Born paralyzed, this future Saint became a Media Celebrity at the age of 57. Meet Gaetana “Nuccia” Tolomeo

Venerable Gaetana “Nucci” Tolomeo
public domain

By Larry Peterson

Gaetana Tolomeo was born in Catanzaro, in Italy’s Calabria region, on Good Friday, April 10, 1936. Father Teodoro Diaco baptized her on July 12, 1936, in the local Church of Our Lady of the Rosary. This was quite providential since baby Gaetana would devote her life to prayer and hold a Rosary in her hand for her entire life. As time passed by, she became known to everyone as “Nuccia.”

Nuccia suffered from a progressive and deforming paralysis that attacked her when she was just a small child. It stunted her growth, leaving her disabled. Her parents took her to local doctors, but they were unable to help the youngster. They also had a sickly son, Giuliano, who was born on October 30, 1940. He would die sometime in 1944, but between Nuccia and Giuliano, they had been through a  heartwrenching and challenging time. Now it was just eight-year-old Nuccia, but circumstances seemed no better.

With no local help available, they sent Nuccia to an aunt in Cuneo for medical assistance. However, doctors in Cuneo were unable to help, and after a short time, she returned home. As time passed, Nuccia’s condition worsened, and she became confined to either her bed or a chair.

The Holy Spirit was indeed working within her because Nuccia never felt sorry for herself. Instead, she embraced her illness and the suffering that came with it as a way to reach the hearts of those that were living sinful lives. It was not long before she began to draw pilgrims who were coming to her for advice. These included priests, nuns, and laypeople. And they were coming for words of wisdom from a disabled woman with a fourth-grade education. They, too, must have felt the presence of the Holy Spirit when they approached her.

Nuccia saw in her illness a way to participate in the Passion of Jesus. She even alluded to this in her spiritual writings. The people that came to see Nuccia noticed that Nuccia always clasped a rosary in her hands. She also attended Eucharistic Adoration as often as possible. And she managed to become a part of CatholicAction, formed in the 19th century to counter anti-Catholicism.

In 1994, Nuccia began to be a guest on the local radio station, Radio Maria. Her primary objective was to spread the Gospel message to the suffering with whom she could identify. Those that were drug addicts, prostitutes, and the needy, especially families, going through financial struggles. Her program became very popular. She began to be heard on “Il Fratello,” a program where folks called in with problems, and Nuccia would answer their questions. The host, Federico Quaglini, would ask her spiritual questions. Nuccia, a great devotee of a St. Pio of Pietrelcina, would answer them.

Gaetana “Nuccia” Tolomeo suffered a pulmonary embolism and was admitted to the hospital. She was given blood transfusions, but her health continued to decline. She passed away on January 24, 1997, at the age of sixty. The following morning Radio Maria announced her death to thousands of listeners. Sadness at her loss and Joy in her life was the theme of the day.

This is the Easter message given by Nuccia in 1995: “… In his infinite mercy and wisdom, the Lord has prepared a weak body for me, for the triumph of his power of love … I praise and bless the Lord for the cross, of which he adorned me, because by crucifying my flesh, he also crucified my thoughts, my affections, my desires, and even my will, to make me his welcome abode, his satisfaction, his living tabernacle. Thanks to the cross of Christ, today, I can affirm with the apostle Paul ‘It is no longer I who live, it is Christ who lives and works in me.’ 

Gaetana “Nucci” Tolomeo was declared a woman of “heroic virtue” on April 6, 2019. She now wears the title of Venerable, and a miracle attributed to her has been approved. A date for her beatification will soon be announced.

Venerable Gaetana “Nucci” Tolomeo, please pray for us.

copyright©LarryPeterson 2020


Unable to teach the “Undesirables” in India, this Bishop moved to Africa and died serving the poor during a Yellow-fever epidemic

Melchior de Marian Bressilac wikipediia.commons

By Larry Peterson

His full name was Melchior de Marion Bresillac. He was born in a town called Castelnaudary, located in southern France, on December 2, 1813, and was the oldest of five children.

Melchior’s father wanted his boy to pursue a military career. Melchior felt a special calling to the religious life and when he was 19, informed his father of his wishes to become a priest. His dad accepted his son’s wishes, and, in 1832,  Melchior entered the minor seminary at Carcassone to pursue his vocation. He was ordained to the priesthood on December 22, 1838, and assigned as an associate pastor to his hometown parish, the  Church of St. Michael, in Castelnaudry.  

Father Bresillac had a keen mind and prepared and delivered excellent sermons. He reached out to the sick and marginalized, taught catechism to the children, and had immense patience and understanding for others, especially the youth. However,  there was one thing nagging at Father Bresillac. He harbored a strong desire to serve in the missions.

In 1840, Melchior made a retreat with the Jesuits at Avignon. It was at this retreat that he made up his mind to follow his missionary calling. The young priest expressed his desires to his parents and his Bishop about becoming a missionary. They were strongly opposed, but Melchior knew that his calling to this ministry was from God and that he had to pursue it.

Melchior had to summon his courage to resist the heartbreak his mother was feeling. His father was unyielding in his objections. The Bishop refused to give his permission. The young priest never wavered and continued praying and trusting in the Lord. Eventually, both his parents relented. His father wrote him a letter which read, “Go, my dear son. Go where heaven is calling you. Now, I recognize the voice that summons you. May he protect you. Be happy. I submit!”

Melchior now wrote to his Bishop for final approval. The Bishop refused to give his permission. Melchior wrote again and was denied again. The third time was a charm because the Bishop gave Father Meklchior the permission he sought. In 1841, Father Melchior Bressilac left St. Michael’s Church and entered “Missions Etrngeres de Paris” (MEP), aka the Paris Foreign Mission Society. After nine months of missionary training, Father Melchior Bressilac was assigned to Pondicherry, India. He arrived there on July 24, 1842.

Father Melchior spent a few months learning about the culture and studying the Tamil language. The priest quickly realized that there was disagreement among the European missionaries about how to deal with the national customs. The Indian Christians did not like being told how to behave by foreigners. Consequently, the missionaries were resented for wanting to impose European ways on the natives of the country. And the caste system, where the people were divided into different levels of acceptance, hindered evangelization greatly. Contact among the castes was forbidden, and it went against all things regarding the teaching of “love your neighbor.” Creating Christian communities was a daunting task.

Father Melchior spent twelve years in India. He was elevated to Bishop of Prusa, and he was determined to make priests out of the indigenous people. He wanted the native people to have their own clergy, with the Europeans acting as assistants. Their resistance to his objectives was fierce. The people were classified as “desirables” and “undesirables.” Bishop Bressilac was disgusted that so many of his fellow priests agreed with the caste system. He resigned his post and returned home to France

Bishop Bressilac wrote to the Congregation for the Missions in Rome. He asked if he could begin a mission in Africa in order “to go to the most abandoned.” His request was granted, and on February 29, 1856, Rome gave him their permission to start a society. He founded the Society of African Missions and spent the next two years recruiting and training new missionaries. In 1858 the first SMA (Societas Missionum ad Afros).[4]missionaries set forth for the new Vicariate Apostolic of Sierra Leone in western Africa.

A total of six missionary priests (inluding Bishop Bressilac) were in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on May 14, 1859, when a yellow fever epidemic broke out. Undaunted, the priests and Bishop stayed to treat the ill. They all died with Bishop Bressilac passing on June 25, 1859,  six weeks after their arrival.  Father Augustine Planque and some seminarians back in France were the only members of the new order left. Father Planque determinedly continued forward with Bishop Bressilac’s missionary work.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2020


A Rare Occurrence—Remembering and Embracing a Homily

Bible and Crucifix               Public Domain

By Larry Peterson

Many love the Mass, and I count myself among them. What transpires during this splendid celebration of life, death, resurrection, and redemption is what we call the Mystery of Faith. We honor the life of Christ; we journey with Him as He is tortured and killed, and we rejoice in His Resurrection, which heralds our salvation. United, we all say in one voice, “We proclaim Your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.”

As often as possible, I attend daily Mass and have been doing so for many years. I have heard many sermons at these Masses. However, I have something to admit, something I am not proud of; I rarely remember homilies. I do not know why that is. I did some research, and according to the Pew Research Center, the average length of a Catholic homily is 14 minutes. (Mainline Protestants are at 25 minutes; Evangelicals at 39 minutes).

One-third of Catholics say they are “very satisfied” with homilies, while fifty-two percent say they are ‘somewhat satisfied.  Fifteen percent say they are ‘not at all satisfied.” Statistics on those who “did not remember” sermons eluded me. Therefore,  I assume that there are others out there that are in the non-remembering category like me.

Then came Wednesday, September 13, 2020. HALLELUJAH—-a homily that STUCK. And it was about LOVE—and what is the Mass about?  It encompasses the Greatest LOVE. And the purity of it all was simply splendid. It all was because of 1 Corinthians 12:31 and 13:1-13.

Chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians is read in its entirety during this Mass. I will only focus on verses 4 thru 7. This is where Father Kevin (our pastor) tied together these verses that made them (at least for me) most memorable. He presented it in such a way that I now  believe this part of the reading should  be made available to all Catholics, including children, as a tool to teach us what love truly means. I’m a senior citizen and I have heard this reading many times. My wife and I even chose it for a reading at our Nuptial Mass. And the wonder of these words never clicked in for me until Father Kevin gave us this easy technique to use. It was a simple case of adding and subtracting. Let me explain.

The reading from 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 is as follows: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, love is not pompous,  it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interest, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoings but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Now, here comes the adding and subtracting with the subtracting coming first. What we simply do is take the word LOVE and references to LOVE i.e.: “It is” or “it does not” out of the reading. and replace each removal with our own name. See the sample below. My name, LARRY, will replace the word LOVE.  See what happens.

“LARRY is patient, LARRY is kind. LARRY is not jealous, LARRY is not pompous,  LARRY is not inflated, LARRY is not rude, LARRY does not seek HIS own interest, LARRY is not quick-tempered, LARRY  does not brood over injury, LARRY does not rejoice over wrongdoings but rejoices with the truth. LARRY  bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

The short reading about LOVE becomes a personal self-help tool. Having your name replace the abstract word, LOVE, might help us refocus, get our bearings, check our emotions, and remind us how God wants us to be. He wants us to be like Him, and God is LOVE. Imagine having this for not only yourself but also your children. A printed card posted on the fridge with little Jack’s name or his sister Sally’s name written in place of the word LOVE could be a reference point. “Okay, kids, enough! Go read the cards. See who you really are.”

This could be our personal reality check about Jesus and LOVE. After a while, it would stick inside all our heads. We adults might have business-size cards in our pockets or wallets with this printed on it. If you are having a trying moment, reach for your card, and read it.

Interestingly, the Responsorial Psalm for the day was Psalm 33. “Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be His own.”  Yes, that is us and being counted among the chosen requires all the self-help tools we can have. One final thought, I timed it , and it only took me fifteen seconds to read it.

Semper meminisse, est amor Dei   (Always remember, God is Love)

copyright©Larry Peterson 2020


The Deadliest Fire in American History was No Match for the Blessed Virgin Mary

We hear of the raging forest fires on the west coast but here is the true story of the worst firestorm in United States history (originally posted in 2017) It happened outside Green Bay, Wisconsin. in 1871. It is also the site of a documented miracle.

Forest Fire raging                                                                                         public domain

By Larry Peterson

On October 8, 1871, in or around a place called Peshtigo, Wisconsin, several men were busy setting small fires in the woods. This was a common practice in clearing land for expanding railroads or for developing farmland. Except on this particular day, something unexpected happened. A cold front moved into the area, creating winds that were close to hurricane force. The winds fanned the flames and the resulting Peshtigo Firestorm still can claim the ignominious title as the “deadliest wildfire” in American History.

To this day, no wildfire in the U.S. has ever caused more deaths. Close to 2500 people perished in the raging 2,000-degree inferno. But there is an incredible side-bar to this story. Miraculously, there was a small group who were not harmed at all, and they were right in the middle of the hellacious blaze. This small group of people were with Adele Brise.

Adele Brise was 24 years old when she came to Wisconsin with her parents. The year was 1855, and the family had just arrived from Belgium.  Devout Catholics, Adele had a great devotion to the Blessed Mother and prayed to her daily. They found a Catholic church nearby and would walk there every Sunday morning regardless of the weather.

On Sunday, October 2, 1859, Adele was walking home through the woods when she saw a woman, clothed in white, standing between a hemlock and a maple tree. The woman was encased in bright light and had a yellow sash around her waist.  A crown of stars was above her long, blond hair. Adele, filled with fear, began praying, and the vision disappeared. She told her mom and dad about it, and they said to her that maybe it was a soul in need of prayers.

The following Sunday, Adele, was on her way to Mass with her sister and another woman when she saw the apparition a second time. But her sister and friend, who were walking a bit ahead of her, did not see anything. Returning from Mass, the Lady appeared to Adele for the third time. Adele, who had confided in her parish priest about the mysterious Lady, did as he told her. She asked the Lady the question, “In the Name of God, who are you, and what do you wish of me?”

The Lady answered, “I am the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same. You received Holy Communion this morning, and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.”

Adele was afraid. She knew little about her faith. She asked how she was supposed to do this with so little knowledge. The Blessed Virgin told her, “Teach them their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the Sacraments; that is what I wish you to do. Go and fear nothing. I will help you.”

Adele took the Blessed Virgin’s words to heart. She began her new, lifelong ministry of teaching children the Catholic faith by traveling by foot from house to house to instruct children in their homes. Adele’s dad, Lambert Brise, built a small wooden structure at the sight of the apparition. A few years later, after Isabella Doyen donated five acres around the site, Adele, started a small school. Also, a  bigger wooden church was built, and it was named Our Lady of Good Help.

In the meantime, the magnificent woodlands of Wisconsin were being harvested for their fine lumber. Mounds of sawdust and dried branches were being littered about with no sense of cleanup or conservation ever considered. Then came the evening of October 8, 1871. The Peshtigo Fire quickly exploded and began to devour the entire area with its rushing flames and 2000 degree heat. The firestorm started to head for Our Lady of Good Help.

People nearby the chapel began heading to it. There was never an accurate count, but many people came, some even bringing their livestock. Sister Adele organized them together, and they all prayed the rosary. Outside the chapel, they walked in procession, holding high a statue of Mary pleading for her protection. The fire kept coming, and the people moved inside the chapel and continued praying. Soon the fire raged all around the compound, and the flames even arched over it. But the fire never touched the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Help or the people there.

Over one million acres were destroyed in the Peshtigo Firestorm. As far as the eye could see was total devastation. Yet, in the middle of it all, the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Help and the fenced property surrounding it was untouched. The property had been spared, and no one had been hurt, including the animals. The five acres sat amid the charred landscape like an oasis in the desert. People who came and saw this incredible sight knew the Hand of God was at work that night. The faithful did not doubt that the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Good Help, stood outside the chapel, deflecting the raging inferno away from her children inside.

The story of Sister Adele and Our Lady of Good Help was always well known within the local culture and to the faithful, but many considered it “urban legend”. That was because there was never an “official ecclesiastical judgment” rendered. Then, in 2009, the Diocese of Green Bay launched an official investigation. On December 8, 2010, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a special Mass was offered on the site by Bishop David Ricken. At the Mass, the bishop declared that the Marian apparitions witnessed by Adele Brise were “worthy of belief.”

The site of the apparitions of Our Lady of Good Help is only one of 15 worldwide recognized for Marian apparitions.  It is the only one in the United States. Since its ecclesiastical recognition and approval, The  Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help is rapidly growing as a site for pilgrims from around the world. The “cause” for the canonization of Sister Adele Brise will continue. It is a beautiful thing.

 

copyright ©Larry Peterson 2017


Anti-Semitism / Anti-Christianism: Equal Partners in Hate

fire, hate

By Larry Peterson

Too often throughout history man has allowed hate to control his actions.  Anti-Semitism is a hate that has been around for far too long.

My empathy for the Jewish people began when I was a twelve-year-old, but the journey wasn’t completed until about five years ago. I now I harbor a sense of “passion” about anti-Semitism.  It is an evil bound at the hip with anti-Christianism.

Growing up in the Bronx

I was born and raised Catholic. The Jews were always ‘those other people.’ Yes, I know, Jesus and Mary and Joseph and the apostles, et al, were all Jewish. But as a youngster, I never cared about that or even really thought about it.

I grew up in the South Bronx, in a mostly Catholic-Irish/German/Polish neighborhood. But there were some Jewish families in the neighborhood, too.  The Catholic kids went to Catholic school and Mass while the Jewish kids went to public school and synagogue.  Our social lives at school and church and synagogue were quite different and this caused an invisible separation among us. That was just the way it was.  But there was no hate present.  We were not anti-Semitic.  We bore them no ill-will and to the best of my knowledge they felt the same way toward us.

As such, the first real experience I had with our Jewish neighbors impacted me significantly.  It occurred when I was about twelve years old. I remember very well that Friday night so long ago. It was September, and the screaming started at about midnight. The windows were still open because it was hot, but the wailing seemed exceptionally chilling. Dad got up, and my seven-year-old brother, Danny, whispered from his bed, “I think he’s going down there.”

Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz

“Down there” was the apartment of Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz. We got up and followed him. Dad walked down the flight of stairs and up to Leo’s apartment door and began banging on it with his fist. We watched from the stairs as the door slowly opened.

Leo poked his head out and just like that my father was embracing this little Jewish man who, crying unashamedly, buried his head in Dad’s chest. My brother and I were stunned.  Leo was our landlord and everyone in the building seemed to be afraid of him. Not Dad. Dad disappeared into that apartment with Leo and did not leave for several hours.

When Dad came back up to our apartment, Danny and I were waiting for him. We wanted to know what happened. Dad took a deep breath and began to explain.  As he did, ‘those people’ in the neighborhood morphed into real people.  Two of them were named Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz.

Sophie Rabinowitz had been having nightmares that were created years before. Dad took us back to 1943, and a city called Krakow  The Nazis occupied Krakow.

Sophie’s continuing nightmares were of her two boys, ages 12 and 9, being clubbed to death by the Nazis.  Leo and Sophie had been forced to watch as their children were horrendously murdered.  Leo and Sophie begged their captors to kill them and spare their children, but the Nazis tortured the parents further by allowing them to live.

Try as I may, I cannot imagine what those moments in their lives were like. They were loving parents and were helpless, unable to save their children as godless people clubbed them to death simply because they were Jewish. Such evil can only come into people from the very bowels of Hell itself.

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

My father has been dead for many years, but he is still teaching me about being Catholic today. How? Through the gospel reading from Matthew 5:1-12 – The Sermon on the Mount. This is when Jesus, a Jewish man, gave the world The Beatitudes. The one that always grabs me is #2, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” That is what my father did on that night so long ago. The lesson stayed with me and it proved to be profound many years later.

I love my faith and use it frequently as my steadfast companion. I am always ready to lean on it, and I often do. Today I find myself sickened by the wave of anti-Semitism sweeping our nation and other parts of the world. My first thoughts go back to Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz. My own people are being defiled by those consumed by hatred towards people they do not know.

Note that I just called them “my own people.” That is because they are my people. Let me explain.

Genealogy

Our maternal Grandmother was an immigrant from Austria who arrived here as a teenager in 1908. We kids grew up with Grandma living with us, and we took her for granted. We gave no thought as to where she came from, or what her life had been like.  She was just always there. There was never a man in her life.  We never even thought to ask “what happened to Grandpa?”

Grandma died and Mom and dad passed on too, and we never had a chance to ask them about Grandpa.  There had never been any mention of him at all.  The questions only came after we grew up.  I wrote a book about it a few years ago. (If you are interested in reading the story, the book is The Priest and the Peaches, available from Amazon, HERE.)

Our feeble search for Grandpa became virtually non-existent.  Years went by with no information.  But you never know how things will turn out.

About five years ago, I received a message out of the blue on Facebook.  It was from my long lost cousin, Vicki (that reconnect is a story for another time). She had been on a “quest” and managed to locate me. Like dominoes perfectly colliding, after almost 40 years, my sister and brothers and cousins all reconnected.

Vickie had tenaciousness that none of her siblings or cousins possessed. She had plunged into the murky waters of genealogy and found our long, lost grandfather. His name was Isidore Schul.  He was a Hebrew man from Krakow, the very same city Leo and Sophie were from.  Mom’s dad, our Grandpa, was Jewish.  The immigration and naturalization papers all confirmed it. He made it to America in 1907. Just like that, I felt connected to Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz.

Jesus was a Jew

I have written a number of times about how the very first Catholic/Christians were Jewish. Jesus was a Jewish man.  His mom, our sweet Blessed Mother, was Jewish. His step-dad, St. Joseph was Jewish, his apostles were Jewish, and many of His first followers were Jewish. Many of  these Jewish/Christians died for following and proclaiming Jesus Christ. They were martyrs for their new faith.

Understanding my heritage caused a transformation of sorts. I now embrace in my own heart the concept of my Jewish connection. My maternal grandfather was a Hebrew man from Krakow, the same place Leo and Sophie’s children were butchered.  He was the only one on his side of OUR family who made it to America.  What we have discovered is that the rest of OUR relatives from his side died in the Holocaust.

We have no way of knowing the fate of our great grandparents, Simon and Regina Schul. Either they died before the death camps began or died in one of them. Now, when I read or see programs about the Holocaust, it has a whole different meaning for me. Members of my family were killed there. It is almost impossible for me to describe.

During the Holocaust, supposedly civilized people, both men, and women, willingly went about participating in the systematic destruction of close to 12 million people, including six million Jews. Their leaders wanted to eliminate Judaism from the face of the earth. And the ‘”good” non-Jewish, Aryan citizens did as the authorities ordered. They “followed orders” and they almost succeeded in their quest.

A Spiritual DNA

I have never understood such hate but I know, too, that anti-Semitism will likely continue unabated. Today, its ‘blood’ relative is a monster known as anti-Christianism.  It’s now rivaling anti-Semitism for world dominance.

When you think about it, it was inevitable that Judaism and Christianity would be defiled and denigrated together.  The worldwide hatred of Jews and Christians will continue, and we are now joined together in this hatred.  Thomas Merton once said, “If you want to study the social and political history of modern nations, study hell.”

We Catholics read and hear during Eucharistic Liturgy of the Mass from the Roman Canon the following words said by the priest before the words of consecration: “In communion with those whose memory we venerate, especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ, and blessed Joseph, her Spouse, your blessed Apostles . . .” 

Were not all of those mentioned Jewish? Yes, they were. There is no denying this fact. And they are all canonized saints.  Their Judaism was always part of who they were, and it all extrapolated into who we Catholic/Christians are today. A kind of Spiritual DNA joins Jews and Christians together forever.

Satan is Hate

Satan rules hell. He put himself there, and his followers plunged right in with him.  When I bring Holy Communion to someone, the first prayer I say is, “We come to know and believe that God is Love. And he who abides in love abides in God and God in him.”

Satan is the opposite of love. He is hate. And those who choose to embrace “hate” embrace Satan, with Satan heartily embracing them back. This war between Good and Evil will continue until the God of Love decides to end it.  We, as believers, must fight for the God of Love, no matter what the cost, up to and including our lives.

It is 2020, and both Judaism and Christianity are under severe attack in the United States of America. It is in our face. We here, in the USA, have had the absolute luxury of practicing our religions and worshiping as we so choose for as long as we all can remember. I think it is the greatest freedom the Founding Fathers gave us.

Still, even that freedom is under assault as the pandemic gives the secularists in power the authority to order churches closed while allowing casinos and race-tracks to remain open. However, we have a most potent weapon against secularism. It is the Rosary. We should pray our Rosary every day for our nation. It is a weapon that Satan cannot overcome.

SHALOM and PEACE BE WITH YOU!


He is the Patron Saint of African-Americans, and his Body lies Incorrupt to this Day

Benedict the Moor                Public Domain

By Larry Peterson

No one knows what their real names were. That was because they were Negroes kidnapped from Africa and transported to San Fratello, Italy, in the early 16th century. San Fratello was a small town near Messina in Sicily, and this is where the newly arrived “dark people” would spend their lives. Once settled in by their “owners,” they were assigned Italian names. They became Cristoforo and Diana Manasseri.

As the years passed by, Cristoforo and Diana converted to Christianity and led exemplary lives. In 1526, Diana gave birth to a son, and they named him Benedict. Benedict’s mom and dad had fulfilled their duties as faithfully and thoroughly as they possibly could.  Their owner, a devout Catholic and a kind man, rewarded them by granting freedom to their son on his eighteenth birthday. Benedict, who had never attended school because he was a slave, was illiterate.

Benedict continued his work as a day laborer and a shepherd. His meager wages he shared with the poor, and in his spare time, cared for the sick. Because of his lowly status, Benedict the Moor was often the object of ridicule. He stood tall in the face of the name-calling and mockery, and cheerfully told others that he was known as “The Holy Black.”

One day, when Benedict was about 21 years old, he was see being publicly ridiculed by some people because of his color. A  group of hermits from nearby Mount Pellegrino and their leader, James Lanze, noticed him. Lanze was a nobleman who had left the world to live under the Rule of St. Francis. James Lanze spoke to Benedict, and Benedict sold his few possessions and joined the monastic group. It was not long after that he moved with them to Palermo.

His Catholic faith deeply rooted within him, Benedict, a lay brother, happily worked in the kitchen at the Friary od St. Mary of Jesus. But God had other plans for Benedict. When the director of the friary passed away, Benedict was chosen as the Guardian of the friary. He still could neither read nor write. After one year as Guardian, he was selected as Novice Master. Many wondered how he could effectively hold such a position.

As was part of his job, many people sought his counsel. From those that were novices to professed religious,  people of all classes came to him for advice. Benedict, an uneducated black man, possessed an extraordinary gift of prayer and seemingly had full knowledge of the scriptures and an instinctive ability to understand deep theological truths. Learned men were astounded, and word of Benedict’s spirituality spread. Soon the monastery was flooded with visitors. The poor were there asking for alms, the sick were searching for a cure, and others just wanted advice or prayers.

Many said that St. Benedict’s face was seen shining as with a celestial light whenever he was praying in the chapel. While working as a cook, others said that angels were seen helping him in the kitchen and that more often than not, food seemed to miraculously increase as Benedict placed it on the tables.

Benedict would have preferred to live a hidden life, unknown to the world. As he aged, he asked to be relieved of his duties and be allowed to return to the kitchen. This request was granted, and Benedict predicted the day and hour he would die.  He fell ill and, after a short time, passed to his eternal reward. The date was April 4, 1589. It was the day he had foretold.

Benedict’s death saw a huge cult develop, and his veneration spread throughout Spain, Italy, and Latin America. Three years after Benedict’s death, his body was exhumed and found perfectly preserved. In 1611, King Philip III of Spain authorized the adding on to the Franciscan Friary of St. Mary of Jesus, a shrine dedicated to St. Benedict the Moor. His incorrupt body is on display to this very day for all to see.

St Benedict the Moor was beatified by Pope Benedict XIV in 1743 and was canonized by Pope Pius VII in 1807. He is the Patron Saint of African Missions and, along with St. Martin de Porres, is the Patron Saint of African-Americans.

In today’s charged political environment, this great saint stands out as a model of patience and understanding when it comes to being confronted with racial prejudice. The following are historically black Roman Catholic Churches located in the United States which bear  Benedict’s name; Washington, DC, New York City, Chicago (2), Pittsburgh, PA, North Omaha, Nebraska, Dayton, Ohio, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Grambling, Louisiana, and, Savannah, Georgia ( the oldest Catholic church for African-Americans in the entire Southeast.

Saint Benedict the Moor, please pray for us.

 

 

 


Hearing that he might be elected Pope, he hid in a cave until the election was over; meet St. Philip Benizi

Saint Philip Benizi                     en.wikipedia.org

By Larry Peterson

Philip Benizi was born in Florence on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15, 1233. (The Feast of the Assumption was declared a dogma of faith by Pope Pius XII in 1950. However, celebrating the day has been traced back to as early as the third century). That same day the Order of Servites was founded by the Mother of God. Even as a small child, this was the Order that Philip wanted to join. His father was against this and insisted to Philip that he was not worthy of such a calling. Philip succumbed to his father’s influence and began to study medicine. He studied for several years in Padua and Paris, earning doctorates in medicine and philosophy.

He began to work as a physician but never stopped thinking about his vocation. It was the Thursday after Easter when Philip went into the Chapel of the Servites located on the outskirts of Florence to attend Mass. During the reading of the Epistle, the words, “Draw near and join thyself to the chariot.”  Philip, hearing these words, went into ecstasy and found himself out in a wild and dangerous wilderness. He looked for a way to get out and save himself. He looked around but saw no escape. Then he looked up and saw the Blessed Virgin, above him in a chariot. She held in her hand the habit of the Servites. Philip immediately knew what he had to do and headed to the dwelling of the Seven Founders and asked to be accepted as a lay-brother.

Philip was readily accepted and began to work as diligently and as faithfully as he could. His knowledge and holiness were so evident that those who knew him convinced him to become a priest. He tried to oppose them but finally accepted their advice. He was ordained at Siena in 1258. Once ordained, he became zealous in his love of the priesthood and his quest to serve the Blessed Virgin.

Philip became the Superior to several houses and, in 1267, was elected Prior General of the Servite Order. As Prior General, he ordered his Servite members to travel about and preach the Gospel and spread devotion to the Blessed Virgin. From city to city and town to town, the Servites went, spreading the Word and encouraging devotion and honor to Our Lady.

Philip was humble and highly intelligent, with his humility always staying in charge. This character trait obtained for him the highest regard from both clergy and laity. Philip did not realize what kind of effect he had on those around him. When the Cardinals assembled in Viterbo to elect a new pope, they could not agree on whom to choose. Eventually, after lengthy discussions, they unanimously chose Philip.

When Philip heard of this, he fled into the mountains. He found a cave to hide in and stayed there until a new Pope was elected. He could not understand why these lofty churchmen would consider choosing him. The year was 1271, and the man elected to the papacy became Pope St. Gregory X.

During the thirteenth century, Italy was ravaged by civil wars. Father Philip Benizi’s preaching was one of the prime reasons peace was restored. At the Council of Lyons, he spoke to the many prelates and did so using the “gift of tongues.” Known for performing miracles, he met a leper on the road and gave the man his cloak. When the leper put it on, his leprosy vanished.

Philip’s body was getting weaker, and he went to the convent at Todi to finish his earthly journey. On the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, he preached his last sermon. It was so eloquent and persuasive people in the congregation wept. When he had finished, he was overcome with fever, which he regarded as a sign of impending death. He asked his helpers to carry him to his apartment. He would spend the last days of his life in prayer, repenting of his sins, and asking if he might be admitted into heaven.

After receiving the Sacraments, he asked all those present to pray the litany of the saints. He had been born on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15, and he died on August 22, 1285. That was within the Octave of Assumption. He was 52 years old. He was canonized by Pope Clement X on April 12, 1671.

Saint Philip Benizi, pray for us.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2020


Blessed Titus Brandsma—The Miracle to advance him to Sainthood may have Occurred in Florida

Blessed Titus Brandsma    en.wikipedia.org

By Larry Peterson

Anno Sjoerd Brandsma was born in the Province of Friesland, located in the Netherlands in 1881. His father, Titus Brandsma, and his mom, Tjisje Postma, ran a small dairy farm and were devout Catholics, part of the minority in the strongly Calvinist region. They had six children; four daughters and two sons.

Titus and his wife worked very hard at encouraging their children to love the Lord and to honor their faith.  Their dedication paid off. All, except one of the daughters, entered religious life. Three sisters became nuns, and Anno and his brother became priests.

The Brandsma brothers both wanted to become Franciscans. Anno’s brother entered the Franciscan minor seminary first. This is where boys, feeling the call to the priesthood, could begin their priestly journey. Those heeding that call were admitted here if they were between the ages of eleven to seventeen..

When Anno, nicknamed ‘Shorty,” developed intestinal health problems, his condition prevented him from becoming a Franciscan. Undeterred, he joined the Carmelite Order at Boxmeer, Netherlands, taking the name of Titus in honor of his father. He made his first vows in 1899 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1905.

Father Titus was a gifted academic. After his ordination, he was sent to Rome. Although suffering through several bouts of illness, he managed to earn his Doctorate in Divinity from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. The year was 1909, and he was 28 years old. Also, Father Tituss learned and spoke Italian, Frisian, Dutch,  and English. He could also read Spanish. He translated the works of St Teresa of Avila from Spanish to Dutch and had them published.

Father Titus moved on and taught at the Carmelite Seminary at Oss, Netherlands. He became the editor of a local daily newspaper in 1919,  and was easily recognizable as the “short priest with the cigar in his mouth.” He became a widely traveled orator, journalist, and author. In 1932 he was named Rector Magnificus of Catholic University in the Netherlands. To top it all off and even though occupied with so many responsibilities, he still managed to become one of the most popular confessors on campus. He also conducted a speaking tour throughout the United States in 1935.

Something else happened in 1935.  Father Titus Brandsma came to the attention of the Nazis. He had started his anti-Nazi actions by writing against the anti-Jewish laws. He wrote that no Catholic publication could publish Nazi propaganda and still call itself Catholic. The attention paid to him by the Nazis dramatically increased.

The Gestapo was now following Father Titus continually. Wherever he went or whatever he did, the always aware Gestapo made their presence known. One day, Father “Shorty,” his ever-present cigar stuck between his teeth, was on a mission to deliver a letter from the Conference of Catholic Bishops to the editors of Catholic newspapers. The letter ordered these publications not to print official Nazi documents. (a new “law” passed by the Nazis demanded they do this) and Father Titus had delivered the letter to fourteen editors when the Gestapo arrested him. The date was January 19, 1942, at the Boxmeer monastery.

Father Titus was moved from prison to prison until finally, on June 19, 1942, he was imprisoned in Dachau. This was the Nazi’s first concentration camp, and it became known as the “priests barracks.”  The reason for that was because over 2500 priests and religious were confined there.

Father’s health quickly deteriorated at Dachau. The lack of food, daily beatings, harsh, unimaginable, living conditions combined to break a person quickly. Within a few weeks of his arrival, he was so sick that he was transferred to the camp “hospital.”  On July 26, 1942, a camp nurse was ordered to give him an injection of carbolic acid. Father Titus handed the woman his Rosary. He said to her, “What an unfortunate girl you are. I shall pray for you.”

The nurse did her “work,” and Father Titus Brandsma died a martyr for the faith. Forty-three years later, the same nurse was at Venerable Titus Brandsma’s beatification ceremony. She testified to this happening. She also said that his actions brought her back to the faith. Father Titus Brandsma was beatified by Pope St. John Paul II on November 3, 1985.

We should all note well that Blessed Titus is still busy working in the 21st century. His brother Carmelite, Father Michael Driscoll, has a special connection to Blessed Titus. In 2004 Father Driscoll was diagnosed with Stage 4 Melanoma*. He invoked Blessed Titus asking for his intercession The story of Father Driscoll’s miraculous recovery is at the following link.

https://aleteia.org/blogs/the-anchoress/priest-cured-of-melanoma-credits-miracle-by-bl-titus-brandsma-murdered-by-nazis/

Blessed Titus Brandsma, please pray for us all.

 

*(I know how deadly this cancer can be. My wife was diagnosed with Stage 4 Melanoma in April of 2002. She passed away on April 4, 2003).

copyright©L:arry Peterson 2020


Mariano Jose de Ibarguengoitia Zuloaga—-co-founder of the Servants of Jesus of Charity, he worked tirelessly for the poor, sick, and imprisoned.

Mariano Jose de Ibarguengoitia  Zuloaa                           public domain

By Larry Peterson

I do not speak Spanish, so pronouncing the name, Ibarguengoitia, proved quite the challenge for me.   Assuming some who might read this will have the same problem, here is how you say Ibarguengoitia phonetically:  eebar gen GOY tee a. I hope it helps you—I know it helped me

Mariano Jose de Ibarguengoitia Zuloaga was born on Septemeber 8, 1815, in the city of Bilbao, located in north-central Spain. He was the youngest of nine brothers, and, sadly, his dad passed away when he was only two years of age. His mom, a resourceful woman, knew how to stand up to adversity and held the family together. She taught them well and made sure their education was of high quality, especially when it came to being Catholic.

Mariano was blessed with a keen mind and excelled in his studies. Even as a child, his ability to process and solve mathematical problems made his instructors take notice. His family’s business was dealing in trade and commerce, and his mother recognized her boy’s potential as did her relatives who were also involved in the family business. However, Mariano had other ideas. He told them, “The business I want is to save souls.”

Mariano studied Philosophy, Theology, and Law in Bilbao, but in 1833  the First Carlist War erupted, and he had to move to Santiago to finish his studies. He then traveled to Rome and completed his formation and was ordained to the priesthood in April 1840. Father Zuloaga and his companions found themselves quickly dragged into the politics of the time and were exiled to Vallodolid in 1843. However, Father Mariano did not lose sight of the fact that he was a priest, and owed himself to God before all else and that his primary purpose was to save souls.

When Father Mariano returned from exile he was assigned to the parish of San Antonio Abad (Saint Anthony Abbot) in Vallodolid. He poured himself into his ministry, giving talks, sermons, hearing confessions, teaching children’s catechesis, visiting the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, and working with St. Vincent de Paul conferences. He began devotions to the Holy Christ of Mercy, organized the Association of Catholic Mothers and the Archconfraternity of the Most Pure and Immaculate Heart of Mary. There was no pastoral activity anywhere in the area where Father Mariano Jose de Ibarguengoitia Zuloaga did not make his presence known.

After eighteen years assisting at San Antonio Abad, Father Mariano was appointed as pastor. His parishioners were thrilled, and Father continued his work by founding the House of Refuge for the redemption of ‘public women”, the Daughter’s of the Cross, and the Carmelite Schools of the Charity of Zumaya.  He then joined forces with Sister Maria Josefa del Corazon de Jesus in founding the Consecration of the Servants of Jesus of Charity, their mission being to take care of the sick in their homes, the elderly, and children of the needy.

In 1872, the Second Carlist War broke out. Father Mariano was in Bilbao as it was being bombarded and under siege. Once again, he never lost sight of his purpose as a priest and did his best to minister to those in the city. In addition to all his ministerial work, he supervised the construction of the tower and façade of the new basilica being built which is today the Basilica of Santiago.

Father Mariano Jose de Ibarguengoitia Zuloaga died on January 31, 1888. Sister Maria Josefa del Corazon de Jesus said at the time, “The entire city of Bilbao mourned his passing like that of a saint. It is everyone’s thought that he will be elevated to sainthood.”

Father Mariano’s cause for sainthood was initiated in 2003. He was declared Servant of God, and his cause moved to Rome. On July 11, 2020, Pope Francis declared Father Mariano a man of “heroic virtue.” He is now called Venerable Mariano Jose de Ibarguengoitia Zuloaga.  Most folks will call him Venerable Mariano Jose.

We ask Venerable Mariano Jose de Ibarguengoitia Zuloaga  to pray for us.

Copyright ©LarryPeterson 2020


Blessed Luigi Novarese—At age nine, Doctors said his case was hopeless…His Mom turned to the Blessed Virgin for help.

Blessed Luigi Novarese                           Aleteia.org

By Larry Peterson

Luigi Novarese was born on July 20, 1914, in Casale Monferrato, located in northern Italy. He was the ninth and last child born to Giust Carlo Novarese and Teresa Sassone. Luigi’s dad died before the boy’s first birthday from pneumonia. His Mom, a devout Catholic, embraced her responsibility as a Mom and did her best to keep the family afloat. She was somehow managing when, in 1923, Luigi is struck with a life-threatening disease. He is diagnosed with bone-tuberculosis. The doctors tell his Mom there is no cure, and there is no hope.

Luigi’s Mom does not believe them. She is determined to save her boy and works as much as she can and saves every penny possible to cure her dying son. She does have one weapon the doctors do not have. She turns to the Blessed Virgin and begs her to help in Luigi’s recovery. Doctor’s tell her she should resign herself to the fact that her son is terminally ill and will not live. Teresa Sassone is undeterred and keeps on praying.

Luigi, following his Mom’s example, develops a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother. He writes a letter to Father Filippo Rinaldi, the head of the Salesian Order, asking him to have the students pray for him. Father Rinaldi tells Luigi that they will pray for the intercession of St. John Bosco and Our Lady Help of Christians.

On May 17, 1931, Luigi Novarese left the hospital for the last time.  He is 17 years old. The illness is gone, and doctors cannot explain it. But the disease caused Luigi’s one leg to become shorter than the other. This requires him to wear a special shoe for the rest of his life. He does not mind at all.

During his many hospital stays, Luigi became impressed with the work of the doctors and decided that he would become a doctor himself, if he survived. He had a change of heart when, in 1935, at the age of 21, his Mom died. Luigi thought about how hard his Mom prayed for his recovery and realized that he could serve the Lord by offering his suffering for those who are seriously ill.  He entered the seminary at Casale Monferrato, Italy. From there, he moved and completed his studies at the Capranica College in Rome. He was  ordained a priest at St. John Lateran Basilica on December 17, 1938.

While a student Luigi Novarese earned degrees in Theology and Canon Law. On May 1, 1942, Monsignor Giovanni Montini,  the future Pope Paul VI, asked Luigi to join his staff at the Secretariat of State for the Vatican. Father Novarese would remain there until May 12, 1970.

On May 17, 1943, while on staff within the Secretariat of State, Father Luigi founded the Marian Priest League. In 1947 he would co-found the Volunteers for Suffering and, in 1950, the Silent Workers of the Cross. In 1952, he founded the Brothers and Sisters of the Sick.

He still had more to do, so he was able to get permission from Pope Pius XII to launch an hour broadcast on Vatican Radio dedicated to the sick. In 1962, Pope John XXIII placed Father Novarese in charge of all Italian hospitals. Then, in 1970, he was put in charge of the health sector of the Italian Episcopal Conference, where he remained until 1977. During this time, he met Pope John Paul II, and when they met, the Holy Father embraced him.

Luigi Novarese died on July 29, 1984. He was 70 years old. He was beatified on May 11, 2013 at the Basilica of San Paolo fueri le Mura  (Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls) in Rome, Italy, by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone with the approval of Pope Francis. Blessed Luigi is the patron for the Apostolate of the Suffering, Silent Workers of the Cross, Maria Priest league, and Brothers and Sisters of the Sick.

Sidebar: Venerable Angiolino Bonetta,  the 14-year-old cancer victim, featured in Aleteia on July 22, was visited by Blessed Luigi Novarese in 1962, as part of his ministry of the Apostolate of the Suffering.

Copyright©Larry Peterson 202