Evangelizing—What is it, and how can we, as individuals, Evangelize?

Holy Spirit, Pentecost, Evangelize

By Larry Peterson

What is Evangelization?

We Catholic/Christians are asked to ‘evangelize.” But for me, the word, Evangelize, has always been intimidating. And what does that word actually mean?  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says that the word, evangelize, is a verb that means “to preach the gospel to” or “to convert to Christianity.” St. Pope Paul VI said, “Evangelizing means to bring the Good News into all the strata of humanity, and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new.”

Are we called to Evangelize?

Does the Bible call on us to Evangelize? It sure does, and here are two short examples. Matthew 4:19 says, He said to them, come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Another is in John 20:21, it says, Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Evangelli Gaudium—the new evangelization summons us all

Lastly, I will call upon Pope Francis and his Evangelii Gaudium. In his apostolic exhortation,  published in 2013, the Holy Father “reaffirmed that the new evangelization is a summons  to all the faithful, and is to be carried out in three principal settings.” The three settings are 1) ordinary pastoral ministry (to inflame the hearts of the faithful), 2) outreach to “the baptized whose lives do not reflect the demands of Baptism” and 3) “evangelization to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him.

First of all, when I think of Evangelizers, I envision people such as Billy Graham speaking to a stadium filled with thousands of people or Venerable Fulton Sheen teaching class on television so many years ago. I have even thought of Burt Lancaster playing the character of Elmer Gantry, reigning down words of “fire and brimstone” inside a tent filled with a captive audience. To this very day, we have street preachers praising Jesus and doing their best to convert the unbelievers. As for me, I have never been able to do that.

Do not get me wrong. I have never backed away from a discussion about my faith. If I was in a group or among friends and my Catholic faith was challenged or ridiculed, I would not be quiet. On the contrary, I would defend it the best I could. But I was never one to initiate a conversation. I can still remember my dad telling me, “Never get into a discussion about religion or politics. You can never win.” Well, my dad was wrong. I finally found a way to evangelize.  And, I want to share it with you, the reader.

Evangelizing is not complicated—You just have to be ready for the moment

The first thing I have come to understand is that the ‘evangelizing” business  can simply begin as a “one on one” interaction.  Since we are all called to evangelize, we have to be ready for the “moment. “Okay, what does that mean?

First of all, the “moment” to evangelize is hard to plan. The fact is, the moment can spring up at the most unexpected times or in the strangest of places. You just have to be ready. Here is an example. The following happened to me while in line at a supermarket.

There was a young lady in front of me, and she had a child sitting in her cart. The cashier was shaking her head and returning the woman’s debit card to her. The lady slid it back into the scanner. Again it was rejected. A tear ran down the woman’s face. Her child, sensing her mom’s distress, also began to cry. Can you seize this unexpected moment and “evangelize?” Why not?

The first thing you have to do to be an effective evangelist is smile at people you do not know. Since you are an evangelizer, you have already smiled at both the woman and her child. Okay, she did not want to make new friends but trust me, she saw your smile. You have also noticed that her grocery cart has about thirty dollars worth of groceries in it. Your moment to begin evangelizing has arrived.

You take your debit card and ask the cashier to put the woman’s charge on your card (I do not do this very often). What do you think might happen? Here are a few examples from personal experience; a) The lady tells you, “Please mind your own business.” b) The lady tells you, “No, thank you,” She lifts the child from the cart and leaves the store.  c) The lady gives you a dirty look and says, “That’s not necessary  I have the cash right here.” d) The lady says, “Thank you,” and accepts your offer. e) You might have a few expletives thrown your way. You never know.

Paying it Forward

In this case, I am dealing with the d). You help her save face by saying, “Look, I’m paying it forward.” One of these days, you do something for someone else. That’s all there is to it.”

The lady gives you a final “thank you” and begins to leave. I call after her, “Maam, can you wait one second. I have something for you.”

She stops and waits while you check out.. My moment has arrived. I walk over to her and say, “I was wondering. Do you have Jesus in your life?”

I have thrown it out there, and now I wait. She sighs and looks at me. I sense her nervousness, so I quickly say, “No problem, it’s okay. I just wanted to give you this.”

Evangelizers must choose a primary tool

I have discovered that evangelists need a primary tool in their evangelizing kit. Most evangelists seem to have a Bible in their hand. Not me. I have a cross, a small cross. You cannot see it because it is in my pocket. It is 1.5 X 2.5 inches in size. It is made of  Olive Wood from the Holy Land and is blessed by a priest. I did not invent this idea, I found these crosses online. They are called Comfort Crosses or Caring Crosses. They have turned me into a quiet evangelizer. I love them. (If you want, you can find them online too).

I reach into my pocket, and I pull out the Comfort Cross. I hold it up between my thumb and forefinger and begin to explain to her what it is. She is just looking at me, but I cannot get a feel for what is going on inside her. I tell her, “Jesus loves you, and this Cross will keep you close to Him.”

She is pursing her lips, and I know it is time to finish what I started. I say to her, “Carry it with you in your pocket or purse. Take it to bed with you. Just always keep it close to you. Squeeze it and tell Jesus you love Him. Trust me, you will feel His love returning to you.”

This turned out to be a GOOD moment. A tear rolls down her cheek, and she blurts out, “You have no idea what this means to me. Thank you, thank you.”

The lady takes the Cross and, through her tears, smiles. She leaves the store, and I never expect to see her again.

I certainly am no Billy Graham or Venerable Fulton Sheen. But the moments for me to be a one on one evangelizer pop up in the strangest places. Supermarkets, gas stations, convenient stores,  auto repair shops, doctor’s offices, hospital lobbies, McDonald’s, and Walmart. I have handed out my comfort crosses in all of those places. And, of course, many of my attempts are not appreciated. It is okay. At least I gave it a shot. I figure they threw rocks at Jesus and look what He did for me; the least I  can do is try.

I will finish by mentioning the woman I profiled. Almost a year later, I was in the same supermarket. A lady comes up to me and says, “Oh my God, it’s you. I can’t believe it. Remember me?”

I was almost sure I did, but I was not positive. She says, I’m the person you gave the Comfort Cross to, and you “paid it forward for me. Remember?”

I sure did remember. “Yes, of course. How are you?”

She says, “I have been back to this store four or five times hoping to see you. And finally, here you are. I cannot believe I found you.”

I’m thinking, what does she want? I say, “Wow, I can’t believe it either. So why were you looking for me?”

“Well, I loved the Cross you gave me and carried it everywhere. And then I lost it, and I miss it so much.  I wanted to find you to see if I could get another one.”

Suddenly I teared up. I reached in my pocket and pulled out two crosses. “Here you go. You now have a spare.”

She gave me the biggest hug I could imagine and thanked me again. It was an evangelizing bonus. You never know what to expect when you evangelize.

One final thought. If you want to evangelize you have to be willing to talk to strangers. Once in a grocery store or a doctor’s office, or a lab for bloodwork, or wherever you may be, the opportunity is usually there. Take a chance—say “Hi” to someone nearby, talk about the weather, or even mention the cold pizza delivered to you. You never know if an “evengelizing moment” is coming your way.

Copyright Larry Peterson 2021


These Three Nurses accepted Martyrdom rather than Deny their Catholic Faith

By Larry Peterson

This is about three young women. They were all Red Cross nurses but had been mistaken for Catholic nuns. The year was 1936, and the Civil War in Spain was raging. The Catholic clergy was a prime target for the government militia. The three nurses were taken prisoner by the rebel soldiers.

The innocent women, who were Catholic,  had come to help and treat the sick and dying no matter what side they were on. It was all about taking care of those in need. Inspired by their love for Jesus, they were simply following His way, demonstrating love and kindness the way Jesus taught. Even though they were not nuns, they loved their faith deeply and were not about to denounce it.

The three ladies were beaten, tortured, and treated in the most degrading and heinous ways imaginable. This cruel treatment continued all through the night and then, for the grand finale, they were shot to death. Their names were Maria Pilar Gullon Yturriaga, age 25;  Octavia, Iglesias Blanco, age 42; and Olga Perez-Monteserin Nunez, age 23.  

After inflicting their degrading and painful acts upon the women, their torturers demanded that they renounce their Catholic faith. Exhibiting unbelievable courage and saying over and over, “Viva Cristo Rey” (“Long live Christ the King”), they died “in odium Fidei” (“in hatred of the Faith”).

  • Nurse Maria Pilar Gullon was born on May 29, 1911, in Madrid, Spain. Her mom and dad were devout Catholics, and Maria became a member of Catholic Action and the Daughters of Mary in Astorga, Spain.  She taught catechism and worked with the poor and the sick. But her calling was to nursing, and she became a Red Cross Nurse and wound up at the front during the Spanish Civil War. She was captured by the militia and (as mentioned) died a martyr’s death on October 28, 1936.
  • Nurse Octavia Iglesias Blanco was born on November 30, 1894, in Astorga, Leon, Spain. At age 42, she was the oldest of the three women and tried her best to be the “big sister” as they were beaten and violated. They apparently all stuck together as best they could because they all died the same way, “in odium fidei” never giving  up to the evil being showered upon them.
  • Nurse Olga Perez-Monteserin Nunez was born on March 16, 1913, in Paris, France. At the age of seven, she moved to  Astorga, Spain with her parents. At the age of 23, she was the “baby” of the group but just as determined and dedicated to helping the sick, wounded, and dying as her older nursing sisters. When she reported for duty at the Red Cross headquarters she was assigned to the front, the same as Nurse Maria and Nurse Octavia.

Prior to their Beatification Ceremony on May 29, 2021, Bishop Jesus Fernandez Gonzalez of Astorga said, “These martyrs were not linked to either side—the Red Cross went wherever it was summoned, regardless of who was in control. Nor did they carry weapons or even use words to attack anyone. They were simply moved by human compassion and Christian charity, knowing the risks and dangers when signing up as volunteers.”

Bishop Fernando Gonzalez also said that the three women had clung to their crosses and forgiven their executioners, offering a “model of the Christian lay vocation.”

The Bishop continued by saying, “Although they were given the opportunity to apostatize, they did not do so. They were people with their whole lives ahead—only a great hope could have enabled them to renounce it, and only a great love could have sustained such hope. The testimony of martyrs offers a lifeline, keeping us afloat in the truth that liberates,”

The Beatification ceremony took place on Saturday, May 29, 2021, at Santa Maria  Cathedral in Astorga.  The celebrant representing Pope Francis was Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Saint’s Causes. The newly Beatified women were originally buried in a mass grave at their execution site. They were re-interred at the Cathedral in Astorga in 1948.


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


To Her Husband, the Only Thing that mattered was the Arrival of the Priest

Light after Death

By Larry Peterson

Lee and Shirley Mae had moved from Pittsburgh, PA., to Pinellas Park, FL, back in 1984. Lee, a World War II veteran who served in the South Pacific during the war, and Shirley Mae had met at the Greater Pittsburgh Airport years before. Lee, a widower, worked for United Airlines. Shirley, who had never been married, was a waitress at the airport restaurant. They fell in love and got married. A few years after Lee retired from United, they headed south, settling on the Florida west coast near St. Petersburg.  

They purchased a two-bedroom home in a 55+ community called Mainlands of Tamarac. They immediately joined the local Catholic parish called Sacred Heart Church. It was perfect for the happy couple, and they quickly became involved in church ministry. They both volunteered as ushers, and Lee became an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. They also worked together every year during the annual Fall Festival, coordinating all the food court workers.

It was sometime in January of 2020 that Shirley began feeling “not right.” She was having a bit of trouble breathing, had a slight cough, and was experiencing fatigue. Lee and Shirley knew it was time to see the doctor, and they did. Doctors told her she had lung cancer.

Treatments with oral medications began in February. The pandemic resulted in a change of lifestyle, and Lee and Shirley adapted the best they could. They did not dare venture outside their home, and food and supplies were delivered and placed near the front door. Days turned to months, and Shirley’s health kept slipping downward.

Lee, who is a vibrant 96-year-old, could no longer care for his wife by himself. Sometime in early September, Hospice arrived on the scene.  Towards the end of September, a hospital bed was placed in the family room. Shirley was no longer able to sit up or eat by herself. Hospice workers were now coming in several times a day.

Hospice wanted to move Shirley to the Hospice center. Lee was horrified at the prospect. He told the nurse in charge, “My wife and I promised each other we would never let any one take either of us to any kind of home. She must stay here with me. Please, please, do that for me?”  Hospice, realizing Shirley’s time was not far away, agreed.

Lee and Shirley are devout Catholics who attended Mass every day. They are also neighbors and close friends of mine. .I became personally involved in helping them early in summer. My most important function was that of being a Minister of Holy Communion. Nothing was more important to them than my bringing Jesus in the Eucharist, especially on Sunday.

The end of September and the beginning of October seemed to blend together. It was about 5 P.M. on October 8th when my phone rang. Brenda, a close friend of Lee and Shirley’s, was calling to say that Shirley had passed a few minutes earlier. I had promised Lee that no matter what time of day or night it was, a priest would come to pray over Shirley when she passed. I immediately called the church.

The church has a phone menu, and if you press #8, you got the emergency line to the priest. I left a message, and I headed over to Lee’s house. Shirley was lying halfway on her side. Her head was bowed down a bit, and her eyes were half-open. She had a simple smile on her face. I was transfixed at how peacefully beautiful she appeared. I called the church again. Then I gathered those willing around Shirley’s bed, and we said a Chaplet of Divine Mercy for her.

Upon finishing the Chaplet, I called the church a third time. As I hung up the phone, it rang. It was Father Kevin, our pastor. He was out in Tampa at a convocation with priests and the bishop. Father Vijay, our other priest, was with him. They were was almost an hour away. The problem was the funeral home van was on the way to pick up Shirley. I was told they could not wait for the priest.

It is interesting how things can work out. Nothing was more important to Lee at that moment than the priest being there to pray over Shirley. Father Kevin said he could leave right away and, if traffic was light, he could make it in 45 minutes. I said, “Okay, father. Thanks, .” 

Fifteen minutes later, the funeral van pulled up. Father Kevin was at least a half-hour away. One of the hospice nurses came over to me and told me that they had another stop to make and could not wait. It was time to get bold.

I walked over to the van driver and told him the situation. The guy told me he was sorry, but he could not wait for more than fifteen minutes. I told him very nicely that “the only way anyone gets near that woman  before the priest does is over my dead body.” The guy smiled and said, “Okay, okay, I get it. I understand.”

Father Kevin arrived within the 45 minute time frame. We all gathered around, and calmness filled the room as Father prayed over Shirley and blessed her. Lee stood next to him, holding his wife’s lifeless hand, tears coming from his eyes. As Shirley was removed from the house, Lee stopped by the gurney and held her hand one last time.  Sobbing softly, he bent down and kissed her goodbye. She was still smiling.

Her funeral is scheduled for October 31st, Halloween. Ironically, wearing masks will be appropriate.

copyright©Larry Peterson2020

 


No Quarantining for this Priest. He walked straight into the deadly Pandemic to minister to his people. It cost him his life.

Fr. Patrick J. Ryan      public domain

By Larry Peterson

Patrick Ryan had been born in 1845, and he was never aware of the hard times his mom and dad endured during his first few years. It was during the time of Ireland’s  Great Potato Famine when his family was evicted from their farm. After selling whatever they could, they managed to make their way to New York City. It was here young Patrick would grow up and eventually answer God’s call to serve.

Patrick was an average student and had to study hard to make acceptable grades. When he was 21, he was able to enroll in St. Vincent’s College in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Patrick was ordained in 1869 at the Cathedral in Nashville by Bishop P. A. Feehan. Ironically, the Feehan and Ryan families were close neighbors in Ireland, and this may be the reason Patrick joined the Nashville Diocese.

Father Patrick took charge of the Chattanooga area on July 10, 1872. He had to take care of not only the city but also of the southeastern part of the state. The baptismal register included towns such as Tracy City, Winchester, Cleveland, and others as places where Father Patrick had traveled to perform baptisms and administer the other sacraments. Father also was keenly aware that the need for a Catholic school was a prime requirement for the growing population.

The parish had always maintained a school for children. It operated under the supervision of the priest in charge, but all the grades were either taught by one man or one woman in the basement of the church. Father Patrick had different ideas. He was bound and determined to have a first-class school in his parish and the area. He also wanted nuns to be in charge. He headed to Nashville and pleaded with the Dominican Sisters of the St. Cecilia Congregation to establish new roots in Chattanooga. The Sisters had been in Nashville for sixteen years, and the timing was right for them to expand.

On January 6, 1876, four Dominican Sisters arrived in  Chattanooga and began the establishment of the Catholic faith in the area. The first thing they did was open the Notre Dame de Lourdes Academy. This school was located in the former rectory, which would also house the sisters. The regular school remained in the basement until a better facilty could be constructed. But the school had a “new life” about it. This was brought in by the nuns who immediately gave the school a level of excellence unseen until that they took charge.

The future of the parish seemed to be filled with hope and unbounded possibilities. Father Patrick was a happy man. But as is the way of things, sometimes things do not follow the way we think they will. A series of disastrous fires had consumed the business district. Then a cholera epidemic threatened the entire population. In 1875 a massive flood had struck. And now, unexpectedly, a little more than two years later, the school had to be converted into a hospital and an orphanage. The flooding created a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes and Yellow Fever spread like wildfire.

The people of Chattanooga had escaped other plagues and considered themselves protected by the nearby mountains. It offered its hospitality to those in neighboring towns as a haven. But people coming into Chattanooga brought the disease with them.  Within a few days, the disease was declared an “epidemic,” and 80% of the population fled. One person who did not flee was Father Patrick Ryan. This was his home and these were his people. He would never leave them.

Witnesses said  Father Ryan was going from home to home in the worst infected sections of the city. His duty was to help the sick and dying and he was going to do that until he dropped. He came down with Yellow Fever on September 26. He was much sicker on the morning of the 27th and his newly ordained younger brother, Michael, administered Extreme Unction to his big brother. Father Patrick died on the morning of July  28, 1878. He was 33 years old.

Father Patrick Ryan was fully aware of the danger of yellow fever but chose to tend to his parishioners. He died, giving his life for others. On November 16, 2016,  the U. S. Bishops, at their General Assembly meeting in Baltimore, declared that Father Patrick Ryan is a Servant of God and his cause for sainthood has been forwarded to Rome.

We ask Servant of God Patrick Ryan to pray for us all, especially during this Covid-19 pandemic.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2020


The French Revolution stifled Elizabeth Bichier; Then she met Father Andrew Fournet and everything changed—She founded the Sisters of the Cross

Joan Elizabeth Bichier des Ages                public domain

By Larry Peterson

Elizabeth Bichier (full name; Jeanne-Elisabeth-Lucie Bichier des Agnes) was born on July 5,  1773, in the Chateau des Ages, in the village of Le Blanc, which was located in the Central Loire Valley in the center of France. Elizabeth was one of four children, and she was baptized the same day she was born at the Church of Saint-Genitour du Blanc. Elizabeth’s mom, a devout Catholic, taught all of her children how to pray and ensured that they knew the basic tenets of the Catholic faith. Elizabeth, a willing student, was drawn to a life of prayer even as a child.

The French Revolution erupted in 1789. A predominantly Catholic country, the French Catholics were shocked at the restrictions placed upon the practice of their faith. As the Revolution progressed, more and more uprisings took place.  The War in the Vendee is probably the best known because government forces eventually massacred thousands upon thousands of Catholics.

To avoid the high chance of being killed, Elizabeth’s older brother, Laurent, fled France and settled in England. Shortly after, on January 16, 1792, their father died. Elizabeth and her mom were left to deal with the ever-changing “laws” put in place by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and the National Constituent Assembly.

These agencies had decreed that church property, which included that owned by Catholics such as Laurent, was subject to confiscation. Elizabeth and her mother moved to a small house in the village. Once there, they were harassed every day by the Revolutionary Surveillance Committee. After a short time, authorities discovered an old gun owned by Elizabeth’s dead father, and she and her mother were put in prison. Fortunately, Elizabeth’s other brother, who had joined the forces of the Revolution, had the influence and connections to obtain their release.

In 1796, Elizabeth and her mother were able to move to the family’s country home in Bethines. It was lonely here, and Elizabeth began to feel the loss of the Holy Eucharist deeply. That was because the local church was served by a government-approved “priest,” The masses being said were not valid and were rejected by most people. As a child, Elizabeth had consecrated herself to the Blessed Mother.  Filled with love of Our Lady, she began to gather people to pray together for the return of their religious freedom.

Elizabeth’s grief was lifted when, toward the end of 1796, a former servant came to her and told her of a secret Mass being offered at a farm ten miles away. Elizabeth rode a donkey for more than three hours to reach the farm. After Mass, the priest, Father Andrew Fournet, began to hear confessions. Elizabeth was last in a very long line. Confessions lasted all night long, and when Elizabeth’s turn came to confess, the sun was rising.

She and Father Andrew had an immediate connection. Their spiritualities combined, and the priest became Elizabeth’s spiritual director. He asked her to consider devoting her life to the sick, needy, aged and to establish schools for children in the rural areas of their diocese. Devoted to the Virgin Mary, she immediately responded to Father Fournet’s ideas.

Father Fournet put Elizabeth in charge of a group of women who also were dedicated to Catholic education and the care of the poor and sick. Elizabeth then founded the order known as The Sisters of the Cross, The Sisters of St. Andrew. The year was 1807. When she died in 1838, there were over 100 communities with hundreds of sisters working to help those in need. By the turn of the 20th century, over 3100 sisters were serving around the world. Today, the Sister’s of the Cross still has more than 600 sisters working on four continents in fourteen different countries, helping others.

Father Andrew Fournet was canonized a saint by Pope Pius XI on June 4, 1933. Sister Joan Elizabeth Bichier des Ages was canonized a saint of June 6. 1947 by Pope Pius XII.

We ask both of these saints to pray for us.

Copyright©Larry Peterson 2020

 


Meet Mother Maria Felix Torres who said to Jesus, “I am yours fully and consciously forever.”

Venerable Mother Maria Felix Torres

By Larry Peterson

Maria Felix Torres was born on August 25, 1907, in the village of Albelda (Huesca), Spain. This was the beginning of the 20th century, and technological breakthroughs, economic changes, combined with religious tensions among the traditional type religious faiths, were beginning to affect most people’s thoughts. The new existentialist believed that individuals knew what was best for themselves. This philosophy was rapidly permeating the behavior and thinking of many average citizens. It eliminated God from their lives.

The family was crucial for society’s ability to maintaining a stable and respectful populace. Most people realized that that genetic makeup was not nearly as important as parental example, parental love, and quality education. Maria Felix’s parents were very aware of these conditions and would have a profound influence on their daughter’s life.

Maria’s dad, Ramon Surigue, was a man of simple beginnings who earned his engineering degree by taking correspondence courses at Cervera College in Valencia. He also made sure to read quality books to round out his personality and his confidence. He began a career as a civil engineer and this is where he met his wife, Florentina Torres Fumas. She was the youngest daughter of one of the richest families in the province of Huesca. Younger than Ramon, she loved traditional values and knew what her role in the family should be. This husband and wife team made for a perfect balance between them to raise a family.

Maria was their only girl, and she also became the sole survivor among the four children. Maria’s dad had always believed that the best legacy he could leave his children was a solid academic and humanitarian education, and he would send his daughter to the best schools he could find.  Maria quickly displayed her high level of intelligence, and she read everything she could get her hands on. It was not long before a mathematics professor recommended to her father that he send his daughter to Lerida to go to its well regarded high school.

Maria became a resident student at the Company of Mary Our Lady School in Lerida. She became the youngest girl in her class and also proved to be the most intelligent. In addition to her intelligence, Mother Maria had natural leadership skills, and her sensitivity to religious matters was obvious to all who knew her. When she was fourteen she experienced the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola. These readings affected her deeply and she felt God’s love and a call deeply within herself. In her diary, she would write,  “I am His, totally and consciously His forever.”

She knew her calling was to the religious life, but her parents objected. She honored their wishes by going to the University of Zaragoza, earning a degree in Chemistry in 1930. But she knew that Jesus wanted her for His own. While teaching in school, she began doing apostolic work among college students. On August 15, 1934, she and a friend, Carmen Aige, started their ministry, dedicated to saving souls and in service to the Church. It was not long before young college students were joining her way of life. It was called the Congregation of the Savior.

In 1940, Maria’s Order received canonical permission to live as a religious community, and, in 1952, they gained admission into the Church as a Religious Congregation of Diocesan Right. This means the Order is under the authority of the local bishop. It was not until 1986 that the Order was approved as a Pontifical Right, meaning it was now under the jurisdiction of the Pope.

Once the Pontifical Right was assigned to the Order it spread throughout Spain, across the sea to South America, and to the United States. Mother Maria also established the schools known as the Mater Salvatoris Schools. These schools were dedicated citing faithful adhesion to the Pope, tender love for our Blessed Mother, and to give young people the basis to evangelize, leading society to Christ.

Mother Maria Felix served as Superior General of the Congregation for eighteen years. She was a truly humble woman, and although she was the “soul and mother” of the Congregation she fulfilled her duties without ever acknowledging her position or seeking any praise or thanks. When she died on January 12, 2001, only a few people knew that she was the Foundress of the Order.

Mother Mary Felix was declared a Servant of God in 2009. On July 11, 2020, Pope Francis declared her a woman of “heroic virtue” and she now bears the title of Venerable Maria Felix Torres.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2020

 


Mariantonia Sama, bedridden for 57 years with her legs bent as if crucified; to be proclaimed Blessed by the Church

Mariantonia Sama

By Larry Peterson

Mariantonia Sama was born on March 2, 1875, in the Catanzaro, located in the southeastern section of Italy. Her father died a few months before her birth, and her mom was on her own in caring for her new baby. She was quite poor, and she and her child lived in a tiny home located on a street that was only about five feet wide. The dwellings surrounding the little house were all larger, and besides being small, their place was never exposed to pure daylight.

Mariantonia was baptized on March 3 in the local parish, and her paternal grandmother and maternal great-uncle stood in as her Godparents. Mariantonia received her First Holy Communion and her Confirmation sometime during 1882.

Mariantonia and her mom became very close, as all they had was each other. Mariantonia’s mom was illiterate, and so it was for her daughter. Together, using a borrowed mule, they would load it with wheat and take it to the mill. They would exchange it for flour, which they brought back to town. The flour was traded for bread and other food to eat.

Sometime during the year 1886, Mariantonia, her mom, and some relatives walked to the Saturo River to wash clothing. There was a mill along the riverbank, and it provided a semblance of running water to use in clothes washing. On the way, Mariantonia, who was very thirsty, stopped at a large puddle and bent down and drank the water from it. It seemed clean, but unfortunately, it was contaminated.

When Mariantonia and her mom arrived home, the child curled up, screaming in pain. Her unexplained and frightening behavior continued for more than a month, and during this time, she would not only shake, but her body would seem to vibrate, and she would babble sounds that made no sense. People began suggesting that the girl was the victim of diabolical possession. Her behavior transformed from docile to hostile, and she would scream terrible words. This situation went on for eight years. Some doctors thought it neurological, others emotional, and still others, gastrointestinal. Many thought it was time to give this over to God.

In 1894, when Mariantonia was twenty years old,  a well-known woman in the area known as the Baroness Enrichetta Scoppa,  took it upon herself to intervene in an attempt  to help Mariantonia and her mom. She organized a trip to the Carthusian convent of San Bruno, where the monks would pray over her, and an exorcism would be conducted. Mariontonia was carried inside a box for eight hours to get to the convent.

Once inside the convent, a silver bust of St. Bruno holding his skull and bones was shown to Mariantonia. It took five hours of exorcism in front of the bust and crucifix before the devil abandoned Mariantonia’s body. People heard a growling voice say, “I leave her alive, but I leave her crippled.”

Mariantonia believed that the bust of St. Bruno was smiling at her. She also seemingly felt much better and was able to get up. Her recovery was attributed to the intercession of St. Bruno. She was taken home and seemed better for a short time. But before long, she was once again bedridden. This time with her legs bent at the knees. For the next 57 years, she would remain in that position, crippled by arthritis. Her legs were bent as if she had been crucified.

People began coming to see Mariantonia looking for advice, to obtain grace, spirituality, and even a miracle. Baroness Scoppa had allowed the Sisters of the Sacred Heart to settle in her vacant palace, and they made Mariantonia an honorary “sister,” even covering her head with a black veil. She became known as the “Nun of San Bruno,” and she was never a nun at all.

Mariantonia died on May 27, 1953. She was 78 years old. Even after she died, they could not straighten her legs, and she was buried that way. She had been holy in life, and even after her death, miracles were attributed to her. On December 18, 2017, she was declared Venerable.

Vittoria C. from Sant’Andrea was the miracle case validated for Mariantonia’s beatification. Between December 12 and 13 in 2004, she was cured overnight of a degenerative osteoarthritis. She invoked Mariantonia during the night to help with the pain, and it vanished and never returned. This miracle was approved by Pope Francis on July 10, 2020. The Beatification will take place in 2021.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2020


The Unfailing Way to get out of Purgatory—Turn to Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Pope St. John Paul II said, “Over time this rich Marian heritage of Carmel has become, through the spread of the Holy Scapular devotion, a treasure for the whole Church.”

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel                                                                                                       public domain

By Larry Peterson

There is a place near where e prophet Elija lived, and it is one of the most biblical places on earth. It is 1,742 feet above sea level and hovers high over the coast of the Mediterranean. It was here where Elija prayed to God, asking Him to save Israel from the onslaught of an ongoing drought.

He prayed and prayed and would ask his servant to go up the mountain and look for signs of rain. On the seventh try, Elijah’s servant returned, exclaiming, “Behold, a little cloud that looked like a man’s foot rose from the sea.” Soon after, torrential rains fell upon the parched land. The crops grew, the animals thrived,  and the people were saved. The place was called Mount Carmel.

Elijah saw the cloud as the symbol mentioned in the prophecies of Isaiah (Isaiah 7:14) Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: the Virgin shall be with Child, and bear a Son and name Him Emanuel.”

Many hermits lived on Mount Carmel, and following Elijah’s example would continually pray for the advent of the much-awaited Virgin who would become the mother of the Messiah. The very beginnings of the Carmelite Order can be traced back to Elijah and the hermits of Mount Carmel. Many consider these hermits as the first Carmelites.

These hermits lived on Mount Carmel during the 12th and 13th centuries. In the midst of their hermitages, they built a chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, whom they called the Lady of the Place. In the 13th century, Simon Stock was on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He had been elected as the 6th superior-general of the Carmelites.

He joined a group of hermits on Mount Carmel. On Sunday, July 16, 1251, Simon Stock was kneeling in prayer when Our Lady appeared to him. The Blessed Mother said to Simon, “Hoc erit tibi et cunctis Carmelitis privilegium, in hochabitu moriens salvabitur.” (This shall be the privilege for you and for all the Carmelites, that anyone dying in the habit shall be saved.”

It is said that the Blessed Mother gave the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (also known as the Brown Scapular) to Simon Stock. Six months later, on January 13, 1252, the order received a letter of protection from Pope Innocent IV, defending them from any harassment or denial of this event.

Most of us know of the Sabbatine Privilege. This is attached to the wearing of the Brown Scapular. The name, Sabbatine Privilege, comes from a papal bull issued by Pope John XXII on March 3, 1322. According to the Holy Father, the Blessed Virgin gave him the following message in a vision which was directed to all those who wear the Brown Scapular. “I, the Mother of Grace, shall descend on the Saturday (Sabbath) after their death and whomsoever I shall find in Purgatory, I shall free, so that I may lead them to the holy mountain of life everlasting.”

Based on Church tradition, three conditions must be fulfilled to obtain the benfeits of this Privilege and the Scapular:  1) wear the Brown Scapular; 2) Observe chastity according to one’s state in life; 3) pray the Rosary. Also, to receive the spiritual blessings associated with the Scapular, it is necessary to be formally be enrolled in the Brown Scapular by either a priest or a layperson who has been given the authority to do so. Once enrolled, no other scapular needs to be blessed before wearing. The blessing and imposition are attached to the enrolled person for life.

The feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is July 16, the same day she appeared to Simon  Stock. Interestingly, Simon Stock was never officially canonized. He has been venerated by the Carmeilites since 1564. And with Vatican approval, he has been given the feasr day of May 16. He is also called Saint Simon Stock and churches and schools have been named after him,

On the 750th anniversary of the bestowal of the Brown Scapular, Pope St. John Paul II said, “Over time this rich Marian heritage of Carmel has become, through the spread of the Holy Scapular devotion, a treasure for the whole Church.”

copyright©Larry Peterson 2020


The Great Saint Benedict of Nursia–His Legacy includes being Father of all Western monks and the Benedictine Order Order

St. Benedict  (Eastern Icon)_ public domain

By Larry Peterson

Pope St. Gregory the Great, considered one of the greatest popes, is famous for writing the books known as the Dialogues of St. Gregory. The Dialogues are presented in four volumes where everything from the lives of the saints, to miracles, and even discussion on the eternity of the soul take place.

But Volume Two of the Dialogues is dedicated to just one person. That man is none other than Benedict of Nursia. Volume Two is spread out into thirty-eight chapters. It is the only recognized authority on Benedict’s life, a life that has left an indelible mark on the Catholic faith. Included in his legacy is what is known as the Rule of St. Benedict. The Rule is used in convents and monasteries around the world to this very day. Let’s meet St. Benedict.

St. Gregory details many signs and wonders in his Dialogues. However, when it comes to Benedict, and without using dates, his writing becomes historical. It begins with Benedict being born sometime around the year 480 A.D and having a twin sister, named Scholastica. They were born of good parents, and their father was a Roman noble of Nursia. Benedict was sent to Roman schools while Scholastica, being a woman, would stay at home until ready for marriage.

Gregory writes that Benedict left school sometime around the year 500. He had mastered a solid background of moral principle and decency. Combined with a solid understanding of what it meant for those who chose to lead corrupt and immoral lives, he knew his life would always point toward godliness.  It was during this time frame when Benedict fell deeply in love with a woman. The couple did break up, and this deeply affected him. It was after this part of his life that he left Rome. His purpose was to become a hermit.

Benedict settled down about forty miles from Rome, finding a suitable cave in the Simbruini Mountains. After a short while, Benedict met a monk named Romanus of Subiaco. Romanus wanted to know why Benedict had come to the area. Upon explanation by Benedict, Romanus, who had a monastery on the top of the mountain, gave Benedict the monk’s habit and then approved of him being a hermit for the next three years.

During this period, Romanus would bring Benedict food, which he lowered down by rope. At the same time, Benedict matured both in mind and character. His life of discipline and solitude also won him the respect of local Christians. When the abbot of a nearby monastery died, the monks came to him and asked him to be their new abbot.

Benedict knew of their lax discipline and rejected their offer. They pleaded with him, and he finally agreed. But Benedict’s strict rules angered the insubordinate monks, and they tried to poison him. He prayed over the cup holding the poison, and it shattered.  Benedict promptly returned to his cave.

During his years of solitude, Benedict grew in wisdom and understanding, especially of people in general. He became highly respected and began the construction of thirteen monasteries. In the first twelve,  he placed a superior with twelve monks. Benedict moved into the thirteenth monastery and lived with a smaller number of monks. He was their abbot as well as head abbot for the other twelve. It was from this time that miracles attributed to Benedict became more and more frequent.

Benedict’s prophetic powers became legendary. He predicted the death of the King of the Goths and foretold that the Lombards would close one of his monasteries.  He also was given knowledge of the sins of the monks and nuns under his care. Legend has it that when a child was crushed to death by a collapsing wall, Benedict raised him from the dead, healed his body, and sent him back to work.

Benedict spent the last years of his life putting together his famous Rule, known as the Rule of St. Benedict. His primary purpose was to create unity and formalize discipline. The Rule is comprised of 73 short chapters and presents both spiritual guidance on how to live a life on earth centered on Jesus Christ and also has directives on administrative guidelines on how to run a monastery.

The Rule of St. Benedict was adopted by the majority of monasteries in western Christendom, and The Middle Ages became known as the Benedictine Centuries. Pope Benedict XVI said, “With his life and work, St. Benedict—–helped Europe emerge from the “dark night of history” that followed the fall of the Roman Empire.

St. Benedict died on March 21, 547, 40 days after his twin sister Scholastica. The brother and sister are buried together at Monte Cassino, south of Rome. This is the site of the first Benedictine Abbey.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2020