|Biographies of New Blesseds - 2008|
|The following Blesseds were beatified under Benedict XVI in 2008:|
Candelaria of St. Joseph
3 February 2008
Giuseppina Nicoli was born at Casatisma, Pavia; Italy, on 18 November 1863; the fifth of 10 siblings. At the age of 20 she entered the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. in Turin, Italy: Two years later, in 1885, she was sent to Sardinia, Italy, where she spent most of her consecrated life.
On Christmas Eve 1888 she took simple vows.
In 1893, at age 30, she contracted tuberculosis which slowly consumed her holy life dedicated to God and neighbour.
Her assignment in Sardinia reaped an abundant harvest. Not only did she care for the poor, orphans and the infirm, she also concerned herself with their evangelization.
At Cagliari she taught catechism to the young students and workers of the Society of the Pious Union of the Sons of Mary, which she had founded and directed and which had St. Aloysius Gonzaga as its patron.
In 1899 she was sent to Sassari to run an orphanage, and while there she opened the first Italian section of the "Daughters of Charity" society, dedicated to mending, sewing and distributing clothing to the poor. These women also taught catechism to approximately 800 children every Sunday. For the older students she opened the School of Religion where they were trained to teach the faith to others.
In 1910 she was named provincial bursar of the Turin Province, which gave her the opportunity to return to "the Continent", as the people of Sardinia called it.
In 1912 she was assigned as Directress to the novitiate in Turin. But this duty lasted only nine months due to a deterioration in her lung condition. which spurred her superiors to relocate her to Sardinia, whose warmer climate could benefit her health.
Sr. Giuseppina, who had left a warm and hospitable environment in Sassari, found upon her return in 1913 that the atmosphere had completely changed due to anticlericalism and the influence of private interests on behalf of politicians and civil administrators.
Although these same political and civil officials personally admired and esteemed Sr. Giuseppina for her abilities and holiness, she suffered the calumny of being said to be incapable of administering the very orphanage she had previously administered successfully. All this led her superiors to transfer her back to Cagliari on 7 August 1914.
The hostilities of World War I did not spare the island of Sardinia and Sr. Nicoli and her Sisters set to assisting the wounded. They adapted the kindergarten where they were assigned into a hospital and lovingly nursed the injured.
In Cagliari she was called by the local Bishop to set up the Dorotean Society, whose members were consecrated lay women. With the young women who joined her, Sr. Giuseppina founded the "Young Women of Charity" in 1917, and opened with them in the poor, overpopulated suburb of Marina del Poetto a facility for the care of children afflicted with rickets and scrofulosis, a form of tuberculosis.
Other apostolic works that developed with the assistance of Bl. Nicoli were those of the Propagation of the Faith and the Holy Childhood Society.
She founded the St. Teresa Circle, the first group for young Catholic women in Cagliari and the nucleus of what would later become the Women's Catholic Action. Sr. Nicoli also established the Josephite Association (with St. Joseph as its patron) for religious instruction, to which the more well-to-do belonged.
This kaleidoscope of apostolic works which brought so much spiritual and material benefit to many is an example of the great things God can do in those who are entirely dedicated to him.
After her death at the age of 61, on 31 December 1924, a handwritten prayer was found tucked in the hollow of the Crucifix she had received at her first vows. In this prayer she had written: "I want to serve you faithfully, practicing poverty, chastity and obedience, and for love of you to serve the poor".
30 March 2008
Marianna Donati, who became the Foundress of the Congregation of the Daughters of the Poor of St Joseph Calasanz, known as the Calasanctian Sisters, was born at Marradi, Florence, Italy, on 26 October 1848. At the age of 13 she made her first Holy Communion and felt strongly that she was being called to religious life.
When her first attempt at discerning a vocation, in which she passed some time with the "Vallombrosane" Sisters, remained inconclusive, she returned to her family and entrusted herself to the spiritual guidance of a Piarist priest, Fr Celestino Zini, well known for his personal holiness. It was Fr Zini who perceived the spiritual richness within young Marianna and encouraged her to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
At home, when she broached the subject of living a consecrated life within the convent, her father, Francesco, could not bear the thought of being separated from his loving daughter and adamantly forbid it. Marianna resigned herself to living with private vows to God within the confines of her parents' home.
When she was 33 years old, Marianna's mother died and this led her father to become even more attached to her and rely on her presence.
At age 40, when she again expressed her will to leave home in order to take up religious life her father said that in order to leave she must take him, her aunt and sister Gemma with her. "I want you to be near me to close my eyes when my last hour strikes", he pleaded with his daughter.
Finally, in March of 1889 at the age of 41, with the counsel of Fr Zini, Marianna was joined by four young women who were ready to serve Christ in the very poor in what would later become the Congregation she had long desired to found. The first residence, where she could accommodate her relatives and first four companions, was located in Florence next to the parish Church of St Julian.
Fr Zini, who had become the Archbishop of Siena on 25 March 1889, was hesitant about the combination of family-with-religious life and earnestly sought better accommodations. Divine Providence soon provided another dwelling in a different neighbourhood and the family-community benefited from more spacious premises.
Serving God's little onesThe religious spirit and profound union with the Lord of Mother Celestina, as she was now called, expressed itself in her desire to care for the physical and spiritual well-being of the many children who were victims of abandonment or abuse. She opened her first school outside Florence on 28 December 1889. This fledgling religious community sought to provide a Christian education for these poor children and thereby offer them a chance to live a better adult life, not only based on Christian principles but with practical profession skills as well, according to the teaching of St Joseph Calasanz.
But the joyful adventure of establishing a new religious Order, of training young Sisters in the service of the Lord and neighbour, of expressing maternal love in the education of poor children, also came with a heavy cross.
On 5 June 1890, at the age of 19, one of the founding Sisters and the secretary of the newborn Institute, Sr Maura, became sick with consumption and died.Assisting her in her illness and witnessing her slow and steady decline certainly weighed on the heart of her spiritual mother and Foundress.
This illness, sorrowful though it was, proved much more bearable than the sorrowful situations of the children that landed on the Sisters' doorstep.
On 22 January 1891, a woman arrived, saying: "My daughter is in bed, completely bruised by the beating her father gave her. Yesterday evening, the poor thing was not able to sell all the matches and he reduced her to that state. She is sick and I cannot take care of her. Please take her in even for a few days. May God reward you!".
On 19 May 1892, Mother Celestina's spiritual director, co-Founder, and guide, Archbishop Zini, died. She would henceforth be the sole director of the newborn Institute. But her virtue and Fr Zini's wise counsel and Rule assisted her in governing the Institute well and in establishing various communities throughout Italy.
Years later, on a September morning in 1899, another sorrowful situation arose in Livorno. A person brought forward three children "orphaned by law", because their father was condemned to 30 years in prison and his little girls were literally left without food, a roof over their head or any support. This was the beginning of the Order's new apostolate to children of prisoners.
Mother Celestina's accomplishments were possible due to a strong spiritual life. She had great devotion to Jesus Crucified and was an ardent apostle of Eucharistic Adoration. Basing her spirituality on that of St Joseph Calasanz she dedicated herself totally to God's little ones and taught the Sisters to be attentive spiritual mothers and expert educators, guided by maternal love in their delicate duty of helping the children entrusted to their care.
She knew how to instil in her Sisters the spirit of holy poverty. Poverty, in fact, was to mark much of her religious life, especially during the period when in 1922, she undertook the establishment of the Institute at Rome, undergoing considerable financial difficulty.
She died in Florence on 18 March 1925. Her cause for Beatification was introduced on 12 July 1982; on 6 April 1998 her heroic virtues were proclaimed and she was granted the title of Venerable.
On Sunday, 30 March 2008 she was beatified during a special Mass in Florence by Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, C.M.F., Prefect of Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
27 April 2008
Susana Paz Castillo Ramirez was born on 11 August 1863 in Altagracia de Orituco, in the State of Guarico, Venezuela. Her father died when she was 7 years old and the family gradually lost all they had. Her education consisted in rudimentary reading, writing and arithmetic skills.
When Susana was 24 her mother died. The young woman took charge of the family, which in addition to her siblings also included cousins and some of her mother's godchildren.
Venezuelan life at that time was marked by strife, war and civil unrest. Even Nature rebelled with the earthquakes of 1900 and 1929. Following the 1900 earthquake, Altagracia suffered the effects of the "Liberation Revolution", which resulted in devastation, misery and countless wounded, abandoned and injured people. Susana cared for them personally, tending their wounds and preparing them for death.
In 1903 two doctors at Altagracia founded St. Anthony's Hospital, and the parish priest, Fr. Sixto Sosa, encouraged Susana to assist in running it. Soon three other helpers arrived, a little later another two came, and thus a small community of women, living and working together, began. They dedicated themselves to the sick as an expression of their desire to serve the Lord. Fr. Sosa instructed them in the basics of religious life.
"God is Love" was their motto. Each day two of them actually went out and begged for what they needed. When a nurse would tell Susana that there was neither bread nor medicine, she would simply take a basket and go out, returning later with what was needed.
On 31 December 1910 the small community was established as a diocesan Institute and known as "The Sisters of the Poor of Altagracia de Orituco". In 1914 Fr. Sixto was named Apostolic Administrator and then Bishop of the Diocese of Guayana, now the Diocese of Bolivar City. In 1916 Mother Candelaria of St. Joseph, as she was now called, began an 18 month financial campaign to assist her apostolic works. During this time she founded two hospitals: one at Porlamar, on Isla de Margarita, known as the Hospice for the Abandoned, and the other on the mainland at Upata.
During the first years of rapid development and hospital service, the important question of the Congregation's canonical status in accordance with the new Code was left aside.
In 1922, with the arrival of the Carmelite Fathers at Porlamar, Mother Candelaria hoped that they would bring Carmelite Sisters to the island with whom she could affiliate her community. Nothing materialized.
Incorporation with the Carmelites
On 1 January 1925, Mother Candelaria made a formal petition to the Carmelite General for affiliation status, and on 25 March the aggregation was decreed. From then on the Sisters were known as Tertiary Carmelite Sisters. Today, they are known as the Venezuelan Carmelite Sisters. In 1927 Mother Candelaria made her perpetual vows and then received the profession of temporal vows of the other Sisters.
The earthquake of 1929 at Cumana brought Mother Candelaria and two Sisters to that city. There she took charge of a hospital and when a smallpox epidemic broke out she tended those in the isolated zone personally.
On 11 April 1937 the first General Chapter was held. As the burden of responsibility passed from Mother Candelaria to the newly-elected Superior General she gave the example of humility and deference by kneeling before her and kissing her scapular.
With her constant prayer, physical suffering and good example, Mother Candelaria continued to sustain her Community until her death on 31 January 1940.
On 1 October 1974, her cause for Beatification was introduced at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. On 19 April 2004, Pope John Paul II recognized the heroic virtues of the Servant of God.
Mother Candelaria's Beatification was celebrated on 27 April 2008 at Caracas, Venezuela, by the Papal Legate, Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, C.M.F., Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
3 May 2008
Caterina Sordini was born on 16 April 1770 at Grosseto, Italy, the fourth of nine children born into a deeply Catholic family. When she was 17 her father arranged for her to marry a maritime merchant. At first she was against it. but later complied with her father's wishes. The young man gave her a casket of jewels and, having adorned herself, turned to admire her reflection in the mirror but saw the image of the Crucified Christ who asked: "Do you want to leave me for another?".
She took the question seriously and in February 1788 visited the Franciscan Tertiary Monastery in Ischia di Castro. Caterina entered then and there. thus shocking her father who had thought it was merely a visit. She was clothed six months later, taking the name of Sr. Mary Magdalene of the Incarnation.
Heavenly inspiration for an Order
On 19 February 1789, she fell into ecstasy and saw a vision of "Jesus seated on a throne of grace in the Blessed Sacrament, surrounded by virgins adoring him" and heard him telling her: "I have chosen you to establish the work of perpetual adorers who, day and night, will offer me their humble adoration...". Thus, she was called to become a foundress and to spend her life adoring Jesus in the Eucharist. In that turbulent period for the Church she set an example to all.
She was elected Abbess on 20 April 1802. The period of her governance was accompanied by extraordinary phenomena and an increasingly fervent spiritual life, and the abbey thrived. With the consent of her spiritual director and the local Bishop she drafted the rules of the new Institute and set out for Rome on 31 May 1807.
The Perpetual Adorers in Rome
On 8 July that year. she and a few Sisters moved into Sts Joachim and Anne convent, near the Trevi Fountain. Under the French occupation it was confiscated and the Napoleonic laws suppressed her Order. She was exiled to Tuscany.
There she formed a new group of Adorers. On 19 March 1814, when they could return to Rome they settled at Sant'Anna al Quirinale. On 13 February 1818, Pope Pius VII approved the Institute dedicated to perpetual. solemn, public exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Mother Mary Magdalene died in Rome on 29 April 1824. She was buried at Sant'Anna al Quirinale and in 1839 her remains were translated to the Church of Santa Maria Maddalena, the new generalate of the Perpetual Adorers in Rome. Pope John Paul II decreed her heroic virtues in 2001 and in 2007, Benedict XVI recognized a miracle attributed to her intercession.
4 May 2008
Margaret Flesch was born to a poor oil-seed miller on 24 February 1826 in Schönstatt, near Koblenz, in Germany. She was the oldest of seven. When her mother died in 1832 the family moved to Niederbreitbach, in the hope of improving their financial situation. Margaret's father died when she was 16, leaving she and her stepmother to care for her siblings. Since no social services for the poor existed then, the family was left to fend for itself.
Margaret worked as a day labourer, gathered and sold herbs and was skilled in handicrafts. The needs of the people, especially orphans and the sick were one of her major concerns, motivated as she was by strong faith in God she felt called to serve the poor, the sick, and the helpless.
In Autumn 1851, Margaret and her sister Marianne moved into the small quarters at the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Waldbreitbach. They lived parsimoniously, trusting God for their daily sustenance while serving the poor and sick of the community. In addition to working as a day labourer, Margaret took in orphans and taught home economics in some of the nearby schools.
A new dwelling place
In 1856, Margaret was joined by two women who also felt called to serve the poor and sick. In 1860, the local pastor invited them and the orphans to move to premises in Hausen.
These premises proved totally uninhabitable. In the Spring of 1861 they were at last able to begin building their first house on Waldbreitbach Chapel Mountain. It was to be their residence and a home where they could care for the sick. On 11 November 1861, they moved into their first "St. Mary's Home".
On 13 March 1863, with two other women, Margaret professed the evangelical councils publicly in the Chapel of the Holy Cross. She took the name of Rose. She was known henceforth as Mother Rose, the first Superior General of the Franciscan Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Angels.
The growth of the Congregation
Her Congregation increased rapidly. By 1878 there were 105 Sisters serving in 22 mission homes. It was also in that year that she ended her term as Superior General. The Congregation thrived and when Mother Rose died on 25 March 1908 there were 900 Sisters and 72 mission houses serving the sick and the poor.
"It is through service to others, lovingly given", Mother Rose said, "that we reach a special fulfilment and union with our Lord".
In 1957, the cause for her beatification was introduced in Rome.
24 May 2008
Marta Maria Wiecka was born on 12 January 1874 in Nowy Wieck, Poland, the third of 13 children born to a wealthy Catholic couple. At the age of two Marta fell seriously ill; when the doctors could do no more for her the Wiecka family asked Mary, the Mother of God of Piseczno, to intercede and she recovered. Marta was known as a good-natured, prayerful child who helped her mother with the chores, often taking care of her siblings, and who had a special devotion to St. John Nepomucene.
On 3 October 1866. Marta made her first Holy Communion. From then on, Jesus became the centre of her life and she never hesitated to walk the 12 kilometres to the parish church in Skarszewy for Mass.
When she was 16, Marta applied to the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in the neighbouring town of Chelmo, but they told her she was too young to enter. Two years later she tried once again to enter the Congregation. Since the Prussian Government, who dominated that part of Poland had restricted the number of aspirants in the religious community in Chelmo she approached their convent in Krakow and was accepted.
Marta entered the convent on 26 April 1892. On 12 April 1893, she was clothed as a Daughter of Charity and sent on her first mission to a hospital in Lvov. There she quickly acquired the reputation of a Sister who loved her patients and generously served them. In 1894, she was sent to a hospital in Podhajce where she tirelessly served the sick for five years. On 15 August 1897 she made her first vows as a Daughter of Charity, sealing her commitment to serve God in the poor.
In 1899 Sr. Marta went to the house of her Order in Bochnia. During this period Sr. Marta had a vision of Jesus on the Cross; he urged her to endure adversity with patience and promised:, her that one day she would be with him. This experience strengthened her to endure the adversity which was not long in coming. A mentally ill man, recently released from the hospital where Sr. Marta worked, started a rumour that she was pregnant after having an affair with one of her patients — a student who was a nephew of the parish priest. Sr. Marta had to live in the midst of the gossip, and remain in Bochnia until time proved her innocence.
After the unfounded scandal, Sr. Marta was sent to serve at the hospital in Sniatyn. She had a wonderful gift for helping people to be reconciled with God, in fact, she let no one in her care die without receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Both the life and death, of Sr. Marta demonstrated acts of selfless love. It was in fact this selflessness which cost her her life. A young man, a nurse and father, was assigned to disinfect the room of a typhoid patient. Sr. Marta saw his fear and volunteered to perform the task herself. As a result she contracted typhoid. Many prayed for her recovery: even Jews from the local synagogue held a special prayer service for her. Those present at the moment of her death said that she was in ecstasy after receiving her Lord in Holy Communion for the last time. She died on 30 May 1904 in Sniatyn and was buried there. Her grave quickly became the site of prayer and in the years following World War II it became a symbol of unity since various Christian denomination would gather there.
She was beatified on Saturday, 24 May 2008 in the Cathedral of Lvov, Ukraine. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., Secretary of State presided at the rite of beatification.
1 June 2008
Giuseppina Catanea (Sr. Maria Giuseppina of Jesus Crucified) was born on 18 February 1894 in Naples, Italy, into a noble family, the Marquises Grimaldi. Called "Pinella" by her family, as a young child she showed great affection for the poor and most needy, giving money to them. She helped to care for two lonely old women.
Pinella's mother and grandmother set a good Christian example for her. She was especially devoted to Our Lord in the Eucharist and to Mary, praying the Rosary often.
At an early age, Pinella was convinced that Jesus was calling her to Carmel.
Having completed commercial studies, and overcoming the opposition of her mother and family members, on 10 March 1918 Giuseppina entered the Carmelite Community at St. Maria ai Ponti Rossi. As a young religious, she learned to love Christ through suffering, offering herself as a victim for the good of priests. She accepted great physical pain as God's will for her.
Giuseppina was afflicted with tuberculosis of the spine, which completely paralysed her. She owes her miraculous cure to the intercession. of St. Francis Xavier, whose relic was brought to her cell and who appeared to her in a dream.
Although she would have been glad to live in solitude, when the news of her miraculous recovery became known outside the Community, priests, seminarians and persons of every social class came to Ponti Rossi to receive counsel and consolation from her.
In 1932, the Holy See officially recognized the house at Ponti Rossi as a convent of the Discalced Carmelites with the name, "the Carmel of Sts Teresa and Joseph at Ponti Rossi". Pope Pius XI approved the house as a Carmel of the Second Order, with Papal enclosure, placing it under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Naples. Giuseppina received the Carmelite habit and took the name Sr. Maria Giuseppina of Jesus Crucified. On 6 August 1932, she made her Solemn Profession according to the Carmelite Rule.
On the day she took the habit, she said that she wished to offer herself to the Crucified Jesus so that she could be crucified with Him. She suffered silently but joyfully and abandoned herself to the will of God, who favoured her with mystical experiences.
In 1934, Cardinal Alessio Ascalesi, the Archbishop of Naples, appointed Sr. Maria Giuseppina the Sub-prioress of the Carmel, while in 1945 she became the Vicar.
That same year, on 29 September, the first General Chapter of the Ponti Rossi Carmel elected Sr. Maria Giuseppina the Prioress, an office that she held until her death.
Already in 1943 she had begun to suffer various physical maladies, including the progressive loss of her sight. She considered her illnesses to be "a magnificent gift" that allowed her to, be better conformed to the Crucified Christ. With a cheerful spirit, she offered her body as a sacrifice for souls. She died in Naples on 14 March 1948.
In obedience to her spiritual director, Sr. Maria Giuseppina of Jesus Crucified wrote her Autobiography (1894-1932) and her Diary (1925-45), as well as many letters and exhortations for her Sisters.
The beatification ceremony took place on 1 June in the Cathedral of Naples, Italy, at which the Archbishop of Naples, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, presided. The Cardinal Archbishop read a message from Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, C.M.F., Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, for the event.
22 June 2008
Fr Jacques Ghazir Haddad was born on 1 February 1875, in Ghazir, Lebanon, the third of five children. He attended school in Ghazir and then the College de la Sageese in Beirut, where he studied Arabic, French and Syriac.
In 1892 he went to Alexandria, Egypt, to teach Arabic at the Christian Brothers' College, and there he felt the call to the priesthood. He entered the Capuchin Convent in Khashbau the next year. He was ordained a priest on 1 November 1901 in Beirut, Lebanon.
As an itinerant preacher from 1903 to 1914 he walked all over Lebanon proclaiming the Word of God and was given the name "the Apostle of Lebanon". He was also seen preaching in Syria, Palestine, Iraq and Turkey.
In 1919 he bought a piece of land on the hill of Jall-Eddib, north of Beirut, where he built a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Sea. Nearby he erected a great Cross.
Fr Jacques was tireless, he would help anyone in need following in the footsteps of St Francis of Assisi. In 1920, to assist him in this mission to help the sick and the poor, he founded the Franciscan Sisters of the Holy Cross of Lebanon.
The modest work of Fr Jacques aroused the people's admiration, many poor and sick people began to go to the "Cross" and Fr Jacques would welcome them all. In 1950 the "Cross" became exclusively a psychiatric hospital, one of the most modern in the Near East. The movement of charity began to spread throughout Lebanon and Fr Jacques and his Sisters multiplied their works of social assistance.
In 1933 he opened the House of the Sacred Heart in Deir el-Kamar, a girls' orphanage, which later became an asylum for the chronically ill. In 1948 he opened the Hospital of Our Lady for the aged, the chronically ill and the paralyzed. In 1949 St Joseph's Hospital became one of the most important medical centres of the capital.
It was followed in 1950 by St Anthony's House in Beirut for beggars and vagabonds whom the police found on the streets and Providence House for homeless girls.
Even though Fr Jacques was very busy with the hospital mission, he and his Sisters carried on the important work of education and opened several schools as well as an orphanage for 200 girls.
Fr Jacques was worn out by vigils, fatigue and travel. Although he suffered from numerous illnesses, became almost completely blind and was stricken with leukemia, he did not stop blessing God and working. He was lucid to the end, his last hours were an uninterrupted series of prayers invoking the Cross and the Virgin Mary until he died on 26 June 1954 in Lebanon.
His cause for Beatification was introduced in February 1979; on 24 February 1979, His Holiness Pope John Paul II signed the Decree of Introduction of the Cause for Beatification.
On Sunday, 22 June 2008, he was beatified during a special Mass in Beirut by Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, C.M.F., Prefect of Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
Since BI. Haddad's death additional hospitals have opened to assist those injured during the war and to assist the Kabr-Chemoun region where medical services were scarce.
29 June 2008
Mother Josepha Hendrina Stenmanns was born on 28 May 1852, in Issum, Germany, the eldest of seven children. Even as a child she was concerned for the poor and suffering whom she visited with her mother. After leaving school, she contributed to the family income through her work as a silk weaver.
At the age of 19, she joined the Franciscan Third Order which nurtured in her a spirit of simplicity and a deep prayer life. Her wish to consecrate herself to God increased as she absorbed the Franciscan spirit, but the German Kulturkampf (which sought to subject the Roman Catholic Church to State controls) made religious life impossible. When her mother was dying, Hendrina promised to care for her siblings. It began to look as though she would have to renounce the idea of religious life.
Some years later she found her way to Steyl, Holland, where German-born Fr Arnold Janssen, due to the Kulturkampf, had gone to establish a centre to train priests for mission work. Fr Janssen accepted Hendrina's request to be part of the Mission House as a kitchen maid. Her real intention, however, was to support the mission cause by her work in the kitchen. When she arrived in Steyl, she was almost 32 years old. She did not have great plans, but simply wished to do what she recognized as God's will for her at each moment.
Through her decision to live as a kitchen maid, Hendrina stepped down to the lowest rung of the social ladder. A life of hard work and renunciation began that was to last five years as she waited for the women's branch of the Mission House to be founded. On 8 December 1889, she and a few other women became postulants. The foundation of the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit had been laid. The novitiate followed and then in March 1894 she professed first vows and was given the name Josepha.
Sr Josepha was responsible for the practical matters in the house. Later on as directress of postulants she showed great understanding of human nature and was able to introduce young women into religious life with wisdom and empathy.
Sr Josepha was known above all for her love of prayer; she progressed ever more into interior quiet and true contemplation in the midst of her manifold tasks. She loved to pray the rosary and short prayers, especially "Come, Holy Spirit" which became her "mantra", leading her inward to the presence of God in the tabernacle of her heart.
In spite of the burden of work and the demands made by a large, young community, she did not lose herself in pure activity. In the depths of her heart she remained in union with God and maintained her inner peace. For Mother Josepha, religious life meant belonging to God entirely.
The final months of Sr Josepha's life were marked by serious and painful illness. On her deathbed, suffering from asthma, she bequeathed her spiritual testament to the Sisters: Every breath of a Servant of the Holy Spirit ought to be: "Come, Holy Spirit".
She died on 20 May 1903 and was beatified in Steyl, by Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, C.M.F., Prefect of Congregation for the Causes of Saints, on Sunday, 29 June 2008.
24 November 2008
On 1 June 2008, the Holy Father signed the Decree that opened the door to the beatification of 188 Japanese martyrs: Peter Kibe and 187 companions in martyrdom. They were beatified in Nagasaki on 24 November.
These 188 martyrs all died between 1603 and 1639 — during the persecution by the 'Tokugawa shogûns supreme generals. After 350 years, their lives and deaths are still a magnificent example to our society.
At that time Japan was governed nominally by an emperor but was in fact divided into many states governed by a daimyô or feudal lord. These landowners were frequently at odds with one another, seeking to increase their property.
Although barely known elsewhere, Peter Kibe and his 187 companion martyrs are famous in the Church of Japan and in their hometowns.
The question thus naturally arises: Why are they being beatified today? Why are they so numerous? The simple answer is that when the 26 Saints were canonized in 1862, and in 1867 when the 205 martyr victims of the Tokugawa shogûns persecution were beatified, the Japanese Church as such did not exist.
The surviving Christians in Japan were forced underground but this did not save them from the last persecution during the first five years of the Meiji era (1868-73).
Indeed, St. Francis Xavier had predicted with foresight that Christianity in Japan would meet with every sort of difficulty and harsh persecution (letter 110, 5-7). This, the Saint explained, was due to the open hostility of influential Buddhist monks and power struggles among the more important daimyôs [large estate owners]. He also foresaw that the European nations' race to establish commercial relations with Japan would give rise to serious obstacles for evangelization. St. Francis Xavier also noted that Japanese feudal society was closed to the outside world. This was partly because relations were based on the ethical values of Confucianism: the sense of belonging to the group, respect and fidelity to the head of the family, to one's ancestors and leaders of civil society. These values were perceived as a religion or "right doctrine" and therefore clashed with the dissemination of the Gospel.
Thus Francis emphasized the missionaries' need to demonstrate deep humility and friendliness, courage and fortitude in trials; he also invited them to study the local culture and religion with attention and respect.
There were no Japanese Bishops or priests in Japan who could have spoken out for that martyred Church. The number of known martyrs must easily have reached 10,000 but when the processes took place in Rome, the various religious orders that worked in Japan presented their own martyred members before their Japanese collaborators.
Hence, the Christians who suffered the full force of the persecution were left in the shade notwithstanding that they too had suffered cruel tortures, remained faithful to death for having held on to the deposit of faith handed down by the missionaries who had passed through.
The 188 Japanese martyrs beatified had a name, a family, a house and a job. Some were noble and powerful, many belonged to the respected class of the samurai. Numerous others were common people or simple peasants and many still children or adolescents.
Four of the martyrs were priests and one a religious — Peter Kibe was a Jesuit; 183 of them were lay people, two of whom were women, 33 under the age of 20 and 18 children under the age of five. Some entire families suffered martyrdom together. The martyrs came from various parts of Japan. They were esteemed and loved by the people as a source of light for society.
That social, political, military and economic errors or incidents fuelled the persecution of Christians cannot be denied. Historical documents inform us that several daimyôs who embraced the Christian faith had gates made in the precincts of their property where European traders' boats could safely land when Japan was closed to foreigners. Trade enriched these daimyôs, enabling them to improve their own armies with new weapons and to build their own naval fleet. Their wealth and the increase in their power ended when they frightened the shogûns himself.
Moreover, some daimyôs, for reasons of kinship or politics, had chosen to openly oppose the central government and others had become entangled in court intrigues and plots. This made them even more unpopular so that the shogun listed them among dangerous enemies to be eliminated, together with the leaders of the religion they professed.
Small local incidents then gave the shogûn an opportunity to issue orders against Christians, to enforce temporary forms of repression, to expel or to execute Christian groups.
To discover who secretly continued being faithful to Christianity, the shogun prescribed an annual "verification of the faith". Those tested had to stomp upon a sacred Christian image before magistrates. Many Christians refused, preferring martyrdom; others, to avoid torture and save their families, forsook Christianity. Yet others reached a compromise: they would seemingly obey, walking over the image, but remain faithful to Christ in their hearts. They trod on the image with delicately arched bare feet. They would later recite the act of contrition, make a private act of penitence in reparation and renew their baptismal promises. In this way the yearly event became a moment of confirmation in the Faith.
After the victory of Sekigahara (1600), Tokugawa Ieyasu became the real supreme leader of Japan with the title of shogûn. He usurped the emperor's political and military power, subjecting all the daimyôs to his own central authority and destroying the most powerful fiefs. Several Christian daimyôs, his opponents, paid the price. They were killed, exiled, or transferred to the outskirts with unimportant posts.
In the edict of February 1614, official for the whole country, the shogûn Ieyasu decided that the time had come to put an end to Christianity. On 27 January he issued an edict that marked the end of tolerance. It focused mainly upon "the Christians who have come to Japan, not only with their ships for trade exchanges but also in order to disseminate a wicked law, to destroy the 'right doctrine' and thus to change the country's government and take possession of our land". From that moment Christianity was always to be presented as jakyô, a "wicked religion".
The daimyôs were ordered to send all foreign missionaries to Nagasaki for deportation to Macao or Manila. Christians were forced to return to the ancient faith, renouncing their religion.
After the missionaries' departure, all of the churches were destroyed. The most visible Christians were persecuted. Takayama Ukon and Naito Tadatoshi were exiled to Manila with their families. About 70 Christians from Kyoto and Osaka were condemned to forced labour and sent to distant regions.
Ieyasu did not want bloodshed but dozens of Christians were killed by local daimyôs in Bungo, Arima and Kuchinotsu, in Kyushu, because of their personal aversion to Christianity or a desire to please the dictator. After Ieyasu's death in 1616 the persecution grew more violent.
Between 1617 and 1621, Tokugawa Iemitsu, a cruel and capricious 19 year-old, became .shogûn. He tolerated no criticism. The Christians' resistance annoyed him so he unleashed a more violent persecution against them.
Then on 6 October 1619 in Kyoto, after parading them through the streets to be mocked, 52 Christians were lined up before a statue of Buddha and burnt alive, tied to crosses. Of the 26 men and 26 women, 11 were under the age of 15. The scene of several of these children tied to a cross with their mother inspired a British merchant to recount the tenacity of the mother's faith that he witnessed that day when she cried: "Lord Jesus, receive the souls of these children".
In 1623 Iemitsu closed the country to foreign trade and extended the persecution throughout Japan. In a show of power to the daimyôs, he made them watch what would later be called the Great Martyrdom of Tokyo, during which 50 Christians were burned alive.
The people and the persecutors were astounded by the fortitude of the Christians. Irritated by their joyful, tenacious fidelity to Christ, after 1627 Iemitsu had them tortured ferociously to cause apostasy. They would be buried alive, sawn into pieces or immersed in boiling sulphurous water. In one of the most sophisticated and painful forms of torture, Christians were hung upside down so that the blood flowed to the head creating unbearable pain. The person frequently tortured in this way lost his mind and the capacity for resistance and would begin to relent, Several foreign missionaries who had stayed on in Japan or entered illegally did relent, and were held in a prison in Yedo known as "the house of the Christians".
In 1640 the Portuguese sent a ship with an embassy of. four nobles to Nagasaki to negotiate new trade openings with the Japanese Government. They were seized on arrival, tortured and killed with their crew of 57 men.
After 1644 the persecution became more acute but news of it no longer reached the West. It is known that many Christians left their native regions to live in hiding in the most remote of places, yet where the spy network would often discover them.
The details of the historical accounts may vary, but the persistent persecution of Japanese Christians is undeniable, with all ages and ranks subject to being captured, tortured, sent into forced labour and crowned by martyrdom with untold cruelty.
Statistics state that in Kyushyu, in 1649, 97 Christians suffered martyrdom, and in 1658 411 of the 608 Christians captured near Ômura were killed: 78 of them died in prison and 99 under torture. Between 1660 and 1670, again in Kyushu, more than 2,700 Christians were hunted down and the majority killed.
After pressure from Europe; countries in 1873, the Japanese Government annulled the edict of persecution. In 1888 it recognized religious freedom for its citizens and in 1899 the freedom to spread one's faith. These steps gradually led to the end of open persecution, but was only with the Constitutions 1946 that Japan recognized equal rights for all religions, finally putting an end to open and hidden discrimination against Christians.
In looking back, historians have calculated the sum total of Japan martyrs at numbers ranging from more than 3,000 to 300,000. Thus, those 188 recently beatified models of relentless faith are but few among many who emerge from the history of Christian persecution in Japan.
Bl. José Olallo Valdés (1820-1889)
Blessed José Olallo Valdés was born in Havana, Cuba, on 12 February 1820. Son of unknown parents, he was entrusted to the care of St. Joseph's Orphanage in Havana, where he was baptized on 15 March 1820. He lived and studied at the Children's Home and the Charity House, becoming a serious and responsible boy. When he was a young teenager he entered the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God in the community of Sts Philip and James in Havana.
Despite many obstacles, he constantly upheld his decision, making profession as a religious Hospitaller. In April of 1835 he was transferred to the city of Puerto Principe (today Camaguey), in the St. John of God Hospital, where he spent the rest of his life dedicated to serving the sick as an exemplary son of his spiritual father, St. John of God. In 54 years he was absent from the hospital only one night, and for reasons independent of his will. Initially he served as an assistant nurse, then at age 25 he became "head nurse" and later, in 1856, the community's superior.
During a period of suppression of religious Orders by liberal Spanish rule, which also brought about the confiscation of ecclesiastical property, Brother Jose lived his consecrated life facing great sacrifices and difficulties with uprightness and strength of spirit. From 1876, when his last companion Brother died, to 1889, the year of his death, he lived alone working to serve the sick, always faithful to God, to his conscience, to his vocation and charism.
During the 10 Years' War (1868-78), he proved courageous while working for the good of everyone and caring for the patients, but with preference to the most weak and poor. He put his life in jeopardy during times of difficulty, helping the slaves, defending the hospital, etc. He also defended with "sweet firmness" all those without government permission to be treated, regardless of their social or political backgrounds during a period of civil war. This gained him the respect of military authorities and thus he was able to intercede for the people of Camaguey, without succumbing to intimidation by threats or prohibitions, and in this way prevented a civil massacre.
His apostolate was aimed to assist the dying whom he accompanied in the last hours of their lives, on the journey towards eternity. For his unbounded goodness he was nicknamed "apostle of charity" and "father of the poor" which summarizes well Bl. Jose's altruism, lived in perfect conformity to the charism of hospitality.
Brother Olallo Valdes' death on 7 March 1889 was considered the death of a just man, of a Saint. With his passing the fame of his holiness increased daily, mainly among the people of Camaguey, who attributed graces and continuing help to his intercession.
Later, the recovery of a 3-year-old child. Daniela Cabrera Ramos was recognized as a true miracle by His Holiness Benedict xvi with the Decree promulgated on 15 March 2008.
Brother Olallo Valdés' beatification ceremony took place in the city of Camaguey, Cuba, on 29 November 2008, presided by Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, C.M.F., Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
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