A Mercedarian Perspective on the Year of Faith

Essential to the Charism of the Order of the BVM of Mercy is a profound concern for the True Faith. It is for this Faith that hundreds of friars have exercised the 4th Vow and given up their lives for Captive Christians in danger of losing the Faith. In October 2012, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI opened the Year of Faith. Here is a Mercedarian perspective on this Holy Year:

St. Peter Nolasco founder of the Order.
St. Peter Nolasco founder of the Order.

Eight hundred years ago a man followed in the footsteps of his father and took up the family merchant business. He like many other young men had the desire to live a life of adventure and purpose. The merchant business offered him an opportunity to travel far from his residence of Barcelona into Muslim occupied parts of Southern Spain and abroad. Yet as he traveled, experienced danger, and earned a solid living Peter Nolasco felt that something was missing. He desired more. Not just more money or adventure, but a greater purpose to his life. While traveling through Muslim occupied lands, Peter was “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37) when he saw the captive Christians. They were striking in appearance: dirty, smelly, and gaunt from hunger. As Peter investigated further, he was stunned by the deplorable living conditions of these men, women, and children who were treated as slaves in bondage and chains. They like Isaiah’s suffering servant were “despised and rejected by mankind…like one from whom people hide their faces…”

It was not their pitiable appearance that most affected Peter. Rather it was that they were Captive because of their Catholic Faith.  Peter knew that the faith was the most precious gift that a person could have. It was for our faith that Jesus offered Himself as a captive and was crucified. Peter was filled with sorrow when he heard that thousands were renouncing the True Faith in order to obtain their freedom or a better standing in society. For Peter, the Captives were most poor and impoverished of all people for one reason: because their faith was in serious danger.

Now in 2013 we as Catholic Christians are celebrating the Year of Faith. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI called this year in order to re-enkindle a love for the Faith in a world that is longing for meaning. People’s faith is still in danger today. Modern forms of Captivity are choking and stifling people’s faith to the same degree that Islam did in the early 11th Century. For this reason, the Successor of St Peter the Apostle feels pity for the captives who throughout the world are losing the most precious gift that we have, our faith. As Benedict says in the inaugural letter opening the Year of Faith, “Belief in Jesus Christ, then, is the way to arrive definitively at salvation.” “Faith working through love” (Gal 5:6) becomes a new criterion of understanding and action that changes the whole of man’s life (cf. Rom 12:2; Col 3:9-10; Eph 4:20-29; 2 Cor 5:17).” Just as St Peter Nolasco realized in the early 1200’s, faith is the gift given only by God’s grace which changes our lives and opens the door to salvation.

The Charism of the Order is to free Captive Christians
The Charism of the Order is to free Captive Christians

In his Moto Proprio letter, Benedict sheds some light on new forms of captivity which expose people to “the abandonment of the practices of the Christian life and the loss of their faith (Mercedarian Constitutions #4)”.  The Pope Emeritus states:

“It often happens that Christians are more concerned for the social, cultural and political consequences of their commitment, continuing to think of the faith as a self-evident presupposition for life in society. In reality, not only can this presupposition no longer be taken for granted, but it is often openly denied. Whereas in the past it was possible to recognize a unitary cultural matrix, broadly accepted in its appeal to the content of the faith and the values inspired by it, today this no longer seems to be the case in large swathes of society, because of a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people.”

How true it is today that people think of their faith as an aspect of their cultural or family history, but do not realize the impact that faith can and should have on one’s whole life. For our forefathers, faith was the impetuous behind their love of family and country; it impacted every decision that they made. Yet, today the effects of increased secularization, both within and without the Church, have caused one’s faith to be viewed as a personal belief which should not have an impact on others. People often state they are Catholic, but this reality has little or no impact on their lives.

Much of the problem stems from poor catechesis in our nation over the past fifty years. Truly whole swathes of the Catholic population are ignorant of the basic tenants of the Faith. Long held Christian virtues, such as love, are so watered down or obscured that they are hardly recognizable. When faced with difficult moral Truths many will reject them as fanatical, since they don’t have the understanding of the foundational principles. As Benedict says:

“Evidently, knowledge of the content of faith is essential for giving one’s own assent, that is to say for adhering fully with intellect and will to what the Church proposes. Knowledge of faith opens a door into the fullness of the saving mystery revealed by God.”

We have to be able to know the Faith in all its beauty to be able to truly accept it. Thus, people in the United States are held in bondage, not by Islam, but by ignorance. People are giving up the precious gift of faith because they cannot see the beauty and importance of it. It is Easter Faith in the Resurrection that truly changes people’s lives. The Faith of the Church gives one a perspective on life that makes sense of suffering and trials; gives meaning to everything. Truly Faith gives us a “new vision”, which changes our life in ways unimaginable.

Fr Matthew teaching the Faith.
Fr Matthew teaching the Faith.

The task for future redeemers is to present the foundations of the faith which have sustained Christians for over 2 thousand years. It is for this orthodox faith that so many have died for. It is presented for us in the Creed which stretches back to the early Church. Christians in the early centuries were required to learn the Creed from memory. St Augustine recounted this as he handed over the creed to the newly baptized:

“…the symbol of the holy mystery that you have all received together and that today you have recited one by one, are the words on which the faith of Mother Church is firmly built above the stable foundation that is Christ the Lord. You have received it and recited it, but in your minds and hearts you must keep it ever present, you must repeat it in your beds, recall it in the public squares and not forget it during meals: even when your body is asleep, you must watch over it with your hearts.”

The Year of Faith is focusing our attention on the Creed and the fundamental principles that are contained within it. Yet as Mercedarians we must ensure that these principles are presented in a way that is appealing and understandable to today’s Christians. It is for this reason that we “visit” the captives; come to understand them while showing true Christian compassion for them. Here we learn to present the foundations of the faith to a generation which is hungering for truth and meaning.

May this Year of Faith be an opportunity for us to reach out to those held captive by ignorance of the Faith. Through the merits of Christ’s Precious Blood may many “chains be broken” as Catholics discover the precious treasure which is hidden before their eyes. The priceless gift of our Catholic Faith!





Between 2,000 and 3,000 Christians, Imprisoned in Inhumane Conditions for the Faith in Africa

Almost 800 years after St Peter Nolasco and his followers first began ransoming Christians in danger of losing their faith, there are still areas of the world where the reality of forced apostasy still exists. Michael Carl, a veteran journalist, published this article on the news Website wnd.com entitled:

‘Renounce your faith or stay in prison’

‘African North Korea’ jails thousands of Christians

A Map of Eritrea

A human rights organization is issuing an alarm over the number of Christians who have been locked up in Eritrea, where government officials have given them the ultimatum, “Renounce your faith or stay in prison.”

Citing data from the U.S. State Department, International Christian Concern says Christians have been arrested and held without charge, and conditions are deteriorating.

Sources report more than 3,000 have been put behind bars, the report said.

“According to the report by the United States State Department released yesterday, the government of Eritrea ‘demonstrated a trend toward deterioration in respect for religious freedom,’” the ICC report said.

The State Department also said the Eritrean government “subjected religious prisoners to harsh conditions and held them for long periods of time without due process.”

International Christian human rights group Christian Solidarity International documents Eritrea’s incarceration rate in a separate report.

“There are 20,000 people imprisoned in Eritrea – often referred to as the North Korea of Africa,” the report said.

Christians are a large part of the prison population, and they often are held without due process, according to the report.

“Between 2,000 and 3,000 of them are Christians, imprisoned in inhumane conditions – without trial or charge – in detention centers where torture is rife,” CSI said. “Thousands of Eritreans flee every year, risking the government’s shoot-to-kill border policy in appalling bids for freedom.”

The report continued: “Even if they manage to escape, as refugees they often face desperate and dangerous conditions, as well as the threat of kidnap, torture and forcible organ harvesting by Bedouin people traffickers in the Sinai.”

Jonathan Racho, the Middle East analyst for ICC, said the reason for the government’s action isn’t complicated.

“Their goal is to get the Christians to renounce their faith,” Racho said.

St. Peter Nolasco & his followers worked tirelessly to ransom those endanger of losing their christian faith.

The government, he said, is communist and doesn’t like competition.

“The communist officials are enraged to see millions of Eritreans worship God instead of worshiping communism,” Racho said.

He said the best thing Christians can do is pray, then act.

“ICC is alarmed by this latest report about the Christians in Eritrea. It is high time for the international community to pressure Eritrea to release the prisoners,” he said.

Eritrea occupies slightly more than 115,000 square miles along the Red Sea on the northern edge of Ethiopia. The CIA Fact Book says the country has a “transitional government,” and a legislature that is made up “entirely of the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice or PFDJ.”

WND reported in December 2009 that the Eritrean government arrested 30 women members of a faith mission and detained them in shipping containers for several weeks.

Michael Carl is a veteran journalist with overseas military experience and experience as a political consultant. He also has two Master’s Degrees, is a bi-vocational pastor and lives with his family in the Northeast United States.

Original Article: http://www.wnd.com/2012/08/renounce-your-faith-or-stay-in-prison/

Novena to St Peter Nolasco begins April 27th

The Mercedarian Friars are preparing to celebrate the Solemnity of their founder, St Peter Nolasco, on May 6th.

St Peter Nolasco was born around 1180 of middle class parents.As a young man, he worked as a merchant buying and selling in Muslim occupied lands of Spain. The course of Peter’s young life changed radically when he came in contact with Christian Captives. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that, “When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Peter felt this same intense compassion for the Christians deprived of liberty in Muslim lands. The greatest danger that he saw with the situation was that these Christians were losing their faith and apostatizing in large numbers.  This is what struck Peter so intensely. He knew that the Catholic faith was “the pearl of great price (Mt 13:46)”. To abandon one’s faith meant to reject the salvation that Jesus won for us by His passion, death, and resurrection. Peter saw this as the worst injustice of his time period. Something had to be done!!  Using the qualities he learned in business, Peter went about ransoming the Christian Captives. Others followed him in his mission of collecting alms and buying back Christians from Captivity.

In early August 1218, Peter had an amazing occurrence. The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him and instructed him to found an Order dedicated to the great work of ransoming Christian Captives in danger of losing their faith. Peter was given the “white habit of Mary”. After getting the approval of the King of Spain, Peter formally founded the Order of the BVM of Mercy on August 10, 1218. In his great humility, he pointed to Mary as foundress and the inspiration of this great work.

These men called Mercedarians take vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and redemption. The 4th vow of redemption characterizes their whole life: to be willing if it is necessary to offer their lives in exchange for Christians in danger of losing their faith. It is because of this vow that the white habit of Mary has so often been stained red with the blood of those making the ultimate sacrifice.

Mercedarians hold in great veneration, St Peter Nolasco, as the co-founder of the Order. He responded to the inspiration of Jesus given through Our Lady of Mercy. Because of his radical response, the Order lives on today throughout the world continuing Christ’s redeeming work at all costs. Let us join together in praying to our founder that we all will be faithful to Christ’s call to radical love of neighbor.

O God,

you clothed our Father, Saint Peter Nolasco,

with the love of Christ;

and through the Blessed Virgin Mary

you made him a messenger of love and liberty

for Christians held in captivity.

Help us to imitate him

by working for the redemption of all the oppressed

and for the building up of your Church.

Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.