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What makes Vivaldi unique among composers? He was a priest.

August 6, 2017 CNA Daily News 10

Venice, Italy, Aug 6, 2017 / 04:02 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- While Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” echoes in concert halls and elevators around the world, for some, his greatest masterpieces are not the scores resonating spring, summer, fall and winter, but rather his sacred music.

Although less known, Vivaldi’s sacred music compositions, according to a researcher and expert on the musician’s life, is probably his greatest contribution to music – featuring an altogether unprecedented combination of deep spirituality and the contemporary trends of the time.

And this profound personal spirituality was rooted in what is likely a little-known fact for many: Antonio Vivaldi was a Catholic priest.

“I’m going to give you the most bizarre idea. Think of the Pope, who represents priests, spiritual things, and then you’ve got Jimmy Hendrix, a superb guitarist. You put them together and you’ve got Vivaldi,” British researcher Micky White told CNA Aug. 1.

It’s a combination altogether “bizarre,” she said. “Vivaldi the priest, deeply spiritual, comes out in his music. Jimmy Hendrix Vivaldi you’ve heard in the Four Seasons; it’s the most bizarre piece of music.”

“It’s timely, a priest wrote it,” and it’s meshed with the modern style of the day –  a combination of two things that are essentially “polls apart,” she said. “That’s what makes him stand out among anybody. Bach wasn’t a priest, Mozart wasn’t a priest, nor was Beethoven, but Vivaldi was.

In listening to Vivaldi, it’s obvious that he was a very faith-filled man, she said, “you hear it in his music, you listen to it.”

White, who left a thriving greeting card company in England and moved to Venice to pursue an increasing interest in researching Vivaldi’s life, has become an expert and point of reference on the musician.

Not only has she published a book, “Antonio Vivaldi: A Life in Documents,” as the fruit of her research, but she was a consultant for a new display on his life called “Viva Vivaldi: The Four Seasons Mystery.”

The exhibit, located just behind St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, provides attendees with an indoor video-mapping show done with immersive HD images, surround sound and scent special effects such as scent and wind. It opened to the public May 13 at the Diocesan Museum, and will stay open during 2018.

One of the most famous Baroque composers, Antonio Lucio Vivaldi, affectionately known by many in his time as “the Red Priest” due to his auburn locks, was born in Venice in 1678.

His father, who was an instrumental figure in his life (pun intended), was a professional violinist, and taught his son how to play as a young child. The two then went on tour together throughout Venice, giving Vivaldi an extensive knowledge and even mastery of the violin from a young age.

In 1693, at the age of 15, he began studying for the priesthood. He was ordained in 1703 at the age of 25, and shortly after was appointed chaplain and Violin Master at a local orphanage called the Pio Ospedale della Pieta, or the Devout Hospital of Mercy.

The orphanage, called the “Pieta,” was founded in 1492 by a poor friar as a home for abandoned babies. Young children were typically raised by older girls already at the center, and while the boys were taught a specific trade and ousted at the age of 15, the girls were trained as musicians if they had the ability. If not, they were taught a different trade, such as reading or sewing.  

The most talented of the girls stayed on and became members of the hospitals renown orchestra and choir. Vivaldi worked at the hospital from 1703-1715, when he was voted off the faculty. He was voted back in 1723, and remained until 1740, composing some of his most famous works during that time.

However, after just a year of being a priest, Vivaldi requested a dispensation form celebrating Mass due to his poor health. From birth he had been afflicted with a serious, unknown, health condition thought to be a form of asthma.

All that is known about the mysterious illness comes from the letter Vivaldi wrote asking for the dispensation, in which he referred to it as a “tightness of the chest.”

According to White, “it would have been very hard for Vivaldi to give up saying Mass. It would have been his own decision, a decision of nobody but himself, and he also gave up a good salary.”

She pointed to rumors alleging that he had been kicked out of the priesthood or even excommunicated, saying they “are so ignorant and so stupid,” because if one actually looks to the facts, the rumors are “not proven.”

She also addressed rumors that Vivaldi had abused the choir girls as the reason he was kicked off the Pieta faculty in 1715. These rumors, she said, “not only are they not true, they’re impossible.”

Not only would Vivaldi have never been welcomed back in 1723, but many of the girls who remained in the orchestra stayed until they were 70 or even 80 years old. The hospital was also overseen by several governors, so had there been abuse, Vivaldi would have been kicked out right away, “so that doesn’t add up,” White said.

People often make assumptions about the past or judge by their opinions, telling others that “’it must be like this’ or ‘so and so said that,’” White said, adding that when this happens “you go from bad to worse.”

But when she first started digging into her research on Vivaldi and putting the information into context,  “then everything made sense,” she said, because “research is a matter of fact, it’s not a matter of opinion, and it’s not a matter of ideas, it’s fact.”

She insisted that his priesthood was likely an essential element of his music. Even after stepping down from his liturgical duties, Vivaldi never stopped being a priest, White said. “Once a priest always a priest.”

“He was ordained, he was a priest his whole life (and) his spirituality comes out in his music, all you have to do is listen and you’ll hear it.”

Although in poor health, Vivaldi made great strides in his musical career. He continued to write a variety of compositions, and received many commissions from all over Italy and Europe, for which he traveled frequently.

During one jaunt in 1722, Vivaldi moved to Rome, where he was invited to play for Pope Benedict XIII before moving back to Venice in 1725.

The various pieces he wrote throughout his career include several different types of concertos – from violin to orchestra – arias, sonatas, operas and sacred music.

But according to White, while the Four Seasons, written around 1721, and his many operas are what made Vivaldi rise to fame in his day, “sacred music is on another plane compared all the other compositions. It’s the empire of composition itself that comes from faith.”

Among the sacred scores written by Vivaldi are the Gloria, the Credo, the Stabat Mater, the Magnificat, Dixit Dominus and Laetatus sum, among others. The “Laetatus sum,” specifically, was written by Vivaldi at the age of 13 in 1691.

White said that while these are the known liturgical and sacred works, “there’s a lot, lot missing.”

Given his 38 year career at the hospital, there are likely many, many works of Vivaldi that have never been discovered, she said. For example, “I’m sure that he wrote full Masses, absolutely positive,” but they are likely all lost.

Despite the success he enjoyed during his career, Vivaldi died in poverty in Vienna July 28, 1741. He had moved to the Austrian country after meeting Emperor Charles VI, to whom he had dedicated his Opus 9 work, in 1728.

The emperor was so impressed with Vivaldi’s work that he gave the musician the title of Knight, a gold medal and an invitation to Vienna. However, the emperor died shortly after Vivaldi’s arrival several years later, and with no royal connection or steady income, Vivaldi became impoverished and died from an infection at the age of 63.

According to White, the greatest legacy that Vivaldi left can be summed up in one word: “music.”

“Music comes out of him, it doesn’t come out of his brain, it just pours out of him. It’s like a waterfall,” she said.

While his sacred and classical music might seem outdated in a society enthralled with artists such as Beyonce, Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber, White said Vivaldi is so versatile in his style that he can mesh with well with contemporary music as well as the older

“Vivaldi could do a rock concert quite easily, and Vivaldi can appeal to everyone,” she said. “Vivaldi, he’s alone, he’s absolutely unique. You talk about the Baroque style, and the romantic style…Vivaldi cuts that whole suede.”

With the “tremendous energy” present in his music, Vivaldi is truly one of a kind and is difficult to imitate, she said. “He doesn’t fit anywhere, and he fits everywhere.”

[…]

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The Virgin Mary on a paddle boat? One priest’s beach blessing

August 2, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Rome, Italy, Aug 3, 2017 / 12:02 am (CNA).- Every August, for the feast of the Madonna of the Sea, Italian priest Father Mario Calogiuri takes to the beach of San Foca to bless swimmers and seafarers “between the deckchairs and umbrellas” in a blue swimsuit, according to Italian source La Repubblica.

But this year, he decided to go a more memorable route.

Rather than just a bible or a rosary, Fr. Calogiuri came to the beach with a five-foot statue of the Virgin Mary in tow.

Mary was then hoisted to the top of the slide of a small plastic paddle boat and taken out to sea.  

Two volunteers were needed helped to stabilize the Virgin atop the little plastic vessel, which rocked among small waves as it floated among the swimmers and Father issued blessings via megaphone to a small crowd.

Typically, the feast of the Madonna of the Sea is celebrated in port towns, and is a time for blessing sailors and fishermen, who pray for safety and a profitable year.

In recent years, Fr. Calogiuri has more liberally applied the feast to beachgoers of all kinds.

In 2013, he told Italian news source Urban News that it can be easy to forget about Jesus at the beach, so that’s why he has taken to blessing swimmers and revelers.  

“I want to meet people under the umbrella…in a place where you do not usually think about religion, but you do not have to forget Jesus,” he said.

An Italian priest brought the Virgin Mary to festival beachgoers in a paddle boat https://t.co/JRB3DwbNJx pic.twitter.com/C2ggiCbDCs

— Atlas Obscura (@atlasobscura) August 1, 2017

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Welsh seminarians mistaken for bachelor party nearly kicked out of pub

August 1, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Cardiff, Wales, Aug 1, 2017 / 12:24 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Seven seminarians walk into a bar … and almost get kicked out.

That’s what happened to a group of seminarians in Cardiff over the weekend when they went to The City Arms pub to celebrate the July 29 ordination of Father Peter McClaren.

Thinking they were a rowdy stag party in fancy dress, pub management initially asked the men to leave.

Realizing their error, they invited the men to stay and bought them a round of drinks.

“The staff thought they were a stag. We do have quite a few issues on the weekends with parties wearing fancy dress so it is our policy to turn them away,” said assistant manager Matt Morgan, according to the BBC.

 

The actual Reverend Robert James drinking @brainsbrewery @TheRevTweets beer.
???????????? pic.twitter.com/H43HWqGIKK

— The City Arms (@cityarmscardiff) July 29, 2017

 

He added that the seminarians were “all great sports and saw the funny side of the situation.”

Archbishop George Stack of Cardiff commented that “It is wonderful to hear that the seminarians were celebrating their own path to priesthood by having a good time in Cardiff, which of course they are allowed to have,’ adding that “Priests are of the community and for the community they serve.”

He also noted that “The diocese has celebrated the ordination of two seminarians in a week; despite rumours about the shortage of men presenting themselves for priesthood.”

Fr. McClaren was ordained a priest of the Cardiff archdiocese July 29 after having served as a deacon for more than 10 years.

He had been ordained a deacon while married, and after the death of his beloved wife Marie, he spent time in discernment and chose to attend London’s Allen Hall Seminary to become a priest.

The seminarians told Wales Online that when they were asked to leave, they thought it was a joke, until “it became clear that this was not the case and he was in fact serious.”

The men were on their way out the door when a manager approached them and said he believed that they were in fact seminarians, and invited them back in for a free round.

“We were entertained and encouraged by the whole affair and look forward to future visits to the well-known establishment,” the seminarians said, according to Wales Online.

They said they received a warm welcome from staff and customers at the pub for the rest of the afternoon, including several who had questions for them.

The pub staff was also amused to find that there was a Reverend James in the crowd of men in clerics –  which is also the name of a popular beer brewed by Brains Brewery served at the pub.

“Even the management found it amusing that the Reverend Robert James, also a city native, was partial to the odd pint of the ale bearing his surname,” the priests said.

“Our Rev James ale is one of our most popular beers so it was great to have a real-life Reverend James and his fellow priests enjoying a pint or two!” Morgan added.

The Archdiocese of Cardiff also chimed in on the incident, joking that the pub better not kick out any more clerics, as many of them, including the archbishop, like to frequent The City Arms.

“We’d like to thank ‘The City Arms’ for being good sports through all of this and their kind gesture to our seminarians – and please note a number of our clergy, including the Archbishop of Cardiff, frequent your bar so don’t turf any more out please!”

“The seminarians in question included our own Rev. Nicholas Williams, Rev. Robert James (no the pint isn’t named after him), Elliot Hanson and Dale Cutlan who took it all in good spirit,” the archdiocese said. “Although initially shocked their only thought was ‘where are we going for our pint now?’”

Williams and James were both ordained to the diaconate in June.

Overall, the archdiocese said the seminarians “walked away encouraged by the positive reaction of the local community – all thanks to a bit of white plastic around their neck and the everyday situation in which they like to partake.”

Morgan added that he would gladly have the group back to his pub.

“It’s not every day you have a group of priests drinking in the pub and they would be welcome back any time.”

[…]

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Pope marks feast of St Ignatius by lunching with brother Jesuits

July 31, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

Rome, Italy, Jul 31, 2017 / 12:17 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- To mark Monday’s feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, Pope Francis as usual visited his brother Jesuits at their General Curia house in Rome.

The Church’s first Jesuit Pope, who is taking a break from all public audiences during July, was welcomed by the Father General of the Jesuits, Fr. Arturo Sosa.

Earlier in the day Pope Francis sent a tweet honoring St. Ignatius and asking for his prayers, telling his 35 million followers: “Like Saint Ignatius of Loyola, let us be won over by the Lord Jesus and, led by Him, place ourselves at the service of others.”

Pope Francis has made a point to visit the Jesuits on the feast of their founder every year since his election.

Shortly after he was elected Bishop of Rome in 2013, Francis marked the July 31 feast of the saint by celebrating Mass at the Church of the Gesù, the mother church of the Jesuit order and where St. Ignatius is buried.

Every year since Francis has made a point to visit the order’s headquarters, whether for lunch or for dinner, to celebrate the feast with his brothers.

St. Ignatius was born into a noble family in Guipuzcoa, Spain 1491. He served as a page in the Spanish court of Ferdinand and Isabella before becoming a soldier in the Spanish army.

He wounded his leg during the siege of Pamplona in 1521. While recovering, Ignatius read lives of the saints, an experience that led to a deep conversion, and he dedicated himself to the Catholic faith.

After making a general confession at a monastery in Montserrat, Ignatius spent nearly a year in solitude, during which he wrote his Spiritual Exercises and afterward made a pilgrimage to Rome and the Holy Land, where he worked to convert Muslims.

St. Ignatius returned to complete his studies in Spain and then France, where he received a degree in theology. While many were jealous or resentful of his holy lifestyle, the saint’s wisdom and virtue attracted numerous followers, and the Society of Jesus was created.

The Society was approved by Paul III in 1540, and grew rapidly. St. Ignatius remained in Rome, where he governed the Society and became friends with St. Philip Neri. He died July 31, 1556, and was canonized by Gregory XV in 1622.

Pope Francis entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus in 1958. He received a philosophy degree in 1963 and spent the next three years teaching literature and psychology.

The now-Roman Pontiff then studied theology from 1967 to 1970, during which time he was ordained a priest. His priestly ordination was Dec. 13, 1969.

He did the final state of Jesuit formation from 1970 to 1971, and was novice master at the Jesuit seminary in San Miguel, a Buenos Aires suburb, from 1972 to 1973, where he taught theology.

In 1973, he made his perpetual vows in the Society, and that year was elected provincial for Argentina. After his time as provincial, from 1980 to 1986, he served as rector of the seminary at San Miguel, where he had studied, and was pastor of a parish in the city. He was elected Bishop of Rome March 13, 2013.

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Charlie Gard was baptized, held St. Jude medal before death

July 31, 2017 CNA Daily News 1

London, England, Jul 31, 2017 / 10:31 am (CNA).- Charlie Gard, an 11 month-old British infant who made headlines around the world over a fierce legal battle on parental rights, had been baptized the same week he died.

In April, a picture of his tiny fist made the rounds on the internet of him clutching a St. Jude medal.

The boy’s parents, Chris Gard and Connie Yates, on Friday issued a statement announcing his death, saying: “Our beautiful little boy has gone, we are so proud of you Charlie.”

Family spokesperson Alison Smith-Squire announced on Sunday that he will be buried with his toy monkeys, pictured with him in one of the viral photos of the boy.

“We should be planning Charlie’s first birthday but instead we’re planning his funeral,” his mother said, according to the Sun.

According to the Sun, his parents spent the weekend with family and on Monday were planning to register his death. They had wanted to keep a low profile from the media after the boy’s passing.

Charlie had been at the center of a legal battle between his parents and the Great Ormund Street Hospital (GOSH), an internationally known children’s hospital where he was being cared for. The case raised questions about medical ethics, end-of-life procedure, and parental rights.

Charlie was born on Aug. 4 last year, and in September was discovered to have a rare genetic condition which resulted in muscular deterioration. He was believed to be one of 16 sufferers of the disease in the world.

He was admitted to GOSH in October, and in a series of court cases stretching from March to June, judges repeatedly ruled in favor of doctors who wished to have the boy’s life support removed, all the way to the European Court of Human Rights’ rejection to hear the case. Yates and Gard had hoped to take Charlie to the U.S. for experimental treatment.

In early July, both Pope Francis and U.S. president Donald Trump intervened in support of the family on twitter. Trump said that the United States would cooperate with the boy’s parents in helping Charlie receive the experimental care.

On July 10, unpublished research on Charlie’s condition seemed to indicate the therapy being developed in the States could improve his condition. However, as weeks passed, his condition deteriorated beyond chance of improvement, and GOSH doctors insisted that international specialists claiming he could improve had not fully reviewed his medical records.

Yates and Gard conceded their legal battle on Monday after the latest medical reports indicated their son was beyond improvement indefinitely, and began fighting to have him spend a week in care at home before life support would be pulled.

On Thursday, Yates announced that they had been denied their wish to have him die at home. The boy’s parents had wished to spend a week with him in hospice. This too, however, was denied to them on the grounds that it may cause Charlie prolonged suffering, according to GOSH doctors.

The boy’s death was announced on Friday in a statement from the family.

A number of prominent figures, both from the secular and Catholic worlds, made statements on the passing of the little boy whose plight sparked international support as well as a debate on medical, infant, and parental rights.

Shortly after his passing was announced, Pope Francis tweeted his solidarity with the parents.

“I entrust little Charlie to the Father and pray for his parents and all those who loved him,” the pontiff said. He had previously made two statements in support of and solidarity with the child and his parents. One of these statements led to “the Pope’s hospital,” l’Ospedale Bambino Gesù, offering to care for Charlie.

Days before the boy’s passing, Bambino Gesù issued another statement, called “Charlie’s Legacy,” noting that it was too late for the boy to receive care but also commending the fact that “(f)or the first time, the international scientific community has gathered around a single patient, to carefully evaluate all the possibilities.” They called this “the true legacy of Charlie.”

The Great Ormund Street Hospital, where Charlie spent much of his final months, sent “heartfelt condolences.” Charlie’s parent had accused the hospital of putting up “obstacles” to allowing their child to die at home. The parents’ taking GOSH to court was the spark that lit the months-long legal turmoil for the family.

Theresa May, Prime Minister of Great Britain, said: “I am deeply saddened by the death of Charlie Gard. My thoughts and prayers are with Charlie’s parents Chris and Connie at this difficult time.”

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted, “Saddened to hear of the Passing of Charlie Gard. Karen & I offer our prayers & condolences to his loving parents during this difficult time.”

The March for Life issued a statement with their condolences and offering their prayers for the family.

“Though his life here on earth was cut short, Charlie’s spirit will continue to inspire an international fight to ensure that the sanctity of every human life is respected,” the March’s statement said.

Catherine Glenn Foster, President and CEO of Americans United for Life, issued a statement saying that “Our hearts are heavy today as we learn of Charlie Gard’s passing. We are so thankful for his life, which though too brief, has made a lasting impact on the world and drawn together people from all walks of life and political persuasions, uniting them around the dignity and value of every human being.” She also offered condolences to the parents and assured that “Charlie’s legacy” would build a culture of life.

The Catholic Association (TCA) also offered their condolences, noting that Gard and Yates had to endure both the death of their son as well as a tumultuous legal fight.

“(T)his excruciating decision should have belonged to his loving and devoted parents,” the TCA said. “There was no apparent compelling justification for the courts to override and replace the unique parental bond of love in this case, which has only added to the heartbreak of Charlie’s passing.”

The TCA statement continued: “The international response to the plight of this baby is a beautiful testament to the irreplaceable value of one human life.”

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Who are the martyrs Pope Francis will beatify in Colombia?

July 28, 2017 CNA Daily News 0

Rome, Italy, Jul 28, 2017 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- During his six-day visit to Colombia in September, Pope Francis will beatify martyrs Bishop Jesús Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve and Fr. Pedro María Ramírez Ramos, who provide a potent testimony as the country heals from decades of conflict.

Bishop Jaramillo was killed by Colombian Marxist guerrillas forces in 1989, while Fr. Ramirez was murdered at the start of the Colombian Civil War in 1948.

The two were recognized as martyrs by the Vatican earlier this year, and will be beatified during the Pope’s Sept. 6-12 visit to Colombia, which he is making largely to encourage efforts for peace and reconciliation after more than 50 years of violent conflict that has left some 200,000 people dead.

Given the nature of their deaths, the two can be seen as belonging to a new wave of “modern martyrs” Pope Francis has often referred to, killed by oppressive regimes of their time such as Nazism, communism and brutal dictatorships.

Born in Santo Domingo, Colombia, in 1916, Bishop Jamillo was one of the many thousands of victims of the 52-year-long civil war between the government and guerrilla rebels.
 
After intensive seminary studies in philosophy, humanities and theology, in 1940 he was ordained a priest with the Xaverian Missionaries of Yarumal at the age of 24. Just four years later, in 1944, he received his doctorate in theology.

Immediately after his ordination Jamillo was sent to serve in the Sabanalarga municipality in the northern most tip of Colombia. Part of the Barranquilla Archdiocese, the area was known at the time to be hostile, and the people had very primitive religious knowledge.

Although the assignment only lasted four months, it cemented in the future martyr a love for both the priesthood and his vocation as a missionary.

In a letter to his rector at the time, Fr. Aníbal Muñoz Duque, Jamillo said “I think that now my spirit is more capable of appreciating the greatness of my missionary vocation, I feel like Christ; I feel in the depths of my being the great love for my sheep.”

After finishing the assignment, Jamillo was then appointed at a professor at the Order’s seminary, where he quickly became known for his clarity, spiritual depth and love for the priesthood. During this time, he also served as a spiritual director at the seminary and worked at the Women’s Prison in Bogotá.

He was named director of novices at the age of 30, and in the year 1950 was named Second Assistant to the Secretary General of the Order and Rector of the seminary. He was easily recognized by those around him for his smile, good humor and pastoral advice.

In 1959 Jamillo was elected Superior General of the Order, guiding them through the years of the Second Vatican Council and the many changes that ensued.

Eight years into his 10 year mandate, he asked permission to step down as Superior General, and began working for the bishops conference as and adviser to the National Council of the Laity.

Not long after, in 1970, Bl. Pope Paul VI named him Apostolic Vicar of Arauca, and he was ordained a bishop in 1971. Just 13 years later, the vicariate was elevated to a diocese, and Jamillo became the first residential bishop of the area.

He quickly gained a reputation as a selfless servant who was close to his people, and launched several pastoral projects aimed at helping the local population.

Jamillo became an outspoken critic of the violence that was being committed by the National Liberation Army (ELN) at the time, however, he was also unafraid to call out what he referred to as a climate of fear among the people that often prompted them to retaliate against the guerrillas.

It was his public criticism of violence that led to his kidnapping Oct. 2, 1989, as he was making a pastoral visit to local parishes in Fortul. According to his biography, he celebrated Mass and administered some Sacraments before setting out for the city on foot when he and his delegation were stopped by armed militants dressed as peasants.

They asked for the bishop, telling him they were members of the ELN and that he was being kidnapped in order to “send a message” to the national government. One of the priests traveling with Jamillo, Fr. Helmer Muñoz, realized what was happening and refused to leave the bishop’s side.

The two were driven for several hours before stopping in a remote location. After praying together and absolving each others’ sins, Jamillo ordered Fr. Muñoz to leave out of obedience when the captors demanded that he go. As he was walking away, Muñoz heard the the bishops’ last known words, when he said: “I will speak to whoever you want me to, but please, don’t do anything to my son.”

Despite reassurances from the captors that Bishop Jamillo would not be hurt, when Fr. Muñoz returned to the spot the following morning he found the bishop’s body. Jamillo was lying on his back in the form of a cross, having been shot in the head twice; his episcopal ring was gone, and his pectoral cross had been broken.

He was buried shortly after and dubbed by the faithful of Arauca as “prophet and martyr of peace,” which is engraved on his tombstone.

The murder of Fr. Pedro María Ramírez Ramos also came at another contentious point in Colombia’s history, when the country was facing divisions after the death of left-wing presidential candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitan.

Born in La Plata, Colombia Oct. 23, 1899, Ramirez was just 12-years-old when his brother, Luis Antonio, invited him to join the seminary. He was officially enrolled in the seminary of Mayor de Garzon in 1915, but left in 1920. However, he entered the seminary again in 1928, this time in Ibague.

Ramírez was ordained a priest just three years later on June 21, 1931. He then served as pastor in various cities until 1946, when he was assigned to Armero just as political conflict in the country began to intensify.

After Gaitan’s death, tensions between liberals and conservatives reached a fever pitch, eventually leading to Colombia’s 10-year civil war, which lasted from 1948-1958 and is commonly referred to as “La Violencia,” or “the Violence.” It was out of this conflict that many of the left-leaning guerrilla groups who have fought against the government for the past 50 years rose.

Amid the chaos of the war, many liberal party groups in Armero protested Gaitan’s death by taking up arms, widely accusing the Church of joining forces with the conservative party; accusations they backed with the Church’s alleged support for conservatives and their frequent appeals to nonviolence.

It was in this atmosphere that an angry mob, alight with anti-religious sentiments, stormed Fr. Ramirez’s parish and a nearby convent April 9, 1949, in an attempt to arrest him.

They started throwing stones and eventually broke into the curial house and went to the chapel, where Fr. Ramirez was praying. He managed to escape with the help of one of the nuns.

The next morning, Ramirez continued his schedule as normal, celebrating Mass and visiting a wounded man in prison. Despite numerous pleas from parishioners and even the city’s mayor to leave town, Ramirez refused, insisting that he would not leave the sisters or the Blessed Sacrament alone.

After returning from the prison, the priest created an escape plan for the sisters, and had them consume all the consecrated hosts, leaving just one for himself. He then stayed in the convent to pen his last will and testament before the mob returned.

In the letter with his testament, Ramirez wrote that “I want to die for Christ and for his faith.” He thanked the bishop for allowing him to become a priest for the people of Armero, “for whom I want to spill my blood.”

“To my family, I will go ahead so that they follow the example of dying for Christ. With special affection, I will look at them from heaven,” he wrote.

Later that afternoon, as the mob returned, he consumed the last host and left his stole and serving vestments with a statue of Our Lady so they would not be desecrated before going out to meet the crowd.

The mob took Fr. Ramirez and beat him with sticks and their fists before bashing his head with a machete. As he fell to the ground, the priest shouted “Father, forgive them! All for Christ!” He was then decapitated, however, his body was later recovered and preserved from further desecration.

Pope Francis has often said that there are more martyrs now than in the early Church, and has praised them as sources of life and strength for the faith.

In an April 22, 2017, liturgy honoring the “new martyrs” of the Church, the Pope noted how in many communities around the world Christians are “objects of persecution.” However, he also noted that it is in difficult moments that people frequently call for “heroes.”

The Church today also needs the heroic witness of martyrs and saints, he said, explaining that this includes “the saints of everyday life,” who move forward with coherency, but also those who “have the courage to accept the grace of being witnesses until the end, until death.”

“All of them are the living blood of the Church. They are the witnesses who carry the Church forward,” he said. By demonstrating with their lives that Jesus is alive and risen, they also “attest with the coherency of their lives and with the strength of the Holy Spirit that they have received this gift.”

[…]