SAINT JOHN DE BRITTO and BLESSED MARY OF LOURDES.
SAINT JOHN DE BRITTO
Born into an Aristocratic Portuguese family in 1647, he grew up with the future king Pedro II in Lisbon. His father was the Viceroy of Brazil.
He was educated in the prestigious University of Coimbra. A severe illness made him turn to the intercession of St. Francis Xavier. Cured of his illness he felt called to dedicate his life for God’s service like Francis Xavier and he joined the Jesuits in 1662.
He longed to go as a missionary like Francis Xavier and was happy when sent to South India, (Madurai in the Maravara kingdom). In 1684 he was imprisoned and later exiled. King Pedro II of Portugal wanted him to stay on in Lisbon as Procurator of the missions.
After serving in Lisbon for three years, in 1690 he returned to the Maravara kingdom with 24 other missionaries. Here he presented Christianity not as something European but local: he was a pioneer of inculturation.
He was dressed in a yellow cotton dress like an Indian sanyasi (ascetic), learned the native languages, adopted the vegetarian diet and gave up alcohol. He had great success in presenting Christ and Christianity as acceptable to the Indian way of life. It is said that he baptized over 10,000 people.
However, he had to give up his life. One of the Maravara princes was converted to Christianity. He put away his many wives, wanting to be married to one.
One of the princesses dismissed was the niece of the powerful neighbouring king, who began a persecution of the Christians. John de Britto was captured and ordered to be exiled.
When he refused to leave the kingdom he was beheaded in 1693 at Oreiour, kneeling in the presence of a great crowd, courageously witnessing to the faith he proclaimed. He was beatified in 1853 and canonized in 1947.
BLESSED MARY OF LOURDES
In the middle of the 18th century Lourdes was a country town with a population of about 4000. The castle of Lourdes had an infantry garrison.
It was an unknown and unimportant town till the Napoleonic wars. However, it came into the world map in 1858 when the Blessed Mother of God appeared to an illiterate 14-year old shepherd girl called Bernadette Soubirous. There were 18 apparitions and the first was on 11th February 1858.
In one of the apparitions, Blessed mother revealed her name when she said, “I am the Immaculate Conception”, as though approving the dogma that was declared by Pope Pius IX four years previously in 1854.
News of the apparitions spread like wildfire, and against the prohibitions of her parents and the local government, crowds began to accompany the young girl to the grotto of Massabielle.
Today, Lourdes has one of the leading Catholic Shrines, and millions go on pilgrimage to this shrine every year. In one of the apparitions the Blessed Mother asked Bernadette to drink from the spring. Seeing no spring, she began digging the marshy ground, and a spring emerged.
People began to attribute miraculous powers to the water of this spring, and thousands have experienced miraculous cures after drinking or bathing in this water. The miracles keep repeating in the present day: no wonder the pilgrimages to Lourdes is as popular today as in the past.
More than the physical cures, people experience “peace” and “love”, and return to their homes a better person, committed to lead meaningful lives.
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.
Fr. Dominic Kachira sdb