Tag Archives: martyrdom

My Life for Your Freedom—The Mercedarians Practice What They Preach: One of Them is St. Serapion of Algiers

St. Serapion of Algiers—en.wikimedia.org

By Larry Peterson

Several years ago a newly ordained Mercedarian priest was assigned to our parish. Father Scott Brentwood was 31 years old and showed up wearing the traditional habit of his order. The habit was all white and, as Father walked toward his new parish, watching him approach was like taking a peek into the middle ages. It was an awesome sight to behold!

Father Scott has since moved on, and we had another newly ordained Mercedarian replace him, Father Daniel Bowen. Before continuing, I will just say this; as a cradle Catholic who grew up in the 50s and 60s if these two priests are representative of the future of our Church, that future is as brilliant as an ascending morning sun.

The Mercedarians were founded by St. Peter Nolasco in the year 1218. Moved by direct inspiration from the Blessed Virgin Mary, his purpose in founding the new order was to free or redeem Christian captives from Muslim captors. In addition to the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, Mercedarians take a fourth vow; they promise to  give themselves up for someone in danger of losing their faith, up to and including sacrificing their own lives. One of these courageous priests was St. Serapion of Algiers.

Serapion was born in 1179 in either England or Ireland. When he was a boy, his father took him along on the Crusades led by King Richard the Lion-Heart. When he was 12 years old, he participated in the Battle of Acre in 1191.   Then he met Peter Nolasco, who preached the mercy of God and did so by freeing Christian slaves from their Moorish captors. Serapion realized that his life was meant to save lives, not to take them.

In 1222, Serapion became a full member of the Mercedarian order. He made several missions of mercy in northern Africa before being sent to England to recruit new members. During the journey, his ship was attacked by pirates, and he was left for dead. However, he survived and eventually made it to England. He began preaching against the theft of church property and was ordered to leave the country.

In 1240, Serapion had gone to Algiers to secure the release of 87 Christian captives. The ransom he had brought with him suddenly was not enough. The captors demanded more than Serapion had. When some of the prisoners heard this, they began to consider rejecting their Christian faith to save themselves. Serapion would not allow this to happen. He offered himself to the Moors in exchange for the prisoner’s freedom. This was agreed upon, and Serapion watched as the prisoners were freed. He then knew it was time for him to begin preaching the love of God to his new captors.

Serapion had turned his very life over to his captors. Undaunted by his natural fear he preached the love of God and the gospel message to the Muslims. Many began to respond to his message. However, as his brother Mercedarians hurried throughout Europe in the hope of gathering the extra ransom demanded, Serapion, was making some hard-hearted enemies. The Muslim leaders who realized this Catholic/Christian man was starting to convert his listeners, turned against him.

Since the ransom had yet to arrive Serapion was ordered put to death. The man who simply wanted to preach the message of the God of Love was crucified on an X shaped cross. While still alive he was dismembered. The pain he endured must have been beyond description. Serapion died the proto-martyr of Algiers. Like his brother Mercedarians, St. Raymond Nonnatus and St. Peter Armengol, Serapion gave all he had, including his life, for the love of God.

Serapion was beatified in 1625 by Pope Urban VIII and canonized a saint by Pope Benedict XIII in 1728.  We ask St. Serapion of Algiers and all his brother Mercedarian saints, to pray for us all.

Today, the Mercedarians aka Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, are a worldwide organization and they still are rescuing people from attacks on their faith. They are located in 17 countries, and their student house is in Philadelphia. They can be found working in deprived neighborhoods, in hospitals among drug addicts and with families through parish work. The Mercedarians are a shining example to all Catholic/Christians the world over.

This link  Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy aka Mercedarians will direct you to the Mercedarian website. Please take a look.

St. Serapion of Algiers, please pray for us ALL.

Antonia Mesina—Martyred "In Defensum Castitatis" (In Defense of Purity) at the age of 15

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

By Larry Peterson

Pierina Morosini and Antonia Mesina were two women from Italy. Born a generation apart they led strikingly similar lives. Pierina was the oldest of eight children and had to work and help her mother with her younger siblings. Antonia was the second born of ten children and was also required to help her mother with the younger children.

Both young women were exemplary Catholics and were determined to live chaste lives.  Both were martyred “in defensum castitatis” (in defense of purity), Antonia in 1935 and Pierina in 1957. They were both  declared Blessed on October 4, 1987 by Pope St. John Paul II. Even though their stories are similar they are also separate and unique. As a writer, I felt they each deserved individual space. This is about Antonia. (Pierina’s story is in another article).

Antonia was born on June 21, 1919, in Orgosolo, a town high up in the mountains of Sardinia. She was the second of ten children. Her dad was a corporal in the cavalry who helped guard the town perimeter and her mom did her best to teach her children the Catholic faith. As was the custom at the time Antonia was baptized at the age of nine days and confirmed the following year.

Antonia was admired by her teachers and liked by all her classmates. She was kind and studied hard and was very respectful of others. When she was in fourth grade her mom developed a serious heart condition. The doctors ordered her to bed and Antonia was forced to leave school and take over her mother’s duties. The young girl had to do the cooking, the cleaning, the baking, the laundry and go to the market. Her mom called her ,”the flower of my life”. Antonia never complained and always seemed to manage a smile.

Every week Antonia had to bake the bread for the family. This was not a simple process. It included gathering the firewood and grinding the grain into flour. This was, indeed, making something from “scratch”. On May 17, 1935, Antonia asked her friend, Annedda, if she would go with her to help her gather wood from the forest. Annedda agreed and off they went.

As they walked along, Antonia, who had joined Catholic Action a few years earlier, was trying to convince Annedda, that she should join too. Antonia was very enthusiastic about the spiritual benefits received and about all the good works that Catholic Action brought to members. She told her how they even were taught catechism at their meetings.

When they had gathered up enough wood they began their return walk home. Annedda noticed a young man in the woods nearby. She recognized him from school and knew it was Ignazio. When she looked again he was gone. A few minutes later Antonia screamed. The young man had snuck up behind Antonia and wrestled her to the ground. He was determined to have his way with the 15 year-old but she fought him furiously.

Twice Antonia managed to break free while Annedda ran screaming through the woods for someone to help them. The third time Ignazio managed to subdue her. She was fighting against his advances so hard that he went into a rage. He grabbed a nearby rock and began beating Antonia in the head with it. Over and over he pounded the innocent teenager until she stopped moving. It was discovered later that he had hit her 74 times. It was also found that she had never been violated.

Ignazio tried to deny his involvement but Annedda was able to identify him. In addition, his bloody clothes, which he tried to hide, were found near his home. The 19 year-old was sentenced to death and executed by firing squad on August 5, 1937.

Antonia Mesina’s beatification process began under Pope John Paul I in September of 1978 and she was declared a “Servant of God”. She was declared Venerable Antonia Mesina in 1986 and Pope St. John Paul II declared she had died “in defensum castitatis’ in May of 1987. She and Pierina Morosini were beatified together, two young women who gave their lives for Jesus rather than submit to being forcibly assaulted.

Blessed Antonia Mesina and Blessed Pierina Morosini, please pray for us.