Saints and Blessed Mercedarians

St. PEDRO NOLASCO 

Pedro Nolasco was born in Barcelona between 1180 and 1182. His parents had been noble people or at the most, merchants. There is no further information on his childhood or adolescence. It is not known exactly how old Pedro was when he became an orphan; some say he lost his father when he was 15 and others speak about 20 and others 25. His mother’s death occurred immediately after his father’s. It is at that moment when his singular vocation sprouts: to dedicate himself to the liberation of those Christians fallen into the hands of the Moors as slaves, be it either piracy, night raids or military skirmishes. The Christian slaves who were in the hands of the Muslims received the name of captive and they were subjected to all kinds of hard and humiliating services. The captive’s condition was similar to that of an animal or an object in the hands of his master. Due to his status as a merchant, Pedro Nolasco is aware of this tragic situation and knows that one of the ways to free them is by payment of a ransom. Therefore he does not hesitate to sell all his belongings. Although he carries out this gesture with reserve and humility, it does not go unnoticed and he is imitated by some young men. Together they make various redemptions freeing Christian prisoners in exchange for money. It is known that in 1203 he was in Valencia and returned about 300 captives to their homes. The funds contributed by all are exhausted and the idea of asking for alms for this specific purpose matures, convinced that only when everything has been given can one begin to beg. In Barcelona they are given the care of the hospital of St. Eulalia, where Pedro Nolasco is named Procurator of Alms for the captives. They travel to various villages and cities to collect alms and donations for this purpose. On the night of 1st to 2nd August, 1218, close to the age of forty, Pedro Nolasco has a strong spiritual experience.

The Virgin Mary appears to him in order to guide him and support him in his task of liberation. Therefore he has to organize himself, structuring the enterprise of redemption better and he conceives the idea of founding a religious order: the Order of la Merced, that would have a semi-military character in its origin and would be known as the Order of Saint Eulalia. The Order is founded on 10th August, 1218 in the cathedral of Barcelona, dedicated to the Holy Cross and St. Eulalia, in an open ceremony witnessed by the people and with the bishop Berenguer de Palou and the adolescent king Jaime I presiding over the ceremony. Pedro Nolasco became the head of the new religious family, which later took the name of “Saint Mary of Mercy for the redemption of captives”, and a legal system was imposed similar to that of chivalric and military orders although clearly differentiating themselves from them in spirit, purpose and means. The specific purpose was set on the “visit and redemption” of the Christian captives, sealed with the Fourth Vow of redemption by which the Mercedarian commits himself to give his own life, if necessary, for the freedom of the captive in danger of losing his faith. King Jaime I allocated the old hospital of St. Eulalia, near the royal palace, to the friars of la Merced as their first residence. Later, in 1235, they settle in their new headquarters near the sea. Pedro Nolasco is happy to see his Order approved by Pope Gregory IX by bull “Devotionis Vestrae” on 17th January, 1235. The most commonly accepted date of his death is 6th May, 1245. At that time the Order had about a hundred religious brothers. Pedro Nolasco’s redemptive inheritance was established in the Constitutions of the Order of 1272, which constitute a kind of Magna Carta of Mercedarian liberation. Pedro Nolasco was beatified in 1628. Finally, on 11th June, 1664, thanks to Pope Alexander VII, he came to be considered a saint to all effects.



SAINT PEDRO ARMENGOL

Pedro Armengol, offspring of the family of the Counts of Urgel, was born in Guardia del Prats, Tarragona, Spain in 1238. He had a quiet childhood, although he lost his mother when he was still a small child. When he was very young he fell prey to the underworld, a situation which led him to abandon his family and engage in banditry. Commanding a group of outlaws he sowed terror in cities and villages, until he was arrested in one of their raids by his own father, who was head of one of the units of the royal armies in Aragon. This fact moved him deeply and he decided to change his way of life. He was submitted to a trial and pardoned by King Jaime I of Aragon and after requesting it several times he managed to be admitted to the Order of la Merced. Once ordained as a friar, he was named redeemer and had to make several trips to Africa and Andalusia in order to liberate the Christian prisoners who had been captured by the Muslims. In the year 1266, he managed to free some prisoners in the city of Bugia, on condition that he remained there as their hostage while the money for the ransom was being collected. As the fixed amount didn't arrive within the established time, the Muslims hung him from a tree but he was saved by a miracle of the Holy Virgin, who kept him alive for a few days until another friar arrived with the ransom money. When his companioned claimed Pedro Armengol’s body, he was surprised to find him still alive. As testimony to his martyrdom, he kept his crooked neck and haggard face till the end of his life. On his return to Spain, Friar Pedro Armengol lived in the Mother House in Barcelona for some years and then retired to the convent of Saint Mary dels Prat where his days ended in a holy way in 1304. His immemorial cult was confirmed first on 3rd March, 1626 by Pope Urbano VIII and then on 8th April, 1687 by Pope Innocent XI .



SAINT MARIA DE CEVELLÓ

She was born in Barcelona in 1230 of a noble family. Her parents educated her in the Christian religion and in the exercise of charity. Her mother guided her on her visits to the hospitals and to the poor, whom she tried to help in the best way possible. Of a rare beauty, not only physically but also spiritually, she was sought after by several young noblemen and was stimulated to marriage by her relatives, but she, guided by the Mercedarian priest , Bernardo de Corbera ( Blessed of the Order) decided to consecrate herself to the Lord by wearing the Mercedarian habit in 1260. Even though she continued living with her parents, according to the Order, she lived a retired life dedicating her time to prayer and works of charity. Her example was followed by other women who wanted to imitate her style of life. When her father died, Maria convinced her mother to move from the sumptuous house where they lived to a more modest and poor one, near the convent of la Merced, where they lived for five years. Her mother died in 1265 and after giving away all her goods for the redemption of the captives, she dedicated herself to an even more mortified and fervent life. Together with the women who had imitated her example of life she presented herself before Friar Bernardo Corbera and with the authorization of his superiors in the Order, he instilled a life in common for them that began on 25th March, 1265, after taking the vows of poverty, obedience and chastity in the church of la Merced to which they added a special promise to work for the redemption of the captives. She intensified her life with more penitence, prayer and charity, praying mainly for seamen, especially for the religious redeemers of the Order exposed to storms and pirates on their long journeys to Africa in order to redeem captives. Tradition speaks of numerous miracles performed during that time, saving many seamen from a sure death, and for that reason she was given the name of Maria de Socorro. Her charity turned towards visiting the sick, helping doctors in their healings and towards the liberated captives, many of whom were physically and morally prostrate. To them she did not only restore the health of their body but also revived their forgotten faith in their spirits. Maria died in Barcelona on 19th September, 1290 and was buried in the church of the Mercedarians, the place where her incorrupt body is preserved. Pope Innocent XII confirmed her veneration on 15th February, 1692.



SAN SERAPIO

Serapio Scott of Anglo-saxon origin was born in the year 1179 in the British Isles. As a soldier of King Richard the Lionheart, he went to the Holy Land twice, in the third and fifth Crusade. In the year 1212 he travels to Spain with Archduke Leopold of Austria, to help King Alfonso in the holy War against the Moors, taking part in the battle of las Navas de Tolosa. In 1220 approximately he was assigned to accompany Beatrix of Sweden to Spain, who was going to be married to Ferdinand of Castille. He settled there and learnt about the Order of la Merced, which he entered in 1222. He was named redeemer in 1225 and made several redemptions in some territories invaded by Muslims. In the year 1240, in one of these he remained as hostage, willing to fulfil the fourth vow of the Order “Stay hostage; give your life, if necessary”. The ransom money did not arrive on time and the King of Algeria, his captor, ordered him to be crucified and they tore out his guts while still alive, so that he would renounce his Christian faith. He was a religious person of extraordinary holiness and virtue, exemplary in the practice of abstinence, fervent in prayer and endowed with ardent charity in the redemption of captives. The homage that has been paid to him as a martyr was confirmed on 14th July, 1728 and on 21st August, 1743 he was registered in the Universal Martyrology of the Catholic Church The Mercedarian Order considers him to be the Patron saint of the Sick. In Saint Serapio the consecrated life of a Mercedarian is valued without the order of priesthood.



SAN RAMON NONATO

He was born in Portell, in the vicinity of Cervera (Lerida) in the year, 1200. His parents were descendants of the ancient and noble house of the Vicounts of Cardona. According to tradition he was taken from the womb of his mother who died in childbirth. Due to this people called him “Nonato” (unborn), which in time became his surname and he never changed it. There aren’t many details about his childhood or adolescence. In the year 1221 he entered the Order of la Merced, founded three years before in 1218, and established a deep friendship with Pedro Nolasco. Already as a priest he let his voice of a great preacher be heard, walking through the streets of cities and villages of Catalonia, speaking to the people in a simple yet profound language. His words and above all his testimony of life attracted people and those of a bad life surrendered to his eloquence, returning to the path of goodness. On being named redeemer he travelled to Valencia and Algeria. In the latter place, in 1226, he managed to free 140 captives. While the money was being collected for the ransom, he remained as hostage of the Muslims, sustaining the faith of the many who remained there and were in serious danger of losing it. When the missioned was accomplished he returned to Barcelona. In 1229 he freed 150 captives in Africa and then in 1232 he liberated 228 in Bujia. In these places he argued publicly with Jews and Muslims. In 1239 he carried out his last redemption. Some say in Tunisia and some say in Algeria. He remained there as hostage and took advantage of the little freedom he had to preach in those busy places. Even in such a hostile atmosphere, his person exercised an attraction that was difficult to evade. In order to avoid converting the jailors to Christianity, his executioners made two holes in his lips with a hot iron and put a padlock on his mouth, which they only opened to give him bread and water, his only meal. He endured eight months in prison in these conditions and being tortured, until Pedro Nolasco managed to deliver the ransom money and free him. Pope Gregory IX showed him all his admiration by making him cardinal in 1239, with the title of San Eustaquio (Saint Eustatius) and called him to his side as counsellor. On his way to Rome, he died in Cardona on the last Sunday of August in the year 1240, preceding, by some years, Pedro his great friend and adviser to his grave. In 1625 the immemorial homage was approved that was paid to him in the chapel of St. Nicholas de Portells, the place of his extraordinary birth, and in 1677 his feast day was spread throughout the church. Numerous miracles are attributed to him. He is considered to be Protector of pregnant women, patron saint of life and midwives.


SAN PEDRO PASCUAL

He was born in Valencia, which was under the power of the Muslims, around 1227 and died in Granada in the year 1300. There is not much information about his childhood or adolescence. What is only known is that once he had initiated his ecclesiastical career, he went to Paris to perfect his studies, obtaining a doctorate in the Sorbonne. On his return to Spain he became a Mercedarian and devoted his life to the redemption of captives. At that time he became a good friend of prince Sancho, the son of King Jaime I of Aragon. Pope Boniface VII chose him as bishop of Jaen on 13th February, 1296. On 20th February of that year he was consecrated by Cardinal Acquaspart in the chapel of Saint Bartholomew on the Tiberina island in Rome. When he was making the pastoral visit in his diocese, he fell prisoner into the hands of the Muslims, remaining captive for about three years. In the dungeons of Granada he wrote several works to defend the catholic faith against the Muslims and Jews and in order to keep up the hope of the Christians, who were captured with him. Amongst these we can find “Glosa a los Diez Mandamientos” (Gloss to the Ten Commandments), “Glosa al Padre Nuestro” (Gloss to Our Father), “Biblia Pequeña” (Small bible) and “Vida de Cristo”(Life of Jesus Christ). It is sufficient to analyse his writings to make his condition as a Mercedarian clear without a doubt. Above all his defence of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is remarkable, a normal thing in the Mercedarian Order. After much suffering, on 6th January, 1300 he was decapitated by the Muslims, still dressed in the vestments in which he had celebrated the Holy Mass. He is buried in the cathedral of Baeza, his tomb gained celebrity for the graces the Lord granted him for his intercession. His immemorial cult was confirmed by the church in 1670 and his canonization was carried out in 1675.


BEATA MARIANA DE JESUS

Mariana de Jesús was born in Madrid on 17th January, 1565; her parents, Luis Navarro and Juana Romero had her baptized four days after her birth. When Mariana was nine years old she lost her mother leaving her to take charge of her five small siblings together with her father, who married again shortly afterwards bringing Mariana a lot of suffering. At the age of 23 her father and stepmother want to impose marriage on her to get rid of her, but she renounces such a proposal and consecrates herself to God, since she had chosen him as her Spouse. It was not easy to convince her father and suitor of her free decision; she had to fight against them even cutting her hair with her own hands to discourage them. Having made the opinion to follow Jesus Christ, she gave herself to prayer and a retired life away from family worries and the world. It was never easy for her. In this way she needed help from her confessors and spiritual guide. She must have suffered great spiritual afflictions when she was not understood by her first spiritual director, the Mercedarian father Fr. Antonio del Espritu Santo. Her confessor himself advised her to look for another one, this happened in the Sanctuary of the Virgin of los Remedios in Madrid; the Mercedarian Fr. Juan Bautista Gonzalez was her confessor until Mariana’s death. She herself has recorded the help and wisdom of this holy friar, founder of the Barefoot Mercedarians and Known as Fr. John Baptist of the Holy Sacrament. This confessor and spiritual director knew how to understand her and guide Mariana’s spirit on the path of holiness imitating the Divine Master. Mariana de Jesús endured a great physical and spiritual ordeal and once freed from parental guardianship, she took up residence next to the convent of the Mercedarians since, due to her physical health limitations, she could not profess as a nun. Mariana is an excellent model of sanctity of laity in the Order of la Merced. She knew also how to discover a path to holiness in her physical afflictions. From her small house she attended to the needs of the poor and sick, something that did not prevent her from cultivating piety towards the Holy Virgin and the Blessed Sacrament, with whom she maintained their union fertile and constant. Mariana understood that Christ in Sacrament prefers to be in the hearts of the faithful and not so much in the beautiful tabernacles, because these don’t love like a human heart can. She cultivated a loving union with the Lord in the Eucharist day and night. She was admitted to the profession as a Mercedarian tertiary in 1616, after having overcome the problems of her physical health and conflict of spirit. In this manner, Mariana assumed the path of Mercedarian redemptive spirituality so in line with the sufferings of her body from childhood. The miracle of Blessed Mariana is amazing. Her body was weakened by the illnesses she suffered. She died on 17th April, 1624. They kept her body for two days so that the faithful could pay her their last tribute. Mariana’s body remains incorrupt and flexible. It has undergone medical analysis and the results are always the same; Mariana’s body is intact and flexible. On 18th January, 1783 Pope Pius VI declared her Blessed and the festivity of her beatification was celebrated in the Vatican on 25th May, 1783. On the 300th anniversary of her death her body was examined once again and was found incorrupt and fragrant. In 1965, when the 400th anniversary of her birth was celebrated, the same thing was confirmed.



BLESSED MARGARITA LÓPEZ DE MATURANA

She was born in Bilbao (Spain) on 25th July, 1884. She was christened with the name of Pilar. All her life she had an affectionate and very intense spiritual relationship with her twin sister, Leonor. When she was an adolescent her mother, trying to get her away from a premature friendship with a young sailor, decided to take her to a boarding school run by Mercedarian nuns in Bérriz. There she felt the calling of God to a total consecration as a missionary nun. At the age of 19, on 10th August, 1903 she entered the Congregation, taking the name of Margaret Mary. A few days before, her sister Leonor had entered the novitiate of the Carmelites of Charity in Vitoria (she died a missionary in Argentina and her cause for beatification has been initiated). From the first moment she devoted herself to God with absolute fidelity in her life as a cloistered nun. In 1924 the cloistered nuns pondered their future as missionaries and unanimously led it to prayer. Most agreed to introduce this issue. Besides, some years earlier Pilar, in the course of a visit from the Father General, had confided in him this feeling that was overwhelming them and they depended on his approval. The pertinent steps were taken and once the dispensation of the cloister was obtained, a first group of nuns including Pilar went to China to begin their work, then they took the gospel to Japan. Full of faith they overcame the conflicts of war and dodged the risks of persecution and jail. If they saw the work that had taken them so much to set up come down, they would pursue it with the same vitality as at the beginning. There came a point where they thought about the deep transformation that the life they had adopted required. This meant giving their opinion about going from the cloister to another way of life: a Missionary Institution. On 23rd May, 1930, all the nuns gave an affirmative verdict in a secret ballot, fulfilling Blessed Margaret’s dream. She died on 23rd July, 1934, two days before her 50th birthday. His holiness Pope John Paul II signed the declaration of her heroic virtues and declared her venerable. She was beatified in the cathedral of Bilbao in October, 2006



BLESSED P. MARIANO ALCALÁ AND 18 FELLOW MARTYRS

Father Mariano Alcalá, eleven priests and seven co-operator brothers, all of them Mercedarians suffered martydom because of their condition of priests and religious men during the religious persecution in Spain between 1936-1939, in the months of July, August, September and November of 1936 being the places of martyrdom the towns of Andorra, Muniesa, Hijar, Estercuel in the province of Teruel, Binefar (Huesca), Lleida , Barcelona, Matamargó (Lleida) and Lorca (Murcia). They were not unaware of the hostile atmosphere that was being generated in those years, as shown by expressions that appeared in letters addressed to their relatives such as F. José Reñe: ” If we miss this opportunity, we will not have another …” or Blessed Jaime Codina. “What a great gift it is to be a martyr and to die for Christ”, or Blessed José Trallero: “All I desire is to die a martyr; What glory! What luck!” This was the martyrdom atmosphere breathed in the religious communities at that moment which explains that in the middle of all these difficulties there would be no desertions in their faith. They were prepared to go to the last extreme to give their life for Christ. They died praying and forgiving the ones who killed them. On 19th December, 2011 Pope Benedict XVI authorized the promulgation of the “super martyrdom” decree. The beatification was on 13th October, 2013 in Tarragona (Spain). The names of the nineteen martyrs are the following: P. Mariano Alcalá Pérez; P. Tomás Carbonell Miquel; P. Francisco Gargallo Gascón; P. Manuel Sancho Aguilar; P. Mariano Pina Turón; P. Pedro Armengol Esteban Hernández; Fr. Antonio Lahoz Gan; Fr. José Trallero Lou; Fr. Jaume Codina Caselles; P. Josep Reñé Prenafeta; Fr. Antonio González Penín; P.Tomás Campo Marín; P. Francesc Llagostera Bonet; Fr.Serapio Sanz Iranzo; P. Enrique Morante Chic; P. Jesús Eduardo Massanet Flaquer; P. Amancio Marín Minguez; P. Lorenzo Moreno Nicolás and Fr. Francesc Mitjà Mitjà.