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Saint John of God
He was born and died on the 8th of March. Born in Portugal, in 1495, he died in Granada (Spain), in 1550, at age 55.
His family was poor but very pious. His mother died when he was still quite young. His father died as monk in a convent.
In his youth he was a shepherd, much appreciated by the owner of the property where he worked. They suggested that he marry the patron’s daughter and, in this way, become the heir of these goods; but he was decide to stay free of economic and household responsibilities because he wanted to devote himself to spiritual work.
He was a soldier, in the army ofCharles V, and fought in famous battles. Military life made him strong, resistant and patient. On one occasion, the Most Holy Virgin saved him from being hanged: He had been given the responsibility of guarding a large depot; but he was not vigilant enough and the enemy carried everything away. His corporal decided that he should be hanged, but John entrusted himself with total faith to the Mother of God and succeeded in gaining their pardon and saving his life. He left soldiering because he was not very suited for it.
When he had left the army, he wanted to do some apostolate and decided to become an ambulant salesman of religious images and books. Near the city of Granada, he saw a little boy, who was very poor and needy, and he kindly offered to help him. This “poor little boy” was the representation of the Child Jesus, who said to him: “Granada shall be a cross for you,” and then disappeared.
When John had just begun as an ambulant salesman of religious books, the famous priest Saint John of Avila came to preach a mission there. John went to listen to one of his eloquent sermons and, in the middle of the sermon, when the preacher started speaking against the sinful life, our protagonist went down on his knees and began shouting: “Lord have mercy, for I am a sinner” and left shouting in the streets asking God’s forgiveness. He was 40 years old.
He made a confession with Saint John of Avila and proposed a very special penitence: he would pretend to be crazy so that people would humiliate him and making him suffer a great deal.
To the poor he gave everything he had in his small bookshop and began going through the streets of the city asking God’s mercy for all his sins.
People thought that he was crazy and began throwing stones at him and beating him.
Finally, they took him to the mental hospital and those on duty severely lashed him, since whipping the mentally ill was their method for calming them. However, they noticed that John was not displeased by the thrashings they were giving him, but that he offered everything to God. Yet, at the same time, he was correcting the guardians and drawing their attention to the brutal way in which they were treating these poor sick people.
Saint John of God situated himself before the ill person as before our Lord. John’s stay in this mental hospital, which was true hell, was really providential because he became aware of what a great mistake it was to pretend curing the mentally ill with such methods of torture. Later, when he was free again, he founded a Hospital and, there, although he knew little about medicine, he proved to be much better than the doctors, especially with respect to mental illness. By his example, he was to demonstrate that, in the case of certain sick people, it first necessary to heal the soul, in order to heal the body. His brothers in religion take care of the mentally ill on all the continents, with great and marvelous results, constantly using the methods of kindness and understanding instead of the rigor of torture.
When Saint John of Avila returned to the city and found out that they had taken his convert to a mental hospital, he went to get him out and suggested that he no longer practice the penance of presenting himself as a madman so that people would martyrize him. Now, he was to dedicate himself to the “folly of love”: spend his entire life and energy in helping the most miserably ill for the love of Jesus-Christ, whom they represent.
John rented an old house and, there, began to receive any ill, lunatic, elderly, orphaned and helpless person who came asking for his help. Throughout the day he took care of each person with the most exquisite kindness, serving all as nurse, cook, sweeper, messenger, father, friend and brother. At night, he would go through the streets begging for alms for his poor.
Soon John’s cry on the streets at night became familiar in all of Granada. He would go around with a knapsack and pans, shouting: “Do good, my brothers, for your own good!” People would come out of their houses and give him the leftovers from their daily meal. Home again towards midnight, John would go to tidy up the Hospital and, at dawn, sleep for a while under a staircase. He was truly a hero of charity.
The bishop, who greatly admired John’s charitable work, added two words to his named and began to call him “John of God.” That is also how the people called from then on. Later, because this man often exchanged his good clothing for the rags of the poor he met in the streets, the prelate gave him a black tunic as a uniform. He dressed in this way until his death, and his brothers in religion wore this habit for many centuries.
One day, there was a fire in his Hospital, and John of God went into the flames several times to bring out the sick. Yet, although he passed in the midst of an enormous blaze, he suffered no burns and succeeded in saving the lives of those poor people.
Another day, the river rose to a great extent and in its flow hauled along many tree trunks and branches. John needed much wood for the winter, because it gets very cold in Granada and the elderly people like to warm themselves close to the fire. So, he went down to the river to drag out some trunks. One of his companions, a young man lacking prudence, went too far into the violent waters and the current carried him away. The saint dove into the river to save him and since the water was extremely cold, his arthritis remained affected, and he began to suffer terrible pain.
After so much work, fasting, sleepless nights spent doing good and chills added to his illnesses, John of God’s health was complete broken. He did everything he could so that people would not notice the terrible pain that tormented him, but at the end, he was no longer able to hide it. Above all, his arthritis had deformed his legs and provoked overwhelming pain. Then, a venerable lady of the city received permission from the bishop to bring him to her house and care for him. The saint went before the Blessed Sacrament and prayed there for a long time with the greatest fervor before saying goodbye to his beloved Hospital. He entrusted the direction of his work to one of his collaborators, Antonio Martin, a man he had converted and succeeded in convincing to enter religious life, and to another man whom Antonio hated. In the end, the saint succeeded in getting them both to help him in his work for the poor, like two good friends.
When John arrived at the house of the rich lady, he exclaimed, “Oh! These comforts are too much luxury for me, who am a miserable sinner.” There, they tried to cure him of his painful illness, but it was already too late.
On 8 March 1550, sensing that his death was approaching, he knelt down on the floor and exclaimed: “Jesus, Jesus, I commend myself to you,” and so he died, on his knees. He had worked tirelessly for ten years, directing the Hospital of the poor, with so many economic problems that, at times, he did not dare go out into the streets because of his many debts; and so great was his humility that, while being the greatest saint in the city, he considered himself the most unworthy sinner.
After his death, he obtained many miracles from God for those who were devoted to him. He was beatified by Pope Urban VIII, on 1 September 1630 and canonized by Pope Alexander VIII, on 16 October 1690. He was proclaimed Patron Saint of the hospitals and of the sick.