January 16, 2014

⛪ Saint Berard and Companions

Saint of the Day : January 15

Saint Berard and Companions(martyred 1220), the Proto-martyrs of the Franciscan Order. Saint Berard was the superior of Vitalis, Berard, Peter, Adjutus, and Odo, missionaries to Morocco whom we celebrate today. Saint Francis upon hearing of his brother's deaths was reported to have said, "Now I can truly say that I have five Friars Minor!" The bravery and zeal for the Lord’s truth of these five holy men is commemorated today by the Franciscan Order, and all of the faithful.

Saint Berard was born in Carbio, Italy, and when he reached the appropriate age, joined the Franciscan Order under the direction of Saint Francis, himself. Berard with gifted with preaching, incredibly eloquent, and was fluent in Arabic. He was the perfect choice of friars to send to the dangerous Saracen-controlled areas of Spain, Morocco, and North Africa. Berard, as well as the five friars in his supervision, agreed without hesitation when Saint Francis dispatched them on their dangerous mission.

The fact that Saint Francis selected and sent these six holy men is testament to their character, zeal, and abilities. Prior to the Rule of Saint Francis, no mention of preaching to the Muslims had been recorded for religious orders. When Francis wrote his rule, he declared, "Those brothers who, by divine inspiration, desire to go among the Saracens and other nonbelievers should ask permission from their ministers provincial. But the ministers should not grant permission except to those whom they consider fit to be sent." 

Following a long an dangerous journey through the Mediterranean, the five friars arrived in Seville, preaching publicly, despite the prohibition. There they were greeted by incredulity, with the population considering them insane and dangerous. They were arrested before achieving any conversion among the people. To avoid lengthy imprisonment, the five requested that the governor of Seville send them to Marrakech, Morocco for audience with the Sultan. The Sultan received the five, granting them permission to preach. With his permission, the five preached in the marketplace with little success. However, many of the people were greatly upset by their presence, and requested their arrest.

To avoid arresting the friars, the Sultan arranged for them to live with a Christian friend and prince, Dom Pedro Fernandez. This they did, but continued traveling into the city to preach. Eventually, they were again arrested, beaten, and bribed in attempts to get them to desist in their preaching and return home. When offered power, riches, and position, they replied, "We despise all those things for the sake of Christ." Together they refused the orders to leave the country, and on January 16, 1220, were ordered to be beheaded by the Sultan. These five became the first martyrs of the Franciscan Order, inspiring the missionary zeal that the Orders of Friars Minor continue to be known for today.

Dom Pedro collected the relics of the martyrs, and brought them to the Holy Cross Church in Coimbra, Portugal. In the fifteenth century, the relics of the proto-martyrs were translated, and the translation and story of the five martyrs prompted Saint Anthony of Padua—who achieved great missionary success- to leave the Augustinian Canons and join the Franciscans.

At first glance, the story of the five Franciscan proto-martyrs reads as if these brave and holy men failed in their mission. They failed to convert many, and only succeeded in achieving death for their cause. However, the fire of evangelization and missionary work that was lit by their martyrdom has forever changed the Franciscan Order, as well as the world. We look to the brave sacrifices of these men, offering thanks. We are inspired to more courageously and single-mindedly pursue the truth of our faith, living as witnesses to the love of Jesus Christ!

⛪ Prayer :
Lord God, You sanctified the beginnings of the Order of Friars Minor by the glorious struggle of Your holy martyrs Berard and companions. As they did not hesitate to give up their lives for You so may we bear staunch witness to You by our lives.

Gracious God, in every age you have sent men and women who have given their lives in witness to your love and truth. Inspire us with the memory of Berard, Peter, Adjute, Accurs, and Odo, whose faithfulness led to the way of the cross, and give us courage to bear full witness with our lives to your Son’s victory over sin and death, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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