Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Feast of Martin de Porres - A Diplomat's Farewell

In the winter of 2002, St. John's, NL Archbishop Martin Currie (then bishop only of Grand Falls, NL) and I travelled to Perú to visit the former Halifax Archdiocesan mission in La Vittoria (Chiclayo), where he had served for five years in the later 1970s.

It was a wonderful couple of weeks where we we joyfully received and shown an extraordinarily warm welcome. Of course, we also visited the famous Machu Picchu ruins and spent time in Lima, the capital (hosted by the OMIs for most of a week).

This allowed me to get to know for the first time at close hand the devotion to Señor de los Milagros, the most important feast with tradition and devotion of the whole of Perú, usually October 18-28).

And to get to know the heroic holy ones of Perú: St. Turibius di Mongrovejo (feast day March 23), the holy bishop who confirmed St. Rose of Lima (feast day August 23) and the one whose feast is today, St. Martin de Porres.

Each of these saints is of special interest. Below are a few facts regarding the first of two saints Martin honoured this month (St. Martin of Tours is remembered on November 11).


Saint Martin de Porres was born in 1579, in Lima Peru, the son of a black/mulatto freed slave and a Spanish nobleman. At first, because of the stigma of having dark skin in a culture dominated by Spanish aristocrats, Martin's father did not acknowledge Martin and his sister, and deserted Martin's mother leaving her to fend for herself and her children by bringing in laundry to her home in the slums of Lima.

By the time Martin was 10 or 12, however, his father had a change of heart for the better. He began to support the children, and aquired an apprenticeship for Martin as a barber/surgeon's assistant. Martin was overjoyed at this.

Having lived with discrimination of color and of lack of legal parentage all his life, he could have become bitter and troublesome, but instead he was blessed by God with a gentle spirit, a heart's understanding of humility, and a desire to serve God in prayer and charity, the positive fruits of this particular type of suffering.

Martin used his good fortune at his apprenticeship to further his opportunities to serve the suffering. Even this young, in his teens, his landlady (from whom Martin had begged used candles) spied him through the keyhole in ecstatic prayer.

At around the age of 15 he was received into the Dominican friary as a tertiary and servant, apparently quietly taking on the most menial of duties. After nine years of denying himself entrance into the order as a lay brother because of his self-held unworthiness, he finally relented and was made a Coadjutor Brother, and promoted to Almoner.

He is recorded as having begged and received $2000 per day, an amount many say was miraculous in origin, which he used to feed and care for the sick and poor of all races of Lima. He was also made head of the infirmary, caring for the sick of the Dominican order.

Life was not all joy for Martin at the friary. He was often in "trouble" with his superiors for what they perceived as overzealousness in his solicitude for the poor, hungry and sick. Hungry, dirty people in large numbers were forever "roaming" the friary in search of Martin's care as well as his prayers, creating quite an inconvenience for the other members of the community.

When upbraided for allowing a filthy man covered by sores to lie on his bed, his famous reply was, "Compassion, my dear Brother, is preferable to cleanliness. Reflect that with a little soap I can easily clean my bed covers, but even with a torrent of tears I would never wash from my soul the stain that my harshness toward the unfortunate would create."

The religious were also curious about Martin's gifts, and would sometimes play pranks on him to test him. But his spiritual gifts were witnessed by many, including his superiors, and there were many who experienced first hand his ability to pass through locked doors to care for the sick, to bilocate worldwide, and to heal with just a cup of water.

His love for creation did not end with man and woman, but was extended even to animals of home and field. While this is not so remarkable today, it was greatly so at his time and in this culture, where animals were mainly left to fend for themselves unless being a beast of burden needed for work. His started a shelter for cats and dogs at his sister's home, where he fed and cared for them in sickness and injury.

There is even a legend that he made a deal with the priory mice, warning them about the poison traps set for them and making a deal with them: if they left the priory, he would feed them at the back door. Having a gift of communication and mastery over all animals, including the mice and rats, they bought the deal, and left the priory, not to return. For these reasons, to exemplify his charity even to the beasts who were lower than even the slaves, Saint Martin is most often pictured with mice, birds a cat and a dog.

Saint Martin died in 1629 on November 3 of fever, and was venerated immediately at his passing. He was known as the "Brother of Charity" and the rich and poor mourned him and avidly sought relics of his habit. He was made Blessed by Pope Gregory, and in 1962 was canonized by Pope John XIII.

The statue of St. Martin de Porres in Ottawa's Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica (at the altar of the Sacred Heart)

* * * * * *


Several days ago, I was honoured to attend the Canadian diplomatic world's farewell to Archbishop Luigi Ventura, held in the Lester B Pearson Foreign Relations Building on Sussex Drive. Some 4,400 people work there, keeping our country's relations with the other nations of the world and diplomatic entities such as the Holy See in right order.

The reception and dining room offer spectacular views of the Ottawa skyline and the Gatineau Hills. There are also artistic works of our painters throughout the building which add lots of colour. The ceremonies themselves are colourful, with and accounting of the highlights of the departing diplomat's time in Canada. And presentations (a medal of recognition from the government and a photograph signed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper of himself with Pope Benedict XVI last summer).

The speeches were a mixture of good humour and seriousness. Archbishop Ventura quoted from Voltaire's description of Canada as quelques arpents de neige , that he said got qualified from his term in Canada as millions of square kilometers of snow!

At one point the highlights of the Nuncio's eight years were said to be welcoming Pope John Paul II to Toronto's World Youth Day in 2002 and the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec in 2008.

When Citizen and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney read the letter from the PM, Mr. Harper underlined the World Youth Day and the foundation of the Salt and Light Television Network. I just had to mention this to Fr. Tom Rosica, CSB, CEO of S+L TV, who said his staff will rightly be chuffed about this recognition.

Among those attending were Wolfe Island pastor, Queen's University chaplain and National Post columnist Father Raymond J. de Souza (left) and Orleans Member of Parliament Royal Galipeau

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