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December 1
St. Edmund Campion
Edmund lived in the sixteenth century. Originally raised a Catholic, he received a scholarship to St. John’s College in Oxford. He was a very popular and brilliant young student. In fact, Edmund was chosen to deliver a welcoming speech to Queen Elizabeth when she visited the college. A group of his fellow students were attracted by his happy nature and his many talents. They made him their leader. Even the queen and her chief ministers admired this attractive young man. Edmund became an Anglican deacon in 1564. But Edmund began to have doubts about Protestantism. He went to Ireland to study. Becoming convinced of the authenticity of the Catholic Church, he considered returning to the Catholic religion. At the time, there was a persecution of Catholics in England. Edmund knew that he would lose the queen’s favor and all his chances for a great career if he chose to become a Catholic. The young man prayed and reached his decision. He would become a Catholic anyway. After he had escaped from England, Edmund studied to become a priest. He entered the Society of Jesus. When the Holy Father decided to send some Jesuits to England, Father Campion was one of the first to go. The night before he left, one of his fellow priests wrote over his doorway: “Father Edmund Campion, martyr.” Although he knew what danger faced him, the holy priest set out cheerfully. In fact, he had many a laugh because of his disguise as a jewel merchant. In England he preached with great success to Catholics who had to meet with him in secret. Spies of the queen’s men were everywhere trying to catch him. He wrote: “I won’t escape their hands much longer. Sometimes I read letters that say, ‘Campion has been caught’!” It was a traitor who finally brought about the Jesuit’s capture. Edmund was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he was visited by the government officials who had been so fond of him. It seems that even Queen Elizabeth came. But none of their threats or promises could make him give up the Catholic faith. Nor could tortures break him. In spite of all his sufferings, he still defended himself and his fellow priests in such a marvelous manner that no one could answer him. Yet the enemies of the Church condemned him anyway. Before he was put to death, St. Edmund forgave the man who had betrayed him. He even helped save the man’s life. St. Edmund Campion died in 1581. He was about forty-one years old. Pope Paul VI canonized him in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.
St. Edmund Campion studied his faith, was deeply convinced of its truth, and was heroic in witnessing to it. Like him, we can try to understand our faith always better. Let’s ask him for the grace to be true to our convictions and values.
December 2
St. Bibiana
Bibiana’s father, Flavian, had been prefect of the city of Rome in early Christian times. He and his wife were known as fervent Christians. When Emperor Julian renounced the faith, he began persecuting Christians. That is when Flavian was arrested. He was branded on the face with a hot iron and then exiled. After he died, his wife, Dafrosa, who led a good Christian life, was made a prisoner in her own house. Then she, too, was put to death. Left alone with her sister, Demetria, Bibiana tried with all her heart to trust in God and pray. Everything they had was being taken from them. Then the two young women were brought to court. Poor Demetria was so frightened that she dropped dead at the judge’s feet. Bibiana was handed over to a sinful woman, who was supposed to make the girl as evil as she was. This woman tried by sweet words and many clever tricks to make Bibiana commit sins of impurity. However, the saint could not be moved. She was brought back to court and beaten. Yet she held to her faith and chastity as strongly as ever. St. Bibiana was beaten to death with leaden scourges. A priest buried her at night beside her mother and sister.
Sometimes we can’t understand why good people are allowed to suffer. It may also seem that people who do evil get away with it. When we feel confused or resentful about this, we can ask St. Bibiana for help. From heaven, where she enjoys the reward of her fidelity, she’ll help us see that fair judgment doesn’t always come in this world, but in the next.
December 3
St. Francis Xavier
This great missionary was born at Xavier Castle in Spain in 1506. He went to the University of Paris when he was eighteen. Here he met St. Ignatius Loyola, who was about to start the Society of Jesus. St. Ignatius tried to get Francis to join him. At first the happy-go-lucky young man would not think of it. St. Ignatius repeated to him the words of Jesus in the Gospel: “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” At last, Francis saw clearly that his place in life was among the Jesuits. When Francis was thirty-four, St. Ignatius sent him as a missionary to the East Indies. The king of Portugal wanted to give him presents and a servant to accompany him. Francis refused his kind offer and explained: ”The best way to acquire true dignity is to wash one’s own clothes and boil one’s own pot.” During the course of his amazing career in Goa, India, Japan, and other lands of the East, St. Francis received thousands of converts. In fact, he baptized so many people that he became too weak to raise his arms. He gathered the little children around him and taught them the Catholic faith. Then he invited them to spread the faith they had learned. There was nothing St. Francis wouldn’t do to help people. Once he faced a fierce band of raiders, alone, with no weapon but his crucifix. They backed away and did not attack his Christian tribes. The saint also brought many bad-living Christians to repentance. His only “tools” were his gentle, polite ways and his prayers. In the midst of his painful journeys and great labors, the saint was full of a special joy coming from God. St. Francis longed to go into China, where no foreigners were permitted. At last, the arrangements were made, but the great missionary became ill. He died almost alone in 1552 on an island off the coast of China. He was just forty-six years-old. Francis Xavier was proclaimed a saint by Pope Gregory XV in 1622. He was in the best of company at the canonization ceremony in Rome. Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, Philip Neri, and Isidore the Farmer were also proclaimed saints that day.
We can ask St. Francis Xavier to help us understand and love the missions. So many people still wait for the Gospel message. But they need generous missionaries to bring that message. We can pray to St. Francis Xavier and ask him to send many more holy missionaries to those who still wait.
December 4
St. John of Damascus
St. John lived in the seventh and eighth centuries. He was born in the city of Damascus of a good Christian family. When his father died, he became the governor of Damascus. At this time, the emperor made a law forbidding Christians from having statues or pictures of our Lord and the saints. John joined with many others to defend this Christian practice. The pope himself asked John to keep telling people that it is a good thing to have statues and holy pictures. They make us think of our Lord, the Blessed Mother and the saints. But the emperor would not give in to the Holy Father. He continued to forbid putting statues in public places. St. John bravely wrote three letters in an attempt to explain the practice to the emperor. The emperor became so furious that he wanted revenge. John decided he should resign as governor. He gave away all his money to the poor and became a monk. He kept on writing marvelous books to defend the Catholic religion. At the same time, he did all kinds of humble work in the monastery. One day he even went to sell baskets in the streets of Damascus. Many of those who had known him before began to laugh at him. Here was the man who had once been the great governor of the city now selling baskets. But John knew that the money received would be put to good use at the monastery. He thought of Jesus, the Son of God, who chose to be born in a stable. He felt privileged to imitate our Lord’s humility. St. John died a peaceful, happy death in the year 749.
The crucifix on our wall and the statues and pictures of saints in our homes and churches remind us that our everlasting home is heaven. We can ask St. John of Damascus to help us to live in such a way that the Lord will welcome us into his eternal home someday.
December 5
St. Sabas
Sabas, born in 439, is one of the most famous monks of Palestine. His father was an officer in the army. When the officer had to go to Alexandria, Egypt, he left his young son with his brother-in-law. Since his aunt treated him badly, young Sabas ran away to another uncle. When an argument over his property arose between the two uncles, Sabas felt terrible. He liked to see people at peace. So he ran away to live in a monastery. His two uncles felt ashamed of themselves. They told Sabas to come out and they would give him all his property. But by this time, Sabas was too happy in the monastery. He did not want to leave. When he was eighteen, Sabas went to Jerusalem. He wanted to learn to live alone with God. He was advised to live in another monastery for a while because he was still young. He obeyed and joyfully did all the hard work. He chopped wood for fires and carried heavy jugs of water. One day, St. Sabas was sent to Alexandria, Egypt, as the traveling companion of another monk. There he saw his father and mother! They tried their best to make him come home with them. They wanted him to enjoy the same honors his father had won. But Sabas was only interested in the honor that comes from doing the will of God. He did not even want to take the money they tried to give him. Finally he accepted three gold pieces. Then, when he got back to the monastery, he gave them to the abbot. At last, he was able to spend four years completely alone, as he desired. But so many disciples came to him to learn to live the life of a monk that he had to start a new monastery for them. Before long, he was put in charge of all the monks in Palestine. Sometimes Sabas was sent to the emperor on important Church affairs. Even then, he wore his poor cloth habit and kept to his hours of prayer. St. Sabas died in 532.
St. Sabas was a very prayerful person. He went out of his way to keep in touch with God. If we feel the noise of distractedness and anxiousness inside, we can say a prayer to St. Sabas. He’ll help us be peaceful and calm so that we can hear God’s voice.
December 6
St. Nicholas
Nicholas is the great patron of children and of Christmas giving. He lived in the fourth century. Santa Claus is a Dutch form of the name St. Nicholas. This famous saint was born in Asia Minor, which is modern- day Turkey. After his parents died, he gave all his money to charity. Once, a certain poor man was about to abandon his daughters to a life of sin because they did not have the money needed to get married. Nicholas heard about his problem. He went to the man’s house at night and tossed a little pouch of gold through a window. This was for the oldest daughter. He did the same thing for the second daughter. The grateful father kept watch to find out who was being so good to them. When St. Nicholas came a third time, the man recognized him. He thanked Nicholas over and over again. Later St. Nicholas became bishop. He loved justice. It is said that once he saved three innocent men who had been falsely condemned to death. He then turned to their accuser. He made the man admit that he had been offered money to get rid of the three men. St. Nicholas died in Myra, and a great basilica was built over his tomb. Many churches were dedicated in his name. When his relics were brought to Bari, Italy, this city became a famous shrine for pilgrims from all over Europe. Nicholas is the patron of sailors and prisoners, as well as children. With St. Andrew, he is the patron of Russia.
We can learn from St. Nicholas how to have generous, loving hearts. He went out of his way to do good for people. He’ll teach us how to be the same kind of person if we ask him.
December 7
St. Ambrose
Ambrose was born in Germany around 340. He was the son of the Roman prefect of Gaul. When his father died, his mother took her family back to Rome. She and her daughter, St. Marcellina, brought Ambrose up well. He became an outstanding lawyer. Then he was made governor of Milan and the territory around it. But, by a strange event, Ambrose the governor became Ambrose the bishop. In those days, the people used to suggest to the pope the name of the one they would like as bishop. To Ambrose’s great surprise, the people of Milan chose him. He tried to refuse, but it seemed to be God’s will. Thus, Ambrose became a priest and then bishop of Milan. Ambrose became a great model and father to his people. Wanting to be as worthy as he could be of this high office, Ambrose gave away everything he owned and started to live more simply. He studied theology and the Bible. Ambrose resisted all evil with amazing courage. He faced an attacking army and convinced the leader to turn back. Another time, Emperor Theodosius came from the East. He wanted to save Italy from invaders. He urged all his officers to respect the bishop of Milan. Yet, when this emperor ordered the massacre of 7,000 Thessalonians, Ambrose did not hesitate to confront him. He made Theodosius do public penance. The emperor did not become furious and take revenge. He realized that the saint was right. Very humbly, he publicly made penance for his sin. Ambrose had shown the world that no human being, even a ruler, is above the laws of God and the Church. People were afraid of what would happen to Italy when Ambrose died. When he became sick, they begged him to pray for a longer life. The saint replied, ”I have not behaved among you in such a way that I should be ashamed to live longer; nor am I afraid to die, for we have a good Master.” Bishop Ambrose died on Good Friday in the year 397.
St. Ambrose was a great priest and bishop. He put his whole heart and energy into his ministry for God’s people. We can ask him to help us value the priesthood. He’ll teach us to appreciate priests and to pray for them.
December 8
Immaculate Conception of Mary
Our first parents, Adam and Eve, sinned seriously by disobeying God. We call this first sin “the fall.” Because of it, everyone since Adam and Eve is born into the world with original sin. We are all children of our first parents. Therefore, the whole human race is marked by their first sin. But God gave the Blessed Virgin Mary a marvelous privilege. Because she was to be the mother of Jesus, she was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, without this original sin. God preserved Mary from all sin, including original sin, in view of Jesus’ redemptive act on the cross. There was never the slightest sin in our Holy Mother. That is why in one of the Church’s favorite hymns we sing: ”You are all-beautiful, O Mary, and there is no sin in you.” This great privilege of our Lady is called her Immaculate Conception. In 1854, Pope Pius IX proclaimed to the whole world that there was no doubt at all that Mary was conceived without sin. Four years later, she appeared to Bernadette at Lourdes. When St. Bernadette asked the lovely lady who she was, Mary joined her hands, raised her eyes toward heaven, and said, ”I am the Immaculate Conception.”
We can honor Mary as the Immaculate Conception with the prayer: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us.” We can also honor her by reciting three Hail Marys every morning and night.
December 9
St. Juan Diego
It was to Juan Diego that Mary, the Mother of God, first introduced herself to the world as Our Lady of Guadalupe. Juan lived in the sixteenth century when Mexico City was known as the Valley of Anahuac. He belonged to the Chichimeca people, and was called Talking Eagle. Juan Diego was his Christian name. On December 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we can read about the miraculous events of Mary’s appearances to Juan Diego. After Juan’s particular mission was completed, it is said that he became a hermit. He spent the rest of his life in prayer and penance. His little hut was near the first chapel that was built on Tepeyac Hill. He was greatly esteemed. Parents considered it their fondest wish to have their children grow up to be like Juan Diego. Juan took care of the little church and greeted the pilgrims who began to come there to honor their Mother of Guadalupe. He would show them the miraculous tilma or cloak, that preserves Mary’s beautiful image. Pope John Paul II declared Juan Diego blessed on May 14, 1990. The pope personally visited the magnificent Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He prayed there for all of the people of Mexico. He prayed especially for those who were killed during the terrible persecution of the Church in the early part of the twentieth century. He prayed for all the pilgrims who come to this beautiful church with such faith in the Mother of God.
Blessed Juan Diego was a prayerful, sensitive person. His lifestyle helped others see in the miraculous image of Guadalupe God’s love for his people.
December 10
St. John Roberts
John was born in Wales in 1577. Although he was not a Catholic, he was taught by an elderly priest. So, as he said later, he was always a Catholic at heart. John went to Oxford University in England for a while. Even though he was a Protestant, his respect for the Catholic Church prevented him from signing the Oath of Supremacy, which denied the authority of the pope. He had to leave Oxford, so he went to Paris, where he joined the Catholic Church. John lost no time after this in taking steps to become a priest. He went to an English college in Spain and became a Benedictine monk. His great dream of going back to England came true three years later. He and another monk were given permission to set out for that land. They knew the dangers they would meet. In fact, they did not have long to wait before trouble began. They entered England wearing plumed hats and swords at their sides. Soon, however, they were arrested for being priests and sent out of the country. St. John Roberts went back to London again in 1603 to help the thousands of people who fell victim to the plague. He worked day and night to keep the faith alive during a time when Catholics were persecuted mercilessly. Several times he was captured, put in prison, and exiled, yet he always came back. The last time Father John was arrested, he was finishing Mass. This time there would be no escape. When asked, he declared he was a priest and a monk. He explained that he had come to England to work for the salvation of the people. ”Were I to live longer,” he added, “I would continue to do what I have been doing.” When he refused to sign the Oath of Supremacy, he was condemned to death. The night before he was to be hanged, a good Spanish lady arranged for him to be brought into the company of eighteen other prisoners. They were also suffering for their faith. During their supper together, St. John was full of joy. Then he thought perhaps he should not show so much happiness. ”Do you think I may be giving bad example by my joy?” he asked his hostess. ”No, certainly not,” she replied. ”You could not do anything better than to let everyone see the cheerful courage you have as you are about to die for Christ.” The next day, December 10, 1610, St. John was hanged. He was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.
Missionaries need our prayers because of the many sacrifices they make. We can ask St. John Roberts to help us understand the important role that missionaries fulfill in Jesus’ Church.
December 11
St. Damasus I
Damasus was born in Rome and lived in the fourth century. He was a priest who was generous and self-sacrificing. When Pope Liberius died in 366, Damasus became the pope. He faced many grave difficulties. There was a false pope named Ursinus. He and his followers persecuted Damasus. They lied about him, making accusations about his personal moral life. The pope had to stand trial before the Roman authorities. He was proved innocent, but he suffered very much through it all. His great friend, St. Jerome, spoke emphatically for the virtue of this pope. Pope Damasus realized that the clergy in the city of Rome were living too wealthy a lifestyle. The country priests were much more austere. Damasus asked the priests to simplify their lifestyles and not to accumulate money and possessions. He set a wonderful example himself. There were also many false teachings during his time as pope. Damasus explained the true faith. He also called the Second Ecumenical Council, which was held in Constantinople. Pope Damasus, a biblical scholar, greatly encouraged love of the Scriptures. It was this pope that published the canon, or official list, of the books of the Bible. He assigned St. Jerome to translate the Bible into Latin and encouraged him to write commentaries explaining parts of the Bible. He also changed the official language of the liturgy from Greek—except for the Kyrie—to Latin. Pope St. Damasus died at the age of about eighty on December 11, 384. He was buried with his mother and sister in a little chapel he had built for them.
Pope St. Damasus was able to do great things for the Church, because of his faith and love. He nourished this faith and love by reading, studying, and meditating on Sacred Scripture. We can imitate this holy pope by making the resolution to take a few minutes each day to read from the Bible.
December 12
Our Lady of Guadalupe
We celebrated the feast of Blessed Juan Diego on December 9. Today, we celebrate Mary’s appearances on Tepeyac Hill in Mexico. The heavenly visitor came to her people on December 9, 1531. Juan was a fifty-five- year-old convert to the Catholic faith. He was going to Mass when our Lady stopped him as he was making his way down Tepeyac Hill. Mary asked him to go to the bishop. She wanted a great church built on the very spot where she was standing. The poor man was overwhelmed. He wanted with all his heart to do what the Lady commanded. But how could he approach the bishop? How could anyone believe such an unusual request? Juan Diego went to the bishop. The bishop, not sure if he should believe this amazing story, thought of a way to handle the situation. “Ask for a sign,” he told Juan. Before granting the Lady’s request, the bishop wanted proof. Early on the morning of December 12, Juan Diego was hurrying along the path. His uncle was dying and he was going for the priest. Mary met Juan and told him that his uncle was better. (Juan found out a little later that his uncle had been cured at that moment.) The Lady wanted Juan to go back to the bishop to ask him to build a church. Juan told Mary that the bishop had asked for a sign. Mary sent Juan into the rocky area nearby and told him to gather the roses that were there. Juan was puzzled. It was winter and the bushes were bare. But Juan followed Mary’s instructions and was surprised to find that there really were roses—beautiful roses! Juan picked them all and went to the bishop. He carried them carefully in his tilma, or cloak. In the bishop‘s house, he let down his cloak and the beautiful roses fell to the floor. Juan smiled and then realized that something else was capturing the bishop’s attention. He followed the bishop’s eyes, which were riveted to his cloak. There on his tilma was a beautiful image of Mary, exactly as she had appeared on Tepeyac Hill. The bishop had received his sign, and Mary would have her church. Today a great church, called a basilica, marks the spot where Our Lady of Guadalupe came to her people. Our Lady of Guadalupe was named patroness of Mexico by Pope Benedict XIV. She is also patroness of Latin America and the Philippines.
We can pray to Our Lady of Guadalupe for the graces we most need. She’s a gentle and good Mother who’ll speak to the Heart of her Son for us.
December 13
St. Lucy
It is believed that this beloved saint lived in Syracuse, Sicily. She was born toward the end of the third century, the daughter of noble and rich parents. Her father died when she was still young. Lucy was a lovely girl, and more than one young noble sought her hand. Her mother arranged for her to marry one whom she thought would make a good husband for Lucy. But the girl would not consent. Lucy had secretly promised Jesus that instead of getting married, she would belong to him alone. She thought of a way to explain her wishes to her mother. She knew her mother was suffering from hemorrhages, which are bouts of bleeding. She convinced her to go with her to the shrine of St. Agatha and pray for her recovery. When God heard their prayers and cured her mother, Lucy told her of her vow to be a bride of Christ. Her mother was convinced and, out of gratitude for her cure let Lucy follow her vocation. But the young pagan to whom she had promised Lucy was furious. In his bitter anger, he accused Lucy of being a Christian. He threatened her with the frightening torture of being blinded. But Lucy was even willing to lose both her eyes rather than belong to anyone but Jesus. St. Lucy is often shown holding her lovely eyes in the palm of her hand. Jesus rewarded her for her heroic love. He worked a miracle and restored her eyes, more beautiful than ever. A pagan judge tried to send the saint to a house of sinful women. He hoped that Lucy might be tempted to give up her faith in Christ. But when her enemies tried to carry her away, God made her body so heavy that they could not budge her. In the end, she was stabbed to death, becoming a martyr for Jesus in the year 304.
St. Lucy’s beautiful eyes remind us of the wonderful faith that lit her soul. We can ask St. Lucy to help us grow in the kind of faith she had.
December 14
St. John of the Cross
John was born in Spain in 1542. He was the son of a weaver, who died when John was still a baby. He went to a school for poor children and became a servant to the director of a hospital. At the same time, he attended the Jesuit college. Even as a youth, he understood the value of offering up sufferings for the love of Jesus. When he was twenty-one, his love of God prompted him to enter the Carmelite Order. With St. Teresa of Avila, St. John was chosen by God to bring a new spirit of fervor among religious. But his life was full of trials. Although he succeeded in opening new monasteries where his holy way of life was practiced, he himself was criticized. He was even thrown into prison and made to suffer terribly. It seemed that God had left him alone, and he suffered greatly. Yet when these storms of trouble passed, the Lord rewarded his faithful servant. He gave him deep peace and joy of heart. John was very close to God. After nine months, he managed to escape from his imprisonment. St. John had a marvelous way with sinners. Once a beautiful but sinful woman tried to tempt him. He was able to bring her to a true sorrow for her sins and a complete change of life. Another lady, instead, had such a temper that she was nicknamed “the terrible.” Yet St. John knew how to calm her down by his kind manners. St. John of the Cross asked God to accept his daily sufferings for love of Jesus. This saint is famous for his spiritual books, which show us how to grow close to God. He died on December 14, 1591. John of the Cross was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI in 1926.
St. John of the Cross was able to overcome life’s obstacles and sufferings by remaining closely united to God. We can ask him to help us improve our life of prayer, our relationship with the Lord.
December 15
St. Mary di Rosa
This saint was born Paula di Rosa in 1813. She was from a large family in Brescia, Italy. Her father was the successful owner of a textile mill. Her mother died while she was still young, and she received her education from nearby sisters. When she was seventeen, Paula left school to help her father at home. Her father thought she should get married, but Paula wanted to devote her life to helping others instead. She began by organizing a group of women who worked in her father’s mill. They prayed together and did charitable works. During a cholera epidemic, Paula took care of the sick in the hospital. When a shelter was opened up for poor and homeless girls, Paula was asked to operate it. She also provided work opportunities for the young women and started a school for the hearing-impaired. But all these activities were leading up to her life’s work. When she was twenty-seven, Paula started a community of sisters called the Handmaids of Charity. Her sisters were dedicated to the bodily and spiritual care of the poor and sick. In wartime, Paula and her sisters took care of the wounded in military hospitals and on the battlefield. The Handmaids of Charity received final approval in 1850. This was when Paula took the name Sister Mary of the Crucified. She died in 1855, worn out from her service to the sick.
St. Mary di Rosa can be a model of compassion for us. She can show us how to look at those around us with the eyes of Jesus, seeing those who are hurt or lonely and reaching out to them in friendship.
December 16
St. Adelaide
St. Adelaide was born in 931. At the age of sixteen, this Burgundian princess was married to King Lothair. Three years later, her husband died. The ruler who is believed to have poisoned him tried to get Adelaide to marry his son. She absolutely refused. In anger, he treated her with great cruelty. He even locked her up in a castle on a lake. Adelaide was freed when King Otto the Great of Germany conquered this ruler. Although she was twenty years younger than he, Otto married the lovely Adelaide on Christmas Day. When he took his new queen back home, the German people loved her at once. She was as gentle and gracious as she was pretty. God sent five children to the royal couple. They lived happily for twenty-two years. When Otto died, Adelaide’s oldest son became the ruler. This son, Otto II, was good, but too quick to act without thinking. He allowed his wife to turn him against his own mother, and Adelaide was forced to leave the palace. But she had not been gone long when Otto realized how much he had relied on her valuable advice. The abbot of Cluny, St. Majolus, helped the mother and son to reconcile. Adelaide met her son in Italy and the king begged her forgiveness. She in turn prayed for her son, sending offerings to the great shrine of St. Martin of Tours. In her old age, St. Adelaide was called on to rule the country while her grandson was still a child. She started many monasteries and convents and was an example of Christian faith for the Slavic people. All her life, this saintly woman had followed the advice of holy people. She had always been willing to forgive those who had hurt her. St. Addle of Cluny called her a “marvel of beauty and grace.” She died on December 16, 999.
St. Adelaide was beautiful not just because of her physical features. She was a beautiful person because she was deeply Christian and a woman who lived her Catholic values. We can strive to be Christians true to our values, just as she was.
December 17
St. Olympias
This saint was born around the year 361. She belonged to a great family of Constantinople. When she was left an orphan, she was given into the care of a devout Christian woman. Olympias, who had inherited a large fortune, married Nebridius, a man who had been governor of Constantinople. St. Gregory Nazianzen apologized for not being able to attend the wedding. He even sent a poem full of good advice for Olympias. Nebridius died very soon afterward, however, and the emperor urged Olympias to marry again. She answered: ”Had God wished me to remain a wife, he would not have taken Nebridius away.” And she refused to marry again. St. Gregory called her “the glory of the widows in the Eastern Church.” With a number of other pious ladies, Olympias spent her life performing works of charity. She dressed plainly and prayed much. She gave her money away to whoever was in need. Finally, St. John Chrysostom had to tell her to be careful in giving away her goods. ”You must not encourage the laziness of those who live upon you without necessity,” he said. “It is like throwing your money into the sea.” St. John Chrysostom became archbishop of Constantinople. As archbishop, he guided St. Olympias and her disciples in their works. The women started a home for orphans and they opened a chapel. They were able to give help to great numbers of people. St. John Chrysostom became Olympias’ dearest guide. When he was exiled, she was deeply grieved. She then had to suffer persecution, too. Her community of widows and unmarried women was forced to stop their charitable works. Besides this, Olympias was in poor health and was being criticized. Yet St. John wrote to her: “I cannot stop calling you blessed. The patience and dignity with which you have borne your sorrows, your prudence, wisdom, and charity have won you great glory and reward.” St. Olympias died in 408, when she was about forty. She has been described as “a wonderful woman, like a precious vase filled with the Holy Spirit.”
St. Olympias received many blessings from God. She used those gifts—her time, money, and talents —to help people. We can ask St. Olympias to help us recognize our special gifts so that we can use them for others.
December 18
Blessed Anna Rosa Gattorno
Anna Rosa was born in Genoa, Italy, on October 14, 1831. Her parents were very devout, and she was baptized the day she was born. Since her family was wealthy, she was educated at home, according to the custom of the time. Anna Rosa was a good student. She also gave great importance to studying the Word of God and living her life according to it. When she was twenty-one, Anna Rosa married Gerolamo Custo, and the couple moved to Marseilles. But they had financial difficulties and it was necessary to return to Genoa. There were other hardships in store for Anna Rosa. Her daughter Carlotta became seriously ill and was left deaf and mute for the remainder of her life. After only six years of marriage, and after unsuccessfully trying to improve their financial stability, Gerolamo died. Not long after, Anna Rosa’s youngest son also died. In spite of all this suffering, Anna Rosa did not lose her confidence in God. She entrusted herself and her family, in life and in death, to his loving protection. She later looked back at this time in her life as a period of personal conversion. She felt God bringing her closer and closer to himself, even as she lost those most dear to her. Anna Rosa dedicated her life to God. She became a Franciscan tertiary and lived a life of prayer and good works. She started a community of sisters called the Daughters of St. Anne. She opened nursing schools and schools for the poor. She established daycare centers for the children of field laborers, and shelters for women who were trying to get their lives back on track. As a personal sign that the Lord was blessing her and her work, she received the grace of the marks of Christ’s wounds in her body, which she could feel, but which were invisible. Anna Rosa died on May 6, 1900 in Rome. Pope John Paul II beatified her on April 9, 2000.
Blessed Anna Rosa teaches us by her life that things don’t have to be going our way for us to believe that God is with us. Let’s ask for an increase of trust, so that we’ll feel God close to us even when we suffer disappointments and sorrow.
December 19
Blessed Urban V
Blessed Urban’s name before he became pope was William de Grimoard. He was born in France in 1310, and he became a Benedictine monk. After serving the Church in many high positions, he became pope. At this time, the pope lived in a city in France called Avignon. However, Urban made up his mind to return to Rome, because that is where the pope should live. The pope is the bishop of Rome, and Urban knew that his place was in Rome. There were many difficulties. The people in France objected to his going, but Urban did what he knew was right. The people of Rome were overjoyed to have the pope back. They were especially joyful to have such a holy man as was Urban V. He set about at once to repair the great churches of Rome. He helped the poor and encouraged the people to be fervent and devout again. Emperor Charles IV showed great respect to the Holy Father. But Urban had a great many problems. For one thing, he was getting sicker and weaker all the time. War was breaking out in Italy and between England and France. Many of his cardinals kept urging him to go back to Avignon. So at last he gave in. As he prepared to leave Rome, the people of the city begged him to stay. He was very sad, but left anyway. About three months later, he died. It was in the year 1370. Urban was a very holy and good man. He did much for the Church, for schools and universities, and for the people. He was called “a light of the world and a way of truth.”
The pope has many concerns and responsibilities. Let’s remember to pray every day for our present pope. We can say: “Lord, cover with your protec- tion our Holy Father, the pope. Be his light, his strength, his comfort.”
December 20
St. Dominic of Silos
Dominic, a Spanish shepherd boy, was born at the beginning of the eleventh century. He spent many hours alone tending his sheep at the bottom of the Pyrenees mountains. It was there that he developed a love for prayer. Soon he became a very holy monk. Dominic was appointed abbot of his monastery and brought about many changes for the better. One day, however, King Garcia III of Navarre, Spain, claimed that some of the monastery’s possessions were his. St. Dominic refused to give them to the king. He did not think it was right to give the king what belonged to the Church. This decision greatly angered the king. He ordered Dominic to leave his kingdom. Abbot Dominic and his monks were given a friendly welcome by another king, Ferdinand I of Castile. Ferdinand told them they could have an old monastery called St. Sebastian at Silos. This monastery was located in a lonely spot and was very run-down. But with Dominic as the abbot, it soon began to take on a new look. In fact, he made it one of the best-known monasteries in all Spain. St. Dominic worked many miracles to cure all kinds of sicknesses. Many years after his death, Dominic appeared to a wife and mother. Her name was Joan. Now she is called Blessed Joan of Aza. Dominic told her that God would send her another son. When that son was born, Joan gratefully named him Dominic. And this son became the great St. Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order. We celebrate his feast on August 8. Today’s saint died on December 20, 1073.
By his life St. Dominic of Silos shows us that prayer is as essential to us as breathing and eating. We can ask St. Dominic to remind us often each day that we need to spend time with God.
December 21
St. Peter Canisius
Peter was born in the Netherlands in 1521. His father wanted him to be a lawyer. To please him, young Peter began to study law before he had finished all his other studies. Soon enough, however, he realized that he would never be happy in that life. About that time, people all over were talking about the wonderful preaching of Blessed Peter Faber. He was one of the first members of the Jesuit Order. When Peter Canisius listened to him, he knew he, too, would be happy serv- ing God as a Jesuit. So he joined the Order. After more years of study and prayer, he was ordained a priest. The great St. Ignatius soon realized what a willing and zealous apostle St. Peter Canisius was. He sent him to Germany where Peter labored for forty years. It would be hard to name all St. Peter Canisius’ great works, prayers, and sacrifices during that time. His concern was to clarify the teachings of the Church in many cities of Germany. He also labored to bring back to the Catholic Church those who had been confused by false teachings. It is said that he traveled about 20,000 miles in thirty years. This he did on foot or on horseback. In spite of all this, St. Peter Canisius still found time to write many books on the faith. He realized how important books are, so he organized a campaign to stop the sale of harmful reading material. And he did all he could to spread good books to teach the faith. The two catechisms St. Peter Canisius wrote were so popular that they were printed over 200 times and were translated into fifteen languages. To those who said he worked too hard, St. Peter Canisius would answer, ”If you have too much to do, with God’s help, you will find time to do it all.” This wonderful saint died in 1597. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI in 1925.
Like St. Peter Canisius, we should be enthusiastic about having an ever deeper understanding of our faith. Studying Scripture and the truths of our Catholic faith are daily, ongoing, life-long projects.
December 22
St. Marguerite d’Youville
Marguerite was born in Quebec, Canada, on October 15, 1701. Her father died in 1708 and the family lived in poverty. Relatives paid her tuition at the Ursuline convent school in Quebec. Her two years at the boarding school prepared her to teach her younger brothers and sisters. Marguerite was gracious and friendly. She helped support her family by making and selling fine lace. In 1722, Marguerite married Francois d’Youville. It seemed like the marriage was going to be a truly happy one. But Francois’ real self came out as the months passed. He was more interested in making and spending money than in being with his family. He left Marguerite alone with their children and did not take care of them. Francois died quite suddenly in 1730 after eight years of marriage. He left Marguerite with large debts to pay. A kind priest named Father du Lescoat gave her courage. He assured her that she was loved by God and that soon she would begin a great work for him. Marguerite took in a blind, homeless woman on November 21, 1737. This marks the beginning of a marvelous work of caring for the sick poor in infirmaries and then actual hospitals. She began a community of sisters who became known as the “Grey Nuns,” because their religious habit was grey. The sisters took over the general hospital in Montreal. It was run-down and very much in debt. People laughed at the sisters. It was hard to believe they would be able to succeed at such a difficult task. But Mother d’Youville and her sisters did not lose heart. They worked, and built, and fixed. Above all, they welcomed everyone in need. No one was too poor or too sick to come to their hospital. In 1765, a fire destroyed the hospital, but Mother d’Youville and her sisters had it rebuilt in four years. Marguerite’s two sons became priests: Charles, pastor of Boucherville, and Francois, pastor of St. Ours. In 1769, Father Francois broke his arm. His mother hastened to take care of him. Mother d’Youville was equally generous when an epidemic of smallpox spread through the Indian missions of Montreal. And during the Seven Years’ War between the French and British, she helped soldiers on both sides. She hid the British soldiers in the dark rooms of the convent cellar. There her sisters quietly nursed them back to health. Mother Marguerite d’Youville died on December 23, 1771. She was proclaimed a saint by Pope John Paul II on December 9, 1990. She is the first Canadian-born saint.
Mother d’Youville didn’t let the difficulties of her life discourage her. She saw what needed to be done, believed she was able to do it, and with trust in God she went ahead with faith and conviction. Do we see anyone in need? Is there something we can do to help?
December 23
St. John of Kanty
This Polish saint was born in 1390, the son of good country folk. Seeing how intelligent their son was, his parents sent him to the University of Krakow. He did well in his studies. Then John became a priest, a teacher, and a preacher. He was also well known for his great love of the poor. Once he was eating in the university dining hall. At the beginning of the meal, he happened to see a beggar passing by the window. Immediately, he jumped up and brought his dinner to the man. Some people became very jealous of St. John’s success as a teacher and preacher. They managed to have him removed from his teaching position at the university and sent to a parish as a pastor. Here, he put his whole heart into the new life. At first, however, things did not go well at all. The people did not particularly care for John, and John was afraid of the responsibility. He did not give up, however, and his efforts brought results. By the time he was called back to the university, the people of his parish loved him dearly. They went part of the way with him. In fact, they were so sad to see him go that he had to tell them: “This sadness does not please God. If I have done any good for you in all these years, sing a song of joy.” Back in Krakow, St. John taught Bible classes and again became a very popular teacher. He was invited to the homes of rich nobles. Still, however, he gave everything he had to the poor and dressed very poorly himself. Once he wore an old black habit, called a cassock, to a banquet. The servants refused to let him in. St. John went home and changed into a new one. During the dinner, someone spilled a dish of food on the new cassock. ”Never mind,” said the saint with good humor, “my cassock deserves some food, anyway, because without it, I wouldn’t have been here at all.” St. John lived to be eighty-three. Again and again during all those years he gave everything he owned to help the poor. When people burst into tears on hearing that he was dying, he said, “Don’t worry about this prison which is decaying. Think of the soul that is going to leave it.” He died in 1473 and was proclaimed a saint by Pope Clement XIII in 1767.
We can learn from St. John of Kanty to do our schoolwork and our chores with diligence. God expects us to do the best we can, and he will bless our efforts. We can ask St. John of Kanty to help us to do so cheerfully.
December 24
St. Peter Nolasco
St. Peter Nolasco was born in Spain, near Barcelona, at the end of the twelfth century. He belonged to a family of merchants who traveled across the Mediterranean Sea. As Peter traveled, he became aware of the great numbers of Christians who had been enslaved in North Africa. His heart went out to his brothers and sisters in Christ, and he used his own money to ransom as many of them as he could. St. Raymond of Peñafort, archdeacon of Barcelona, organized a group of lay people for this purpose, and Peter helped lead it. The group became an Order, which was placed under the protection of Mary, Our Lady of Ransom. The members of the Order were called Mercedarians. They took the vows of chastity, poverty, obedience, and a fourth vow— which Peter added—to give their own freedom, and, if necessary, their lives, in exchange for the freedom of the Christian slaves. Peter spent the rest of his life traveling through Spain and Algeria, ransoming hundreds of slaves. He died around the year 1256. The Order he helped to found still continues today, working to free people around the world from various types of oppression.
Do we know people who are being bullied or treated unfairly? Do we have the courage of St. Peter Nolasco to stand up for them? Do we dare to be the ones to show friendship and kindness?
December 25
Christmas, the Birthday of Jesus
The time had come for God to send his own Son to be the Savior of the world. Mary, Mother of the Promised One about to be born, and Joseph, her husband, had to leave their home in Nazareth and go to Bethlehem. The reason for this journey was the Roman emperor’s request to count the number of his subjects. So every Jewish family had to go to the city of their ancestors and register for the census. Since Mary and Joseph belonged to the royal family of David, they had to go to David’s city of Bethlehem. It was the emperor who made the decree, but it served to fulfill God’s plan. According to Scripture, the Savior was to be born in Bethlehem. It was a slow, hard journey over mountainous country. But Mary was calm and peaceful. She knew she was doing God’s will. She was happy thinking of her divine Son soon to be born. When Mary and Joseph reached Bethlehem, they found there was no place for them to stay. At last they found shelter in a cave. There, in that rough stable, the Son of God was born on Christmas Day. His blessed Mother wrapped him up warmly and laid him in a manger. Our Lord chose to be born in such poverty so that we would learn not to overvalue riches and comforts. The very night in which Jesus was born, God sent his angels to announce his birth. The angels were not sent to the emperor or the king. They were not sent to the doctors and priests in the Temple. They were sent to poor, humble shepherds, watching their flocks on the hillsides near Bethlehem. As soon as they heard the angels’ message, they hurried to adore the Savior of the world. Then they went home giving praise and glory to God. The patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament had been comforted by the thought that someday the Savior would come into the world. Now he had been born among us. Jesus came for all of us. The Bible says: “God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son.” If those who lived in the hope of his coming were happy, how much more should we rejoice. We have his teachings, his Church, and Jesus himself on our altars at every Eucharistic Celebration. Christmas is the time when we realize more than ever how much God loves us. We can say a prayer to Mary and Joseph today. We can ask them to help us know which gift Jesus most wants to receive from us on Christmas Day.
Christmas Day.
December 26
St. Stephen
The name Stephen means crown. Today’s saint was the first disciple of Jesus to receive the martyr’s crown. Stephen was a deacon in the early Church. We read about him in chapters 6 and 7 of the Acts of the Apostles. In this book, Luke tells us that as the followers of Jesus continued to grow, Peter and the apostles decided that they needed helpers to see to the care of widows and the poor. So they ordained seven deacons. Stephen is the best known of these. God worked many miracles through St. Stephen. He spoke with such wisdom and grace that many of his hearers became followers of Jesus. The enemies of the Church of Jesus were furious to see how successful St. Stephen’s preaching was. At last, they laid a plot for him. They could not answer his wise arguments, so they got men to lie about him. These men said that he had spoken sinfully against God. St. Stephen faced that great assembly of enemies without any fear. In fact, the Holy Bible says that his face looked like the face of an angel. Stephen spoke about Jesus, proclaiming him to be the Savior God had promised to send. He scolded his enemies for not having believed in Jesus. At that, they rose up in great anger and shouted at him. But Stephen looked up to heaven. He said that he saw the heavens opening and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. His hearers plugged their ears and refused to listen to another word. They dragged St. Stephen outside the city of Jerusalem and stoned him to death. The saint prayed, ”Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then he fell to his knees and begged God not to punish his enemies for killing him. After such an expression of faith, the martyr went to his heavenly reward.
St. Stephen had a forgiving heart. He let the Holy Spirit work in him and didn’t let himself give in to thoughts or actions of revenge. We can ask him to obtain for us the grace to forgive and forget when someone has hurt us.
December 27
St. John the Apostle
St. John was a fisherman in Galilee. He was called to be an apostle with his brother, St. James. Jesus gave these sons of Zebedee the nickname “sons of thunder.“ St. John was the youngest apostle and is believed to be the one called “the beloved disciple.” At the Last Supper, it was John who was permitted to lean his head on the chest of Jesus. He was also the only apostle who stood at the foot of the cross. The dying Jesus gave the care of his Blessed Mother Mary to this beloved apostle. Looking at Mary, he said, “Behold your mother.” On Easter morning, Mary Magdalene and the other women went with spices to Jesus’ tomb to anoint his body. They came running back to the apostles with disturbing news. The body of Jesus was gone from the tomb. Peter and John set out to investigate. John arrived first but waited for Peter to go in ahead of him. Then he went in and saw the neatly folded linen cloths, and he understood that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Later, that same week, the disciples were fishing on the lake of Tiberias without success. A man standing on the beach suggested they let down their nets on the other side of the boat. When they pulled it up again it was full of large fish. Now John, who recognized this man, called to Peter, “It is the Lord!” With the descent of the Holy Spirit the apostles were filled with new courage. After the ascension of Jesus, Peter, and John cured a crippled man by calling on the name of Jesus. It is believed that John lived nearly a century and was the only apostle not to suffer martyrdom. He preached the Gospel and may have become bishop of Ephesus. It is said that in the last years of his life, when he could no longer preach, his disciples would carry him to the crowds of Christians. His simple message was, ”My dear children, love one another.” St. John died in Ephesus around the year 100.
We can honor St. John by reading the Gospel and letters attributed to him. The more we read the Bible, the more it becomes a part of our way of thinking and living. St. John’s message is the central theme of the teachings of Christ: “Love one another.”
December 28
The Holy Innocents
According to the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the Wise Men came from the East to worship him. They went to Herod, the king, asking where they could find the newborn king of the Jews, the Savior. Herod was a cruel, clever tyrant. When he heard the Wise Men speak of a newborn king, he began to worry about losing his throne. But he did not let the Wise Men know what he was thinking. He called in his chief priests and asked them where the Bible said the Messiah was to be born. They answered: Bethlehem. “Go and find out about this child,” the wicked king said to the Wise Men. “When you have found out where he is, come and tell me. Then I, too, will go and worship him.” The Wise Men went on their way. They found Jesus the Messiah with Mary and Joseph. They adored him and offered their gifts. Meanwhile, they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod. An angel came to tell St. Joseph to take Mary and the Child Jesus into Egypt. In this way, God spoiled the murderous plans of Herod concerning the Divine Child. When Herod realized that the Wise Men had not come back to him, he became furious. He was an evil, violent man, and now the fear of losing his throne made him worse. He sent his soldiers to kill all the boy babies of Bethlehem under the age of two, in the hope of killing the Messiah among them. The soldiers carried out the terrible order. There was great sorrow in the little town of Bethlehem, as mothers wept over their murdered babies. These little children are honored today by the Church as martyrs. They are called the Holy Innocents.
We can ask the Holy Innocents to protect all children from harm. We can ask them to change the hearts of those who promote abortion. We can also pray for those who abuse and neglect children.
December 29
St. Thomas Becket
Thomas Becket was born in 1118, in London, England. After his parents died, he accepted a position in the household of the archbishop of Canterbury. He began studying for the priesthood. He soon became a great favorite of King Henry II himself. People said that the king and Thomas had only one heart and one mind—they were such close friends. When Thomas was thirty-six, King Henry made him his chancellor. As chancellor of England, Thomas had a large household and lived in splendor. When the archbishop of Canterbury died, Henry wanted the pope to give Thomas this position. It would require that Thomas be ordained a priest. But Thomas told him plainly that he did not want to be the archbishop of Canterbury. He realized that being in that position would put him in direct conflict with Henry II. Thomas knew that he would have to defend the Church against Henry, and that would mean trouble. “Your affection for me would turn into hatred,” he warned Henry. The king paid no attention and Thomas was made a priest and a bishop in 1162. He immediately began to change his life. He lived more austerely and devoted much more time to prayer. At first, things went along as well as ever. All too soon, however, the king began to demand money, which Thomas felt he could not rightly take from the Church. The king grew more and more angry with his former friend. Finally, he began to treat Thomas harshly. For a while, Thomas was tempted to give in a bit. Then he began to realize just how much Henry hoped to control the Church. Thomas was very sorry that he had even thought of giving in to the king. He did penance for his weakness and ever after held firm. One day, the king was very angry. ”Will no one rid me of this archbishop?” Some of his knights took him seriously. They went off to murder the archbishop. They attacked him in his own cathedral. He died, saying, “For the name of Jesus and in defense of the Church, I am willing to die.” It was December 29, 1170. The entire Christian world was horrified at such a crime. Pope Alexander III held the king personally responsible for the murder. A year later, Henry II performed public penance. Miracles began to happen at Thomas’ tomb. He was proclaimed a saint by the same pope in 1173.
St. Thomas Becket teaches us that we must put our faith and loyalty to Christ ahead of our personal friendships. If a friend expects us to do something we know is displeasing to God, we must choose what we know to be the right thing. Hopefully, our courage and good example will help our friends grow closer to God as well.
December 30
Blessed Vicente Vilar David
The youngest of eight children, Vicente was born to a ceramics manufacturer and his wife on June 28, 1889, in Valencia, Spain. His parents were devoted to their Catholic faith, and their children received a good Christian education. After attending a school run by the Piarist Fathers, Vicente enrolled in a technical school and earned an industrial engineer’s degree. Vicente married a young woman named Isabel and the two lived a model Christian life together. Vicente became involved in his parish, helping the priests however he could. He also took over the management of his father’s ceramics factory. His workers saw him not only as their boss, but also as a caring father. He was concerned that they would be treated with the justice and dignity to which all workers have a right. In the summer of 1936, the Spanish Civil War was at its peak in Valencia. The persecution of Catholics and of the Church by the governing regime was also very intense. Vicente, who had been teaching at a ceramics trade school, was fired because of his Catholic beliefs. He bravely continued to encourage other Catholics and to give the priests whatever support and help he could. On February 14, 1937, he was called to appear before a tribunal and commanded to stop his activities on behalf of the Catholic Church. Vicente replied that being a Catholic was his greatest calling and he would not give it up, even if it meant death. He was immediately sentenced to be executed. He was permitted to see his wife and encouraged her with words of faith and conviction. He publicly forgave his persecutors and enemies. Then he was shot to death on the very same day he was arrested. The ceramics factory workers were outraged. In protest of Vicente Vilar David’s execution, they went on strike for three days. They told the socialist officials who tried to prevent their strike, “You have robbed us of our employer and our father. Because he was prudent, kind, and concerned for our working conditions, we not only respected him; we loved him.” Vicente Vilar David was beatified on October 1, 1995 by Pope John Paul II. His death by violent hands was recognized as a true martyrdom for the faith.
Our faith applies to every aspect of our lives. In our family and social life, our time at school, our time spent working, we are called to put into practice the values that Jesus taught in the Gospel.
December 31
St. Sylvester I
This pope lived in early Christian times, during the reign of Constantine. Sylvester I became pope in 314 and he reigned for twenty-one years until his death in 335. The story is told that Constantine had at first persecuted Pope Sylvester. The emperor contracted leprosy and, desperate for a cure, was going to have a pagan ritual performed. It seems that Constantine had a dream in which St. Peter and St. Paul spoke to him. They told the emperor to go to Pope Sylvester for a cure. Constantine asked to be baptized. It was during the reception of Baptism in the Basilica of St. John Lateran that Constantine was completely cured. As a result, Constantine not only permitted the Christian religion in his empire, but encouraged it. Devotion to Pope Sylvester I was well known during the early Church. He is the first pope who was not a martyr to be proclaimed a saint. In the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, an impressive mosaic decorates one wall. It shows Jesus giving keys of spiritual power to Pope St. Sylvester I.
On this last day of the year, we can ask Pope St. Sylvester I to watch over us, the Christians of today, just as he cared for his flock when he lived on earth.