The Blessed Virgin Mary by repeated visions inspired St. Peter Nolasco and St. Raymond of Penafort to found with the aid of King James of Aragon the Order of Our Lady of Ransom for the redemption of Christian captives from the infidels. The Church commemorates today this incomparable work of charity.
Last night before I went to bed, I was checking some of my usual blogs. One blog I like to check about once a day contains all the highlights of mostly Catholic news, Pewsitter.com. One of the headlines was something like this: "Georgia school district teaches how the Prophet Mohammed elevates women through Sharia law." The claim that a school district in the United States was promoting Islam, naturally, led me to checking it out. I was, indeed, shocked to find this is mostly true. The public school district in Henry County, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, has a reading curriculum enlightening the students to the benefits of Islam. This handout titled, "My Name is Ahlima." is easily accessible through the county school district's website. Shocking. But certainly not surprising.
The government run schools, for going on 40 or 50 years now, have become purely a hub of social activity, propaganda, and experimentation. 10 years ago, they completely lost all credibility. So the re-writing and de-Catholiciszing history is nothing new. Fortunately for me, out of mere circumstance, I was allowed to attend private school in my youth. It was there that I learned a great deal about history, not just social studies, and I developed a true love for it. Since many of the contributors of the teacher's salaries at that school were Catholics, my history classes were never devoid of Christianity. As such, I learned that those awful, horrible, torturous Catholic Crusades actually had a purpose. And that purpose was to retrieve the Holy Sites from the Mohammedans and rid the Empire of their evil influence.
Now, I know that this is certainly not what is taught in public schools. I was informed a few years ago by a fellow student of our oldest son that the Catholics started the Crusades and the Moslems were only attempting to defend themselves. After all, their religion is not one of violence, but peace. This young person, to my sorrow, was a Catholic. The public school system is quietly leading the way for the Mohammedans to do what they have done to every single country they have taken a strong-hold in---convert them to Islam.
This alone should be very frightening to Christians, especially Catholics. Scarier, yet, is the fact that each of the countries the Mohammedans has conquered are still Moslem, except for one--Spain. If U.S. students had actually been taught the true history of the spread of the Mohammedans, Christians might actually know that their successes in converting all people to Islam was quite simple. Perhaps, the story of St Peter Nolasco and Our Blessed Mother can shed some light on these very dark times.
When Mohammed died in 632, his religion might possibly have died with him. Most of his followers weren't really all that interested in Islam to begin with and they had adopted it only to avoid attacks by Mohammed and his raiders. But Mohammed's successor, the Caliph Abu Bakr, adopted the heinous policy of killing anyone who rejected Islam. Heinous as it was, it was highly effective. This policy was enforced for centuries, though it is used today only by the most radical Islamists. (In modern times, individuals who leave Islam for other faiths are often shunned by their family and friends. This treatment is very difficult and, as such, makes apostasy quite rare.) If Abu Bakr's policies weren't vicious enough, Caliph Omar would set in place the philosophy behind the driving force of all the Arab conquests in the years and centuries that followed. His orders to his armies were based on this principle: "It behooves us to devour the Christians and our sons to devour their descendants, so long as any of them remain on the earth." With this order to follow, the Moslems took over the northern half of India, the old Harappan civilization which is modern-day Pakistan, Afghanistan, parts of Russia, North Africa, and Spain. Only 100 years after Mohammed's death, the Arabs controlled most of the civilized world and were the strongest power in the world. These conquered people converted to the religion of Islam, firmly entrenching the Moslems where they remain to this day.
The reasons for Moslem success was not necessarily related to violence, and this is what makes this little history lesson so important for today's Christians. Many of the people conquered by Islam were highly dissatisfied with their governments and rulers. Most were Semites and considered the Moslems to be liberating them. More importantly, though, Islam offered incentives for people to convert. Non-Moslems did not have rights as citizens and had to pay heavy taxes. Also, these regions will filled with pagans and their multiple religious beliefs. There were confusing heresies and most people found it difficult to sort through. Islam, on the contrary, was a simple religious belief and it was easy to convert. But what of the Christians who didn't convert, who refused to deny Our Lord Jesus Christ? Those people, particularly in Spain, were often murdered but many were captured, taken to Africa, imprisoned, and tortured until they denied their faith. To be sure, Christians in a Moslem land were never shown mercy or allowed to practice their religious beliefs in peace.
The Moslems occupied Spain for about 800 years. Yet, throughout the reign of the Mohammedans, Catholic kings and leaders never gave up hope. There somehow remained a remnant of leaders and saints determined to take back their lands and rid themselves of the usurpers. It was during these dark times, when Christianity seemed defeated, that God sent St. Peter Nolasco.
St. Peter Nolasco was born in Lanquedoc, France about 1189. His parents died when he was still a young boy and left to him a considerable fortune. Our Lord had instilled in him an incredible sense of piety and a great love for the poor. At an early age, he decided to become a monk. He found, however, that the Church into which he had been baptized was riddled with heresies. In an effort to escape them, St. Peter Nolasco made a pilgrimage to Barcelona in Spain to offer works of charity. It was there that he saw the violence and horror afflicted upon the Christians in Spain. He was so moved by their plight that St. Peter Nolasco spent his entire fortune ransoming Christians from the Moors (the Moslems), who had taken them slaves into Grenada and the African coast. The tortures and abuses they faced to get them to renounce their faith incensed the dear Saint. He spoke often of their plight to his confessor, St. Raymond of Penafort. He desired only to start a religious order with it's purpose to ransom Christian slaves from the Moslems.
St. Raymond was so moved by St. Peter's desires that he spoke to King James I, King of Aragon who was already fully involved in the Reconquista, the re-conquering of Spain from its Moslem invaders. Of course, King James was sympathetic to the cause, as was the whole of Europe. The entire Christian world was in constant prayer to Our Lord and the Blessed Mother to remedy the evil under which the nation had been captive for so many centuries.
Because God is true to his promises, on August 1, 1218, the Divine Will manifested. On that night, the entire Christian world was celebrating the Feast of St. Peter in Chains. (This feast was removed from the liturgical calendar by Pope John XXIII in 1960 and is only celebrated by traditional Catholics who use the 1954 Calendar.) This feast commemorated the day St. Peter was freed from Herod's prison by an angel and is recounted in Acts 12:6. But also on that night, the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Peter Nolasco, St. Raymond of Penafort, and King James I at the same time and through these three humble servants, God established a work of the perfect charity---the redemption of captives. Our Lady asked St. Peter Nolasco to establish a religious order with the sole purpose of delivering the captives, even offering themselves as ransom pledges if necessary.
On August 10, 1218, King James I of Aragon established the royal, military, and religious Order of Our Lady of Ransom. Some of the members were knights, others were clerics. But there mission was the same--to free the captive Christians from the oppression and torture of the Mohammedans. The Order grew rapidly across Spain and was solidly approved by Pope Gregory IX in 1230. Peter and his companions traveled through Spain, recruited new members, and collected funds to purchase captives. They sailed across the ocean into Moslem lands and negotiated with the slave owners. The brought home boat-load after boat-load of Christians, each one paid for by ransom.
Eventually a feast day was established in the Order on September 24. In 1696, Pope Innocent XII extended the feast day for the entire Church. In 1891, Pope Leo XII encouraged the devotion, with the focus on how Our Lady ransoms us from the slavery of our sins, and brings us the grace of our conversion.
This story is especially relevant today as Christians in this country face an onslaught of attacks from all directions. Many Christians are marginal Christians, some have lost their faith entirely. Many Catholics have received poor catechesis and couldn't begin to explain their faith, much less defend it. These circumstances are exactly the conditions needed for large numbers of people to convert to Islam. When there is a spiritual vacuum, something must fill it's place. As our great nation gradually converts to Islam, what will happen to those Christians who refuse to deny Our Lord Jesus?
We must never cease to pray. Spain remained under bondage to the Moslems for 800 years. Perhaps the Lord will show his Mercy for us long before that.
Our Lady of Ransom, pray for us.