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Saints for refugees and destabilized regions


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Meg Hunter-Kilmer - published on 08/28/21

In the midst of turmoil and strife, these holy men and women put their lives at the service of refugees, the sick, and the poor.

There is no country that hasn’t been strained by the pandemic that continues to rage. Resources are stretched thin, especially in nations that have been generous in accepting refugees from recent crises throughout the world.

But God’s command to welcome the stranger still binds, especially for countries that have benefited from the work of Afghans whose lives are now at risk. Let’s ask the intercession of the saints who served refugees, that we would be given generous spirits and the wisdom to serve well.

Servant of God Leonard LaRue (1914-2001)

Servant of God Leonard LaRue (1914-2001) was an American Merchant Marine serving during the Korean War when he was sent to Hungnam in what is now North Korea. There he saw tens of thousands of Korean civilians trying to escape the advancing Chinese army. Though LaRue’s ship was designed for only 12 passengers, he dumped all his cargo and weapons into the sea and loaded 14,000 Korean refugees onto the ship. They were unarmed, with no food, little water, no medical care, and no translator, but LaRue packed these people shoulder to shoulder to evacuate as many as possible. It took them two days to sail 450 miles (during which time five women on the ship gave birth), but he brought them all to safety in what’s been called “the greatest rescue by a single ship in the annals of the sea.” The descendants of those refugees number one million, including the current president of South Korea. LaRue left the sea behind to become a simple Benedictine monk in New Jersey.

Blessed Jean Wauthier (1926-1967)

Bl. Jean Wauthier (1926-1967) was a French missionary priest who had himself been displaced as a child in World War II France. After ordination, he was sent to war-torn Laos, where he served the Kmhu people and followed them from one place to another as they were forced to uproot their lives again and again. He provided spiritual guidance and medical care and once even built an irrigation system using bamboo. Each time the Kmhu people were displaced, Fr. Wauthier traveled with them. When his superiors sent him to a more stable location for a time, Fr. Wauthier obeyed, but asked repeatedly to be returned to his people until his superiors agreed. Once back with the Kmhu refugees, Fr. Wauthier advocated for them when refugees of other ethnicities were given preferential treatment. It was this work for a despised group of refugees that ultimately led to his martyrdom.

Blessed Alojzije Stepinac (1898-1960)

Bl. Alojzije Stepinac (1898-1960) was a Croatian archbishop who saw the danger of the Nazi regime early on, when Jewish refugees began to flood into his country. He established an organization specifically to provide assistance to Jewish refugees, often hiding them in monasteries to protect them, particularly when a Nazi-sympathizing government took control of Croatia. Though criticized for his cooperation with that government, Stepinac continued to work for the protection of the Jewish people, hiding individuals, encouraging his clergy to protect Jewish refugees, begging the Vatican to advocate for Jews in Italian-controlled territory, and preaching against Nazi ideology. He did this at great personal risk, but survived until the communists took over. Knowing what a threat he was, they painted him as a Nazi collaborator and sentenced him to hard labor, then house arrest. He died from illnesses contracted in prison.

Saint Mary Zhu Wu (1850-1900)

Saint Mary Zhu Wu (1850-1900) was a Chinese mother of four, married to Zhu Dianxuan, the lay leader of the Christians in their village. During the Boxer Rebellion, Wu and her husband led their village in accepting nearly 3,000 Christian refugees into their village of only 300 people. Dianxuan led the men in building fortifications and fighting against the 4,500 Boxer soldiers who came against them, but was killed when a cannon backfired. By the time the Boxers breached the village’s defenses, some thousand Christians were packed into the church seeking general absolution. As the Boxers burst into the church, Wu stood in front of their priest, Saint Léon-Ignace Mangin, and held her arms out to shield him from the bullets. She was killed, as were hundreds of others. Only 500 Christians survived the massacre; most were then sold into slavery.

Saint Virginia Centurione Bracelli (1587-1651)

Saint Virginia Centurione Bracelli (1587-1651) was a wealthy widow devoted to charitable works. She served the poor and sick and began providing for refugees when war filled the city with them. When a plague broke out in Genoa, Virginia housed many of the sick in her home; running out of space, she rented a vacant convent, then built more housing. Though the plague ended, Virginia’s hospital continued serving hundreds of sick people and providing for refugees and the religious order Virginia founded in the midst of all this continues to this day.

Saint Suranus of Sora (d. 580)

Saint Suranus of Sora (d. 580) was abbot of a monastery in Italy during the Lombard invasion. As refugees fled through the countryside, Suranus distributed all the wealth of the abbey to aid them in their flight. When the pursuing army arrived, they found there was nothing to be plundered and killed Suranus for spite. Saint Deogratias of Carthage (d. 457) was bishop of Carthage under the Vandals, who had sacked Rome and brought many Romans back as slaves. He sold sacred vessels, sacred art, vestments, and everything he could get his hands on in order to ransom slaves from the Vandals and provide for them once they were freed. Though many of his people opposed his generosity, Deogratias turned two of the city’s biggest churches into dormitories in order to provide for those displaced by the Vandal invasion. For his troubles, some Arians among his people attempted to have him assassinated but they failed and Deogratias died naturally a few years later.

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