Coronavirus Threat Recalls Historic Sacrifice of Eight Mercedarian Friars


Fr. Juan Carlos Saavedra, our Master General, and Pope Francis

Head of the Mercedarian Friars Asks for Help on Feast of St. Joseph, March 19


Mercedarian friars proved their mettle years ago by stepping up to the plate to help victims of disease in a city overcome by despair.


Eight friars of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy heroically gave aid to the people of plague-stricken Palermo in 1625-26, and as a result died of contracting the disease, said Fr. Daniel Bowen, O. de M. Fr. Daniel is based at a Cleveland, OH parish and is the Order’s vocation director in the United States.


“These men generously offered their own lives to the people of Palermo,” he said, adding, “This shows that Christians have dealt with such troubles as the coronavirus before, and this will not keep us back from loving the Lord and one another.”


“Prompted by the demands of their fourth vow, these religious men centuries ago put themselves at the material and spiritual service of the plague-stricken people.”


The fourth vow of the Order of Mercy involves offering up one’s own life to ransom those Christians who are held captive because of their faith in Christ. The Order was founded in 1218 in Spain to redeem Christians held captive by Muslims.


“Other religious who had been infected went back after they recovered,” he added, “to serve those plague-stricken people without worrying about the risks.” He said that there was a ninth person in the effort who also died, a Mercedarian tertiary. Tertiaries, also known as members of the Third Order, are typically lay persons who align themselves with a religious order.

In response to the threat of the coronavirus, the Order’s Master General in Rome, Fr. Juan Carlos Saavedra Lucho, O. de M. wrote in a March 14 letter sympathizing with those suffering in a world that is “convulsed.” He asked that his friars around the world make a "Chain of Redemptive Love" dedicated to St. Joseph on March 19, his feast day.


This effort would be, he said,


“...a sign of our concern for those most affected in the world. Together with all of you, I have the faith and hope that after testing, our faith increases and after the storm comes the calm; but we need to be signs of fraternal charity through the antidote of universal prayer in the Church. In this way, I invite you to make fraternal prayer among religious and the faithful in all Mercedarian communities be the footprints of our evangelizing mission.”


Thus, the master general was asking his own Mercedarian friars to pray, and to pray together with their parishioners and those whom they serve in this effort.

His letter included a passage that could be used as a prayer:


“May this time of Lent en route towards Easter be a time of true fasting, conversion, and solidarity with what God wants from us. Let us follow the instructions provided by the various institutions concerned with the health of the world. Let us take care of our bodies with corporal hygiene and spiritual cleanliness. Let us help the new captives so that they can overcome the psychosis, the chaos, the anxiety and uncertainty of each day, showing that the Mercedarian is always at the side of the sick and needy."

On Sunday, March 15, Pope Francis visited two shrines in Rome known for their association with prayerful efforts to rid the city of plagues. He went to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and then walked along one of Rome’s main streets to visit St. Marcello Church.


And the week before, about 100 Catholics gathered at the Cathedral of St. Paul in Birmingham, AL in an outdoor procession as part of an ancient Catholic ritual, the “Penitential Procession in Time of Mortality or Epidemic.”


The 16th century ritual included a litany of the saints with the prayer, “From plague, famine, and war, Lord, deliver us … That you deliver us from the scourge of pestilence, we beg you to hear us.”

Friars of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy can be found in 22 countries, and mainly in the Americas, Italy and India. In the United States, they serve in parishes, hospitals and schools as well as marriage and prison ministry in Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and Florida.


To learn more about the Mercedarian Friars USA, Contact Fr. Daniel Bowen, O. de M., at frdanielbowen@gmail.com, or Br. Dominic Whetzel, O. de M. at socialmediacoordinator.merced@gmail.com.


References:

Mercedarian Historical Synthesis, pg. 74.

“Chain of Redemptive Prayer” March 14, 2020 letter of Master General.

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