Catholic Diocese of Macau publishes book on St. Roch, patron of invalids

Marco Carvalho

Published by the Diocesan Commission for Catechetical Formation, the newly-released book on Saint Roch is the second in a set of volumes that aim to familiarize the local Catholic community with the life and example of some of the most notable saints of the Catholic pantheon.

Dedicated to exploring the concept of sanctity, the new series debuted with a book on Saint Joseph. Now, a second volume, focusing on Saint Roch’s life, has been published.

Born in 1295 to a rich family in Montpellier, Roch was the only son of a wealthy nobleman in southern France, who seems to have been part of the ruling elites. In answer to the persevering prayers of his parents, Roch was said to be granted to them by God. His virtuous path was indicated by a birthmark in the form of a red cross that was deeply imprinted on his breast.

The patron of the sick devoted his life to healing the plague-stricken and helping people in need. Roch of Montpellier was elevated to sainthood in 1427, after being canonized informally by the people soon after his death. “In 2021, we invested a lot of time in making Saint Joseph known to the local Catholic community through different means. We launched a special commemorative edition after Pope Francis declared 2021 as the year dedicated to Saint Joseph in 2020, at the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. The pontiff published the apostolic letter Patris Corde to mark the 150th anniversary of the Church’s declaration of Saint Joseph as patron saint of the Universal Church,” Benny Leung, from the Diocesan Commission for Catechetical Formation, told O Clarim.

“To make the lives and legacy of the saints known is something very significant in the context of catechesis. The saints left us historical and genuine examples of holiness. We will continue to make an effort to bring forth the life’s work of different saints in a new light,” he added.

The newly-published book on Saint Roch’s life explores the example of holiness of someone who was noted for his compassion and commitment to the others, namely to those that were afflicted by the plague or other infectious diseases. When COVID-19 became a ubiquitous hazard to human health, almost three years ago, asking for Saint Roch’s intercession became commonplace worldwide, and Macau was no exception. Bishop Stephen Lee Bun-sang repeatedly invited local Catholics to invoke Saint Roch in their prayers, transforming the charitable saint into a household name.

“Due to the plea made by the Catholic Diocese of Macau, devotion to Saint Roch spread to neighbouring regions, such as Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore, or even to more distant places, such as the Diocese of Pistoia, located in the province of Florence, in Italy. This diocese also began to ask Saint Roch for protection against Covid-19,” Leung said.

Before delving into the example and the life’s work of Saint Roch, the newly-released volume briefly explains the concept of sanctity and seeks to explain why saints are venerated and have devotions dedicated to them. The book then highlights the most important moments of Roch of Montpellier’s life, emphasizing his dedication to plague-stricken victims and to those in need and explores how Saint Roch’s example could inspire the local Catholic community to persevere against the Covid-19 scourge. “What can we learn from Saint Roch? He took care of people who were sick and in pain, blessed them in the name of Jesus and the Holy Cross, until he became ill as well. He went into a forest to avoid transmission or, as we say in modern words, he promoted social distancing. God resorted to a special way of taking care of him by sending a dog to heal him. The animal not only took care of him, but also brought him food. From this, we can see that Saint Roch followed God’s will and because of that, the grace of God was always with him,” Leung explains.

Available in Chinese (a Portuguese and an English language edition are not completely out of the question), the book costs 120 patacas and has been promoted over the last few weekends on an itinerant basis in several local parishes. Nonetheless, the volume can also be purchased at the Saint Paul Bookstore and several other local stores and commercial establishments. “Since the beginning of September, we set up a small stall outside several churches. We did it outside the Saint Lazarus Church, Our Lady of Carmel Church, Taipa, and Saint Lawrence’s Church. Our books can also be found at Saint Paul Bookstore, at Dream Corner (圓夢間) and at A Porta Da Arte (文藝門),” Leung stated.

“Having in mind the limited resources we have at the moment, we are not able to publish the books in this series in other languages. However, if there were a higher demand from the Portuguese and the English communities as well as enough resources, then we might consider having these books published in different languages,” said Leung.

In Macau, the devotion to Saint Roch is particularly significant in the Saint Lazarus parish where every year, on the second Sunday of July, a procession takes place to show appreciation to the saint for his intercession during one of the last major plague outbreaks that affected the then Portuguese territory in the mid-19th century.