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Catholic Heroes… St. Peregrine

June 15, 2021 saints No Comments


Peregrine Laziosi (1260-1345) lived a long life, thanks to a miraculous healing. But one might be surprised at the many turns in the journey of this person’s life, for he was born in a region not only politically anti-papal but also under papal interdict and excommunicated, for its defiance of the Holy Father.
The only child of well-to-do parents, Peregrine as a teenager lived in an area that was in open defiance of the Pope. To try to smooth over the discord, St. Philip Benizi, the founder of the Friar Order Servants of Mary, was sent to his town of Forli, in northern Italy. While Philip was speaking, the crowd grew unruly and, more to the point, a teenage Peregrine grew angry enough to punch St. Philip in the face.
Some biographies say St. Philip immediately offered him the other cheek, whereupon the future saint Peregrine immediately repented and had a conversion of heart.
Although the times were ones in which religious generally took their faith most earnestly, St. Peregrine perhaps did so even more. After asking forgiveness from St. Philip, he would receive a vision from the Blessed Virgin, urging him to become a Servite brother at Siena, in the same order begun by St. Philip.
Peregrine was not only very devoted to the Blessed Virgin, but also to the pursuit of solitude, silence, and frequent Confession, to which he often added additional mortifications. He was dedicated to the poor; like our Lord, it was said that during a time of special want, he multiplied grain and wine to help feed the local people. It was also said that so devout was he in pursuit of virtue that he didn’t sit down for 30 years! Indeed, he frequently stood for extra penance while he prayed. And when he did sleep, he often did it against a rock, on hard ground, leaning against something — in a way to impose a cross upon himself, even as he slept.
When Peregrine was around the age of sixty, some sort of ailment began to affect his foot. It was either cancer, or perhaps varicose veins which deteriorated into ulcers and eventually gangrene. Whatever the case nearly eight hundred years ago, the problem was serious and had a noxious smell that made it uncomfortable to be near him.
He was told eventually that they would have to amputate the foot the next day. Even in modern times, surgery is not always successful and can cause pain, infection, or death on the operating table. Imagine the early 1300s. Opium was used as type of rough anesthesia; there was no notion of germs or how infection was caused.
Even much later in Victorian times, surgery was generally left as a last resort, meaning the patient was at his or her weakest and the patient often died. We have no doubt that Peregrine accepted the news, but that night he prayed before a fresco of the crucifixion. (Note: The fresco is now in the fourteenth-century room of Forli’s Basilica, reached via the sanctuary.)
As he prayed, he felt like he fell asleep, or was in a dream-like state. And in the “dream,” Christ descended from the cross to touch his foot. The next day, when someone came to amputate his foot, it was healed. There was no problem, no cancer, he had been completely and miraculously cured. For this reason, to this day St. Peregrine is invoked in life-threatening illnesses.
Often, he is the “cancer saint,” but he could just as easily be the “COVID saint” or your intercessor for any other illness in times of great need. Many miraculous healings have taken place — even at his tomb.
St. Veronica of Giuliani was devoted to St. Peregrine. Why? She was a great Italian mystic and saint of the 1700s. We will hold her story for another day, but she prayed to St. Peregrine during an illness — we have been unable to pin this down in specifics — and was also healed through his intercession.
How do we know she was healed by St. Peregrine? Well, she saw the Christ Child at age three, and was already giving away her goods to the poor before her mother died when Veronica was seven. Over her lifetime, she had frequent visions of saints like Catherine, Rita, and Augustine, not to mention Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Ordered to keep a diary which exceeded many thousands of words, the Devil hated it so much he frequently impeded her, to the point that when she was hounded terribly, the Virgin took over and dictated it herself.
So, it’s fair to say that if she thought St. Peregrine helped her, she believed sincerely he did.
Back to St. Peregrine. As one might imagine, the miraculous healing of his foot did nothing to impair his reputation for holiness — quite the contrary. He died May 1, 1345, aged 85, of a fever and was canonized roughly four centuries later. Today, throughout the world, just as many centuries ago, there remain shrines dedicated to his memory.
These are special places of peace and comfort both to those who are praying for loved ones suffering from a life-threatening illness, as well as those praying for the souls of those who have passed away from one. One of the many chapels in the United States dedicated to this special intercessor is at the famed mission church, San Juan Capistrano, though sadly it is now closed due to COVID measures.
Although Peregrine is by no means the most popular name, we must not assume that this St. Peregrine is the first or only St. Peregrine. Already in the second century after Christ we had the first martyr named Peregrine, a boy saint martyred for refusing to adore the Emperor Commodus. He and his male companions were all tortured and flogged to death. The name means “pilgrim.”
There are those who like to intimate that the healing of St. Peregrine overnight was no miracle, but rather a type of cancer cure employing infected cells. However, the online study cited by Wikipedia on a Dr. Coley from the 1800s showed: no instant cures, results achieved were anything but “spontaneous” but rather outcomes of multiple tries using both introduction of infection followed by surgery, and this so-called “Peregrine” effect even could cause death.
Let’s just please call it a miracle as the Vatican does, when the occurrence is immediate and happened without scientific explanation.
Online on YouTube, for those who have access, you can see the body of St. Peregrine encased in a glass coffin in the Basilica in Forli. The clip is short but moving. The saint’s body has skeletonized over the centuries, except for one element that has remained preserved. Yes, you guessed it. The foot that was healed miraculously is still marvelously intact. (Information: Courtesy of Deacon Sandoval, Archdiocese of San Francisco.)
Peregrine was beatified in 1609 and canonized in 1726.
St. Peregrine, preserve us from all life-threatening illnesses. Amen.

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