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Catholic Heroes . . . St. Anthony Mary Claret

October 21, 2014 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

St. Anthony Mary Claret has something in common with at least three other saints. Like St. Peter Claver, he was born in northeastern Spain — over 200 years later. Like St. Pio of Pietrelcina, when he heard Confessions, he frequently could read the souls of the penitents, asking them about a sin that they had not confessed. Finally, like St. Damien of Molokai, he traversed a mountainous terrain through tropical rain forests — in his case, to serve the people of Cuba.
Born to Juan and Josefa Claret on December 23, 1807, Anthony was a devout child. As the fifth of seven children, he received an elementary education along with a religious formation that brought him to his life’s vocation — saving souls. After receiving an instruction on the evils and permanence of suffering in Hell, he awoke one night at the age of five, fearful for the lost souls.
He never could abide the sight of suffering people, and contemplating the eternal and excruciating suffering of the damned drove him to seek a way to save souls from such a fate. Frequently, he would be found praying or making a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fusimanya.
In later life he told of his two greatest temptations: to sin against chastity and obedience. Only by penance and prayer did he overcome these temptations.
At the age of 12 he began work as a weaver, later going to Barcelona to develop his trade. During his spare time, he studied French and Latin. However, by the age of 20, he felt the call to religious life and entered the seminary at Vic in 1829 and was ordained in 1835.
He returned to his native parish where he had received a grant to study theology. He stayed there until 1839 when he went to Rome, planning on joining the Carthusians. However, he entered the Jesuit novitiate — but illness necessitated his return to Spain.
For several months he conducted missions before his superiors called him back to Vic where he continued to tend the poor and to preach missions. His effectiveness as a confessor and preacher won him many followers.
He then was assigned to Vilandrau, Catalonia, a town known for its robbers and criminals. Because of them, all the doctors had left the area, so St. Anthony ministered to the sick, resulting in many miraculous cures. He claimed it was not his work, but God’s; by working miracles, our Lord showed how important it is to listen to His Word and follow the Gospel.
Because of his success the Church appointed him to be apostolic nuncio for all of Catalonia. This meant he would need to travel the mountainous terrain to attend to over 400 towns. He traveled lightly with only one tunic and a razor, thus showing his abhorrence for greed and possessions.
During one trip to give a mission, he was attacked by robbers, who became angry when they discovered he had no money. When they prepared to kill him, he begged them to let him preach his scheduled retreat first and that he would come back the next day at the same time. When he arrived, they were so stunned that they knelt and asked for him to hear their Confessions.
After six years, in 1848, he left for the Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa. For 15 months he gave retreats before returning to Spain.
In a short time he founded the Claretians, who serve the poor wherever there is the greatest need. He also established a library — Llibreria Claret, as it is called today. His holiness and zeal spread throughout Spain.
Queen Isabella II, noticing his great gifts, petitioned Pope Pius IX to appoint him to be archbishop of Santiago in Cuba. St. Anthony was consecrated in Barcelona in October 1849 for the new assignment. Before he departed for Cuba, he prepared to make a pilgrimage to three places.
The three destinations represented his three loves: for Spain, for Catalonia, and for his home village. First he stopped at the Shrine of the Virgin of the Pillar, patroness of Spain. He placed his pastoral ring at her feet, asking the people there to say a Hail Mary for him for his intentions.
The second stop on November 2, 1850 was at Our Lady of Montserrat, patroness of Catalonia.
Finally, he stopped at the Shrine of the Virgin of Fusimanya, the same shrine that he visited so many times as a youth.
He embarked in December and arrived in Cuba in February 1851.
St. Anthony labored more as a missionary than as a bishop, as he traversed half of the island of Cuba, which was his diocese. Taking over 18 months to complete his rounds, he was hailed for doing something that had never been done before. So many people would return to the faith when he came to their villages that sometimes it would take over five hours to give Holy Communion to all the attendees at Mass.
During his first visit to his diocese, he handed out thousands of free materials: nearly 40,000 books, 83,500 holy cards, more than 20,000 rosaries, and almost 9,000 medals. In the first two years of his assignment he confirmed over 100,000 persons, heard the Confessions of 300,000 persons, married over 9,000 couples, and reunited over 300 divorced couples.
His miracles while preaching across the island are too numerous to recount here. One time he told farmers that if they did not come to church, their crops would be ruined. Some came and their crops were plentiful but those who did not come had their crops destroyed by a great storm — a storm that only occurred over the land of those not attending.

Baby Jesus

Queen Isabella recalled St. Anthony to Spain in 1857. He obediently returned and served at court, but resolutely refused to become involved in court activities. Not believing in his neutrality, politicians sought to destroy him. Hundreds of attempts were made on his life, but all failed.
For the rest of his life he served in Spain with great diligence and holiness. He wrote many books that proved very popular throughout Europe and the New World. He had the privilege of holding the Baby Jesus during one Christmas service, among many other miracles, all of which can be read about in any of the three books written about his life.
St. Anthony Marie Claret passed into eternity on October 24, 1870. The Church celebrates his feast on October 24.
Dear St. Anthony, you were fearless before your many enemies because you sought to win their souls. You longed and lived to save souls. Grant by your intercession that we may learn to work tirelessly to save souls, to evangelize each person we meet by simply loving them and trusting in the mercy of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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