St. Berard and Companions
First Martyrs of the Franciscan Order - January 16
Berard was born to a wealthy Italian family of noble lineage in the late 12th century. Among many young men who left their affluent lives to follow Saint Francis of Assisi, he was received into the Franciscan order by Saint Francis himself in 1213. He was later ordained to the priesthood and became a popular preacher.Saint Francis had a desire to convert the Muslim empire, whose inroads at that time frequently endangered Christian countries and the Christian faith. In 1219, as he prepared to go to Egypt in an attempt to convert the Sultan and put an end to the conflict of the Crusades, he sent a group of missionaries to Muslim Spain and North Africa.
Pope Sixtus IV canonized Saint Berard and his companions in 1481.
Berard, well-educated and fluent in the Arabic language, led a five-man missionary group, first to Seville where they were banished because of their preaching. They journeyed on to Morocco. Upon arrival, they began preaching in the market place. The friars were apprehended and ordered by the local sultan to leave the country. They refused.The group continued to preach, prompting an angry sultan to have the missionaries bound, beaten and brought before him for interrogation on January 16, 1220. When the king found their faith to be firm, he paraded a group of young virgins from his harem in front of them, promising them in marriage with substantial dowries to accompany them if the missionaries would convert to Islam. When the missionaries refused to renounce their faith, the exasperated sultan personally beheaded each one of them.Relics of the martyred missionaries were brought to Portugal where they prompted a young man to join the Franciscans and set off for Morocco the next year. That young man was Saint Anthony of Padua. Martyrdom in the name of Jesus Christ became the supreme aspiration of Franciscan missionaries because it was regarded as the “summit of perfection.” Pope Sixtus IV canonized Saint Berard and his companions in 1481. Their feast day is January 16.
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