Feast Day : 8 May
The Capuchin's " Florence Nightingale "
Not Exactly the Promised Land !
When the 22 year old Romanian, John Costist, sailed into the Southern Italian port of Bari in 1578, he must have felt that, at long last, his arduous journey that had lasted four years had been worthwhile and that he had finally arrived at the promised land where all his long cherished dreams would be fulfilled. It was only sheer determination, hard labour and the memory of his mother’s words that had kept him going all the way from the mountains of Romania to the shores of Italy. Back home in the small village of Tzazo (perhaps Sasca in Moldavia), she had filled his head with stories of Italy, as a faraway land “where there were good Christians, where all the monks were saints and where the Pope, the Vicar of Christ Himself, resided.” But the Italy he encountered in the port city of Bari was a far cry from all that. Instead of good Christians, the town teemed with drunken sailors and prostitutes and, without the slightest hesitation, its citizens would spew forth foul language and blasphemies. And as for the monks and priests he met, they were a lot less saintly than he had imagined. Rather they were men who vied for riches, political influence and social status. just like aristocratic elite that ruled the land. And Rome, where the Pope lived, seemed as far away from Bari as it had from Tzazo. No wonder then he made up his mind to go back home!
In the Bosom of his Family
There his mother would be anxiously awaiting him, for he had left home without telling her. His mother, Margaret Bărbat had married the well-off farmer Stoica Costist and they had 6 children between them. John the eldest was born on August the 29th, 1556. Their family were pious and extremely charitable. Using the flour of whatever surplus wheat the family managed to harvest, his mother would often bake into loaves of bread to feed the poor. His father once reminded him that the birds flying overhead resembled monks. "You see these birds flying up into the sky so swiftly. They are like the religious who are free from all burdens and fly up to the Lord." But now that the Utopia he had dreamed of had turned out to be a nightmare and it seemed his whole world had come crashing down about his ears, John was about to return home to the bosom of his family and the innocence of his youth.
"Bari is not all of Italy!"
But, as he made his way down to the homebound ship, he met an old man who urged him to stay on. "Bari is not all of Italy." he said, "Go to Naples." So John decided to give Italy another chance and went for Naples. When he arrived there during Lent 1578, when Neapolitans were on their best behaviour. At least, in that city there were some 'good Christians' and the Capuchin Friars Minor that John met there seemed to be the 'monks who were saints'. So he decided to throw in his lot with them and applied to join the Order.
A Dedicated Capuchin Infirmarian
But John’s application to join was twice rejected outright by the Provincial Minister. Eventually, at his third request, he was accepted into the Order in May 1578 and given the religious name 'Brother Jeremiah of Wallachia'. After his profession in 1579 he served in various Fraternities, before being assigned, in 1588, to the Provincial Infirmary Friary of New Saint Ephraim(San Eframo Nuovo). There were 120 cells in that large Friary and over half of them were occupied by sick and elderly Brothers. Sometimes it was so crowded that Brother Jeremiah often had to give up his room to a sick Brother and snatch a few hours of sleep under the stairs or at the bedside of a critically ill patient. He made light of his ’homelessness’, however, saying that he didn’t have a room because he couldn’t afford the rent.
Preference for Nursing Difficult Patients Despite Natural Repugnance
The only privilege he asked for himself was the right to take care of the most difficult patients. Brother Martin the Spaniard was one such patient whose illness caused him continual pain and left his body covered with puss-filled sores that had to be washed and bandaged many times each day. The stench in his room was overwhelming and even Jeremiah was on the point of throwing in the towel. But, overcoming natural repugnance after hesitating a little, he devotedly nursed Brother Martin till he died four years later. By then he had grown so fond of Brother Martin that he ran through the corridors crying and lamenting: "My friend is dead. Brother Martin is dead. My companion and my comfort is dead!" Brother Jeremiah felt the sick and the poor deserved the very best. He would get up very early to quest for high quality wine, long before the questing Brothers had left the house. This did not amuse the questors who felt robbed and Brother Jeremiah christened his wine flask 'the little bandit'. He would gleefully pour wine from the flask to share it with the sick Brothers, saying, "Cheer up! I brought ’the little bandit’ even though I had to face the threats of the questors!"
For his Bareheaded Heavenly Queen, Her Son is Her Crown
The secret of Brother Jeremiah’s tireless work and happy outlook on life was his prayer life. At night, he would spend hours praying in the infirmary chapel. He loved God sincerely and frequently repeated these words: "Let us trust in the Blood of Jesus Christ Which He shed for us and in the Virgin Mary, our most Tender Mother!" One night in 1608, Our Lady appeared to him in a brilliant vision holding the Child Jesus. Brother Jeremiah noticed something unusual and pointed this out to Her with childlike simplicity. "My Lady, You are a Queen and yet You are not wearing a crown." To which Mary replied lovingly with these words. "Brother Jeremiah, My Crown is My Son!" The story quickly leaked out and printed copies of artists’ sketches of the 'Vision of Our Lady to Brother Jeremiah' were soon to be found throughout the city.
Closeness to the Poor, his School of Prayer
Fame however did not go to his head. He once said: "I would gladly give my eyes to help the poor, because they pray with such simplicity and humility. Their prayers are most pleasing to the Blessed Mother. Our Lady answers the prayers of the poor." For Brother Jeremiah, the poor and the sick were not just beneficiaries of his charity but masters of holiness who showed him how to pray.
Intent on Performing Works of Mercy Right to the Very End
His charity was not confined within the walls of the Friary and his concern for the poor did not prevent him from visiting the homes of the rich and powerful to enlist their help on behalf of the underprivileged and sometimes to condemn the social injustices which they inflicted on the lower classes. It was on one such mission of mercy to a powerful personage who was dying, that Brother Jeremiah caught pneumonia and died at Torre del Greco on the 5th of May 1625. His last words were "Well now, we must go and see all our lame and crippled Brothers!"
Beans were his Staple Food and his Cosmetics
He was 69 years old when he died and had lived a relatively long and healthy life. His fresh complexion was the envy of the noble ladies of the city. When asked about this, he would reply that he stayed healthy and fresh thanks to a diet of beans! In fact, he hardly ate anything else. So popular were his beans, that he often gave them to his benefactors to improve their health and especially their complexions!
After Almost 400 Years Brother Jeremiah Goes Home
He was beatified by Blessed Pope John Paul II in 1983 and became Romania’s first Catholic Beatus. He has since been proclaimed a heavenly patron for immigrants. After the fall of communism, the Capuchins of Naples opened a thriving Capuchin mission in Romania, blessed with many local vocations. Thanks to the generosity of his Neapolitan Capuchin Brothers, Blessed Jeremiah of Wallachia’s remains now rest in the crypt chapel of a special sanctuary dedicated him in the Romanian town of Onesti. What a comfort to it must be for these RumanianCapuchin Brothers to have their compatriot, Blessed Jeremiah’s relics in their midst!
"Say the Our Father for this is the best prayer a Christian can make because God has taught it to the Apostles. Let us love this great God who deserves to be loved. Let us not offend Him who is so very good and such a good Rewarder, for He has done so much for us. Charity accommodates everything." -Blessed Jeremiah of Wallachia