Saints and Blessed Mercedarians
St. PEDRO NOLASCOPedro 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.