Take a saint with you this summer

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | June 3, 2016

Many summer trip vehicles have patron saints

As we enter the summer season, thoughts turn to summer trips. There was a time when many Catholics kept a statue or medal of St. Christopher on their car’s dashboard. This patron saint of travelers is remembered on July 25.

Christopher was, according to tradition, a third century martyr. He is said to have promised a holy hermit to serve God by carrying people across a dangerous stream. One day, he carried a child and, as he crossed the water, the child grew heavier and heavier. The child was Jesus, carrying the weight of the world, which Christopher helped to carry. Christopher’s name — also part of the legend — means “Christ-bearer.”

Now, with the reform of the church’s calendar in the 1960s, Christopher — along with several other saints who are known primarily because of the legends surrounding them — had his feast day “removed.” But he remains a saint and is still listed as such, with his feast day still honored. And yes, you can still place his statue in your car, because he remains a patron of travelers.

There are other patron saints of cars — or other vehicles. One is the Old Testament prophet, Elijah.

Patron saints are believed to look out for us, acting as intercessors for us before God. We ask for their aid because we believe that, as saints, they stand eternally in the presence of God and can speak for us.

Each of us has at least one patron: the saint whose name we received when we were baptized or confirmed. Often one’s name saint (whose name we were given at baptism) is also one’s patron. “Patron” comes from the Latin word patronus. In imperial Rome’s civil law, a patron became your advocate. Roman senators had the title of patronus, as did the former owner of a slave who had become a freedman. If you had a patronus, that person protected you and looked out for your interests; in return, you gave financial support and honor to your patronus.

Eventually this patronus relationship was applied to fellow Christians — everyone looking out for each other, according to their abilities and stations in life — and then to saints.

Besides patron saints for individuals, there are patron saints for occupations. Many times, the patron practiced this profession. So St. Joseph is the patron of carpenters.

The same thing happened with saints who became patrons of vehicles.

Now back to Elijah, the prophet who is traditionally honored on July 20. Each year on this day, and especially in Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic churches, blessings of vehicles take place.

Why? Because Elijah had wheels.

According to the Second Book of Kings, Elijah was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot. We don’t have too many chariots today, but our cars do have plenty of horsepower.

Another saint invoked during the blessing of cars, and motorcycles, is Frances of Rome, whose feast day is March 9. This saint died in 1440, so she never saw an automobile. However, she was known to travel the streets of Rome at night, caring for the poor. And legend says that, to light her way, her guardian angel carried a lantern — providing her with a link to automobiles and their headlights. In 1925, Pope Pius XI declared Frances to be a patron of autos because of this legend.

There are also at least a couple of patrons of bicycles. One is the Madonna of Ghisallo in the Lombardy region of Italy. Legend is that, in the Middle Ages, a local count was attacked by bandits. He saw a vision of the Blessed Mother and was saved from the brigands by running toward her. A little chapel was erected in the area and, thanks to the initiative of a local priest early last century, Pope Pius XII declared this particular vision of Mary as the patron of cyclists in 1949. There is now a museum of cycling located on site and the small chapel is adorned with flags, jerseys and bicycles from cycling clubs around the globe.

New patronages to specific saints develop over the years. An example of this ongoing development is the case of the saint commonly listed today as a patron of motorcycles: St. Columbanus of Bobbio (d. 615). This Irish monk was a missionary. Biker websites note how there is an annual blessing of motorcycles held each year at Bobbio in northern Italy, where Columbanus founded a monastery. And the Rev. John Oliver, an Anglican bishop and avid biker himself, has promoted Columbanus as the universal patron of motorcycles.

Irish Columban Fr. Derry Healy, quotes one motorcyclist as saying, “If Columban (Columbanus) were alive today I imagine him riding a Harley Fat Boy. It’s got a 1,584cc push rod V-twin engine; six gears, massive torque, has no saddlebags and ideal for itinerant monks flying those twisty roads in Europe.”

Another patron of motorcycles, and of roads in general, is St. Sebastian of Aparicio. This 16th century saint made his fortune in Mexico in the transportation business. One of the roads he built for the Mexican government was a 466-mile road —with many twists and curves — from Mexico City to Zacatecas. He later renounced his wealth and became a Franciscan friar. His feast day is Feb. 25.

So however you take to the road this summer, you can also take along any number of patron saints of travel — there’s also St. Joseph and St. Raphael the Archangel in their company — and have journey companions who have your best interests in mind, and in prayer.

 

(For a blessing of cars, see the Melkite Greek Catholic Church Information Center: mliles.com/melkite/autobless.shtml)

Sources: “The Catholic Encyclopedia;” “Our Sunday Visitor’s Encyclopedia of Catholic History;” “Modern Catholic Dictionary;” “The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia;” “A Law Dictionary” at thefreedictionary.com; “A Latin Dictionary” at perseus.tufts.edu; Stgeorgepittsburgh.org; CatholicSaints.info; AmericanCatholic.org; Bicycleuniverse.com; cyclingnews.com; columban.org; and Catholic Answers at catholic.com.

 

 

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