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A Gangster’s Journey to Sainthood

Fernando Fernando

Larry Peterson - published on 06/16/16

The inspiring story of Saint Peter Armengol

The following is true. And even though it may have happened 700 years ago, people then were like people now. When it comes to our wants, needs and emotions, nothing has changed. And when it comes to family love, especially when it comes to family love coupled with prayer, unbreakable bonds are still forged.

Arnold Armengol was a member of the Spanish hierarchy. His son, Peter, despite being given the finest education and upbringing, rejected it all and left home. He quickly fell into the secular trap of self-centeredness, self-gratification, and outright depravity. He joined a band of criminals that preyed on people traveling into the mountains. Peter was so good at this work he eventually became the gang leader.

Two years after Peter left home, his dad was asked by King Jaime of Aragon to lead him on a journey to Montpellier so he might meet with the king of France. King Jaime had heard of the brigands that preyed on mountain travelers and knew Arnold could keep them safe.

As Arnold Armengol led the king’s entourage through the mountain passes, they were attacked by a band of highwaymen, and made a counterattack. With his sword drawn, Arnold headed directly for the leader of the pack. As they were about to engage, though, the brigand fell to his knees. He had recognized his father and with tears streaming down his face, prostrated himself at his feet. Surrendering his sword, he begged his father for forgiveness. The constant prayers of Peter’s father for his boy were about to be answered in an amazing way.

Peter Armengol, repentant and seeking mercy, was filled with shame. Standing before the king with his dad at his side, he appealed to James I for a second chance. Shortly after receiving an official pardon, Peter entered a Mercedarian monastery in Barcelona, becoming known as Friar Peter.

The mission of the Mercedarians (The Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy), founded by St. Peter Nolasco, was to ransom Catholics taken hostage. Friar Peter excelled at this task and, over a period of eight years, managed to negotiate the freedom of many hostages from the Saracens. (The Mercedarians take a fourth vow. Besides poverty, chastity and obedience, they also vow to always be ready to exchange their own lives to free a hostage).

Friar Peter then headed to Africa with Friar William Florentino. His goal was to ransom Christians from the Moors. On arrival in a place called Bugia, he heard about 18 Christian children being held hostage – threatened with death if they did not renounce Christianity. Friar Peter offered himself in exchange. The captors agreed but warned Peter that if the ransom was not paid on time he would suffer brutal torture and death.

The arrival of the agreed ransom and Friar Peter’s release were scheduled for a certain day. The ransom never arrived. Peter was immediately put to torture and endured this for days on end. The Moors, weary of his resilience, accused him of blaspheming Mohammad and sentenced him to death.

Friar Peter was hanged from a tree. His body was left there for the birds of prey to feed upon. Six days later Friar William arrived with the ransom. The Moors refused it and told the friar that Peter had already been dead for six days and his rotted corpse could be found hanging from the tree. Distraught, William went to recover the body of his brother Mercedarian.

As William approached the execution site, however, he noticed that Peter’s body seemed to be intact. In fact, there was a fragrance of flowers in the air. William slowly approached the body of Peter. The man who was supposedly dead for six days began to speak. He explained how the Blessed Virgin had come to him and was holding him up with her precious hands so his body would not hang on the rope.

Peter Armengol, when recalling the miracle of his hanging, told his Mercedarian brothers that the happiest days of his life were those six days that he hung from the gallows supported by the Blessed Virgin Mary. Peter’s neck, broken from the hanging, remained in a twisted position for the rest of his life and he always had a sickly complexion. Seven documented miracles were attributed to him while he was still alive.

Peter Armengol was canonized a saint on April 8, 1687, by Pope Innocent XI. It is good to remember that, as Saint Monica’s “mother’s prayers” helped to save Augustine, Arnold Aremengol’s “father’s prayers” saved Peter.

Parents, never stop praying for your kids.

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