September 09, 2017
Currently, Pope Francis is visiting Colombia. One of his stops will be Cartagena and the shrine of St. Peter Claver, a Jesuit priest, on the day after his feast day. In fact, his final public event in Colombia is a Mass in the evening at the seafront in Cartagena, during which the remains of St. Peter Claver and St. Maria Bernarda Bütler, a Swiss Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, who also worked there, will be exposed.
Peter Claver was born to a prosperous family in Verdu, Spain, and earned his first degree in Barcelona. He entered the Jesuits in 1601. When he was in Majorca studying philosophy, Claver was encouraged by Alphonsus Rodriguez, the saintly doorkeeper of the college, to go to the missions in America. Claver listened, and in 1610 he landed in Cartagena, Colombia. After completing his studies in Bogotá, Peter was ordained in Cartagena in 1616.
Cartagena was one of two ports where slaves from Africa arrived to be sold in South America. Between the years 1616 and 1650, Peter Claver worked daily to minister to the needs of the 10,000 slaves who arrived each year.
As soon as a slave ship entered the port, Peter Claver moved into its infested hold to minister to the ill-treated and exhausted passengers. After the slaves were herded out of the ship like chained animals and shut up in nearby yards to be gazed at by the crowds, Claver plunged in among them with medicines, food, bread, brandy, lemons, and tobacco. With the help of interpreters he gave basic instructions and assured his brothers and sisters of their human dignity and God’s love. During the 40 years of his ministry, Claver instructed and baptized an estimated 300,000 slaves. Claver said, “We must speak to them with our hands before we speak to them with our lips.”
In the last years of his life Peter was too ill to leave his room. The ex-slave who was hired to care for him treated him cruelly, not feeding him many days, and never bathing him. Claver never complained. He was convinced that he deserved this treatment.
In 1654 Peter was anointed with the oil of the Sacrament of the Sick. When Cartagenians heard the news, they crowded into his room to see him for the last time. They treated Peter Claver’s room as a shrine, and stripped it of everything but his bedclothes for mementos. At the age of 73, Claver died September 7, 1654.
St. Peter Claver was canonized in 1888. His memorial is celebrated on September 9.
When we look upon today’s slaves as anything else than fellow human beings and gifts of God, we view them as commodities to be bought and sold. We deprive them of their dignity. These are the poor and vulnerable who are forced, coerced, or by economic choice enter into a very dark underworld that enmeshes at least 21 million people on our planet today.
Like Saint Peter Claver, let us see the “Christ” within each and every person, especially those who are the world’s modern slaves, like many who make our clothes. Indeed, St. Peter Claver, a patron saint for victims of human trafficking, is a saint for garment justice.
O God, who made Saint Peter Claver a slave of slaves and strengthened him with wonder charity and patience as he came to their help, grant, through his intercession, that, seeking the things of Jesus Christ, we may love our neighbor in deeds and in truth. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
June 06, 2017
“The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”
Few priests may recall more than this one quotation from St. Irenaeus, and it is a gem. St. Irenaeus comes a distinguished family tree of disciples. See, St. Irenaeus, as a lad, heard St. Polycarp preach in his hometown of Smyrna (in modern day Turkey). In fact, St. Polycarp was his bishop. Polycarp, as a young man, was a disciple who cared for St. John the Evangelist in his old age. St. Irenaeus then was born somewhere around the year 130, raised in a Christian home, a rather uncommon occurrence in that era. By the time of the persecution of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor from 161–180, Irenaeus was a priest in Lyons (now modern day France). While Irenaeus was away delivering a letter to Pope Eleuterus, the bishop of Lyons and others were killed. Upon his return, he became bishop of Lyons, a position that he would hold until his death. Though the details are unclear, St. Irenaeus died around the year 200, most likely as a martyr himself.
Adversus Haereses (Against the Heresies), St. Irenaeus’ theological masterpiece, is much more than a refutation of the major objections to Christian faith in his time. Alongside De trinitate of St. Augustine and the Summa theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas, it is one of the most impressive expressions of Christian doctrine in the history of the church. That oft-cited quotation from St. Irenaeus is from the fourth book of the Adversus Haereses: “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”
Martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero added:
Gloria Dei, vivens pauper.
The glory of God is the poor person fully alive.
Why is such a phrase so significant? Every person—regardless of gender, race, age, nationality, religion, or economic status—deserves respect. Enshrined within Catholic Social teaching, our dignity does not come from what we have or what we do; it comes from being God’s special creation. When a person is fully alive God shines through. The person lives as a child of God – a person who is to be loved as we love God. The human person fully alive lives with joy, with dignity. Contrast that “human being fully alive” with the conditions within which so many garment workers struggle: illegally low wages, intimidation, and abuse (verbal, physical, sexual, among others). Yesterday’s release of the 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report from the U.S. State Department says that we have much to do. For example:
If we genuinely believe that “The glory of God is a human being fully alive” then we must act for full human flourishing. We cannot be satisfied with cheap clothes at the expense of suffering garment workers. St. Irenaeus made that clear a long time ago, and, for that reason, St. Irenaeus is a saint for garment justice.
It is not you that shapes God
it is God that shapes you.
If you are the work of God
await the loving hand of the artist
who does all things in due season.
Offer Him your heart,
soft and tractable,
and keep the form
in which the artist has fashioned you.
Let your clay be moist,
lest you grow hard
and lose the imprint of his fingers.
– St. Irenaeus
March 03, 2017
For St. Patrick’s Day, as they say, “Everyone is Irish.” We put on our green clothing, great cities have wondrous parades, and some among us may use the opportunity to drink to excess. Perhaps this March 17th we might recall another aspect of St. Patrick’s life.
Of the rough contours that most Catholics might recall of his life, most know that St. Patrick evangelized Ireland. Not through force or deception but through his living witness, Ireland became a deeply Catholic island. Some may even add in that he drove all the snakes from Ireland. Hence, Irish descendants around the globe celebrate kinship with the missionary bishop.
Nonetheless, others also have a special connection with St. Patrick. Like more than 21 million people worldwide today, St. Patrick was a victim of human trafficking and slavery.
Born in Great Britain, at 16 years old, St. Patrick was captured by raiders and brought to what is now considered to be the County of Antrim in Northern Ireland. Sold into slavery, a chieftain forced Patrick into service as a shepherd. Patrick’s voice, that drew so many to the faith, was the voice of a trafficking victim. In his biography, Confession, we find this evocative phrase:
Eventually, amid an escape and recapture and another escape, St. Patrick returned to his family. In thanksgiving, he studied for the priesthood. Embedded within St. Patrick’s biography is a story of grace, healing, and reconciliation. No longer a slave, he returned to Ireland, the place of his slavery, to evangelize. Based on the success of his evangelization, his return to Ireland was not as an accusation but forgiveness. He did not tell the old story of “goodies” and “baddies” or hero and victim. St. Patrick was a herald to a new story which was good news for his former oppressors.
Similarly, St. Patrick’s hopeful experience suggests not only that it is our task to liberate those enslaved in human trafficking, but that, indeed, those persons who have been trafficked can be a moment of conversion and a gift to us in the dominant culture.
I first encountered “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” in a television show about an inner-city parish, “Nothing Sacred.” No longer “bound” in slavery, St. Patrick freely chooses to “bind” himself to Christ. Watch this video clip and recall that the words come from a former slave.
I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
I bind this day to me for ever,
by power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;
his baptism in Jordan river;
his death on cross for my salvation;
his bursting from the spicèd tomb;
his riding up the heavenly way;
his coming at the day of doom:
I bind unto myself today.
I bind unto myself the power
of the great love of cherubim;
the sweet “Well done” in judgment hour;
the service of the seraphim;
confessors’ faith, apostles’ word,
the patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls;
all good deeds done unto the Lord,
and purity of virgin souls.
I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven
the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
around the old eternal rocks.
I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
his ear to hearken, to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech,
his heavenly host to be my guard.
Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort
and restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of
all that love me,
Christ in mouth of
friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.
February 02, 2017
For many years, St. Josephine Bakhita was a slave but her spirit was always free and eventually that spirit prevailed. As a former slave, she is the patron saint for the victims of human trafficking. In honor of St. Josephine, please, take a moment for a simple gesture in her honor for all victims of human trafficking. Many things in our lives that make us comfortable are the illicit fruit of human trafficking. More human beings are trafficked in the garment industry than any other single industry (including prostitution). Take our St. Vincent Pledge to pay attention to, to see authentically, those human beings enslaved in modern supply chains. You can make the pledge here.
St. Josephine Bakhita was born in Sudan in 1869 and died in Schio (Vicenza) in 1947. She knew the anguish of kidnapping and slavery, and she flourished in Italy, in response to God’s grace, with the Daughters of Charity.
Bakhita was not the name she received from her parents at birth. The fright and the terrible experiences she went through made her forget the name she was given by her parents. Bakhita, which means “fortunate”, was the name given to her by her kidnappers.
Sold and resold in the markets of El Obeid and of Khartoum, she experienced the humiliations and sufferings of slavery, both physical and moral.
In the Capital of Sudan, Bakhita was bought by an Italian Consul, Callisto Legnani. For the first time in her life, no one used the lash when giving her orders; instead, she was treated in a loving and cordial way. In the Consul’s residence, Bakhita experienced peace, warmth and moments of joy, even though veiled by nostalgia for her own family, whom, perhaps, she had lost forever.
Political situations forced the Consul to leave for Italy. Bakhita asked and obtained permission to go with him and with a friend of his, a certain Mr. Augusto Michieli.
On arrival in Genoa, Mr. Legnani, pressured by the request of Mr. Michieli’s wife, consented to leave Bakhita with them. She followed the new “family,” which settled in Zianigo. When their daughter Mimmina was born, Bakhita became her babysitter and friend.
The acquisition and management of a big hotel in Suakin, on the Red Sea, forced Mrs. Michieli to move to Suakin to help her husband. Meanwhile, on the advice of their administrator, Illuminato Checchini, Mimmina and Bakhita were entrusted to the Canossian Sisters of the Institute of the Catechumens in Venice. It was there that Bakhita came to know about God whom “she had experienced in her heart without knowing who He was” ever since she was a child. “Seeing the sun, the moon and the stars, I said to myself: Who could be the Master of these beautiful things? And I felt a great desire to see him, to know Him and to pay Him homage…”
After several months in the catechumenate, Bakhita received the sacraments of Christian initiation and was given the new name, Josephine. It was January 9, 1890. She did not know how to express her joy that day. Her big and expressive eyes sparkled, revealing deep emotions. From then on, she was often seen kissing the baptismal font and saying: “Here, I became a daughter of God!”
With each new day, she became more aware of who this God was, whom she now knew and loved, who had led her through mysterious ways, holding her by the hand.
When Mrs. Michieli returned from Africa to take back her daughter and Bakhita, the latter, with unusual firmness and courage, expressed her desire to remain with the Canossian Sisters and to serve that God who had shown her so many proofs of His love.
The young African, who by then had come of age, enjoyed the freedom which the Italian law ensured.
Bakhita remained in the catechumenate where she experienced the call to be a religious, and to give herself to the Lord in the Institute of St. Magdalene of Canossa.
On December 8, 1896 Josephine Bakhita was consecrated forever to God whom she called with the sweet expression “the Master!”
For another 50 years, this humble Daughter of Charity, a true witness of the love of God, lived in the community in Schio, engaged in various services: cooking, sewing, embroidery and attending to the door.
When she was on duty at the door, she would gently lay her hands on the heads of the children who daily attended the Canossian schools and caress them. Her amiable voice, which had the inflection and rhythm of the music of her country, was pleasing to the little ones, comforting to the poor and suffering and encouraging for those who knocked at the door of the Institute.
Her humility, her simplicity and her constant smile won the hearts of all the citizens. Her sisters in the community esteemed her for her inalterable sweet nature, her exquisite goodness and her deep desire to make the Lord known.
“Be good, love the Lord, pray for those who do not know Him. What a great grace it is to know God!”
As she grew older she experienced long, painful years of sickness. Mother Bakhita continued to witness to faith, goodness and Christian hope. To those who visited her and asked how she was, she would respond with a smile: “As the Master desires.”
During her agony, she re-lived the terrible days of her slavery and more then once she begged the nurse who assisted her: “Please, loosen the chains… they are heavy!” Mother Bakhita breathed her last on February 8, 1947 at the Canossian Convent, Schio, surrounded by the Sisters. A crowd quickly gathered at the Convent to have a last look at their “Mother Moretta” and to ask for her protection from heaven. In Schio, where she spent many years of her life, locals still refer to her as “our Black Mother.”
In May 1992 news of her beatification was banned by Khartoum which Pope John Paul II then personally visited only nine months later. On 10 February 1993, he solemnly honoured Bakhita on her own soil. “Rejoice, all of Africa! Bakhita has come back to you. The daughter of Sudan sold into slavery as a living piece of merchandise and yet still free. Free with the freedom of the saints.”
Pope Benedict XVI, on 30 November 2007, in the beginning of his second encyclical letter Spe Salvi (In Hope We Were Saved), relates her entire life story as an outstanding example of the Christian hope (see paragraph #3).
A more complete biography of St. Josephine can be found here on the Vatican website.
St. Josephine Bakhita,
you were sold into slavery as a child
and endured untold hardship and suffering.
Once liberated from your physical enslavement,
you found true redemption in your encounter with Christ and his Church.
O St. Bakhita,
assist all those who are trapped in a state of slavery;
Intercede with God on their behalf so that they will be released from their chains of captivity.
Those cruelly enslaved by others, may God set free.
Provide comfort to survivors of slavery and
let them look to you as an example of hope and faith.
Help all survivors find healing from their wounds.
We ask for your prayers and intercessions for those enslaved among us.