Since the COVID-19 virus has begun to spread globally, many Catholics have remembered the two young visionaries of Fatima in Portugal: Saints Francisco and Jacinta Marto. Both died during the Spanish flu pandemic in the early twentieth century, so they are great intercessors to help us pray for an end to our own pandemic. But there’s much more that the saints can do besides praying for us from Heaven: we can learn from them while here on earth. More specifically, the saints from the month of April can teach us many lessons to help us respond to the problems that we’re currently facing.
People like to focus on the fact that Saint Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), whose feast day is April 29, influenced the decisions of popes. But she was still only an unknown young woman living in her hometown when she began serving the sick. Catherine had no illusions that she would be safe from contracting the diseases of those she cared for, and she later told her followers that, while daily attending a woman with leprosy, she saw the signs of the disease on her own body. But she accepted this horrifying disease with peace before (according to her) God miraculously and completely healed her. We can thank God for that too, because sparing Catherine from an early death gave her time to deepen in her spiritual life. This not only blessed the people of her time through her personal example but has helped generations of future Catholics through the writings she left behind.
There are many reasons to consider Pope Saint Pius V (1504-1572) one of our greatest popes. But as we remember him on April 30, perhaps we can focus on his strength and leadership in the face of a seemingly impossible problem: the imminent invasion of Europe by Muslims. We may remember the Battle of Lepanto as a great victory that saved Europe and Christianity from invasion, but the battle was far from an easy one. Virtually everyone in Europe thought they were outmanned and outgunned by Islamic forces, and when the Christians later claimed the victory was a miracle, that’s because it was. This victory was primarily the result of one man negotiating, pleading, and working for years to unite the many different and disorganized leaders of Christian nations to fight together and protect their people. That one man’s secret was his rock-solid faith in God. On the day of battle, Pius V united all of Christendom by asking them to pray for the intercession of the Blessed Mother, and the impossible became possible.
Saint Lidwina of Schiedam in Holland (1380-1433), while not a commonly known saint, shouldn’t be overlooked on her feast day, April 14. After a fall on the ice at the age of fifteen (depicted below), she suffered from many incurable and painful medical problems throughout her life. At the same time, God blessed her with visions and miracles. Modern studies point out that her symptoms sound a lot like multiple sclerosis, an unknown disease at the time, but the inexplicable nature of her condition led to vicious rumors that she was not sick but possessed by the devil. Lidwina could have been bitter or angry over her pain, her illness, and her social isolation; instead, she patiently waited for God to sort out truth from fiction. And, of course, He did, since she’s now considered a saint of the Church.
Saint Francisco Marto’s feast day is April 4, the date of his death at the age of ten. Francisco and his sister aren’t considered saints merely because they saw apparitions; they were recognized as saints because of the holy, penitential way they lived and died during their short lives. Most particularly, Francisco took to heart the message he had heard and seen directly from Our Lady of Fatima, and he willingly accepted little penances, even while he was sick and dying, for his own salvation and for the sake of sinners.
Fear of contracting an illness, fear of a seemingly impossible situation, fear of isolation, and fear of death are not modern inventions. They’re as old as Adam and Eve. But our all-too-human fears of today deserve Christian responses, as the saints have taught us in the past. What all four of these saints possessed in abundance—and what the world will always lack—is what will help us face COVID-19 and every other calamity. That “something” is as simple and as profound as one little word: trust. When we place our trust in God—while humbly accepting the help provided by medicine, technology, and other people—we will not only know the secrets of the saints, we will know the peace that God gives to those who love Him.
Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?James 2:5