If you grew up in the Roman Catholic Church, you are no doubt familiar with the concept of saints. However, to those outside Catholicism and Christianity, the concept of sainthood may be difficult to grasp. A simple explanation is that saints are believers that have been formally recognized and canonized by the Catholic Church as possessing exceptional holiness. They are publicly recognized by the organized church for a variety of reasons and depending upon the denomination and belief system may receive the prayers of the faithful. When canonized, some saints become patron saints of a particular cause, activity, or condition.
Whether you believe that saints may be prayed to in times of need, or if they are simply to be recognized for their faith, there are numerous examples of Christians throughout the ages that may be recognized today.
One such example is St. Peregrine Laziosi, the patron saint of those suffering from cancer, AIDS, and other illnesses.
#1 When did St. Peregrine Laziosi live?
Peregrine Laziosi was born in the year 1260 in the small town of Forli in northern Italy. He was the only child in the family, and the town in which they lived was strongly opposed to the rule of the papacy. Many other parts of the region were in rebellion against the rule of the Roman Catholic Church.
#2 What was his life like before coming into the church?
He came from an affluent family and became involved in politics at a young age. He spoke openly against the Pope, joining in public demonstrations against those who represented Rome.
One such incident involved St. Philip Benizi, who was sent on behalf of Rome to help reopen diplomatic relations. During his sermon, Peregrine publicly insulted him and even struck him out of heated emotion.
#3 How did he become a believer?
After the incident with Philip, Peregrine felt ashamed and begged his forgiveness. Philip offered him forgiveness and treated him kindly. This moment drove Peregrine to deeper worship and prayer, ultimately leading him to abandon his anti-church activities and following the Pope. He would later become ordained as a priest.
#4 What order does St. Peregrine belong to?
Catholics priests may join specific mendicant orders that invoked a lifestyle of poverty and travel as part of their devotion and piety within the church. It can also refer to someone who abstains from physical pleasures in order to increase the power of their personal worship.
Peregrine became a priest of the Servite order, which was particularly devoted to the worship of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. It is interesting to note that this is the same order to which St. Philip Benizi belonged.
#5 What were some of the hallmarks of his ministry?
Peregrine returned to his hometown in Italy as a priest during his ministry. He became well known throughout the area for his ministry to the sick and the poor and was also an effective preacher and confessor (one who received the congregation’s confessions). Those who benefited from his ministry called him the “angel of good counsel.”
Another aspect of his personal holiness was the commitment to standing when it was not necessary to sit. This was considered a penance, or a personal and self-imposed action or punishment that outwardly reflects an inward spirit of worship.
#6 What is the best-known moment in his ministry?
One vital part of canonization is the proof of a miracle performed by or through the individual being considered for sainthood. While other miracles were performed under his ministry, Peregrine’s most recognized miracle was one of personal healing.
Over time, Peregrine became ill with cancer in his leg. His physicians recommended amputation; the night before the procedure, Peregrine prayed that God would heal his leg. He is said to have received a vision of Jesus during this time of intense prayer. The next morning, the doctor found all traces of cancer gone from the leg, and the procedure was not necessary.
#7 How did he die?
Peregrine Laziosi continued his ministry after his recovery from cancer and died at the age of eighty-five. Many who attended his funeral services were healed due to his intercession and prayer.
#8 How does someone become a saint?
After a person has died, their life is investigated by an official expert authorized by the Church. Their initial report is submitted to the bishop of their diocese and further investigation is performed. They may then submit the individual to the office of the Pope for recognition by the universal church. If this recognition is granted, they will have been venerated by the Church, and are given the title “Venerable.”
The next level involves further research, and if warranted the person is beatified and is given the new title “Blessed.”
The final level of investigation determines whether or not miracles were performed. Proof of at least two miracles performed by God through this person must be verified. Once this is proven, the Pope may canonize this person as a saint through a public proclamation.
#9 When did St. Peregrine become canonized?
St. Peregrine Laziosi was beatified by Pope Paul V in 1609, and Pope Benedict XIII canonized him in 1726.
#10 How is he honored in the Catholic Church today?
In the Catholic Church, all saints are honored through a feast day, which is part of the Catholic liturgical calendar. St. Peregrine’s feast day is May 1.
A basilica was built in St. Peregrine’s hometown of Forli, Italy.
There are numerous shrines erected in honor of St. Peregrine around the world. Several shrines in the United States – including locations in Illinois, Arizona, Oregon, and California – are named in his honor, and provide specific ministries and counseling services to those who are suffering from cancer. There is also a shrine in the Philippines that possesses and displays a rib from St. Peregrine’s body.
#11 What about St. Peregrine makes him the patron saint of cancer and illness?
Some Christian denominations, such as Catholicism, recognize certain saints as able to intercede before God through prayer on behalf of those suffering from a particular ailment or to pray on behalf of a certain kind of believer. Others do not believe that saints can intercede on behalf of the living when they die.
Peregrine’s ministry and intercession on behalf of the sick made him an ideal candidate for sainthood. Furthermore, his personal struggle with and miraculous healing from cancer identified him with the illness and was made a part of his canonization by the Church. Later, when AIDS became a more prominent illness, his intercession was extended to cover this illness as well.
His example of devoted prayer in the face of terminal illness is cited by the Church as an example for modern-day believers to follow.
St. Peregrine Laziosi lived a storied life that began in fierce opposition of the church, but his conversion made him a powerful witness for the Gospel. And the unique circumstances of his life, illness, and death have given him a place in the Catholic Church as the patron saint and supposed intercessor on behalf of those suffering from cancer, AIDS, or other terminal illnesses.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.