– Miguel Augusto (*)
The universal Church celebrates tomorrow, the 10th of August, the liturgical feast of St Lawrence, a martyr deacon of 3rd century Christianity. In Macau, the celebrations will be held at the St Lawrence Church, with everything set for next Sunday, August 11th. This church is one of the oldest and most beautiful in the territory, having been built by the Jesuits around 1560. Today the present building is the result of the works carried out in 1846. To learn about the festive program scheduled for this year, O CLARIM went to meet the parish priest, Fr Jojo Ancheril, who will leave the parish at the end of the month after ten years of service.
Fr Jojo Ancheril told O CLARIM that “every year we try to introduce something new on the feast of St Lawrence. This year the celebrations will be held on Sunday, August 11, with Mass celebrated by Bishop D. Stephen Lee at nine in the morning.” The surprise for this year, Fr Jojo said, is a project
that he dubbed the “Garden of Saints.” An idea which came to his mind in the past and has matured, and it has now been possible to move forward with the “first phase.” The sculptures were commissioned in a region of China and arrived in Macau last Monday. Fr Jojo told us that sculptures of some saints, Jesus and Our Lady, arrived in the first delivery; in different dimensions and motifs. They were carved in stone, of near marble quality. At the moment, he refers “they will be placed around the church. The church of St Lawrence is visited every week by tourists from various corners of the world. This physical presence will be another instrument of evangelization and communion of cultural values and the Catholic faith.” The parish priest added that the idealized project might take a few years to complete. At the moment they already have twelve pieces, which will give new life to the exteriors of the church. The idea was well received by the parish council and the investment already had some financial support, Fr Jojo said. According to Fr Jojo, a portion of the total cost – close to one fifth – has already been covered by donations. The parish priest of St Lawrence church said that other donations will be underway. Some people and parishioners have expressed their desire to contribute financially, in the creation of the “Garden of Saints.” Visibly moved by the arrival of the pieces, Fr Jojo expressed his feelings of the moment: “may the garden grow. May more sculptures of saints be made in the future with descriptive plaques of their names and brief information from them.”
About the sculptures that will give now life to the exterior of the church, Fr Jojo lifted a little of the veil saying they are: Our Lady of Lourdes, Pietà of Michelangelo, Jesus with two children, St Joseph, St Lawrence, St Francis Xavier and Saint Faustina… “All the sculptures will be blessed by Bishop Stephen Lee after the festive mass next Sunday.”
Also within the program for this year, Fr Jojo added that “there will be a lunch at the Riviera Hotel for over three hundred people, attended by the Bishop of Macau. We invited religious from various congregations, parishioners, and some people of little means who the church usually helps with a small evening meal.”
Who was Saint Lawrence
St Lawrence, born in Huesca (Spain), was one of the first deacons of the Roman Church, ordained by Pope St Sixtus II. During the persecution of Valerian, the pontiff himself, arrested and led to martyrdom, gave the deacon the charge of distributing all that he had to the poor. The prefect of Rome demanded from Lawrence the treasures of the Church, for whose administration he was responsible, as well as the sustenance of many in need. The deacon asked for a deadline; he gathered together the orphans, the blind, the lame, the widows, and the elderly, and presented them to the prefect, and said: “Here are our treasures! They never diminish and can be found everywhere.” Feeling insulted, the prefect had the saint tortured with torments that even included a fiery brazier.
The martyrdom of St Lawrence was foreshadowed by Pope St Sixtus II. Tradition tells us that he had a great friendship with Pope Sixtus II. Seeing this Pope being led into martyrdom, he asked him: – “Father, where are you going without your son? Have you never offered the sacrifice without your deacon’s assistance and are you now going alone for martyrdom?” St Sixtus II replied – “A few more days and an even more beautiful crown awaits you! We, because we are old, have been given the route of an easier way; To you, because you are young, corresponds a most glorious triumph over the tyrant. Soon it will come, stop crying: in three days you will follow me. Between a bishop and a Levite, it is therefore appropriate for this interval to exist.”
St Lawrence suffered martyrdom on 10 August 258 AD, having been bound and placed on a burning brazier. So faithful and convinced in the faith, not even the lashes and the flames – with which he was tortured and martyred – could keep him from Christ.
St Lawrence, who was known for his great humor, found the strength in the Holy Spirit to remain witty even in the throes of suffering. While burning him alive on a kind of grill, made one of the most unusual statements in the history of Christian martyrdom: “Turn me over, I am already well baked on this side.” With a calmness that no one could imagine, between pain and death, he prayed for the conversion of Rome and the spreading of the religion of Christ throughout the world, until his last breath.
In the fifth century, Pope St Leo the Great, in a beautiful homily, thus comments on the atrocious martyrdom of St Lawrence saying: “the flames of could not overcome Christ’s love and the fire that burned outside was less keen than that which blazed within.” And he adds: “The Lord desired to spread abroad his glory throughout the world, so that from the East to the West the dazzling brightness of his deacon’s light does shine, and Rome is become as famous through Lawrence as Jerusalem was ennobled by Stephen.”
St Lawrence in Rome comes after St Peter and St Paul
In Rome, he is the most important saint, after Peter and Paul. The Basilica of St Lawrence Outside the Walls in Rome, home to the saint’s tomb, is one of the five patriarchal basilicas of Rome. Inside the temple is a marble stone where, according to tradition, the body of St Lawrence was placed immediately after his martyrdom, leaving part of his silhouette imprinted.
Professor of systematic theology, D. Francesco Moraglia, explains in an article that “the city, which attributed it the victory over paganism, elected him as its third patron and celebrates its feast since the 4th century, as a second feast in grade of importance after that of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul.”
Pope St Damasus, who admired the virtues of the glorious martyr, built him a second church on the ruins of Pompey’s theatre.
The city of Rome, in gratitude to St Lawrence, dedicated to him thirty-four churches and chapels, the first in the place of his martyrdom.
St Lawrence, pray for us!