The patron saints of World Youth Day in Madrid

  • March 16, 2011
St. John of the Cross (1542-1591)The nine patron saints named for this summer’s World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain, serve well as patrons for young Catholics, said Fr. Edwin Galea.

“Their lives tell us that all things are possible to God,” said Galea, who will be a part of the World Youth Day pilgrimage run by the archdiocese of Toronto’s Office of Catholic Youth.

“The worst sinner could become the greatest saint so they inspire us. They provide us with a depth of spirituality that is not normally attained in the ordinary world but can inspire a person not to give up.”

The patron saints were announced by organizers of the Madrid event and confirmed by the Holy See.

“Our life is a spiritual journey so the saints who have gone before us help young people to grasp the mystery of life as a spiritual journey,” Galea, pastor at Toronto’s St. Maria Goretti parish, told The Catholic Register.

The nine saints all have ties to Spain.

“The list of patrons encompasses the history of the Church in Spain, from the first saints of Madrid (St. Isidore and St. Maria), through the founders of the Discalced Carmelites and the Society of Jesus (St. Teresa and St. Ignatius Loyola), a great missionary to the East (St. Francis Xavier), the summit of mystic literature (St. John of the Cross), the force behind diocesan priestly spirituality (St. John of Avila), the first saint of Hispanic America (St. Rose of Lima) and a young person of our times (St. Rafael Arnaiz), who was recently canonized,” said a statement from organizers.

Here are brief glimpses into the lives of the nine patron saints of World Youth Day.

St. John of the Cross (1542-1591):
After joining the Carmelite order in Spain, St. Teresa of Avila asked St. John to help her reform movement to bring the order back to a life of prayer. But many Carmelites felt threatened by this and some members kidnapped him, locking him in a cell and beating him. After nine months, he escaped. From then on, his life was devoted to sharing his experience of God’s love.

St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556)
A cannon ball and a series of bad operations ended this Spanish soldier’s military career in 1521. While St. Ignatius recovered, he read the lives of the saints and decided to dedicate himself to becoming a soldier of the Catholic faith. Soon after, he experienced visions, but a year later suffered a trial of fears and scruples, driving him almost to despair. Out of this experience he wrote his famous Spiritual Exercises. St. Ignatius founded the Jesuits.

St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552)
Born in Spain, St. Francis Xavier was the son of a wealthy and noble family. At university, he met St. Ignatius Loyola, who convinced him to use his education and talents to spread the Gospel as a Jesuit. In 1540, he started his life’s work as a missionary in the East Indies, Japan and China. He was said to have been responsible for more than 50,000 conversions to the Catholic faith.

St. Isidore the Worker (1080-1172)
A field labourer who would begin every day with Mass, he depended totally on God and the help of the angels. One day, his master saw another plough drawn by white oxen next to the plough of St. Isidore. He ran towards it, but they disappeared out of his master’s sight. From then onwards, St. Isidore’s sanctity became known as such that the angels would help him even when he would plough the fields.  

St. Maria of the Head (exact years unknown)
Despite the centuries that have passed since she lived, Maria and her husband, St. Isidore, continue to be strong examples of the vocational meaning of marriage as a vocation through which people can achieve holiness. She was humble, hardworking, a good wife and mother and a virtuous and devout Catholic.

St. Rafael Arnaiz (1911-1938)
After studying to become an architect in Madrid, he experienced the call of God to consecrate himself in monastic life, entering the Trappist monastery. God wished to test him with a painful sickness — acute diabetes — that forced him to leave the monastery three times. But always, he returned. St. Rafael was canonized in 2009.

St. John of Avila (1500-1569)
Spiritual director of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, among others, he drew large crowds with his denunciations of evil and his many sermons. His missionary efforts were centred on Andalusia, a community in Spain, and his letters and other writings have become Spanish classics.

St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)
She brought about the reform of the Carmelites, founding the Discalced Carmelites, who centre their life on prayer and penance. Silence and extreme poverty are signs of their identity, something that was not lived in the convents of the Calced Carmelites. Throughout her life, she founded 15 reformed convents throughout Spain.

St. Rose of Lima (1586-1617)
St. Rose of Lima was not a nun, rather, she was a lay tertiary, spending most of her life at her family home where she worked to support the family. As she grew older, she was so devoted to her vow of chastity that she used pepper and lye to ruin her complexion so she wouldn’t be attractive. St. Rose was a mystic and visionary, who received many mental and physical sufferings, including an invisible stigmata.

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