• Sarah Raad


“…The name of that river was suffering: And I saw the boat which carries souls across the river, and the name of that boat was love.” (Saint John of the Cross).

Miguel Agustín Pro (Jesuit Priest executed with his crucifix and rosary in Mexico in November 1927)

As I stand here at the closing of one year, reflecting on the beginning of the next, my mind turns to the importance of continuity.

You see, I was reading about the “Hill of Crosses”, which is situated in northern Lithuania…

At the turn of the 19th century when Lithuania was under the dictates of the Russian Empire, when rebels were killed, the Russian Government disposed of their bodies so that their families could not bury them. As an act of continuity of the resistance, their families instead erected crosses on what became known as the “Hill of Crosses” to commemorate their passing. At the beginning of the twentieth century there were 50 crosses on that Hill.

But then came the Soviet Union… Between 1944 and 1990 – despite the Soviet Government outlawing the crosses, guarding the Hill and continually bulldozing the erected crosses – there were 55,000 crosses on that Hill in 1990.

Today there are more than 400,000 crosses on that Hill.

There is great continuity of faith evident on that Hill of Crosses. Pope Saint John Paul II said – upon seeing that Hill – “Thank you, Lithuanians, for this Hill of Crosses which testifies to the nations of Europe and to the whole world the faith of the people of this land.”

For the Saint could see the continuity of the faith of those people, just as there is continuity in the faith of the martyrs…

In the mid-17th century, the missionary Father Francesco Bressani – an Italian Jesuit – arrived in North America. He and one of his converts were captured and tortured over many weeks for their faith. During the weeks of his torture prior to his death, Father Francesco Bressani wrote to his Superior, “I have no more than one entire finger; six times they burned my hands, over eighteen times they have applied fire and hot iron on my body and forced me to sing during the ordeal.”

When his companion, the convert, was being tortured he feared wavering and the convert called out to the priest, “Father Bressani, I can’t take this anymore, I see I’m going to waver: Quick, quick, Father, show me your hands – they tell me how to love God..!”

Because this martyr could see the continuity of faith in the commitment of the priest…

During the Mexican Cristero War in the early 20th century, Catholics were persecuted by the Mexican government. One Jesuit priest, Miguel Agustín Pro was shot dead by firing squad in front of the Mexican media – without a trial – for the “crime” of being Catholic.

His executioners thought to add to his humiliation by broadcasting his execution as a deterrent to other Mexican Catholics, because the Government was convinced that Miguel Agustín Pro would beg for his life and renounce his faith... Instead, this priest walked to his place of execution with dignity, prayed silently and said stood, with his arms outstretched as Christ crucified, saying the words familiar to all Mexican Catholics… “Viva Cristo Rey” (“Long live Christ the King”)...

His last words to his executioners were, “May God have mercy on you. May God bless you! Lord, thou knowest I am innocent! With all my heart I forgive my enemies.”

For this priest could feel the continuity of his faith – even after his death…

And I have been thinking about the continuity of purpose of these tortured martyrs. For they understood the words of Saint John of the Cross, when he said, “And I saw the river over which every soul must pass to reach the kingdom of heaven, and the name of that river was suffering: And I saw the boat which carries souls across the river, and the name of that boat was love.”

And so, as I stand here at the closing of one year, reflecting on the beginning of the next, I pray a prayer for continuity… For only through Grace shall I ever have the strength of will to continue in the service of my Beloved…

Only through His Grace!

For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.

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