Martyrdom and Charism — The Ransom of Christian Captives


Are we Christians headed toward persecution in the United States? This and many questions are raised and discussed in the following paraphrased transcription of the below video talk, given by Fr. Joseph Eddy, O. de M.  The first part is an introduction to the Mercedarians’ fourth vow, and afterwards Father takes a deeper look at white & red martyrdom.

Martyrdom is something that’s ever ancient and ever new. A charism is a spirit that the founder had when the community was started. The community starts under the bishop. It’s a slow process leading to pontifical approbation.

A charism is living Christ’s life. It is an aspect of Christ’s life that has been given to its founder. His/Her daughters or his sons carry the charism on for the length of the community’s existence.

Captive for Christ

The Order of Mercy was founded in the twelfth century. At that time the Muslims were creeping in. The purpose of the Crusades was to do something about this and prevent Europe from being taken over. Many people were taken captive… Imagine if your cousins or uncles were taken away – they just disappeared. The captives were probably taken to north Africa. Imagine the opening scene from Les Miserables, where the prisoners are working on a chain gang.

If the captives renounce their Christian faith, they can move up in society. Perhaps they would not have to work in a chain gang any more. There was great pressure to leave the faith.

Our founder Peter Nolasco was a merchant. As he went into the African areas – the Muslim-controlled territories – he would sell his goods. As he did this, he would see his fellow Christians who were suffering. He was cut to the heart by this suffering.

The real reason Peter mourned the captives was because of their loss of faith. He saw that they were losing their eternal salvation. He began collecting his money to buy them back. He gave all his property away. Although he was not a wealthy man, he was very shrewd. He was also a strong man, and a humble man, and these virtues helped him a lot.

It was not long before others came to follow him. Most people do not start out with the idea to start a religious community. Likewise, in Peter’s case it was, “I am going to help these people,” and others followed him.

“He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives” (Luke 4:18)

But he was soon criticized. Others thought he was creating a market for the Christian captives. Greatly hurt, St. Peter took the matter to prayer. In a vision, Mary appeared to him, telling him that Christ desired that he found a community dedicated to ransoming these Christian captives. With the support of the king and the bishop, St. Peter began the Mercedarian Order, sending his friars – two at a time – to ransom the Christians, who would return, still in their chains, to Spain.

Our charism is the fourth vow – if necessary, we would give up our own life to save someone in danger of losing their faith. On occasion, the friars would take the places of those in captivity, exchanging their freedom for the prisoners’ freedom.

In Saracen lands, opposition was everywhere for the first Mercedarians. They were slapped, stoned, beaten, wounded, and dragged through the streets. In their first century, their white habits bore witness to the blood of over one hundred martyrs.

St. Serapion was Irish by birth, born around 1179. He was enlisted as a soldier in the service of Richard the Lionhearted, and later Alfonso VIII who was fighting the Muslims in Spain. There he met Peter Nolasco, and joined the order. Eventually, he was one of the two friars chosen to take part in the ransom mission. There was not enough ransom money, so Serapion offered to stay behind if the remaining captives were freed. While the Mercedarians rushed to collect money for Serapion’s own ransom, the Muslims grew impatient, and crucified the saint. He was declared a martyr, and is the patron saint of the sick.

“To bear witness to the light” (John 1:7)

The term for martyr comes from the Greek word meaning “to bear witness.” A witness testifies to a fact that they have seen and experienced. The reality of the early Church was that witnesses to Christ could easily be imprisoned or killed.

Once again we are seeing this in Iraq, parts of Africa, and China. Every single day, Christians in the early Church faced death, and all the apostles, except John, suffered a martyr’s death. At the crucifixion of Christ, Mary’s heart was “pierced with a sword.” At her side was St. John, who suffered his “white martyrdom,” or spiritual martyrdom, as well.

Today’s martyrs are those who have never seen the risen Christ, but are so firmly convinced of the truth of Christianity that they gladly suffer death rather than deny these truths. In our Order, thirty-three Mercedarian friars were martyred during the Spanish Civil War – 18 of whom have already been canonized, and the rest are going through the process.

Lumen Gentium says,

Since Jesus, the Son of God, manifested His charity by laying down His life for us, so too no one has greater love than he who lays down his life for Christ and His brothers. From the earliest times, then, some Christians have been called upon — and some will always be called upon — to give the supreme testimony of this love to all men, but especially to persecutors. The Church, then, considers martyrdom as an exceptional gift and as the fullest proof of love. By martyrdom a disciple is transformed into an image of his Master by freely accepting death for the salvation of the world — as well as his conformity to Christ in the shedding of his blood. Though few are presented such an opportunity, nevertheless all must be prepared to confess Christ before men. They must be prepared to make this profession of faith even in the midst of persecutions, which will never be lacking to the Church, in following the way of the cross. (no. 42)

This time period is heading towards the possibility of persecution in the United States. We may believe we could never have ISIS here, yet we have on demand abortion clinics, same-sex marriage, and other open affronts to Catholicism, to the point that the culture tells us, “you can’t believe same-sex marriage is wrong,” and “you can’t tell a women abortion is wrong.”

Living the fourth vow would be impossible without the virtues. We are called to give Christ’s witness to the culture. Both white martyrdom (spiritual) and red martyrdom (by blood) are great gifts to God. White martyrdom prepares us to be open and ready for the possibility of martyrdom by blood – the ultimate sacrifice which unites us to Christ on the cross. The virtues of generosity, self-giving, and courage are necessary, and one must die to self daily.

An offering of self

By Baptism we share the role of priest, prophet, and king. As priests, we are called to offer sacrifice for the salvation of the world. (Romans 12 … “I appeal to you brethren… offer yourselves to God”) All our daily activities and hardships — if borne patiently — can be offered as a spiritual sacrifice, united to the sacrifice of the Mass. We offer ourselves as Mary did — she is the perfect example of white martyrdom. She gives her total Yes at the Annunciation and never takes it back, even when told by Simeon that a sword would pierce her heart. We give our “yes” at Baptism, Confirmation, and each time we receive the Eucharist. Like Mary standing at the foot of the cross, we stand at the foot of the altar, and give our “amen” at every Mass.

As prophets, we are called to be teachers — spreading the Gospel by our lives and words. Confirmation gives us a special strength to witness to the Gospel, as well as holding us to a higher standard to do so.

By sharing in Christ’s kingship, we realize that to be a king is to serve. In married life it is for your family, as a priest, your flock, in religious life for your community. Christ is the perfect king who laid down his life for his subjects. When we perform works of mercy, we are serving others as Christ did.

By sharing daily in the role of priest, prophet, and king, we build up virtue to prepare for the possible crown of martyrdom. The Mercedarians’ fourth vow to offer one’s life if necessary, reminds us that our lives are important and should not be thrown away. The early Church actually had the problem where people would go out of their way to look for martyrdom!

Definition of Martyr

U. of Florida Newman Center

Priestly Ordination: Deacon David Spencer, O. de M. to become “alter Christus”

The Order of BVM of Mercy announces the Ordination of one of it’s own. On Saturday, November 16th Deacon David will be Ordained to the Sacred Priesthood in his home town of Norfolk, VA.

Br David with the youth of the parish.
Br David with the youth of the parish.

As Catholics, we believe that the ministerial priesthood was instituted by Christ at the Last Supper. There he commissioned those he had chosen to act in His person when administering the Sacraments. The Sacrament of Holy Orders places an indelible mark on the soul of the man ordained. He is able to act in persona Christi or in the place of Christ. Mercedarian priests focus their priestly ministry specifically at the service of those in danger of losing their faith from modern forms of captivity.

The soon to be Father David entered the Order in the fall of 2005 as a postulant. In 2007, he made his first vows. After completing his studies at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Br David received his Master of Divinity and MA in Theology. In September of 2012, he made his Solemn Profession in the Order. April 2013, Br. David became a transitional deacon.

506px-Holy_Orders_PictureSince 2012, Deacon David has been assigned to Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Philadelphia. He has been serving at the parish as director of religious education and youth director as well as a variety of other tasks. After Ordination, Fr David will begin his priestly ministry as parochial vicar of the Our Lady of Lourdes.

Please keep our brother in your prayers as he becomes “another Christ” to serve especially those in danger of losing their faith.

We Fish for Those Lost in a Sea of “Who Cares?”

Mercy men in church
Ordination of 2 men
Easter fire
Mercedarian master with Pope Francis

You believe in God? So what? All religions are the same.

If this is what you think, you are part of our mission territory. But if you are a man with a passion to bring Jesus Christ to this kind of person, we want to talk with you.

For nearly eight hundred years, the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy has been rescuing people from various forms of captivity. Today, an ignorance, or even an indifference, about the saving message of Jesus Christ binds men to a slavery of shallow thought, following whatever is popular at the moment. We care about these people.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI warned, “We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”

Not Following Trends

We friars in the Order of Mercy join with Pope Emeritus Benedict in his words, “An ‘adult’ faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ.”

The Mercedarian man, following the charism molded by our Order’s founder, St. Peter Nolasco, is trained and prepared to redeem others from today’s forms of captivity.

Is God calling you to become a Mercedarian friar, as a priest or a brother? Our men here in the United States are growing year by year, and we have high hopes for playing an important part in the re-evangelization of our society. Will you join us? Why not begin a dialog with us as you journey toward your God-given vocation?

Contact our vocation director, Fr. Joseph Eddy, O. de M. today:

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Read the Greetings from Fr. Joseph Eddy, O. de M.

Mercedarian Friar to be ordained to the transitional diaconate

After years of preparation and study Br. David Spencer, O. de M. will be ordained a transitional deacon at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Philadelphia on Saturday April 6th at 9:30AM. This will enable him fulfill the Order’s redemptive charism in a special way as a one ordained into the service of Christ.

St Stephen was the first deacon and he was martyred for the faith.
St Stephen was the first deacon and he was martyred for the faith.lo

The deacon is an ordained minister of the Catholic Church. There are three groups, or “orders,” of ordained ministers in the Church: bishops, presbyters and deacons. Deacons are ordained as a sacramental sign to the Church and to the world of Christ, who came “to serve and not to be served.” The entire Church is called by Christ to serve, and the deacon, in virtue of his sacramental ordination and through his various ministries, is to be a servant in a servant-Church.

As ministers of Word, deacons proclaim the Gospel, preach, and teach in the name of the Church. As ministers of Sacrament, deacons baptize, lead the faithful in prayer, witness marriages, and conduct wake and funeral services. As ministers of Charity, deacons are leaders in identifying the needs of others, then marshalling the Church’s resources to meet those needs.

Men, such as Br David, who are in priestly formation are first ordained Transitional Deacons. This is a temporary state of men who intend to go on for the priesthood. Br David will serve as a deacon in the Order for a period of time as he learns and prepares for Priestly Ordination.

Let us keep Br. David in prayer during the next few days as he prepares to receive this great Sacrament. May Our Lady of Mercy give him the graces he needs to respond to this great call!

A Raffle to Win a Statue of Our Lady of Mercy

Here are some pictures of Focus 11 (vocation awareness day for 6th graders) in the Diocese of St. Petersburg. The Friars and the 3rd Order had a Mercedarian vocation table. To draw attention to the Order and promote a love of Our Lady of Mercy, the children signed up to win one of 3 three 12″ statues of Our Lady of Mercy for their classroom. Thanks to Fr Tony and Sue for spreading the good news of the redemption to the youth in St Petersburg, Florida!

From Prep School to Seminary: One Man’s Call to the Order

Josh LaPorte is a Postulant in Order. Here he answers questions about his childhood and vocation:

1) Tell us about your background? Where are you from? Where did you go to school?

Josh receives the shield of the Order.
Josh receives the shield of the Order.

I was born on July 18, 1989 in Suburban Detroit, in Sterling Heights, MI at Mt. Clemens General Hospital. I was adopted at birth. I grew up in the Sterling Heights area for the majority of my childhood until I was six years old when we moved to Rochester Hills, MI. We remained there for the rest of my life. We also have a vacation house in the north of Michigan.

My Father is a Certified Public Accountant working as a managing partner at an international firm called UHY advisors.  He has been working there since college.  My mother was and is still a homemaker.  Prior to her being a homemaker, she was a practicing Psychologist.

I discovered my love for music when I was three and a half years old. It was then that I picked up my first violin and begin studies in music.  I would find lots of success in that field of study, and pick up more instruments along the way, like percussion (drums, cymbals, etc.).  I would study these privately until the age of 17.

I entered Montessori when I was five in September 1994 at Kensington Academy. I would make my first communion in April of 1998.  I left Kensington Academy after completing the third grade in 1999.  I would then continue studies at a private fine and liberal arts school in Auburn Hills, Michigan called Oakland Steiner where I would complete the rest of elementary and middle school.  After that, I would be homeschooled for my freshman year of high school, and then complete the rest of my high school career at St. Mary’s Preparatory.

St Mary’s Prep School is strong Catholic Institution where I would begin discerning my vocation or exploring the possibilities of a vocation.  We attended Mass in high school twice a week, and sometimes three times a week if it was a holy day of obligation.  I would graduate there St Mary Preparatory School in May 2008. My crowning achievement was winning the Louis Armstrong Jazz Award.

After high school I started studies in philosophy at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Downtown Detroit. I remained there for 4 years until I finished discerning my call and entered the Mercedarian Friars.

2) When did you first start thinking about religious life and/or priesthood?

I started thinking of a vocation when I was a junior in High School during Mass.

The Shield was given to the Order by King James I 800 years ago.
The Shield was given to the Order by King James I 800 years ago.

3) How did you come to know about the Order of the BVM of Mercy? What drew you to this community?

I came to know about the Order of the BVM of Mercy and plenty of other orders through Vocation Placement Services on the internet. I was drawn to this community because of the way they live religious life and the Charism of order itself. The Mercedarians redeem those who are in captivity at risk of losing their faith.

4) Now that you are a postulant what is your favorite part of the Religious Life?

I enjoy as a postulant the community prayers, the common meal, and recreation time.

Several Articles Highlight Mercedarian Friar’s Ordination

Fr. James Chia, O. de M. has been assigned to the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg, FL. There he will be the Assistant Pastor.  The Newly Ordained will be kept busy administering the Sacraments, visiting the sick, preparing couples for marriage,  teaching catechism, and a variety of other pastoral tasks. Here are some pictures from Fr James’ Mass of Thanksgiving in St. Petersburg:

Check out several articles on Fr James:




The Mercedarian Friars Celebrate the Ordination of Fr. James Chia, O. de M.

On November 24th, Deacon James Chia was Ordained to the Priesthood of Jesus Christ. The liturgy took place at St. Ignatius Parish in Yardley, Pa. Present were friars, family and friends of Fr James. Here are some pictures from the weekend:

Mercedarian Friars Spotlighted in Vintage 1951 Video

The 1950’s debuted rock and roll, pop art, and booming sales of television. That was part of the cultural scene in America. But what was going on in religious orders? And in Spain, especially with such men’s orders as the Mercedarian Friars?

The Spaniards endured a bitter civil war that lasted from 1936 to 1939. The official history of the Mercedarians, or Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, states that, “A collusion of liberals, socialists, Marxists and masons imposed the 1931 Constitution which was nothing less than a frontal attack against the Church and religious orders.”

In fact, 19 Mercedarian Friars who died during the war were named martyrs by the Vatican in 2011. The Nationalist force, however, led by General Francisco Franco, was eventually victorious, and now Christians were finally free to practice their faith.

Video Offers Glimpse

A black and white video – in Spanish naturally – that was filmed in 1951 by the Mercedarians has been made public by the Order recently. (See all of our videos on YouTube.) Although the clip sidesteps the recent civil strife — no doubt as to avoid bitter memories — it relates the noble calling of Mercedarian men that began centuries ago in this country.

With stirring music, it shows everyday community life: the celebration of the old Latin Mass, eager young friars studying subjects both ancient and new, chores, praying in choir, recreation, and the beautiful architecture of their monastery.

Mercedarian friars in class, from 1951 video
The video features Mercedarian seminarians in class.

The video discusses the Order’s foundation, the early martyrdom of its members, and life within their huge and ancient monastery. Only eleven minutes long, and clearly made to attract new vocations, it shows young men in clean white habits not only praying and studying, but sewing, reading the newspaper, playing handball against a wall, washing clothes in an outdoor cistern, and enjoying a lively game of ping pong.

“We don’t wash clothes in outdoor cisterns any more — at least in the U.S.,” joked Fr. Joseph Eddy, O. de M., vocation director of the U.S. province. “But the noble history of the Mercedarians, the devotion to communal prayer, and the spirit of fraternity among the friars is the same.”

At Work, Prayer, and Rest

In the video, two friars play chess while another, older friar is seen leaning back in his garden seat, apparently in quiet sleep with a prayer book in his lap. A group of friars say common prayers in an outdoor garden while one man reads the Hail, Holy Queen in Spanish. In another dramatic scene against the backdrop of the monastery’s tall arches and towers, hooded friars carry long, lit candles down a stairway and enter the chapel for a ceremony in which they receive a blessing from a priest shaking the aspergillum, a tool used to sprinkle holy water.

Mercedarian men singing the Salve
Mercedarian friars receive a blessing during the Saturday Salve.

The Saturday Mass and the Salve

This is the Saturday Mass of Saint Mary, along with the singing of the Salve in her honor, and it is a beautiful custom. It is a fact that in 1307, Galcerán de Miralles donated three pounds of wax to the church of Santa María de Bell-lloch so that, every Saturday, it would have lighted candles during the celebration of the Mass of the Virgin and the singing of the Salve.

“The friars in the video are taking part in one of the oldest rituals of our Order, ‘the Saturday Salve,’” Fr. Joseph said. “This beautiful rite, which we still do today, was started by our founder, St. Peter Nolasco to give honor to Mary on her day, Saturday. This immemorial Marian custom was also performed in thanksgiving when the redeemers returned with the redeemed Christian Captives.”

Mercedarian men singing with gusto
Singing with great gusto

At the end of the video, one priest walks down the hallway shaking the aspergillum, with holy water, at the doors as a good night blessing for the men.

Active in Four States

The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy is active in Pennsylvania, New York, Florida and Ohio in the United States, with its U.S. headquarters in Philadelphia. Active in twenty-two countries, it was founded in 1218 in Spain to support the work of ransoming Christian captives from the Saracens. The Mercedarians take a “Fourth Vow” — to give one’s life for someone in danger of losing their Christian faith.

Do you have a vocation as a Mercedarian friar? Read a letter from our vocation director, or visit our Mercedarian Facebook page. Contact Vocation Director Fr. Joseph Eddy, at

The Novitiate Set to Begin on the Feast of the Holy Redeemer

Two young men prepare for their next step in their journey toward becoming Mercedarian Friars.

Scott is measured for the Habit of Mary

On August 29th, Postulants, Vincent and Scott, began their initial formation in the Order of the BVM of Mercy. They were just answering the Lord’s call to “come and see”. Over the next 9 months they would live in the Order’s House of Studies and experience the Mercedarian religious life. Vincent and Scott followed the house horarium or schedule. The horarium helps religious to live a rythem of prayer, communal meals, work, and recreation. The postulant often finds in the schedule a sense of peace and joy that comes from communion with God and others.

The postulancy program also offers the candidate an opportunity to study the Catholic faith and apply it. Each week, Vincent and Scott, attended a class at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. Also, twice a week they received further formation from the Master of Postulants. These classes were in human formation, Spiritual Theology, the virtues, and Mariology. Besides their classes, Vince and Scott, spent four days a week getting apostolic experience at Lankenau Hospital, Saunders House Nursing Home, and Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School.

Vince is measured for the Habit of Mary.

Now after 9 months of experiencing the religious life, Vince and Scott are preparing themselves to begin a very important year, the Novitiate. The Novitiate is the opportunity for a young man to “Come and Live” the life of a religious. It is a canonical year from July 8th to July 9th of the following year. Under the direction of the Master of Novices, the novice will study the history of religious life, the vows, the Rule of Saint Augustine, the documents of the Church concerning religious life, the Mercedarian Order, and it’s saints. During this time, the novice will also become more aware of the customs and traditions of the Order, in particular, those associated with Our Blessed Mother who is honored as the foundress of the Order.

Vince and Scott’s next step in formation begins July the 8th 2012 when they are invested in the “Habit of Mary”. No doubt this will be an exciting moment for each of them, but the real journey has just begun! Now they must impress Mary’s “image as a seal upon their hearts, so that nothing may be in their mouths, minds or conduct that does not breathe love for the Virgin Mary (Const. #154).” The habit is to be the outward sign of their future consecration.

Please keep both Vincent and Scott in your prayers as they begin the novitiate this July 8th.