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Catholic Heroes . . . St. Andrew Bobola

June 1, 2021 saints No Comments

By DEB PIROCH

“Andrew,” the name of Christ’s first apostle, is a name taken from the Greek, meaning “strong and manly.” Two of the Gospel writers say Andrew was brother to Peter, both fishermen famously called to follow Christ and become “fishers of men.” Tradition says the first St. Andrew even traveled as a missionary to some of the Slavic nations, and as such makes an excellent namesake for St. Andrew Bobola (1591-1657), our saint this week.
St. Andrew Bobola is a secondary patron saint of Poland. (And Poland has quite a few patron saints!) Born of noble parents in an area of Poland named Sandomir, he became a Jesuit in the best tradition, after studying in Vilnius, during a time when the kingdoms of Poland and Lithuania were united. After his Ordination in 1630 and a six-year posting in Vilnius, he opted to spend over twenty years in active missionary work.
Earlier on Andrew was also chosen superior of the Jesuit house at Broboinsk and, in this period of his life, was noted for his commitment to caring for the sick when a plague epidemic hit the area. But it was in his missionary work he was happiest. Returning to the mission, he was patient, and must have been riveting and charismatic; he would convert whole Orthodox villages to the Catholic faith.
Unfortunately, due to historical circumstances at the time, there was much bad feeling between ethnic groups, with Catholics trying to keep the faith against encroaching schismatics or Orthodox, and physical attacks by Russian Cossacks and Tartars. Andrew or “Andrzej,” was offered a place to stay in Pinsk, Belarus, in 1952. While he felt foreboding that this was not a good idea, he accepted. It was an area that would be attacked in the near future by these Cossacks and Tartars. But meanwhile, he used his time to teach the people there, often in hiding, who were so ignorant of their religion, they did not even know the Blessed Trinity.
Andrew was martyred on May 16, 1657, with the greatest barbarity. A summary from “The Woodstock Letters” on the Jesuit website — jesuitonlinelibrary.bc.edu — contains a detailed account. Its author writes: “It is only when we view the ordeal sub specie eternitatis that martyrdom becomes something beautiful, something we half fearfully wish might be our privilege.” The congregation had written: “Only rarely, or perhaps never, has so cruel a martyrdom been investigated by this body” (February 1, 1939).
When Andrew’s carriage was surrounded that day, he knew what was coming and raised his head to God. The first blow was struck so hard he fell to his knees, sprayed with his own blood. Next, he was bound with a handmade crown of thorns. Then, a noose lassoed about his neck, the Cossacks pulled him between two horses which forced him to run in between, toward the village. If he slowed, they let an axe blade fall against the back of his shoulders, pushing him on. Eventually he fell, exhausted, but the horses dragged him the rest of the way nonetheless.
Addressing his captors from the dirt on their arrival, Andrew urged the men to repent, but it only increased their anger and one sliced at him. Andrew dodged and the Cassock missed; instead of killing him, he had amputated his hand. Swinging again, the blade next impacted Andrew’s foot.
These Cossacks were like devils from the pits of Hell. Located near a slaughterhouse, they wanted Andrew to suffer like an animal, so they dragged him there next. They scoured his skin with a metal brush used to clean swine skin, then tested him again by telling him to renounce his faith. Andrew refused. The monsters still hadn’t had enough. Thinking, “Well, he has a tonsure, let’s enlarge it, and he ought to have a chasuble.” So, they stripped skin from these areas of his body, literally carving the desired images onto it, so the poor saint had flesh hanging from his body. They then turned him over, rubbed raw bleeding flesh into a bed with pieces of rough straw.
Still there was more, because Andrew prayed incessantly and his single-mindedness in devotion irritated them. They mangled his ears and nose, and cut off his lips. The man still dared pray. So, using pinchers, they pulled out his tongue from the root, and he passed out. At this point someone mercifully at last dispatched him with a sword, likely stabbing to the heart.
Due to warring parties of that time, Andrew was buried swiftly underground, even his headstone, probably to prevent desecration. The location was forgotten but, according to Regina Magazine, St. Bobola appeared twice to the rector of the Jesuit College in Pinsk, revealing the location of his grave. When unearthed, he was found to be incorrupt, his body fragrant. He was declared blessed in 1853, then canonized by Pope Pius XI on Easter Sunday in 1938. The road to this canonization was written in crooked lines, however. This might be the only saint that Rome had to reclaim by negotiating with the Kremlin.
From the time that his tomb was rediscovered, the Jesuits were abolished and reestablished, and Poland was annexed. During this period, Moscow took over Poland and Bolsheviks whisked away the body of the martyr. Andrew’s relocation was a predictable attempt to subvert religion, and for a time his body was put on exhibit in the Museum of Hygiene. This particularly offended the Poles.
Although over the years the Poles had officially tried to recover the relics, but it was not until the director of the Papal Relief Mission became involved that progress was made. As Rome was helping donate substantial charitable funds, the Soviets were much more inclined to listen to such requests. (Woodstock Letters, February 1, 1924 at https://jesuitonlinelibrary.bc.edu/). Nevertheless, for those interested, it is quite enlightening to read the Jesuit printed account of the arduous steps, negotiation to delivery, to recover the relics.
Even the route determined was not easy, for Russia was determined that the relics would at no point go through Poland. The journey thus ranged from Moscow to Kiev to Turkey to Rome. At the last moment, for instance, the Soviets also tried to control the gift by adding that it was not to be returned to the Poles. Obviously, Rome refused, and the Soviets backed down. Once the body was finally ready for shipping, the trip took roughly a month, arriving in Rome on the Feast of All Saints, 1924. And June 8, 1938, the canonization not only saw the relics enter Poland, but also a master tour. From Jesuits.eu:
On June 8, 1938, the coffin in procession was transported through Slovenia, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia to Poland. The Slovenes, Hungarians, Czechs, and Slovaks paid tribute to the holy martyr. Everywhere the body of St. Andrzej Bobola was greeted with great joy and prayer. The relics arrived through Zebrzydowice, Dziedzice, Czechowice, Oswiecim, Krakow, Katowice, Kalisz, Poznan, and Lodz to Warsaw. In Poland, tens of thousands of believers prayed at the relics of the saint and on the route of the passage of St. Andrzej Bobola. Millions of faithful paid homage to the holy martyr.
On May 16, 1957, Pope Pius XII wrote an encyclical marking the 300th anniversary of St. Andrew’s death. In 2002 the Bishops’ Conference of Poland named St. Andrzej Bobola a Patron Saint of Poland. Today his sacred remains rest at the chapel of the Jesuits at Rakowiecka, since 2007 christened a national shrine.
St. Andrew Bobola’s feast day is May 16.

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