After the Franciscan Order had been blessed in the
glorious death of its first martyrs, St. Berard and his four companions, holy
rivalry was aroused among the children of St. Francis to offer their blood in
preaching the Faith of Christ.
In 1227, Daniel, provincial of Calabria, a man of
eminent sanctity, and six companions, Angelus, Samuel, Donulus, Leo,
Hugolinus, and Nicholas, with the blessing of the minister general, went to
Africa to preach the Gospel of Christ to the Mohammedans. Landing at Ceuta,
they resolved to preach in that large city. Before entering the city proper,
they learned from Christian merchants that a strict order prohibited entrance
to all Christians. They realized that their undertaking was fraught with the
greatest danger, and they prepared themselves accordingly.
On Saturday, October 2nd, they made their
confession, received Holy Communion, and then spent the remainder of the day
in prayer. In the evening, as our Lord did on the eve of His sufferings, they
washed one another's feet. On Sunday morning they entered the city and began
to preach to the crowds in the streets and public places, boldly declaring
that salvation was to be found only in the name of Jesus. The city was in an
uproar. The courageous preachers were thrown into prison. There they wrote to
the Christian merchants in the suburbs:
"Blessed be God, the Father of
mercies, who comforts us in all our tribulations! Our Lord has commanded us:
'Go and preach the Gospel to all creatures.' He has said: 'The servant is not
greater than the Master; if men persecute you, remember that they first
persecuted Me.' Struck by these words, we poor and unworthy servants of Jesus
Christ have abandoned our home, and have come to preach in this country for
the glory of God and the salvation of souls, and the confusion of obstinate
infidels. ...And although we may have much to suffer, we are greatly comforted
in the Lord, hoping He will be pleased to accept the sacrifice of our lives.
To Him only be honor and glory forevermore."
A week later the prisoners were led before the
governor, and an attempt was made to induce them to renounce their faith,
first by promises, then by threats. All remained firm in their profession of
Christ and were condemned to be beheaded.
The six companions bow knelt down before Daniel,
their superior, thanked him for providing them with the opportunity of winning
a martyr's crown, and asked for a final blessing. Father Daniel, amid tears of
holy joy, embraced each one, blessed them, and said: "Let us rejoice in the
Lord, my faithful companions, for this festive day for us! The holy angels are
already coming to conduct our souls to the eternal mansions, and this day the
white-robed martyrs will receive us into their holy company. Heaven is open
above our heads, we shall soon be in possession of eternal
And so their heads rolled from the block, but their
souls took their flight to heaven. Their remains were later taken to Spain,
where many miracles occurred at their intercession. Pope Leo X canonized them
ON VENERATING THE HOLY MARTYRS
1. In our
veneration of the saints, the holy martyrs deserve special attention. We
venerate in them, to an extent, the blood of Christ, since the blood they shed
is like a continuation of the blood which Christ shed for us on Mt. Calvary.
They sealed with their blood the truths for which Christ was crucified. By
sacrificing their lives they also gave proof of their perfect fidelity and
supreme charity towards Christ, thus giving all Christians an encouraging
example. The willing self-oblation of the holy martyrs should impel us to
venerate these heroes of the Faith and should fill us with a great love for
our holy religion.
2. Consider the special way in which holy Church draws
our attention to the veneration of the holy martyrs. On their feastdays the
priest approaches the altar clothes in red vestments. The color reminds us of
the blood the martyrs shed. In offering their blood and their lives for their
holy Faith, they made the greatest sacrifice man can make. We should praise
and bless them for it in the name of holy Church, whose glorious heroes they
are. The red of the vestments also signifies the fire of love which God
kindled in the hearts of the martyrs. That is also the purpose of the red
color on the feast of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles
in the form of fiery tongues and strengthened them remarkably. It is this fire
of love that gives martyrdom its value. "If I should deliver my body to be
burnt and have not charity, it profits me nothing" (1 Cor 13:3). Hence, on the
feasts of the holy martyrs, we should praise and thank God, who gave this fire
of love to so many thousands of His saints, who became witnesses of their
Faith by shedding their blood.
3. Consider that the martyrs gave proof of
their fidelity even before they shed their blo9od. Faithful to the call of the
apostolate, they went out to face danger after due preparation. They accepted
reproach and pain patiently, even cheerfully, for the sake of Christ; promises
could not lure them; nor threats frighten them to abandon Him. We must imitate
the martyrs in their fidelity even if we are not called upon to shed our blood
for Christ. Only in that way may we hope to please them by our veneration. The
glorious crown which they have won, should encourage us to remain faithful in
our allegiance to Christ. Their powerful intercession will help us.
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
As we rejoice, O Lord, at
the crown which our brethren, Thy martyrs, have won, may it produce in us an
increase of virtue, and at their intercession may it also be our comfort.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Franciscan Book
of Saints, ed. by
Marion Habig, ofm., © 1959 Franciscan Herald