Tuesday, August 26, 2014

St. David Lewis and Blessed Dominic Barberi, Missionary Priests

The National Calendar for the Catholic Church in England and Wales honors two missionaries from very different eras today. In England the memorial honors Blessed Dominic Barberi--in Wales, St. David Lewis, SJ. Like St. John Kemble and St. John Wall on August 22, St. David Lewis was a victim of the Popish Plot.

The particularly repellent aspects of the Popish Plot are:

1) There was no plot at all: Titus Oates perjured himself and made it all up
2) Parliament's leaders, like Lord Shaftesbury, Anthony-Ashley Cooper, fomented it
3) Charles II knew it was not true and yet seemed powerless to prevent it
4) The vaunted English Court system was duped by it and was an accessory to multiple injustices--like that experienced by today's saint!

It took the Courts far too long to recognize this injustice--at which time it started finding the accused not guilty--and Parliament never truly admitted its culpability. Titus Oates was found guilty of perjury but was soon rewarded by the regime of William and Mary with a pension. Charles II protected his brother and his wife, although James and Mary Beatrice fled to Ireland in exile. Charles did not give in to the desire of Parliament to bypass his Catholic brother the succession, either.

St. David Lewis was born and raised in a Protestant family but when he went to Paris at age 16 he was moved to become a Catholic! He was ordained in 1642 in Rome and joined the Jesuit order in 1645--like St. John Kemble he served in Monmouthshire for some years.

In November of 1678, he was arrested, taken to London and questioned in connection with the Popish Plot. Lord Shaftesbury offered him freedom if he gave information about the Plot and renounced his Catholicism. David said he had no knowledge of the Plot and would not renounce his faith.

St. David Lewis was then returned to Monmouthshire and executed in Usk on August 27, 1679. He is the last Welsh martyr. Like Blessed Dominic Barberi, his memorial is on August 26 to avoid conflict with that of St. Monica, St. Augustine's mother. This blog contains some great detail about the Last Welsh Martyr! He was canonized among the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales in 1970 by Pope Paul VI.
Blessed Dominic Barberi also died on August 27, in 1849 and is honored on August 26 and featured on the National Calendar in England. He is probably best known for having received John Henry Newman into the Catholic Church on October 9, 1845 but there are other aspects to his life that should be recalled.

The first is that he was born in Italy during Napoleonic rule, meaning that he grew up in milieu of anti-clericalism and irreligion. His large peasant family placed him with an uncle and he was a shepherd. Young Dominic became attracted to the Passionist Order and joined them as a novice in 1814, after restrictions against religious orders were removed.
Secondly, although in England his English language skills were never that strong (which probably gave some the impression he was not that bright), he was a tremendous theologian and scholar for the Passionist order. He was entrusted with greater and greater responsibility in the order and the mission field.
Thirdly, he received this special call to serve the people of England and received converts. I believe he heard that call because John Henry Newman needed him. As Newman was living in Littlemore after the suppression of the Oxford Movement he was as he said on his deathbed as an Anglican--but he was not yet ready to recover and become a Catholic. The example of Father Barberi, enduring ridicule for his poor English, being stoned in the streets and yet persevering to bring Christ to the people--even leading the first Corpus Christi procession in England since the Reformation--impressed Newman. As he had written, "If they [Catholic religious] want to convert England let them go barefooted into our manufacturing towns-let them preach to the people like St. Francis Xavier-let them be pelted and trampled on-and I will admit that they can do what we cannot…What a day it will be when God will make arise among their Communion saintly men such as Bernard and the Borromeo’s…The English will never be favorably inclined to a party of conspirators and instigators; only faith and sanctity are irresistible.”

Father Barberi said,  "What a spectacle it was for me to see Newman at my feet! All that I have suffered since I left Italy has been well compensated by this event. I hope the effects of such a conversion may be great."

The International Centre of Newman Friends offers this detail of that momentous event on October 8 and 9, 1845:

"The original historians, who were also closer to the facts, delighted in presenting the events of that night in a dramatic fashion, something which Dominic never would have done, being always very simple and loath to talk about himself. Alfonso Capecelatro, for example, who was an Oratorian and a future Cardinal, wrote about the event ten years after the death of Dominic: “Dalgarins (sic)invited a certain Fr. Dominic of the Mother of God, a Provincial of the Passionists, to go to Aston Hall in Littlemore, telling him that he was being called to a work in the service of God: and unwittingly, he agreed. He was always conscious that every delay could possibly result in some great harm to the office to which he called. However because of a terrible storm he set out in a covered coach. He endured five hours of driving rain and, as it so pleased God, completely exhausted he arrived at Littlemore at night. Without delay he entered in the solitary dwelling of those fervent men who were famous throughout England, and with great humility Newman fell at his feet, telling him that he would not move from there until he was blessed and received into the Church of Jesus Christ.”

Beyond this great event, Father Dominic worked very hard while in England, establishing churches, preaching and teaching. He suffered a heart attack and died in Reading on August 27, 1849. He is buried in St. Anne's church, St. Helens, Merseyside, alongside Father Ignatius Spencer, an Anglican convert and Passionist, and Elizabeth Prout, another Anglican convert and the foundress of the Institute of the Holy Family. You can watch this interesting interview of Blessed Dominic, portrayed by Kevin O'Brien on EWTN's The Journey Home. Pope Paul VI beatified Dominic Barberi in 1963 in the midst of the Second Vatican Council and his cause is still active in the Birmingham, England archdiocese.
St. David Lewis, martyr, pray for us! Blessed Dominic Barberi, confessor, pray for us!

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