Pentecost Sunday is one of the most ancient feasts of the Church, celebrated early enough to be mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (20:16) and St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (16:8). It is the 50th day after Easter (if we count both Easter and Pentecost), and it supplants the Jewish feast of Pentecost, which took place 50 days after the Passover and which celebrated the sealing of the Old Covenant on Mount Sinai.

The Acts of the Apostles recounts the story of the original Pentecost as well (Acts 2). Jews from all over were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish feast. On that Sunday, ten days after our Lord’s Ascension, the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary were gathered in the Upper Room, where they had seen Christ after His Resurrection:

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them: And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak. [Acts 2:2-4]

Christ had promised His Apostles that He would sent His Holy Spirit, and, on Pentecost, they were granted the gifts of the Spirit. The Apostles began to preach the Gospel in all of the languages that the Jews who were gathered there spoke, and about 3,000 people were converted and baptized that day.

That is why Pentecost is often called “the birthday of the Church.” On this day, with the descent of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s mission is completed, and the New Covenant is inaugurated. It’s interesting to note that St. Peter, the first pope, was already the leader and spokesman for the Apostles on Pentecost Sunday (see Acts 2:14ff).

In years past, Pentecost was celebrated with greater solemnity than it is today. In fact, the entire period between Easter and Pentecost Sunday was known as Pentecost (and it still is called Pentecost in the Eastern churches, both Catholic and Orthodox). During those 50 days, both fasting and kneeling were strictly forbidden, because this period was supposed to give us a foretaste of the life of Heaven. In more recent times, parishes celebrated the approach of Pentecost with the public recitation of the Novena to the Holy Ghost.

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Little is known of Pope Saint John I’s life before he took office, except that he was born in Tuscany and that his father was Constantius. He was elected a week after the death of his predecessor Hormisdas.

Thanks to the recent reunification of the Eastern and Western Churches under Hormisdas, relations were very good with the Byzantine empire, but for the same reason they were strained with Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths. The Byzantine emperor Justin persecuted heretics with enthusiasm, and he issued an edict against Arianism in 523. Theodoric, an Arian, distrusted the papacy’s affinity to Justin, and he pressured John to go to Constantinople and convince the emperor to withdraw the edict.

John did indeed go to Constantinople and was well-received, but the edict was not withdrawn. Upon his return to Italy, Theodoric had John arrested and imprisoned in Ravenna. Worn out by his journey and probably starved, John died in prison soon after. Pope St. John I is honored as a martyr.

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From his childhood Saint Paschal Baylon seems to have been marked out for the service of God. Amid his daily labors as a shepherd, he found time to instruct and evangelize the rude herdsmen who kept their flocks on the hills of Aragon. At the age of twenty-four he entered the reformed Franciscan Order near the town of Monfort, Spain, where he remained, out of humility, a simple lay brother, occupying himself by preference with the roughest and most servile tasks.

He was distinguished by his ardent devotion and love for the Blessed Sacrament. He would spend hours on his knees before the tabernacle, often being raised from the ground in the fervor of his prayer. And there, from the authentic and eternal Truth, he drew such stores of wisdom that, unlettered as he was, he was considered by all a master in theology and spiritual science.

Shortly after his profession he was sent to Paris on business connected with his Order. The journey was full of perils, owing to the hostility of the Huguenots, who were numerous at the time in the south of France; and on four separate occasions Paschal was in imminent danger of death at their hands. Twice he was taken for a spy; but it was not God’s will that His servant should obtain the crown of martyrdom which he so earnestly desired, though he regarded himself as unworthy of it. He returned in safety to his convent, where he would later die in the odor of sanctity in 1592.

Multitudes witnessed the miracles which took place during the three days his body was exposed for veneration. He was canonized in 1690, and in 1897 declared patron of all Eucharistic congresses and confraternities.

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Saint Brendan of Ardfert and Clonfert, known also as Brendan the Voyager, was born in Ciarraighe Luachra, near the present city of Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland, in 484; he died at Enachduin, now Annaghdown, in 577. He was baptized at Tubrid, near Ardfert, by Bishop Erc. For five years he was educated under St. Ita, “the Brigid of Munster”, and he completed his studies under St. Erc, who ordained him priest in 512. Between the years 512 and 530 St. Brendan built monastic cells at Ardfert, and at Shanakeel or Baalynevinoorach, at the foot of Brandon Hill. It was from here that he set out on his famous voyage for the Land of Delight.

St. Brendan belongs to that glorious period in the history of Ireland when the island in the first glow of its conversion to Christianity sent forth its earliest messengers of the Faith to the continent and to the regions of the sea. It is, therefore, perhaps possible that the legends, current in the ninth and committed to writing in the eleventh century, have for foundation an actual sea-voyage the destination of which cannot however be determined.

These adventures were called the “Navigatio Brendani”, the Voyage or Wandering of St. Brendan, but there is no historical proof of this journey. Brendan is said to have sailed in search of a fabled Paradise with a company of monks, the number of which is variously stated as from 18 to 150. After a long voyage of seven years they reached the “Terra Repromissionis”, or Paradise, a most beautiful land with luxuriant vegetation.

The narrative offers a wide range for the interpretation of the geographical position of this land and with it of the scene of the legend of St. Brendan. While many locations had been speculated, in the early part of the nineteenth century belief in the existence of the island was completely abandoned. But soon a new theory arose, maintained by those scholars who claim for the Irish the glory of discovering America, namely, MacCarthy, Rafn, Beamish, O’Hanlon, Beauvois, Gafarel, etc. They rest this claim on the account of the Northmen who found a region south of Vinland and the Chesapeake Bay called “Hvitramamaland” (Land of the White Men) or “Irland ed mikla” (Greater Ireland), and on the tradition of the Shawano (Shawnee) Indians that in earlier times Florida was inhabited by a white tribe which had iron implements.

In regard to Brendan himself the point is made that he could only have gained a knowledge of foreign animals and plants, such as are described in the legend, by visiting the western continent.

The oldest account of the legend is in Latin, “Navigatio Sancti Brendani”, and belongs to the tenth or eleventh century; the first French translation dates from 1125; since the thirteenth century the legend has appeared in the literatures of the Netherlands, Germany, and England.

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When he was barely old enough to wield a hoe, Saint Isidore the Farmer entered the service of John de Vargas, a wealthy landowner from Madrid, and worked faithfully on his estate outside the city for the rest of his life. He married a young woman as simple and upright as himself who also became a saint—Maria de la Cabeza. They had one son, who died as a child.

Isidore frequented Holy Mass every morning but often reported to work late. Late, though he was, his plowing was nevertheless accomplished by angels that resulted in three times more productivity. His coworkers and his boss witnessed such miraculous events and accorded Isidore with great respect.

All day long, as he walked behind the plow, he communed with God. Many marvelous happenings accompanied his lifelong work in the fields and continued long after his holy death. He was favored with celestial visions and, it is said, the angels sometimes helped him in his work in the fields.

He was known for his love of the poor, and there are accounts of Isidore’s supplying them miraculously with food. He had a great concern for the proper treatment of animals.

He died May 15, 1130, and was declared a saint in 1622 with Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier, Teresa of Avila and Philip Neri. Together, the group is known in Spain as “the five saints.” St. Isidore has become the patron of farmers and rural communities. In particular he is the patron of Madrid, Spain, and of the United States National Rural Life Conference.

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Jesus’ choice of 12 Apostles points to a consciousness of a symbolic mission—originally there were 12 tribes of Israel—that the community maintained after the Crucifixion.

Acts reveals that Matthias accompanied Jesus and the Apostles from the time of the Lord’s Baptism to his Ascension and that, when it became time to replace Judas, the Apostles cast lots between Matthias and another candidate, St. Joseph Barsabbas.

St. Jerome and the early Christian writers Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius of Caesarea attest that Matthias was among the 72 disciples paired off and dispatched by Jesus. Soon after his election, Matthias received the Holy Spirit with the other Apostles (Acts 2:1–4). He is not mentioned again in the New Testament.It is generally believed that Matthias ministered in Judaea and then carried out missions to foreign places. Greek tradition states that he Christianized Cappadocia, a mountainous district now in central Turkey, later journeying to the region about the Caspian Sea, where he was martyred by crucifixion and, according to other legends, chopped apart.

His symbol, related to his alleged martyrdom, is either a cross or a halberd. St. Helena, mother of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great, reputedly transported Matthias’ relics from Jerusalem to Rome.

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Between May 13 and October 13, 1917, three Portuguese children, Francisco, Jacinta, and Lucia, received apparitions of Our Lady at Cova da Iria, near Fatima, a city 110 miles north of Lisbon. Mary asked the children to pray the rosary for world peace, for the end of World War I, for sinners and for the conversion of Russia.

Mary gave the children three secrets. Since Francisco died in 1919 and Jacinta the following year, Lucia, who later became a Carmelite nun, revealed the first secret in 1927, concerning devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The second secret was a vision of hell.

Pope John Paul II directed the Holy See’s Secretary of State to reveal the third secret in 2000; it spoke of a ‘bishop in white’ who was shot by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows into him. Many people linked this to the assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981. The feast of Our Lady of Fatima was approved by the local bishop in 1930; it was added to the Church’s worldwide calendar in 2002. Sister Lucia died in 2005 at the age of 97.

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Saint Leopold Mandic was born on May 12, 1866 and died on June 30, 1942. He was an ethnic Croat born in Herceg Novi, in Boka Kotorska (modern-day Montenegro), and died in Padua, Italy. Physically malformed and delicate, having a height of only 1.35m (4’5”), with clumsy walk and stuttering, he developed tremendous spiritual strength. His feast is celebrated May 12.

Although he wanted to be a missionary in Eastern Europe, he spent almost all of his adult life in Italy, and lived in Padua from 1906 until the end of his life. He spent also one year in Italian prison during WWI, since he did not want to renounce his Croatian nationality. He also dreamed unceasingly about reuniting the Catholic and Orthodox churches and going to the Orient. He became known as Apostle of Confession and Apostle of Unity. He made a famous prayer that is the forerunner of today’s Ecumenism.

Bogdan Mandic was the twelfth child of Dragica Carevic and Petar Antun Mandic, owner of an Adriatic fishing fleet; they came from village of Zakucac (hinterland of city of Omiš, 28 km from Split). The origins of his family are noble; they came from Vrhbosna province in Bosnia.

He suffered from disabilities that would plague his speech and stature. The family eventually lost most of its wealth, and became more sympathetic to those who suffered in similar situations. In November of 1882 while he was 16, Bogdan went to Udine to enter the seminary of the Venetian Capuchins, and accepted the name “Leopold”. Two years later he was put in the Bassano del Grappa friary, where he took the name Leopold. His first profession of vows were made a year later in May and a profession of perpetual vows 4 years latter in 1888.

In the mid-1880s, Croatian Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer began a movement which focused on unity and consecration of the Cathedral of Akovo and Srijem, a movement in which Leopold took interest in. On September 20, 1890, Leopold was ordained to the presbyterate at Venice at the age of 24.

Refusing to renounce his Croatian nationality during World War I, Leopold was forced to go to southern Italy. All this time Leopold held a hope that he would be able to return to his homeland and preach among his people, a feat that would be inhibited by his disabilities. On top of his physical deformities, he also suffered from stomach ailments, poor eyesight, and arthritis. Unsurprisingly, the Capuchin ministers declined these attempts due to his health.

While in Italy, Leopold’s main vocation was confessions, which he did for 34 years. The Capuchin brothers often criticized Leopold for his approach to confession, calling him too lenient and compassionate. Leopold’s compassion showed that he was more understanding and sympathetic to the people that came to him, and would treat them with great sensitivity. He was an outspoken on issues with children, and being pro-life and especially fond of expectant mothers and young children. He did great work in setting up orphanages for children without parents.

Leopold also had a deep devotion to the Virgin Mary who he referred to as “my holy boss”. He was known to pray the rosary quite often, and celebrated the eucharist daily at the side altar in the Little Office of the Virgin Mary. He would then visit the sick in nursing homes, hospitals and homes all over Padua. He visited the Capuchin infirmary to comfort the sick friars, giving them words of advice and reminding them to have faith.

Leopold suffererd from esophagus cancer, which would ultimately lead to his death at age 76. On July 30, 1942, while preparing for the liturgy, he collapsed on the floor. He was then brought to his cell, where he was given the last rites. Friars that had gathered at his bed sang “Salve Regina,” and when they got to the words, “O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary,” St. Leopold died.

During the bombing of World War II the church and part of the friary where Leopold lived were demolished, but Leopold’s cell and confessional were left unharmed. Leopold had predicted this before his death, saying, “The church and the friary will be hit by the bombs, but not this little cell. Here God exercised so much mercy for people, it must remain as a monument to God’s goodness.” Paul VI beatified Leopold on May 2, 1976. He was canonized by John Paul II during the Synod of Bishops on October 16, 1983. Leopold is hailed as the “Apostle of Unity.”

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Saint Mamertus the Bishop of Vienne, date of birth unknown; died shortly after 475. Concerning the life of Mamertus before his elevation to the See of Vienne, nothing certain is known. The fact that his brother, Claudianus Mamertus, the theological writer, received in his youth a sound training in rhetoric, and enjoyed the personal acquaintance of Bishop Eucherius of Lyons (434-50), suggests that the brothers belonged to a wealthy Gallic family from the neighbourhood of Lyons.

Like his brother, St. Mamertus was distinguished for his knowledge of profane subjects as well as of theology, and, before his elevation to the episcopate, appears to have been married. His election and consecration took place shortly before 462. As bishop he enlisted the services of his brother, who had withdrawn to a cloister, and ordained him priest of Vienne. The activity of the brothers is described in a letter of Sidonius Apollinaris, another of whose letters is addressed to Bishop Mamertus. In 463 Mamertus was engaged in a dispute with Pope Hilarius on the question of the privileges of the Bishop of Arles. Mamertus evidently submitted, since we find no subsequent reference to the incident.

St. Mamertus is best remembered as he originator of the penitential practice of Rogation days. This practice is marked by processions and Psalms for the three days preceding the feast of the Ascension.

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Saint Damien of Molokai, or Father Damien as he is commonly known, was born Joseph de Veuster in Tremeloo, Belgium, on January 3, 1840. His father, a small farmer, sent him to a college at Braine-le-Comte, to prepare for a commercial profession; but as a result of a mission given by the Redemptorists in 1858, Joseph decided to become a religious. He entered the novitiate of the Fathers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary at Louvain, and took in religion the name of Damien. He was admitted to the religious profession, 7 Oct. 1860.

Three years later, though still in minor orders, he was sent to the mission of the Hawaiian Islands, where he arrived, 19 March, 1864. Ordained priest at Honolulu 24 May of the same year, he was later given charge of various districts on the island of Hawaii, and, animated with a burning zeal, his robust constitution allowed him to give full play to the impulses of his heart. He was not only the missionary of the natives, but also constructed several chapels with his own hands, both in Hawaii and in Molokai.

On the latter island there had grown up a leper settlement where the Government kept segregated all persons afflicted with the loathsome disease. The board of health supplied the unfortunates with food and clothing, but was unable in the beginning to provide them with either resident physicians or nurses.

On 10 May, 1873, Father Damien, at his own request and with the sanction of his bishop, arrived at the settlement as its resident priest. There were then 600 lepers. “As long as the lepers can care for themselves”, wrote the superintendent of the board of health to Bishop Maigret, “they are comparatively comfortable, but as soon as the dreadful disease renders them helpless, it would seem that even demons themselves would pity their condition and hasten their death.” For a long time, however, Father Damien was the only one to bring them the succour they so greatly needed. He not only administered the consolations of religion, but also rendered them such little medical service and bodily comforts as were within his power.

He dressed their ulcers, helped them erect their cottages, and went so far as to dig their graves and make their coffins. After twelve years of this heroic service he discovered in himself the first symptoms of the disease. This was in 1885. He nevertheless continued his charitable ministrations, being assisted at this period by two other priests and two lay brothers. Father Damien died peacefully on April 15, 1889, on Molokai after sixteen years of undaunted dedication. On October 11, 2009, Father Damien was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in a ceremony at the Vatican, thus becoming Saint Damien.

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