All World Youth Days have patron saints – at least since Rome 2000. The whole point is that saints are models for us. All of us need examples of holiness, especially when thrust into the World Youth Day-emotional-tidal-wave.
Panama was no different. There were eight patron saints – you probably know who they are: St. John Paul II
, St. Oscar Romero
, St. Jose Sanchez del Rio, St. Maria Meneses, St. Juan Diego, St. John Bosco, St. Rose of Lima, and St. Martin de Porres. All great models of holiness! Look them up if you don't know who they are.
But what I realized, as we entered the January 22-27 week of WYD, is that our liturgical calendar was packed (I mean packed
) with saints whose feast days took place during those days. It's not every week that offers a feast day or memorial every day, so this week was quite extraordinary.
You'll see what I mean.
They became my companions for WYD Panama.
Here they are, starting a few days before Jan 22 (because these two are great saints too):
January 20: St. Sebastian, Martyr
According to St. Ambrose, Sebastian went to Rome looking for suffering (that should not be modeled). But what moved me is that he arrived there as a stranger and endured suffering because of the Diocletian persecution of Christians. He is usually depicted tied to a tree and shot with arrows. But this did not kill him. After he recovered, apparently he went to Diocletian to warn him of his sins and was clubbed to death. He was either courageous or cocky. Let's go with courageous.
January 21: St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr
St. Ambrose also wrote about St. Agnes, who was one of the patrons of WYD Toronto 2002
. She died at age twelve for refusing to marry. I understand that it was her own parents who agreed to her death. What a brave young girl – or extremely naive! Maybe we need to be more innocent, trusting, and naive.
January 22: St. Vincent of Saragossa, Deacon and Martyr (Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Children)
We’re now up to three martyrs (what does that tell us about WYD?). I’m happy that there is at least one deacon in the group. Vincent also died during the Diocletian persecution, but in Valencia, Spain.
St. Augustine wrote about him: “By some miracle, as Vincent suffered, one person was speaking while another was being tortured.”
St. Augustine says this is true because Christ has conquered the world. Christ has promised this to those who are to be his witnesses.
This day is also, in the U.S. (I am not sure if this is worldwide) the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. Especially in this day and age, we need to pray for the protection of all children, not just the unborn. We need to protect them. This is a perfect thing to do during a WYD.
January 23: St. Marianne Cope (and death anniversary of Mary Ward)
Marianne Cope was a courageous woman who agreed to go to Molokai to work with St. Damian and live in his leper colony. Apparently, Damian asked dozens of women’s religious congregations to help him and none responded. Marianne Cope did. Like Sebastian, she went into the unknown and gave herself, not as a martyr, but in service to those who were marginalized.
This day is also the anniversary of Venerable Mary Ward, a British woman who, in the times of Catholic persecution in Elizabethan England, felt the call to religious life. She went to Belgium, where she could be a religious sister, but returned to England to found a non-enclosed community of women to do apostolic work in the world. This was unheard of at the time. So much so that she was charged with heresy by the very Catholic Church. She was imprisoned briefly but lived the rest of her days unable to pursue her dream.
Almost 60 years later, the pope approved the rule of her institute, and Pope Benedict XVI declared her venerable. How’s that for vindication?
January 24: St. Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor
It is also fitting that among this group we have one doctor of the Church. Francis was Bishop of Geneva and is well known for his writings and works. Perhaps one of his most notable works is The Introduction to the Devout Life
, a book that everyone should read. Francis’ proposal was that holiness, or the devout life, is for everyone, not just those in religious life or the ordained.
He writes: “Devotion must be practiced in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman.”
How right he was! Isn’t that what many experience during WYD? That we can all be holy without having to be a priest or a nun (and definitely without being weird).
January 25: Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle
I’m sure you’re all familiar with St. Paul. He persecuted Christians, had a conversion on the road to Damascus, and became the apostle to the Gentiles. Some would credit him with the formal creation of the Church (although he himself would disagree). His letters provide, to this day, wonderful nourishment to all who read them.
St. John Chrysostom says of Paul: “The most important thing of all to him, was that he knew himself to be loved by Christ.”
Is that the most important thing for you? Do you feel loved by Christ?
January 26: Sts. Timothy and Titus, Bishops
I love these two guys. There’s something relatable, at least for me. They did not know Jesus firsthand. They were disciples of St. Paul – sort of third-generation Christians. That’s like us. All we know about Christ and the faith came to us from someone who learned it from someone else. The letters Paul wrote to them are called Pastoral Epistles, which is also why I like them, because they are full of practical pastoral advice that is very relevant to all pastors (and laity) even today. I like them because for much of their career, they were assistants, and then when they became leaders of their own churches, they still had Paul writing to them, exhorting them and encouraging them. Some of us will never be leaders and will remain assistants, but we all need encouragement.
January 27: St. Angela Merici, Virgin
People in my parish of Holy Martyrs of Japan in Bradford will be happy with this one, as the Ursulines, founded by Angela Merici, were very active in our community of Bradford, Ontario, for many, many years. One of our elementary schools is named after her. The Ursulines began their work by teaching poor girls in Brescia, Italy.
St. Angela writes in her spiritual testament to her sisters: “be concerned with every one of your daughters. Bear them, so to speak, engraved upon your hearts... This will not be difficult for you if you embrace them with a living love.”
What good advice for anyone working with youth! It’s good advice for anyone working with people: be concerned for those you work with. Sadly, so often this is not true of the Church. It’s not always true of those who work for WYD. Let’s take St. Angela Merici’s advice to heart.
January 28: St. Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Doctor
Another doctor and a heavy hitter at that! Thomas was a Dominican and is renowned for his philosophical and theological studies and writings.
He wrote: “If you seek patience, you will find no better example than the cross. Great patience occurs in two ways: either when one patiently suffers much or when one suffers things which one is able to avoid and yet does not avoid.”
Sounds like WYD to me!
Bonus: January 31: St. John Bosco, Priest
Even though WYD ended several days ago, I could not leave without including John Bosco here because he is also a powerhouse saint and because his feast day, January 31, is my birthday. John Bosco is actually one of the real Patrons for WYD 2019, and there is a huge devotion to him in Panama. He dedicated himself to the education and care of the young.
St. John Bosco wrote to his brothers in much the same way that Angela Merici did in speaking of the youth they worked with: “They are our sons, and so in correcting their mistakes we must lay aside all anger and restrain it so firmly that it is extinguished entirely. There must be no hostility in our minds, no contempt in our eyes, no insult on our lips. We must use mercy for the present and have hope for the future.”
Good advice for all – not just those working with youth.
So there you have it: my list of WYD Panama saints, as offered to us by our liturgical calendar.
Priests, bishops, doctors, deacons, martyrs, virgins, religious women, apostles, assistants, disciples, and at least one lay person, Sebastian, who went looking for the crown of holiness. I would not recommend that you look for it the way he did, but you must look for it. You should also look further into the lives of these men and women. If you hadn't heard about any of them, look them up. I'm sure you'll find something inspiring. (And to learn more about WYD, go to our wonderful micro site: wydcentral.org
Even though it is not apparent from what you can read about their lives (and definitely not from what I've written about them), I couldn't help but sense that there was a loneliness to these saints. Perhaps it's something that all of us have to experience the more detached we get from this life and the closer we set our eyes on Heaven.
I say this because WYD always leaves me with a sense of loneliness. Maybe it's the fall after the heightened excitement. Maybe it's withdrawal. Maybe it's a reminder that we do not belong to this world: That's a reminder that we are created for holiness.
May these holy men and women inspire you to love like them, to serve like them, to teach like them, to learn like them, to preach like them, to trust like them; to give yourselves to Christ like them.
Saint Agnes by Massimo Stanzione
Vicente de Zaragoza by Tomás Giner
Portrait of St. Francis de Sales by Jean Baptiste Costaz
Detail of stained glass window depicting St. Timothy by Edward Burne-Jones
Vision of St Thomas Aquinas by Santi di Tito
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: [email protected]