St. Berard and Companions: Martyrs
On January 16, from the Franciscan calendar, we celebrate the feast of St. Berard and companions.
Six Franciscan friars accepted from St. Francis of Assisi an assignment to go to Morocco. They were to announce Christianity to the Muslims. Friars Berard, Peter, Adjutus, Accursio and Odo traveled by ship in 1219. Morocco is in the northwest corner of Africa and the journey was long and dangerous. The group arrived at Seville, Spain. They started preaching immediately, on streets and in public squares. People treated them as if they were crazy and had them arrested. To save themselves from being sent back home, the friars declared they wanted to see the sultan. So the governor of Seville sent them to Morocco.
The sultan received the friars and gave them freedom to preach in the city. But some of the people did not like this. They complained to the authorities. The sultan tried to save the friars by sending them to live in Marrakech, on the west coast of Morocco. A Christian prince and friend of the sultan, Dom Pedro Fernandez, took them into his home. But the friars knew that their mission was to preach the faith. They returned to the city as often as they could. This angered some people who did not want to hear the friars’ message. These complaints angered the sultan so much that one day when he saw the friars preaching, he ordered them to stop or leave the country. Since they did not feel justified about doing either one, they were beheaded right then and there. It was January 16, 1220.
Dom Pedro went to claim the bodies of the martyrs. Eventually he brought their relics to Holy Cross Church in Coimbra, Portugal. The friars’ mission to Morocco had been brief and an apparent failure. But the results were surprising. The story of these heroes fired the first Franciscans with the desire to be missionaries and martyrs too. It was their particular witness that inspired a young man to dedicate his life to God as a Franciscan priest. We know him as St. Anthony of Padua. His feast day is June 13.
Reflection: Our life is a sacrifice of praise to God, a life inflamed with love of him. May we have the grace to follow God with a free and pure heart.