surging crowd, witnessing this unexpected turn of events, stops and becomes quiet.

Does that sound far-fetched?  If so, let us now travel back 700+ years to a day when something like this really did happen. And even though it may be 700 years ago, people then were like people now when it comes to their wants and needs and emotions and when it comes to family; especially when it comes to family.

Arnold Armengol was a member of the Spanish hierarchy. His son, Peter, in spite of being given the finest education and upbringing, rejected all of that and fell into the secular trap of self-centeredness, self-gratification, and outright debauchery. He even joined a band of criminals that preyed on people traveling up into the mountains. Peter was so good at this work he eventually became the gang leader.

His dad, part of the royal hierarchy, was asked by King Jaime of Aragon to lead him on a journey to Montpellier so he might meet with the King of France. The King had heard of the brigands that preyed on mountain travelers and wanted to be prepared for this.

As Arnold Armengol led the King’s entourage through the mountain passes they were attacked by a band of highwaymen. As the robbers charged toward them. Armengol led his men in a counterattack. With his sword drawn he headed directly to the leader of the pack. They were about to engage each other when the robber fell to his knees. He had recognized his father and with tears streaming down his face, prostrated himself at the feet of his dad and handed over his sword.

Peter Armengol, repentant and seeking mercy, appealed to King James I and received a pardon. He was filled with shame and, heeding the graces offered to him by God, entered a Mercedarian Monastery in Barcelona. The mission of the Mercedarians, founded by St. Peter Nolasco, was to ransom Catholics captured by the Muslims. Peter excelled at this task and, over a period of eight years, managed to negotiate the freedom of many hostages from the Saracens.

Friar Peter then headed to Africa with Friar William Florentino. His goal was to ransom Christians. On arrival in a place called Bugia, he heard about 18 Christian children held hostage by the Mohammedans. They were under the threat of death if they did not renounce Christianity. Friar Peter offered himself in exchange for the hostages. The captors agreed but warned Peter that if the ransom was not paid on time he would suffer brutal torture and death.

The arrival of the agreed ransom and Friar Peter’s release were scheduled for a certain day. The ransom never arrived. Peter was immediately put to torture and endured this for days on end. The Moors, tired of Friar Peter being alive, accused him of blaspheming Mohammad. He was sentenced to be hanged.

Friar Peter was hanged from a tree. His body was left there for the birds of prey to feed on. Six days later Friar William arrived with the ransom. The Moors refused it and told Friar William that Peter was already dead for six days and his rotted corpse was still hanging from the tree. Distraught, William went to recover his brother Mercedarian’s body.

William left and headed to the execution site. As he approached he noticed that Peter’s body seemed to be intact. In fact, there was a fragrance of flowers in the air. William slowly approached the body of Peter. The man who was supposedly dead for six days began to speak. He explained how the Blessed Virgin had come to him and was holding  him up with her precious hands so his body would not hang on the rope.

Peter Armengol, when recalling the miracle of his hanging, told his Mercedarian brothers that the happiest days of his life were those six days that he hung from the gallows supported by the Blessed Virgin Mary. Peter’s neck, broken from the hanging, remained in a twisted position for the rest of his life and he always had a sickly complexion. Seven documented miracles were attributed to him while he was still alive.

Peter Armengol was canonized a saint on April 8, 1687 by Pope Innocent XI. On this Father’s Day we might also remember how his dad, Arnold Armengol, prayed unceasingly for the safe return of his son. His prayers were surely answered,  a lesson for us all.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2018 (originally 2016)

 

 

 

 

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