By Larry Peterson
On April 14, 2018, Pope Francis met with Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. He presented the cardinal with the names of eight Catholics who have attained the designation of Servants of God. This designation is awarded to those who have attained the first pedestal on their road to canonization. Among those named was Servant of God, Father Varghese Payyapilly Palakkappilly (yes, that is a definite tongue-twister so we will keep it at Father Varghese).
Cardinal Amato was authorized by the Holy Father to place those named worthy of receiving a promulgation of “the Heroic Virtues.” Pope Benedict XIV, 1740 to 1758, who is considered the defining authority on these virtues, wrote five volumes about them. They are still used in determining if a Servant of God meets the criteria of demonstrating ‘heroic virtue.’
A simple way to think of ‘heroic virtue’ might be as a virtue that has become a second nature. It becomes a habit of good behavior that can only be attained through the love of God and a closeness to Him, a closeness that most of us never reach. Heroic Virtue must be a part of those who would be advanced to the level of Venerable from Servant of God.
Father Varghese was born in India, in the province of Kerala, on August 8, 1876. He attended St. Albert’s School in Ernakulam which is on the southeast coast of India. From St. Albert’s he moved onto the Central Seminary in Sri Lank (formerly Ceylon) an island off the coast of India. From there he attended the Papal Seminary, also in Sri Lanka, where he was ordained a priest on December 21, 1907.
Father Verghase was assigned as a parish priest and served as such in various parishes from 1909 thru 1922. While serving at the parish in Arakuzha, he began St. Mary’s Higher Secondary School. His presence and efforts at the school and church helped reunite many estranged families and succeeded in making the church self-sufficient through land purchases.
Father Verghase also managed to acquire land for the construction of St. Joseph’s Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. He remained there until 1929. It was reported that during Father Varghese’s tenure there, vocations to the priesthood exploded.
Father Verghases’s reputation as a kind and loving priest continued to grow. He became a member of the Diocesan Council and the Director of Apostolic Union as well as the Priests’ Provident Fund. People from all over came to him because they wanted his counsel to help them with their problems. He managed to bring many families back together using the wisdom he received from the Holy Spirit.
The simple priest was held in high esteem both by church officials and government officers. His empathy for the poor and suffering and his reputation spread far and wide after he helped many victims of the great flood of 1924. He even turned St. Mary’sHigh School into a shelter and delivered food himself by boat.
On March 19, 1927, Father Verghese founded the Sisters of the Destitute. His intention was to continue what he saw as Christ’s saving message among the poor. He found abandoned people, brought them to the shelter of the Home for the Aged and nursed them.
Today the Sisters of the Destitute, have over 1500 nuns and also include among its ranks doctors, nurses, teachers and social workers. They are located in Asia, Europe, Africa and across the United States. The operate such institutions as homes for the sick and needy, health centers, libraries, nursing homes, schools, hospitals and cancer centers.
Payyappilly Palakkappilly Varghese Kathnar (that is Father Verghese’s full name) died from typhoid fever on October 5, 1929. He was buried at St. St John Nepumsian Syrian Catholic Church in Kornthurthy, India. On August 25, 2009, Father Verghese was declared a Servant of God by the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar CatholicChurch.
When Pope Francis authorized Father Verghese as worthy of having “the heroic virtue” he (aswell as the seven others) were elevated to the rank of Venerable. A miracle attributed to Father Verghase is under review for Father Verghese and if validated, Venerable Verghase Payyappilly may become beatified.
Venerable Verghase Payyappilly, please pray for us.
By Larry Peterson
Marcel Van was born in 1928 in a small village in Northern Vietnam. It was a predominantly Catholic village, and Marcel’s mom was not only an extremely faithful woman she was also well versed in the tenets of the faith. When Marcel was barely three years old, his growing faith was already obvious. He began to tell his mom that he wanted to become a saint and she made sure that she taught him all that she could.
Marcel loved to pray and practice his religion. He quickly developed a love for the Rosary and a growing attachment to the Blessed Mother. The boy’s love of Jesus filled him with the desire to make his First Holy Communion. His mom asked the pastor about this, and the priest agreed to let him begin studying for it. When he was six years old, he made his First Communion.
There was a developing desire within Marcel to join the religious life. His pastor and his mom saw to it that Marcel was sent to Huu-Bang to become part of the small monastery there. Father Joseph Nha admitted Marcel into the pre-junior seminary. He became one of the “aspirants” to the priesthood. These boys received their instruction from the older youths at the monastery who were called catechists.
In the beginning, Marcel was bubbling over with enthusiasm for his new life. He was preparing to become a priest, and what could be more wonderful. But the evil demon, Jealousy, was rearing its ugly head and was about to attack young Marcel.
Marcel was a good student, worked hard, performed all his duties, and was kind and generous. The parish priest was constantly holding him up as an example for the other boys to follow. Young Marcel’s good behavior started to expose the lax and disrespectful and even bawdy behavior of the older boys. The student catechists did not like it and became intensely jealous of Marcel.
One of the catechists, Master Vinh, was the ringleader. He began demanding that Marcel allow him to beat him before he could receive Communion. He deprived him of his food, took away his Rosary and committed all sorts of diabolical attacks upon the saintly youngster. Van actually ran away several times seeking a better environment. Master Vinh was found out and expelled from the monastery. Marcel Van left during Christmas season, 1941.
Complicating Van’s life were two cyclones that destroyed his family’s village and brought them to poverty. His father, in a state of despair, took to drinking and gambling. Then his older brother, Liet, became blind. Van’s family turned against him for leaving the monastery. His sister even blamed the family’s misfortune on Vans’ “failure.” Marcel Van left his home and for a time was homeless, actually begging for his food. He returned home, and his mom made him go back to the monastery. He returned but left after two months.
Things changed around for Marcel in 1942. A friend helped him get admitted to a seminary in Lang-Son. Six months later the seminary closed down, and Van was accepted into the parish of St. Therese of the Child Jesus in Quang-Uyen. It was run by two Dominican priests.
And so it was that one day Marcel Van was next to a table covered with books. He asked God to help him find a suitable book to read. Closing his eyes, he reached into the pile and pulled out a copy of “Story of a Soul,” by St. Therese. He had never heard of her, but his life was about to change forever.
Marcel Nguyen Tan Van began to read the “Story of Soul.” He began to cry. The simplicity of Therese’s love for Jesus overwhelmed him, and his devotion to St. Therese became intense. The “Little Flower” appeared to Marcel many times. She became his teacher, constant companion, and even called him “little brother.” She told him that he would never be a priest but that he was to become a “hidden apostle of Love” which was a key source of spiritual support for missionary priests. He would become the “heart of priests.”
After the defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu, Brother Marcel Van volunteered to go to now communist, North Vietnam. He was arrested on July 7, 1955, and died in prison on July 10, 1959. He was 31 years old and rest assured his “Big Sister,” Therese, was waiting for him with open arms. He was declared a Servant of God in 1997, and his beatification process continues.
Servant of God, Brother Marcel Van, please pray for us.
By Larry Peterson
Maria Cacilia Autsch was born in Rollecken, Germany, on March 26,1900. She was the fifth of seven children and her dad, August, worked very hard as a machinist to keep his family fed. He and his wife, Amalia, were devout and knowledgeable Catholics and worked diligently to pass the faith on to their children.
The family had little money, so when Maria was fifteen, she went to work as a nanny. Her mom died in 1921 and Maria had to keep on working to help the family. Maria had always known she was being called to religious service and harbored her disappointment at not being able to do so. Her family came first, and she turned her future over to Jesus.
Finally, on September 27, 1933, she was able to enter the convent of the Trinitarian Order in Austria. It was the Spanish branch, and the Spanish had been the first women religious to come to Austria. The purpose of the sisters was to help in securing the release of captive prisoners and also working as nurses, teachers, and helping the poor and those in need.
On July 4, 1934, Maria Cacilia Autsch received a new name. She received her habit and along with it the name of Angela Maria of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. On August 20 she took her first vow. Her duties were running the nursery school, teaching embroidery, caring for the sick and even helping with the fieldwork. At last, on September 28, 1938, she made her final vows.
By that time the Nazis had taken over Austria, and they wanted to seize the monastery where the sisters lived. Sister Angela defended their home and argued that it was legally Spanish property and the Nazis had no right to it. She even contacted the Spanish consul in Vienna and the Nazis, in an attempt to keep their activities quiet, relented. However, Sister Angela Maria was now on their radar.
It was August 10, 1940, when the most innocent of moments changed Sister Angela’s life forever. She had gone to buy some milk and bumped into a few women she knew. They began to converse, and Sister told them she had heard that the Allies had sunk a German ship and many Germans had died in the disaster. She finished by saying that she thought “Hitler was a calamity for Europe.”
One of the Austrian women was a Nazi sympathizer and reported her to the Gestapo. Her file was found, and she was arrested soon after. The charges were for “insulting the leader” and “sedition of the population.” All attempts by her co-sisters to obtain her release were simply ignored, and Mother Superior pleaded for her release with the head of the Gestapo several times but to no avail. Even the Spanish consul could not save her.
Sister Angela Maria of the Heart of Jesus spent seventeen days at the brutal police detention center in Innsbruck. She was then assigned prisoner # 4651. With her name now a number and without trial, she was transported to the women’s camp at Ravensbruck.
True to her calling as a Trinitarian Sister, Angela Maria, in the most horrendous place imaginable, went right to work representing Jesus. Many reported of her unceasing efforts to maintain human dignity. She is frequently beaten by the guards but, as one inmate reported, “her smile and courage was a ray of sunshine in deepest hell.”
On August 16, 1942, she was transferred to the death camp at Auschwitz and assigned to the medical department. Because of her continued good spirit, self-sacrificing helpfulness and her efforts to alleviate as much misery as she could, she became known as the “Angel of Auschwitz.” Many of the other prisoners had no idea she was a Catholic nun.
In October 1942, Sister Angela came down with Typhus. She never fully recovered from this disease and was placed in the SS hospital as a nurse. On December 23, 1943, a bombing raid began, and Sister Angela was killed when she was struck in the chest with shrapnel that pierced her lungs.
On May 21, 2018, Pope Francis recognized the “heroic virtues” of Servant of God, Angela Maria of the Heart of Jesus. She now has the title of “Venerable” before her name, and the next step in her journey to canonization will be beatification.
We ask Venerable Angela Maria of the Heart of Jesus, to pray for us all.
Copyright Larry Peterson 2018
By Larry Peterson
Growing up and going to Catholic school, we had religion class every day. One thing we all learned about was the “Real Presence.” There was no doubt in our minds that inside the church, Jesus was truly present “body and blood, soul and divinity. He was inside the tabernacle, and He was waiting for us to “visit” Him. The phrase, “I’m going to pay a visit,” needed no explanation. So when did “visiting Jesus” start and where did Adoration and Benediction come from?
Adoration is a centuries-old practice that evolved from the earliest Christian days when the faithful, upon leaving Mass, brought the leftover consecrated bread home so it could be distributed to the sick and those who were unable to get to Mass (as an EMHC I do something similar today, but I do not take it home).
However, there were times when some of the consecrated bread was saved to distribute to the faithful during the week. This was a time when there were no daily Masses. This leftover consecrated bread had to be kept somewhere worthy of the Son of God. The people would make special places in their homes to keep the consecrated host in repose.
It appears that after Emperor Constantine stopped the persecution of the Christians in 313 A.D., construction of churches began in earnest. It was during this time that the Holy Eucharist began being kept in the churches for distribution to the sick. The sacristy was the usual place for repose.
Over the next several centuries, the Eucharist was relocated to the sanctuary near or above the altar. An unexpected result of this was that the faithful were drawn to Christ present and began praying to Him privately.
The Middle Ages is when actual Adoration began to take hold. People were receiving Holy Communion less frequently so the church decreed that people only had to receive Holy Communion once a year. The changing customs and attitudes also saw a separation take place between the altars and the congregation. It seemed that the churches were trying to separate the priest from the people.
Being distanced from the actions on the altar during Mass and combining that with the infrequent reception of Holy Communion gave rise to a new phenomenon; the people began staring and/or gazing at the vessel holding the Blessed Sacrament. Since the people could not receive communion as frequently as they wanted to, they began what became known as “Adoration.” Seeing Christ in the elevated Host oftentimes replaced receiving Holy Communion.
People even started coming to Mass extra early so they could get a good spot to watch the elevation of the Host. This was also when the ringing of the bells at the consecration took hold to alert the people to what was happening. People even timed services so they could go from one church to another to witness the elevation again. It was during his time that the idea of the monstrance began to take hold.
In 1264, Pope Urban IV ordered that the Feast of Corpus Christi be enacted throughout the universal church. Pope Urban passed away before it was implemented, so it was not until 1317 that Pope John XXII, added it to the church calendar. Since the laity was still not receiving frequent communion, this added to the practice of Adoration. Corpus Christi processions followed.
Soon the Holy Eucharist, contained in a monstrance, was being carried by the priest in procession. The procession began led by the clergy and followed by the laity. It ended with a Benediction. By the 1600s, detailed instructions for holding Benediction were put in place by the church. Eucharistic Adoration can now be traced to the 16th century. Guidelines were put in place in 1973.
In his 1980 Holy Thursday letter to priests, Dominicae cenae, Pope John Paul II wrote, “Since the Eucharistic mystery was instituted out of love, and makes Christ sacramentally present, it is worthy of thanksgiving and worship. And this worship must be prominent in all our encounters with the Blessed Sacrament…”
By Larry Peterson
I found myself writing this for Mother’s Day because the legal definition of “gender” has become controversial. I begin with a quote from Cardinal Giovanni Ravasi; President of the Pontifical Council of Culture: “The love of man and woman, capable of generating life, is a sign that points to God.”
The following comes from personal experience. My youngest brother, Johnny, had just turned two when Mom died. The previous six months she had been, for the most part, in the hospital. Johnny grew up without ever knowing his mom and her hugs or her voice or her caress. His ‘shrink,’ told him his “problems” with relationships were due to the fact he had lost his Mom as a baby. Johnny took his own life three years ago.
Bobby was six years old when Mom died. He always had an anger in him that could expose itself to perceived provocations. He passed away suddenly, eleven years ago. His killer was congestive heart failure. I still think his heart had been irreparably broken at age six and it just took another forty years to give out.
Danny was ten. He is still fine, and we are in frequent contact. I was the oldest, and my sister was second. Dad died a few years after Mom, and we tried to be a mom and a dad to our three brothers. We did our best, but we were in water way over our heads. We did survive as a family but, as you can see, having no Mom had profound consequences (the dad part I will leave for another day).
I move ahead 16 years to the birth of my daughter. Times were changing, and when Mary came along, I was present, and all decked out in my scrubs and sterile gloves (Prior to that time, Dads were not allowed into the delivery room).
I was sitting at the end of the delivery room table with my right hand holding the top of my wife’s head. I was looking up into a mirror watching the birth take place. And then, Doctor Butler began to lift his arms and in his hands was a baby. Our baby—a girl.
It seemed that almost instantly the nurse was next to me handing me, my daughter. Her face was still gooey, and her eyes were wide open. She was not crying but rather, she kept staring at me. Her eyes were as blue as the sky and as big as saucers. That was my moment, etched within my mind forever. A more profound moment was on the way.
Within moments baby Mary was being lifted from my hands and taken to her waiting Mom. Still lying on the delivery table, Loretta reached out for her baby. That was the moment I understood the power and intrinsic importance of a mom. A mother and her child are forever bound by an unbreakable bond that can only be felt between them. I also believe that dynamic is similar to every child that a mom gives birth too.
There are many moms who have, because of whatever circumstance and oftentimes out of love and humility, given their child up for adoption. In my heart of hearts, I do not believe any woman “happily” gives away her own child. Interestingly, the adoptive parents will generally love that child as if she or he was their very own and the children would assuredly love them back.
But, at some point in time, the children have a need arise within themselves to ‘find” their Birth Mom and/or Birth Dad. That is because an unbreakable bond is always there. No one can remove it or take it away or replace it. It is what it is.
For some, Gender Neutrality may be the “feel good” movement for the present moment. But it is a premise built on quicksand and defies all of the Natural Law. Pope St. John Paul II summed it up best: “God has assigned a duty to every man, the dignity of every woman.”
Within those words are the inspiration for both men and women to defend what God has created.
Wishing all Moms, both living and passed on, a HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY
And please say a prayer for all those folks who cannot remember what having a Mom was like.
By Larry Peterson
Peter Nolasco was known for having as his most pronounced virtue that of ‘love of neighbor.’ It was said that people already knew of this when he was only a baby. The story was that while in his cradle, a swarm of bees landed on him, and formed a honey-comb on his right hand. He was never harmed. This may be true or simply “urban-legend” but, no matter what, Peter Nolasco’s prime, interior virtue was obvious to people even when he was just a baby.
Peter Nolasco was born in Castelnaudary ( located in southern France) in 1189. His well to do parents died when he was very young. They left Peter a substantial inheritance, and since this was the time in history when the Albigensian heresy was exploding throughout France, Peter took his money and headed to Barcelona to be as far away from the Albigensians as possible.
He was a teenager when he arrived in Barcelona and joined the army that was fighting the Albigensians in the Iberian Peninsula. This area included most of Spain and Portugal. The army was led by Simon de Monfort.
When King Peter II of Aragon was defeated, in the Battle of Muret, his six-year-old son, James I, was captured and Peter was appointed the child’s tutor. This gave Peter standing, and after making a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Montserrat, he began to display his charitable virtue.
His concern for captive Christians began to build, and he decided to establish a religious order dedicated to helping these victims of the Moors who were capturing and enslaving Christians by the thousands. He was often heard saying that he would gladly offer himself as ransom if he could.
Peter Nolasco began ransoming Christian captives in 1203. In 1218, Raymond of Penafort started a lay organization for the purpose of ransoming slaves. Peter, who was an advocate for this, decided to start an organization with rules and guidelines made up of religious members under the patronage of Mary.
In 1218 Peter also formed a congregation of religious men which today, 800 years later, is known as The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy. The title is summed up in one word, Mercedarians. Besides the standard vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, the Mercedarians also take a fourth vow; they agree to exchange themselves to free captive Christians. In the First Constitutions of the Order, the Amerian Constitutions (1272): “… all the brothers of the Order must always be gladly disposed to give up their lives, if it is necessary, as Jesus Christ gave up his for us…”
St. Peter Nolasco never lost sight of the fact that he would join with the Blessed Virgin to advance his ministry. He knew that saving the captives could never be accomplished without help from the Mother of Jesus. Mary is linked to the program of liberation. She is the model for all redemptive work. He knew that Our Lady was what reinforced and guaranteed all of the apostolic works that would be undertaken.
St. Peter Nolasco discovered that Mary was the foundation of freedom and mercy. She is the sustenance and point of the liberation movement. So much so that the order founded by him is called The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy.
From that point forward all Friars, Sisters, and the Third Order always considered Mary as the Mother of Freedom. She is the one who sustains and encourages the order with her ever continued and ongoing presence. The Blessed Mother came to Peter Nolasco and helped him realize that the mystery of God’s redemption is visible in the captivity and heartache of those held against their will. To this very day, they will offer themselves by trading their very selves for your freedom.
From the Mercedarian website: orderofmercy.org
“Today, friars of the Order of Mercy continue to rescue others from modern types of captivity, such as social, political, and psychological forms. They work in jails, marginal neighborhoods, among addicts, and in hospitals. In the United States, the Order of Mercy gives special emphasis to educational and parish work.”
Pope Gregory IX gave the church’s official seal of approval to the Mercedarian order in 1230.
Peter Nolasco died on May 6, 1256. He was canonized a saint in 1628 by Pope Urban VIII.
St. Peter Nolasco, please pray for us all
Please see other articles on members of The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy