Saints in Profile

Saints in Profile: St Leopold Mandić

“The Mandić family? They used to be a big deal. Money, titles, land: you name it, they had it”

You can just imagine young Dragica Zarević asking her grandmother’s advice can’t you? Petar Mandić has stolen the young girl’s heart and he’s asked her to be his wife but she just can’t make up her mind. So she goes to see her Grandma, a wise old lady who’s lived in the town for decades. Grandma Zarević tells a wide eyed Dragica about the noble House of Mandić who came from Bosnia to Croatia in the 15th century with wealth untold, power unrivalled and influence unimagined. “And now….now he’s a fisherman…..”, Grandma concludes wistfully. There can be no doubt that by the time Dragica married Petar, the Mandić family had certainly been brought down a peg or two. There were no more castles, no more vineyards, no more titles – just fishermen. And pretty impoverished fishermen at that. This was clearly a love match and Dragica married Petar despite his fairly poor prospects, settling in a modest little house in Castelnuovo which was then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but which today is part of Montenegro.

Herceg-Novi-square
The village square in Herceg Novi (formerly Castelnuovo).

Today, tourists flock to Herceg Novi (once known as Castelnuovo) for it’s breathtaking sea views and it’s fascinating old town complete with imposing Venetian fortress and sunny plazas. But when the Mandić family lived there in the 1850s, there was little time for holiday making. Money was short and the local community relied heavily on fishing and farming to make a living, whilst their spiritual needs were tended by a small community of Capuchin friars who had served the town for 200 years (a leftover from when Herceg Novi formed a part of the Republic of Venice). In such modest circumstances, you would have thought that the Mandić family would have watched every penny and tried to avoid giving themselves too much added financial responsibility – but you’d be wrong. Because by 1866, Dragica was expecting her TWELFTH child….her twelfth child out of a total number of sixteen! This large family was a happy one, a hard working one but also a very devout one. Every child was seen as a blessing from God and things just seemed to always work out regardless of how few material possessions the Mandićs had.

But on the 12 May 1866, something changed when Dragica gave birth to her 12th child. Whilst all of her other children had (remarkably) survived infancy in good health, her new-born baby boy provided cause for concern. He was frail and malformed and as he grew older, these signs of disability didn’t seem to get better – they only got worse. He was shorter than everyone else, clumsy and had a terrible stutter that made it impossible for him to speak in public. He had friends but they were often Orthodox Christians and their families rarely mixed. There was ongoing religious tension between Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox and two monasteries vied for souls in the town where sometimes tensions bubbled over into all out street brawls. This deeply affected young Bogdan Mandić and he wanted to make a difference. We have no proof of it but I’m certain that when a ten year old Bogdan said he wanted to heal wounds in the town and bring everybody together, his friends must have laughed themselves silly. How could a little disabled boy from a poor family do anything for anyone? He needed their care and attention, they certainly didn’t need his.

St Leopold Mandić in his old age.
St Leopold Mandić in his old age.

At 16 years old, Bodgan said goodbye to his parents and travelled to Udine to enter a seminary where the Capuchins who served his hometown were educated and trained. Dragica must have been full of worry for her son who’s physical disability set him apart and made him seem an unlikely candidate for the religious life but two years later, Bogdan was admitted to the noviciate in Bassano del Grappa. He was given the name Leopold of Castelnuovo. He made his first profession of vows in 1885 and was then sent to Padua and later Venice to continue his studies. But Castelnuovo was never far from his mind, especially the rift between the East and the West which existed among the Catholics and Orthodox Christians there. He proclaimed his mission: “I consecrate myself for the salvation of the beloved dissidents”, he said, “I will become a missionary to them!”. He wanted to unite all souls for Christ, not an easy task for a young friar with so many crosses to bear. It’s hard to imagine that anyone took him seriously and maybe they put his enthusiasm for such a ministry down to youthful enthusiasm. How wrong they were.

Leopold was ordained to the priesthood at the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute in Venice at the age of 24. After a while, he was asked which particular ministry he felt called to. “I, Brother Leopold”, have understood the plan of divine grace“, he wrote, “I have been called to the salvation of my people, the Slavonic people” – and he asked that he be allowed to go back to Castelnuovo to begin his work. But his request was denied. He was given household duties instead, his superiors always concerned that his physical impairments would be too heavy a burden to overcome. He was sent to the Friary of Santa Croce in Padua where he would spend the rest of his life, never fulfilling his dream of returning home to try to heal the divisions in Castelnuovo. The Superiors of the friary must have felt deeply troubled by Leopold. I mean, what exactly could he do? He stuttered, he bumped into things, he was always falling over….he couldn’t even stand for long periods of time. At first, they decided to let him teach the young seminarians. He had a good grasp of doctrine and theology and despite his speech impediment, he seemed to be able to engage people with his message. Unfortunately, the Superiors saw it as the wrong message.

As devout as he was, Leopold believed that the law alone wasn’t enough. The application of mercy had to come first. Stealing was a mortal sin but surely the Lord wouldn’t require so heavy a penance for a man who had stolen bread to feed his starving family? Leopold saw individuals and their needs, he understood the poor, he felt that blanket penances given at confession were reductive and didn’t take account of the emotional needs of the penitent. Leopold’s teaching career came to an abrupt end and perhaps in an effort to keep him out of the way, he was appointed to be a confessor in the adjacent Church of the Holy Cross. It was 1914 and the division Leopold had so often warned about came to a dreadful and tragic conclusion when trouble in the Balkans kicked off a bitter and devastating war in Europe.

Cro-1
St Leopold’s body in Padua.

Whilst Leopold was never allowed to return home as he wished, he finally got the opportunity to work with the Slavonic people when in 1923 he was transferred to Dalmatia with the express instruction that he should go to hear confessions in the Slavic tongue. He was so filled with joy that he recited the Te Deum before a statue of the Blessed Virgin and immediately sought her patronage for his work. His placement lasted only one week but he refused to be beaten. Inspired by a new zeal for healing souls, he returned to the Holy Cross Church where he placed himself in the confessional receiving penitents for up to 15 hours a day. He was determined that as many souls should be healed as possible. He even thanked penitents for trusting him to hear their confessions, praying for them and trying to share the burden of their sin. When some accused him of being too lenient Leopold replied, “If the Lord wants to accuse me of showing too much leniency toward sinners, I’ll tell him that it was he who gave me this example, and I haven’t even died for the salvation of souls as he did”. For Leopold, there had to be an emphasis on mercy and word of his unique style spread throughout Italy making him a popular confessor and fostering his reputation as a great holy man.

But by 1942, Leopold’s health began to give way. Whilst preparing for Mass on the 30th July that year, he collapsed and was diagnosed with throat cancer. He was taken to his cell and laid in bed as the friars began to sing the Salve Regina. “O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary…”, they sang….and at that precise moment, Leopold died. He was 76 years old. Immediately, Leopold was buried in the church at Padua but few had any idea of what would come next. As Leopold had predicted, the friary and the church was hit by bombs during an air raid but Leopold’s cell and his confessional were spared. They were the only remnants left amidst the rubble, as if they had been specially protected. Before his death, Leopold explained, “Here God exercised so much mercy for people, it must remain as a monument to God’s goodness”. And it still stands today, a place of pilgrimage and prayer.

Pope Francis venerates the relics of St Leopold and St Pio.
Pope Francis venerates the relics of St Leopold and St Pio.

Leopold was beatified in 1976 by Blessed Pope Paul VI. He was canonised by Pope St John Paul II on the 16th October 1983. He has been hailed as the ‘Apostle of Unity’ and is considered to be the patron saint of those seeking to make good confessions. But most importantly, he’s regarded as an example of great faith and mercy. So much so that in the 2015/2016 Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, St Leopold was designated a Saint-Confessor along with St Pio of Pietrelcina and the two saints were presented to the faithful at St Peter’s Basilica for veneration. 75 years after his death, St Leopold of Castelnuovo is still saving souls and healing wounds, just as he always set out to do. But his story is important for another reason. His example teaches us never to underestimate the will of God. St Leopold is an unlikely Saint but his works are truly inspiring and miraculous. Who would have thought that the clumsy little boy with the stutter from a poor fishing village could have achieved so much? St Leopold knew that was his calling, all he had to do was to trust the Lord. And that’s an example we should all follow each and every day of our lives. St Leopold of Castelnuovo, Pray for Us! 

A Prayer to St Leopold Mandić

O God,
perfect unity and supreme good,
you filled St Leopold, your priest,
with kindness and mercy for sinners
and an ardent desire for unity
among all Christians;
grant that we, through his intercession,
may be renewed in spirit and heart
so that we can spread your love to everyone
and confidently work
for the unity of all Christians
in the bond of peace.
We likewise pray
through his intercession
for these our petitions:
(mention your intentions)
We ask this through
our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit
one God for ever and ever.
Amen.
St Leopold, Pray for Us!
St Leopold, Pray for Us!

 

Pope St John Paul II
Saints in Profile

Introducing: Saints in Profile

“We are all called to be great Saints. Don’t miss the opportunity” 

Being a Christian is hard. There are so many trials and challenges and sometimes, we can feel it’s almost impossible. We hear about callings and Saints and it’s often hard to relate that to our own lives. Priests have callings. Nuns have callings. These are individuals who have been given a special grace from God and a mission to share that grace through a certain ministry but often we can feel detached from that example. Holiness is something reserved for others, not for us. It’s so unattainable and so difficult. If we don’t hear God’s voice, how do we know what He wants from us? That’s why Mother Angelica’s quote on Sainthood appears as the tagline of this blog because it answers that question perfectly. We all have a calling. Our calling is to holiness and all we have to do is take the opportunity. But can we really achieve Sainthood? Surely that’s something reserved for so few people?

evoeis_agioi_40088400
Can you see yourself taking your place among these Saints?

 

When you think of the Saints, you probably think of holy hermits or determined nuns, selfless martyrs or great Church figures of the past. They can sometimes seem remote to us, a benchmark of holiness that we could never attain ourselves, because the things they did were so awesome. But what Mother Angelica’s quote expresses so beautifully is that Sainthood isn’t reserved for perfect men and women from days gone by. Sainthood isn’t just an honorific. Sainthood is the church’s way of telling us that an individual took that opportunity. They each had temptations and failures, they fell into sin and struggled to carry their crosses just as we do but their Sainthood began with them saying yes to God. And we can all do that, as hard as it may seem at first. Saints were soldiers, teenagers, Popes, beggars, thieves, Cardinals, children and nurses. They were teachers, priests, painters, architects, stigmatists, politicians and lechers. The one thing they all had in common was their devotion to God. And yet, even if we feel called to it and accept that opportunity as they did, what exactly is the Communion of the Saints and how does one become a Saint?

There are three states in the Roman Catholic Church: The Church Militant, The Church Penitent and The Church Triumphant. The Church Militant consists of you and me. And everyone else on the planet for that matter. We carry the obligation to evangelise, to protect, to worship and to praise God. The Church Penitent consists of those in purgatory who are preparing for their reception into heaven. The Church Triumphant is comprised of those who are already in heaven. But how do we know they’re in heaven? Well, all three of these “states” make up the Communion of Saints which we reaffirm our belief in as part of the Apostle’s Creed but as far as actual confirmed Saints go, we rely on the Church to indicate that they have gone beyond the first two states (Militant and Penitent) and have entered the third – Triumphant. When a person dies, there may be a local devotion to them which petitions their local Bishop to raise a cause for them with the Vatican, specifically the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. If the Congregation agrees that a cause (investigation) should be opened then something called a ‘Nihil Obstat’ (No Obstruction) is promulgated and the individual in question is formally known as a Servant of God.

Pope St John Paul II
Pope St John Paul II, Pray for Us!

Usually, a person must wait for five years after their death before a Nihil Obstat can be served but the Pope has the authority to waive this requirement (as Pope St John Paul II did for St Theresa of Calcutta). But once someone is proclaimed a Servant of God, it doesn’t automatically mean they will progress all the way to Sainthood. There are still three stages left in the process. The second relies on someone called a Postulator, appointed by the Vatican, to look into the writings and accounts of the individual and to assess their life and works. What the Postulator is most concerned with is that the individual lived a life “of heroic virtue”. Pope Benedict XIV defined heroic virtue as something which “enables its owner to perform virtuous actions with uncommon promptitude, ease, and pleasure, from supernatural motives and without human reasoning, with self-abnegation and full control over his natural inclinations”. In other words, they performed good Christian acts with selflessness and love in the face of great difficulty or trial. Once a person has been found to have possessed heroic virtue, they’re known as ‘Venerable’ and have passed stage two.

The third and fourth stage require something a little more. And by little, we mean remarkable. Usually, two miracles must then be attributed and proven as being performed by the individual though again, this requirement can be waived by the Pope. After the first miracle, the individual is beatified – that is, they gain the status and style of Blessed. By this time, they are well and truly confirmed as being part of the Church Triumphant and with the declaration of a second miracle, the beatified individual goes forward to canonisation and amidst great celebration, the individual becomes a Saint. If it sounds like a fairly straight forward process, bear in mind that some individuals have been “stuck” at the Venerable or Blessed stage of canonisation for hundreds of years. Some may never progress to Sainthood. And yet we’re encouraged to pray to them for their intercession all the same because we know they are in Heaven and can do great things. “But hang on”, I hear my protestant friends muttering, “Jesus never told us to pray to Saints or worship the dead. Quite the opposite in fact…..” – You’re absolutely right. And this is a huge misconception when it comes to Catholicism and the Saints. The Saints never replace Jesus in our devotion. They bring us closer to Him and God told us to make use of them.

Father Mitch Pacwa explains this perfectly when he points us to the Book of Genesis where we read that in a dream, God commanded King Abimelech to ask Abraham to intercede for him. “For Abraham is a prophet and he will pray for you, so you shall live”. And later in the Book of Job, the Lord (angry with Job’s friends who are making statements about God that are not correct) says “Let my servant Job pray for you because I will accept his prayer, lest I make a terror on you”. This isn’t to say that God needs go-betweens or that He can’t do it alone. Of course He can. But He knows our weaknesses, He knows our fragile we can be and what better than to have a heavenly family to help us on our journey? In this new series of posts ‘Saints in Profile’, I hope you’ll come to know more about that heavenly family and draw closer to them because their examples of holiness can inspire us to say yes to God, to take the opportunity and to become more holy in our own lives. To become more like Jesus. The Saints are your friends. They want to help. We have our Father in Heaven, we have our Mother in Heaven. Why not embrace your friends in Heaven too?

St Margaret Clitherow.
Catholic History

A Catholic View: BBC One’s ‘Gunpowder’

Remember, remember the fifth of November…

In 1976, the BBC found itself forced to defend the broadcast of what has since become a beloved classic. When Jack Pullman’s adaptation of I, Claudius made it’s first appearance in British homes, audiences were both fascinated and furious in equal measure. The majority of the complaints which poured in were focused on the late John Hurt’s portrayal of the Emperor Caligula. It was one thing to portray the ruthless (and deliciously insane) Emperor appointing his horse to be a Roman consul or threatening his courtiers with execution for his own entertainment but quite another to see him murder his sister Drusilla, passionately kiss his grandmother Livia or behead his nephew Gemellus. By way of response, the BBC insisted that they were simply being faithful to historical fact (though I, Claudius is a fictionalised story of the lives of the Caesars written by Robert Graves) and that as hard as it was to accept, the Ancient Romans really did live their lives surrounded by murder, incest, orgies and poison. A similar defence has now been mounted of a drama series which premiered on BBC Iplayer this week: Gunpowder.

As the name suggests, Gunpowder tells the story of the 1605 plot to assassinate King James I by exploding barrels of gunpowder in the cellars of the Palace of Westminster. Whilst Guy Fawkes has traditionally been deemed the leader of the failed attempt at regicide, he was in fact one of several English Catholics led by Robert Catesby who were determined to put an end to the bloody and brutal persecution of Catholics in England by the hardline Protestant establishment. Whilst King James was not the first (or last) monarch to be threatened with assassination, the Gunpowder plot has left its mark on us in many ways. Today, before the Queen arrives at the Palace of Westminster for the State Opening of Parliament, the Yeoman of the Guard ceremonially plod through the cellars of the Houses of Parliament with lanterns to check for gunpowder. And on the 5th November each year, it’s traditional for firework displays to be held with public bonfires where effigies of Guy Fawkes are burned – in some cases, effigies of a figure in Papal Vestments are still used. The movie V for Vendetta gave us the so-called Guy Fawkes mask which has been adopted by anti-authoritarian groups and many anti-establishment protestors have adopted Fawkes’ image as a kind of logo. But the real legacy of the 1605 plot seems to have been lost entirely and for Roman Catholics, there’s much we can learn if we do “Remember, remember the 5th November”.

The Yeomen of the Guard
The Yeomen of the Guard, who still check the cellars of Parliament for gunpowder.
17th century England was no picnic for English Catholics. Following the death of Queen Mary I in 1558, many high ranking Protestant courtiers wanted to see her sister Elizabeth marry quickly and produce a Protestant heir to prevent any return to ‘the old religion’. With a renewed vigour, men like Sir Francis Walsingham (Elizabeth I’s Spymaster) persecuted Roman Catholics and subjected them to terrible martyrdoms. In 1570, Pope Pius V issued a papal bull known as Regnans in Exelcsis (Reigning on High). It declared Elizabeth I a pretender to the throne and a heretic. It also excommunicated anyone in England who obeyed her orders. The issuing of the bull backfired spectacularly and simply prompted men like Walsingham to increase their persecution of English Catholics. For those affected, they pinned their hopes on Elizabeth’s main rival – Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary was Roman Catholic and if Elizabeth could be overthrown, England would once again be restored to full communion with Rome with Mary on the throne. Encouraged by her advisors, Elizabeth saw that Mary was taken prisoner and eventually beheaded which in turn saw Elizabeth excommunicated once and for all by Pope Sixtus V. After Elizabeth’s death, Mary’s son James succeeded his childless first cousin as King of England and whilst many were certain that his loyalty to the memory of his mother would halt any renewed attack on English Catholics, they had overlooked the zeal of his advisors.

St Margaret Clitherow.
St Margaret Clitherow, the Pearl of York.
What Elizabeth had begun, James I now continued. The Mass was forbidden. Priests were imprisoned without charge and after show trials were held, found themselves hanged, drawn and quartered as traitors. Men, women and children were subjected to the most brutal and bloody reprisals if they were found to be harbouring priests and many innocent victims of this persecution would go on to be canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970 as the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. They include St Edmund Campion, a priest who was butchered at Tyburn in 1581 and St Margaret Clitherow (the Pearl of York) who was crushed to death in 1586. Placed under a heavy door, weights were added in an attempt to force St Margaret to recant her faith. Elizabeth I wrote to the people of York condemning Margaret’s execution as unjust because of her sex but still the punishments for women remained just as savage for women as for men. James I’s view of Catholics was far more tolerant and yet still priest hunters roamed the country committing acts of unspeakable barbarity. Such persecution would last for another 200 years.

In 1778, the British parliament passed the Papists Act. As long as an individual renounced Stuart claims to the throne and the civil jurisdiction of the Pope in Rome, Catholics could finally own property and inherit land. They could even join the army. In 1782, a new act allowed for the foundation of Roman Catholic schools and bishoprics and by the time Queen Victoria came to the throne, English Catholics had been “emancipated”. No profession remained barred to them, they were entitled to vote and even to be elected to parliament – yet many in society still held prejudices against them. The days of state sponsored religious persecution in England had ended however and for many Catholics, a time of unspeakable horrors and tragedies had finally come to a close. Yet today, Guy Fawkes Day or Bonfire Night is still celebrated. Many (both Protestant and Catholic) have forgotten the origins of the festival and I don’t truly believe that even those toasting effigies of Bishops have the faintest idea of why they’re doing so other than “it’s traditional”.

The fact is that history really is written by the victors. Elizabethan propaganda still holds true in that Queen Mary I is remembered as an evil zealous tyrant complete with the ominous moniker “Bloody Mary” whilst Elizabeth I is remembered as “The Virgin Queen”, an angelic figure in white committed to peace and justice. In reality, Elizabeth’s rabid persecution of Catholics far outweighed the rather middle-of-the-road measures Queen Mary attempted to undo the reformation process begun by her father, King Henry VIII. Whilst undoubtedly Protestants did lose their lives during Mary’s reign for their faith, it simply doesn’t compare to what came afterwards. English history has a rather nasty stain upon it and perhaps this is why it’s come as such a shock to so many Britons that our ancestors were really capable of such atrocities as depicted in Gunpowder. We like to reassure ourselves that we were always quite an upright, civilised, well mannered bunch who had the best of intentions but Gunpowder has forced us to examine our national story a little more closely. And it’s uncomfortable.

Of course, modern Britons can’t be held responsible for actions taken by a government nearly 500 years ago. But we can learn vital lessons from it that may serve us well today in trying to improve our own interfaith relations. It is somehow perverse that despite centuries of religious intolerance and unspeakable horrors being committed against certain groups because of their faith, we would find it acceptable to sanction bigotry or hatred levied against Jews or Muslims when it rears its ugly head in modern day life. The Forty Martyrs of England and Wales stand as an example of unshakable faith. Whilst in the Western World our modern day crosses are rarely so extreme, we see plenty of examples of people of all religious identities being killed for their beliefs. In honouring their sacrifice we have to make a commitment that however small or inconsequential it may seem by comparison, we will never to allow ourselves to be consumed by hate or ignorance because of a lack of understanding or fear.

In the telling of the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus gives us the great commandment, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength, and with all your mind and love your neighbour as yourself”. The lawyer who prompted the teaching tries to justify his own prejudices by asking Christ “Who is my neighbour?”.

And Christ tells him that of the three men who passed by the man left for dead on the side of the road to Jericho, it was the man who took pity on the Samaritan who proved himself a neighbour – and therefore, a faithful child of God. “Go and do the same yourself”, the Lord says. For all the piety and zeal of those who came before us and for all the efforts we make ourselves to prove ourselves faithful to God, we cannot simply ignore the hardest tasks because they’re too difficult. ‘The Great Commandment’ is a poignant one for today’s world and it’s often well known but rarely practised. To keep the world free of the awful crimes of the past, we have a renewed obligation to live that commandment even when it seems that it’s impossible. In overcoming our fears and prejudices and showing love and compassion for those who do not agree with us or believe different things, we can truly become closer to knowing God’s love.

We can learn a great deal from the past. But the most important lesson it holds is that of teaching us to build a better future.