St Raymond Nonnatus - a courageous son of Our Lady of Ransom whose intercession can be a powerful aid in the work of converting England
Many Catholics are aware of the fact that one of the titles bestowed upon the Blessed Virgin Mary is that of Our Lady of Ransom (also known as Our Lady of Mercy and the Mother of Mercy). This title can be traced back to 1218, when the Virgin appeared to St Peter Nolasco and and asked him, together with St Raymond of Penafort and King James I of Aragon, to form a religious order specifically for the ransoming of Christian slaves - namely those captured by Muslim pirates who often raided European coastlines. As a result, the Order of Our Lady of Ransom (otherwise known as the Royal, Celestial and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of the Captives, or more simply as the Mercedarians) was founded, and countless Christian captives were subsequently saved from savage bondage.
The Order is still active today (here is its US website), and numbers over 700 friars, who are allowed to bear the coat of arms of James of Aragon and who have also taken a fourth vow "to give one’s life for someone in danger of losing their Christian faith."
One of the great glories of the Order of Our Lady of Ransom is St Raymond Nonnatus, whose feast is traditionally celebrated today. He was born (or "not born" as his name suggests - he was delivered by Caesarian section) at Portello, Catalonia, in 1204. His mother died during the birth, hence his patronage of pregnant women, childbirth and midwives. As a child, though, Raymond Nonnatus implored the Virgin Mary to adopt him as her own son - something that she was more than willing to do.
As a young man, St Raymond took over the running of his father's farm - the family was noble, yet relatively "distressed". It seems, though, that his heavenly mother had other ideas, as Our Lady asked him in a vision to ransom himself for captives. Although his father relied on Raymond's help, he willingly gave his consent for his son to renounce the world and take the habit of the Mercedarians. St Raymond Nonnatus was subsequently ordained to the sacred priesthood in 1222, and, due of his obvious piety, soon rose to become the Order's Master General.
Raymond was eventually sent to Algiers, where he liberated numerous captives - many of whom were being used in the most degrading of ways, or who had even come close to apostatising at the hands of the Saracens. When his money eventually ran out, Raymond feared for the souls of those men that he could no longer ransom, especially those close to renouncing their faith. So, in order to save them, the holy man decided to offer himself as a ransom hostage (or slave) for their sake.
During his captivity, St Raymond Nonnatus preached the Gospel so effectively that many Muslims converted to faith in Jesus Christ. Needless to say, this displeased the Muslim authorities, who forced the young Catalonian to undergo tortures and indignities, such as running the gauntlet. Undeterred, his his zeal for the truth led to even more converts, and he continued to proclaim the Gospel. Eventually, Raymond's guards decided to bore a hole through his lips with a hot iron in order to padlock his mouth, which would prevent him from preaching. He continued, though, to give witness to Christ through his patience and loving deeds.
By 1239, and after having had his sentence of impalement commuted to lifelong slavery, Raymond Nonnatus was ransomed by his own Order. He returned to Spain in the same year, where, according to some disputed sources, he was created a cardinal by Pope Gregory IX. On 31 August 1240, Raymond set out to Rome to receive his red hat, but sadly died only six miles outside Barcelona. His body was taken to the church of St Nicholas, which lay near the farm he had once worked. A cult quickly developed and many miracles through his intercession were reported soon after his death.
St Raymond Nonnatus was canonised by Pope Alexander VII in 1657. He has since become the patron of the city of Baitoa in the Dominican Republic as well as the patron of childbirth, children, expectant mothers, falsely accused people, infants, midwives, newborn babies, obstetricians and pregnant women. He is also the protector of priests who refuse to break the Seal of the Confessional, especially those who are threatened with punishment if they refuse to speak. In that sense, then, it might be a good idea to invoke St Raymond's intercession at this time of crisis for the Irish Church, when the government of that nation is threatening to compel priests to reveal the secrets of the Confessional.
Our Lady of Ransom is the patron of the city of Barcelona, as well as the millions of Christians currently being persecuted in Muslim or Communist countries. She also intercedes on behalf of Christian slaves and those who are in danger of losing their faith. Her feast day is 24 September, which, of course, is kept in England and Wales as the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham. This is no coincidence, as the title "Our Lady of Ransom" was revived in England during the 19th century with the intention of imploring the Blessed Virgin to "ransom" the nation (known in the Middle Ages as "Our Lady's Dowry") back to the true Faith.The Guild of Our Lady of Ransom still exists, and was founded in 1887 with the aims of (re)converting England and Wales to the Catholic faith, rescuing apostates and those in danger of apostasy and offering prayers for the "forgotten dead" (i.e. isolated converts and those holy souls who, owing to the Reformation, have no one to pray for them). As the Virgin Mary's principal shrine in England is at Walsingham, it was recently decided that Our Lady of Ransom's feast day would be celebrated in England and Wales as the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham.
Our Lady of Ransom, pray for us
Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us
St Raymond Nonnatus, pray for us
St Peter Nolasco, pray for us
St Raymond of Penafort, pray for us
[Images: 1 St Raymond Nonnatus ransoming Christian slaves; source: St Mary's Catholic Church. 2 St Raymond Nonnatus with his cardinal's galero on a table (as he did not get to wear it); source:St Mary's Catholic Church. 3 Our Lady of Ransom with some Mercedarians; source: (which contains several beautiful images of Our Lady of Ransom / Mercy) Catholic Harbor of Faith and Morals]