In the early thirteenth century the Moors still held much of Spain, and in sudden raids from the sea they carried off thousands of Christians, holding them as slaves in Granada and in their citadels along the African coast. A hero of these unfortunates was Saint Peter Nolasco, born about the year 1189 near Carcassonne in France. When he went to Barcelona to escape the heresy then rampant in southern France, he consecrated the fortune he had inherited to the redemption of the captives taken on the seas by the Saracens. He was obsessed with the thought of their suffering, and desired to sell his own person to deliver his brethren and take their chains upon himself. God made it known to him how agreeable that desire was to Him.
Because of these large sums of money he expended, Peter became penniless. He was without resources and powerless, when the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and said to him: Find for Me other men like yourself, an army of brave, generous, unselfish men, and send them into the lands where the children of the Faith are suffering. Peter went at once to Saint Raymond of Pennafort, his confessor, who had had a similar revelation and used his influence with King James I of Aragon and with Berengarius, Archbishop of Barcelona, to obtain approbation and support for the new community. On August 10, 1218, Peter and two companions were received as the first members of the Order of Our Lady of Ransom, dedicated to the recovery of Christian captives. To the three traditional vows of religion, its members joined a fourth, that of delivering their own persons to the overlords, if necessary, to ransom Christians.
The Order spread rapidly. Peter and his comrades traveled throughout Christian Spain, recruiting new members and collecting funds to purchase the captives. Then they began negotiations with the slave-owners. They penetrated Andalusia, crossed the sea to Tunis and Morocco, and brought home cargo after cargo of Christians. Although Peter, as General of the Order, was occupied with its organization and administration, he made two trips to Africa where, besides liberating captives, he converted many Moors. He died after a long illness on Christmas night of 1256; he was canonized by Pope Urban VIII in 1628. His Order continues its religious services, now devoted to preaching and hospital service.
Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894); Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 2
Saint Martina, a Roman virgin, was the child of a noble Christian consul, of whom it was said that he was extremely merciful towards the poor, and very zealous for faith in the Most Holy Trinity. His daughter lost both her parents while she was still very young, and for love of Christ she distributed all she inherited to the poor, that she might be more free to hasten towards martyrdom, during the persecution which had recently begun.
Under the emperor Alexander Severus she was discovered in a church one day by three officers of a search party, and commanded to follow them to a temple of Apollo. She cheerfully agreed, saying she would do so after praying for a short time and taking leave of her bishop. The officers reported their important capture to the emperor, believing she would readily renounce her faith. But when he ordered her to speak, she replied that she would sacrifice to none other than the true God, and never to idols, the handiwork of men. She was tortured by iron hooks, but her executioners were thrown to the ground amid a great light as she prayed, and arose converted, like Saint Paul, to the Christian faith.
She was tormented again the following day before the emperor, cruelly scourged while attached by her hands and feet to posts. When, one day later, she was taken to a temple of Diana, the demon left amid horrible screams. Fire from heaven fell and burnt the idol, which in tumbling crushed many of its priests and pagan worshipers. Saint Martina, after suffering other tortures and being spared by an enraged lion and a fiery furnace, was finally beheaded. Her death occurred on January 1st during the fourth year of Alexander Severus.
Her relics were found in 1634, during the papacy of Urban VIII, near the Mamertine Prison, with those of several other martyrs. All were placed in a beautiful church dedicated to Saint Martina in the Roman Forum. Urban VIII spared no efforts in promoting her veneration; and through his solicitude the Office was enhanced with hymns for Matins and Lauds. In these we read that her soul rose to heaven, where she was seen afterwards upon a royal throne, while the Blessed sang praises to God.
Reflection. God calls His Saints to Him at every age; little children turn to Him with faith and love, strong men in their mature years, white-haired grandparents and servants of God in their golden age. And we find martyrs ready for every torment, at all epochs of life. What is important is to be ready and to desire the most important day of our life — that of our death.
Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 2.