Monthly Archives: May 2017

Twentieth century martyrs

Today is the feast day of several twentieth century martyrs.

St. Toribio Romo (1900-1928) was a Mexican priest who was killed during the time of the Cristero rebellion. He was not involved directly in the rebellion but had continued his ministry despite the prohibitions of the authorities. On February 28, 1928, soldiers broke into his room and shot him.

His short life has been overshadowed by a ministry that he has assumed after death. A number of migrants from Mexico to the United States have be assisted by a young priest when they were in dire circumstances who identified himself as Toribio Romo. A few stories can be found here. He is thus invoked as a protector of migrants, many of whom visit his shrine in Santa Ana de Guadalupe, Jalisco.

Today is also the feast of Blessed Franz Jägerstëtter (1907-1943), an Austrian peasant who refused to serve in Hitler’s army, despite the admonitions of friends and clergy. He saw Nazism as a train headed to hell and refused to be part of this. His story would have been forgotten if the US Catholic sociologist Gordon Zahn had not published his life and some of his letters in the early 1960s in the book In Solitary Witness. His witness against war influenced many, including me, in our opposition to the Viet Nam war and to war in general.

Today is also the anniversary of the martyrdom in 1996 of the Trappist Martyrs of Our Lady of Atlas in Algiers. Their story is beautifully portrayed in the films Of Gods and Men. Their witness has inspired me since I first read their story in John W. Kiser’s The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria.

Especially poignant is the last testimony of the prior, Christian de Chergé which he wrote several years before his death. The full text can be found in several languages here. In the last sentences he addressed his future killers:

And also you, my last-minute friend, who will not have known what you were doing:
Yes, I want this THANK YOU and this GOODBYE to be a “GOD-BLESS” for you, too, because in God’s face I see yours.
May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both.
Amen! In sh’ Allah!”

His words of love for those who killed him are an inspiration in a time when we demonize our opponents and enemies.

These martyrs – and many others – can teach us about the love of God who does not leave us orphans and which calls us to care for the migrant, to refuse to kill, and to love our enemies.

Parasites, amoebas, and bacteriological infections

I’ve been feeling tired lately, but I attributed it to the work and the hot weather. I felt that my face was hot, but I attributed this to being out in the sun. I had diarrhea on Friday morning, but I attributed that to something I had eaten.

But Friday afternoon I felt totally exhausted and laid down for a few hours. I missed a call from a friend, one of the Dubuque Franciscan sisters here and mentioned that I wasn’t feeling well. She handed the phone to another sister who is a nurse. After listening to my symptoms she wondered if I had parasites or amoebas. She gave me a few ideas on how to get comfortable (including sleeping with an ice pack (or, in my case, a frozen towel) on my stomach.

After a few diarrhea episodes during the night, I went to a clinic in Dulce Nombre this morning and had blood and fecal tests. It ends up that I have parasites, amoebas, AND bacteriological infections. So life goes. They gave me two antibiotics intravenously in saline solution, together with an anti-spasmodic. After examining the tests, they gave me three medicines to take. I hope this gets over soon.


But this morning as I awoke, late and after almost 12 hours in bed, I sat up and had deep feeling of peace. Instead of being angry or upset, there was peace – a real gift. Now I don’t know how long this peace will last, but I want to give thanks to God. In the middle of discomfort, God graced me with peace.

The blood of the poor

One way to keep poor is not to accept money
which is the result of defrauding the poor.
Dorothy Day, May, 1952

Saint Ignatius of Laconi, Sardinia, was a Capuchin brother who died on May 11, 1781, noted most of all for his begging. While begging he not only gave people a chance to share but he also brought about reconciliation between peoples and converted sinners.

A notorious merchant in town, Franchino, was enraged that Brother Ignatius never stopped at his door to beg alms, because the merchant had built his fortune by defrauding the poor.

Franchino complained to the guardian of the Capuchins who ordered Brother Ignatius to stop and beg from the merchant. Brother Ignatius agreed but said, “Very well. If you wish it, Father, I will go, but I would not have the Capuchins dine on the blood of the poor.”

What happened next is extraordinary – but true to the reality of the situation.

As Dorothy Day wrote:

“But hardly had Ignatius left the house with his sack on his shoulder when drops of blood began oozing through the sack. They trickled down on Franchino’s doorstep and ran down through the street to the monastery. Everywhere Ignatius went, a trickle of blood followed him. When he arrived at the friary, he laid the sack at the Father Guardian’s feet.  “What is this?” gasped the Guardian. “This,” St. Ignatius said, “is the blood of the poor.”

The quote from Dorothy Day is found in Robert Ellsberg’s By Little and By Little: The Selected Writings of Dorothy Day, pages 108-109.

A martyr’s tribute to another martyr

Before the current wave of martyrs in the Middle East, most recently those killed in Egypt on Palm Sunday, there were a good number of martyrs in Algeria in the 1990s.

The most famous of these are the Trappists of Tibhirine who were kidnapped on March 27, 1996, and then killed. John Kiser wrote The Monks of Tibhirine; Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria. The moving film Of Gods and Men is one of the most moving films I have ever see.

Their prior, Fr. Christian de Chergé, OCSO, wrote an incredible testament, available here in English and French.

But there were many others.

On May 8, 1994, two years before his martyrdom, Fr. Henri-Barthelemy Verges, Marist brother, and Sister Paule-Hélène Saint Raymund, Little Sister of the Assumption, were killed in Algiers, Algeria.

On July 5, 1994, Père Christian wrote this about Père Henri-Barthelemy:

“I was personally very close to Henri. His death seemed to be so natural, just part of a long life entirely given to the small, ordinary duties. He seemed to me to belong to the category that I call ‘martyrs of hope,’ those who are never spoken of because all their blood is poured out in patient endurance of day-to day life. I understand ‘monastic martyrdom’ in the same sense. It is this instinct that leads us not to change anything here at present, except for an ongoing effort at conversion. But there again, no change!”

Martyrdom is not always something extraordinary. It is often the closure on a life given over in love to the tasks of daily life.

This reminded me of what Blessed Monseñor Oscar Romero wrote in his retreat notebook, in March 1980, shortly before his martyrdom,

“My disposition should be to give my life for God, however it should end. The grace of God will enable us to live through the unknown circumstances. He aided the martyrs and, if it should be necessary that I die as they did, I will feel him very close to me at the moment of breathing my last breath. But more important than the moment of death is to give him all my life and live for him and for my own mission.”

What is important is the daily martyrdom, the giving over oneself to God and others. This is the witness – the martirio – of those who seek to follow the Cross of Christ to the Resurrection – a life of continual conversion