A Saint's Tale
April 4, 1999
Brother John Raymond
If you think the present times are confusing imagine living in an age when most people were not sure who was the legitimate Pope of the Catholic Church! This situation lasted from 1378 until 1417 and even saints of the times had different opinions. Three people claimed to be Pope.
What brought about this sad situation? The majority of Cardinals in the Church were French and for some years the Popes elected were French. Italy was an unstable place to live in those days so one of the French Popes set up his residence in Avignon, France. The Italians were not happy with this situation. Pope Gregory XI left Avignon and returned to Italy where he died in 1378. The Cardinals gathered for the election of a new Pope. Angry Italians gathered outside the conclave demanding an Italian Pope for fear that a French Pope might go back to Avignon. The Cardinals did elect an Italian Pope - Urban VI. The new Pope was a little heavy-handed in Church reform, especially with the Cardinals. He quickly became unpopular with them and a group of them elected a "new Pope" who called himself Clement VII. They claimed their reason for doing this was because Urban was invalidly elected due to pressure from the Italian people. Clement took up his residence in Avignon. What came to be called the Great Western Schism had begun.
St. Vincent Ferrer found himself in the midst of this confusion. In 1374 Vincent entered the Domincans near his hometown of Valencia, Spain. Two years after his ordination, Vincent wrote a "Treatise on the Schism." He wrongly concluded that Clement VII was the valid Pope. He worked to persuade Spaniards to follow Clement. With St. Vincent was Cardinal Pedro de Luna, who had became his intimate friend. Together they took off for a whole year on a mission in support of Clement's claim. At the end of 1394, Clement died. Cardinal de Luna was elected in Avignon and became Benedict XIII. Benedict appointed St. Vincent as apostolic penitentiary and Master of the Sacred Palace. Benedict was abandoned by both the French Cardinals and King because he refused to end the Schism. All this adversely effected St. Vincent's health and he fell seriously ill. Saint Dominic, accompanied by Saint Francis of Assisi, appeared to comfort him. Then came Our Lord himself, in the midst of a great host of angels. Touching Vincent on the cheek, Our Lord told him to rise and preach throughout kingdoms and cities the approach of the Last Judgment. Miraculously, Vincent emerged completely cured. The mark of Our Lord's sacred fingers on his cheek remained with him for the rest of his life.
St. Vincent did what Our Lord requested. He began his apostolate with the title Legate of Jesus Christ on November 22, 1399. Large numbers of people became his disciples and followed him from place to place, up to 10,000 from every walk of life. St. Vincent preached in his mother tongue, yet all his hearers - Germans, Greeks, Sardinians, Italians, and English - understood him perfectly. For twenty years his efforts brought him to evangelize nearly every province of Spain. He also went to France, Italy, Germany, Flanders, England, Scotland and Ireland. Numerous conversions followed his preaching, which God Himself assisted with miracles. In Granada he converted thousands of Moslems and Ranzano, his first biographer, estimates he was responsible for the conversion of 25,000 Jews to the Catholic Church. He lived to see the end of multiple Popes when all agreed to retire and then Pope Martin V was elected. St. Vincent died at Vannes, Brittany on April 5, 1419. His feast day is April 5.
St. Vincent teaches us that troubled times and confusion in the Church do not keep us from becoming holy. Neither does making mistakes. May this great missionary obtain for us the grace of becoming zealous missionaries like him to those around us.