Category Archives: Saints

Saint Polycarp

St PolycarpBishop of Smyrna (Asia Minor), Polycarp was martyred between 155 and 167. Aside from an epistle he wrote to the Philippians and a letter addressed to him by Ignatius of Antioch, he is known especially for the account of his martyrdom, the first such account to be written after the narrative of Stephen’s martyrdom in the Acts of the Apostles.This extraordinary narrative was composed shortly after Polycarp’s death. Many passages should be quoted here, like this one, where the governor invites Polycarp to curse Christ. Here is the bishop’s response: “For eighty six years I have been his servant and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme against my king and savior?” This text is also the first one where we find a mention of the cult of relics and of the celebration of the anniversary of the martyrdom: “Collecting the remains that were dearer to us than precious stones and finer than gold, we buried them in a fitting spot. Gathering there, so far as we can, in joy and gladness, we will be allowed by the Lord to celebrate the anniversary day of his martyrdom, both as a memorial for those who have already fought the contest and for the training and preparation of those who will do so one day.”

(H. Musurillo [ed.], The Acts of the Christian Martyrs, Oxford, 1972, pp. 9, 17).

Illustr.: St Polycarp. Martyrdom of St Polycarp – Menologion of Basil II (Vatican).

Saint Valentine’s Day

St Valentine

Saints Cyril and Methodius

Cyril and Methodius processionCyril and Methodius are as it were the connecting links or spiritual bridge between the Eastern and Western traditions, which both come together in the one great Tradition of the universal Church. For us they are the champions and also the patrons of the ecumenical endeavor of the sister Churches of East and West, for the rediscovery through prayer and dialogue of visible Unity in perfect and total communion, “the unity which”, as I said on the occasion of my visit to Bari, “is neither absorption nor fusion”. Unity is a meeting in truth and love, granted to us by the Spirit. Cyril and Methodius, in their personality and their work, are figures that awaken in all Christians a great “longing for union” and for unity between the two sister Churches of East and West.

John Paul II
Speech, ecumenical meeting in the Basilica of Saint Nicholas at Bari
26 February 1984

Blessed (Saint) José Sánchez del Río

José Sánchez del RíoBesides being the beginning of Lent and the feast day of the great Saint Scholastica, twin sister of Saint Benedict, it is the feast day of the remarkable Blessed (soon-to-be Saint) José Sánchez del Río. The pious mantra that comes to mind is ¡VIVA CRISTO REY! when one thinks of this holy man. Recall the anti-Catholic government soldiers said:  “If you shout, ‘Death to Christ the King’, we will spare your life.” His response: He only answered: “Long live Christ the King! Long live Our Lady of Guadalupe!”

At 13, José was the flag-bearer in the Cristero army fighting (fiercely fighting in mid-1920s) for the right to remain Catholic in the face of anti-religious government policies. Also serving the Cristero army were two older brothers, Macario and Miguel. Mexican government troops captured José and imprisoned, abused, mutilated, him having ordered the young man to reject Jesus Christ and His Church on this date in 1928. José refused and was given the martyr’s crown. The details of his death are gruesome: he hacked with machetes, stabbed with bayonets and finally shot on 10 February 1928 in Sahuayo, Michoacán de Ocampo, Mexico.

The body of the saint is interred in the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Sahuaro, Mexico with a bone fragment relic enshrined in the church of the Immaculate Conception, Taft, Texas.

Barely seen in this image one sees Pope Benedict praying before the tomb of the Saint José Sánchez del Río when he visited Mexico. It was Benedict who declared him a martyr and who beatified José on November 20, 2005. Pope Francis will declare him a saint 2016.

May Saint José Sánchez del Río show us how to live the virtue of fortitude in the face of hardship.

Saint Josephine Bakhita

St JosephineI posted this text last year but I thought it was so good that I’d do it again…. Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical on Hope, Spes Salvi gave Saint Josephine Bakhita as an oustanding example of one who discovered Christian hope.

3. Yet at this point a question arises: in what does this hope consist which, as hope, is “redemption”? The essence of the answer is given in the phrase from the Letter to the Ephesians quoted above: the Ephesians, before their encounter with Christ, were without hope because they were “without God in the world”. To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope. We who have always lived with the Christian concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it, have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God. The example of a saint of our time can to some degree help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with this God for the first time. I am thinking of the African Josephine Bakhita, canonized by Pope John Paul II. She was born around 1869—she herself did not know the precise date—in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life. Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying “masters” who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of “master”—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name “paron” for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ. Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a “paron” above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her—that he actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme “Paron”, before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved and she was awaited. What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her “at the Father’s right hand”. Now she had “hope” —no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” Through the knowledge of this hope she was “redeemed”, no longer a slave, but a free child of God. She understood what Paul meant when he reminded the Ephesians that previously they were without hope and without God in the world—without hope because without God. Hence, when she was about to be taken back to Sudan, Bakhita refused; she did not wish to be separated again from her “Paron”. On 9 January 1890, she was baptized and confirmed and received her first Holy Communion from the hands of the Patriarch of Venice. On 8 December 1896, in Verona, she took her vows in the Congregation of the Canossian Sisters and from that time onwards, besides her work in the sacristy and in the porter’s lodge at the convent, she made several journeys round Italy in order to promote the missions: the liberation that she had received through her encounter with the God of Jesus Christ, she felt she had to extend, it had to be handed on to others, to the greatest possible number of people. The hope born in her which had “redeemed” her she could not keep to herself; this hope had to reach many, to reach everybody.

The concept of faith-based hope in the New Testament and the early Church

4. We have raised the question: can our encounter with the God who in Christ has shown us his face and opened his heart be for us too not just “informative” but “performative”—that is to say, can it change our lives, so that we know we are redeemed through the hope that it expresses? Before attempting to answer the question, let us return once more to the early Church. It is not difficult to realize that the experience of the African slave-girl Bakhita was also the experience of many in the period of nascent Christianity who were beaten and condemned to slavery……

5. We must add a further point of view. The First Letter to the Corinthians (1:18-31) tells us that many of the early Christians belonged to the lower social strata, and precisely for this reason were open to the experience of new hope, as we saw in the example of Bakhita……,

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
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