Saint Pedro NolascoThe Second Vatican Council says that from the beginning of the Church there were men and women who founded religious families, inspired by the Holy Spirit, which the church received with pleasure and approved with their authority.
One of these men was Pedro Nolasco, religious founder of the Order of la Merced, which spread out in the Latin area in Europe as well as in America, but with a universal vocation and obvious reality. Today it is present in the five continents.
It is at the final decades of the 12th century: Pedro Nolasco was probably born in Barcelona in the year 1180. We know almost nothing of his early childhood although it seems that his family had in a well-to-do social and economic position.
Pedro Nolasco was by profession a tradesman or merchant, Guillermo Vázquez says “the tradesmen of that time were not prudish men who we see today behind a counter but daring captains who undertook long journeys to acquire and deliver their merchandise, fighting against all kinds of perils.”. As a merchant he naturally focused on all sorts of merchandise that circulated by sea and land. Unfortunately, this also included human merchandise. In that society there were two types of people deprived of their freedom and they traded with them: slaves and captives.
On 4th January, 1302 in a letter King Jaime II of Aragon wrote to the Pope, talking about the Order of la Merced he said: “Once, certain laymen of our land, devoted to Jesus Christ who redeemed us with His blood, sold their personal property little by little in order to free the captive Christians from the captivity of non-Christians and finally had to publically beg alms from the congregation of the churches to be able to save those such Christians from the power of the Moors”.
These activities, previous to the foundation of the Order, that go from selling all their personal belongings to asking people for donations, date back to the first two decades of the13th century. From an early age Pedro Nolasco directs his life to the liberation of his brother slave and draws people of his own age to the cause. Hence in 1213 he accomplishes his first redemption in Valencia being the “Attorney of Alms for the captives” in the hospital of Saint Eulalia. Pious and active, Nolasco is shaping his own path as a project to be carried out in a religious group dedicated to such charitable work, which by divine inspiration, is instituted in the cathedral of Barcelona on 10th August,1218.
For this new religious order, together with his friars, he has to create and organize the entire network of a new religious order, devoted to an activity which has religious implications in the first place, yet also social and legal ones. The people admire Pedro Nolasco and his friars’ good deeds and with the donations and alms, the growth of the holy work of the salvation of the captives is made possible.
Pedro Nolasco, the humble lay friar was always regarded a faithful imitator of Christ the Redeemer and considered a saint. His veneration soon spread to where his children were, and the church ratifying this universal conviction, canonized him in 1628.