Saints of the Church

St. Martin of Tours

(316-397, Gaul, modern day France)

Feast Day: November 11

Patronage: against poverty, horses,

soldiers, various towns

St. Martin was born in present-day Hungary and grew up in northern Italy.  At the age of 10, he began to attend a Christian church, which had only recently been legalized, against his parents’ wishes, and became a catechumen.  At the age of 15, he joined the Roman cavalry.  While he was still a young soldier, he came across a beggar in Amiens (present-day France).  This man had no clothing and was very cold.  Martin removed his cloak, cut it in half, and gave half to the beggar.  That night, he had a vision of Christ who said “Martin, a mere catechumen, has clothed me.”  Around the age of 20, he told his superiors that he could no longer fight due to his Christian conscience, thus becoming the first conscientious objector in history.  When he was threatened with imprisonment, he agreed to go into battle unarmed to prove that he was not a coward.  Fortunately, the opposing army agreed to a truce before the battle, and Martin was released from military service.

He now traveled to Tours to study under St. Hilary of Poitiers.  After some time, he had a vision to visit his mother, so he did and brought her to the faith as well.  He next focused on confronting the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ.  When Arian leader threatened him with violence, he was forced to flee to an island where he lived as a hermit.

In 361, he was able to return to Tours to continue his study under Hilary.  He then established the Ligue Abbey with some Benedictine monks where he continued to evangelize the local area.  In 371, he was named the bishop of Tours, which he reluctantly accepted.  He continued to teach the faith, visiting every parish in his diocese each year, until he died in 397.

St. Martin of Tours was an extremely popular saint in Europe during the Middle Ages, representing the best of the virtues tied to chivalry.  He remained popular through the 20th century, especially as the patron saint of soldiers.  Thus, it came as no surprise to Catholic Europeans who had been praying to him for the end of the First World War, that Armistice was called on his feast day, November 11, 1918.

St. Martin of Tours, pray for us.

The Story of the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed

The Church has encouraged prayer for the dead from the earliest times as an act of Christian charity. “If we had no care for the dead,” Augustine noted, “we would not be in the habit of praying for them.” Yet pre-Christian rites for the deceased retained such a strong hold on the superstitious imagination that a liturgical commemoration was not observed until the early Middle Ages, when monastic communities began to mark an annual day of prayer for the departed members.

In the middle of the 11th century, Saint Odilo, abbot of Cluny, France, decreed that all Cluniac monasteries offer special prayers and sing the Office for the Dead on November 2, the day after the feast of All Saints. The custom spread from Cluny and was finally adopted throughout the Roman Church.

The theological underpinning of the feast is the acknowledgment of human frailty. Since few people achieve perfection in this life but, rather, go to the grave still scarred with traces of sinfulness, some period of purification seems necessary before a soul comes face-to-face with God. The Council of Trent affirmed this purgatory state and insisted that the prayers of the living can speed the process of purification.

Observances of a more religious nature have survived. These include public processions or private visits to cemeteries and decorating graves with flowers and lights. This feast is observed with great fervor in Mexico.

Saint John Paul II’s Story

“Open wide the doors to Christ,” urged John Paul II during the homily at the Mass where he was installed as pope in 1978.

Born in Wadowice, Poland, Karol Jozef Wojtyla had lost his mother, father, and older brother before his 21st birthday. While working in a quarry and a chemical factory, he enrolled in an “underground” seminary in Kraków. Ordained in 1946, he was immediately sent to Rome where he earned a doctorate in theology. Fr. Wojtyla earned a doctorate in philosophy and began teaching that subject at Poland’s University of Lublin.

Communist officials allowed Wojtyla to be appointed auxiliary bishop of Kraków in 1958, considering him a relatively harmless intellectual. They could not have been more wrong! Bishop Wojtyla attended all four sessions of Vatican II and contributed especially to its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Appointed as archbishop of Kraków in 1964, he was named a cardinal three years later. Elected pope in October 1978, he took the name of his short-lived, immediate predecessor. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. In time, he made pastoral visits to 124 countries, including several with small Christian populations. John Paul II promoted ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, especially the 1986 Day of Prayer for World Peace in Assisi. He also established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. He improved Catholic-Muslim relations, and in 2001 visited a mosque in Damascus, Syria.

The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a key event in John Paul’s ministry, was marked by special celebrations in Rome and elsewhere for Catholics and other Christians. Relations with the Orthodox Churches improved considerably during his papacy. “Christ is the center of the universe and of human history” was the opening line of John Paul II’s 1979 encyclical, Redeemer of the Human Race. In 1995, he described himself to the United Nations General Assembly as “a witness to hope.” His 1979 visit to Poland encouraged the growth of the Solidarity movement there and the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe 10 years later. John Paul II began World Youth Day and traveled to several countries for those celebrations.

One of the most well-remembered photos of John Paul II’s pontificate was his one-on-one conversation in 1983, with Mehmet Ali Agca, who had attempted to assassinate him two years earlier. In his 27 years of papal ministry, John Paul II wrote 14 encyclicals and five books, canonized 482 saints and beatified 1,338 people. In the last years of his life, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was forced to cut back on some of his activities. Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul II in 2011, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014.