The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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November 23, 2001 Issue
Saint of the Day

Catherine still one
of Holy Helpers

Alexandrian saint knew Christianity was far superior
to Roman religion



By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

For the last several years, church leaders have called on Catholics to evangelize as Jesus told his followers to do right before his Ascension (Mt 28:19-20).

One saint who took those words to heart was St. Catherine of Alexandria. While what we know about her are unverified stories and legends (following Vatican II, her name was dropped from the official calendar), the message is what matters.

St. Catherine, venerated in the Eastern churches since the 10th century, is said to have been born into a patrician family in Alexandria in the third century.

After studying philosophy and having a vision of the Blessed Mother and the Child Jesus, she converted to Christianity, an action that could still earn martyrdom by order of the Roman emperor. She did not let that stop her and went so far as trying to convert Emperor Maxentius.

Her methods may have been too strong. She went to the emperor and, in addition to showing him that Christianity was far superior to the Roman belief in numerous gods, she denounced him for his tyranny for persecuting Christians.

The emperor tried to counter her arguments, but was unable. So, he called his 50 top philosophers and told them to respond to her. Instead, they all converted to Christianity, which enraged Maxentius, who had them all burned to death.

Next, the emperor, who was struck by her beauty, promised to marry her if only she would abandon the faith. She refused and he had her imprisoned.

When Maxentius returned from a camp tour, he found that his wife, an officer and 200 soldiers guarding Catherine, had all converted to Christianity. He had them executed.

Now, he ordered Catherine put to death on a spiked wheel. But the ropes that held her bound came loose and the wheel miraculously broke. (Such a wheel, now known as the "Catherine wheel," is her emblem.) So he had her beheaded in about 310.

It is believed that her body was taken to the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai, which Pope John Paul visited last year on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and where her body is still said to be.

She is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers and Joan of Arc heard her voice, among others, telling her that her mission was to save the French Dauphin.

Catherine of Alexandria is the patroness of philosophers, maidens and preachers. Her feast is Nov. 25.

From her life, we can learn the power of our faith and the Gospel and how we too can share our faith with others we meet. And, as powerful as words can be, the most powerful way to evangelize is through the example of how we live.


(Sources: All Saints, Dictionary of Saints, Lives of the Saints II and Saints for Our Time.)


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