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of the Day

 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinApril 15, 2005 Issue 

This pope also an apostolic pilgrim

A millennium ago, we had another pontiff known for his predilection for travels

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

Saint of the Day graphic

St. Leo IX

When: 1002-1054

Where: Bishop in France and later Rome

What: Reformist pope

Feast: April 19

The lives of all people are a mix of the good we do and the mistakes we make. That certainly was true of Pope Leo IX, who was responsible for several reforms in the church, but also for being instrumental in the nearly millennia-old schism between East and West.

When he was born early in the 11th century at Egisheim, Alsace, he had little red crosses all over his body. Popular piety at the time attributed that to his mother's continual meditations on the suffering of Christ during her pregnancy.

His parents - his father was a count - named their son Bruno and sent him to Toul, a center of monastic reform, for his education.

Bruno became a deacon and served in Emperor Conrad II's court in Germany, where he became well-known as a military leader. He was elected Bishop of Toul and for the next 20 years instituted many reforms among the clergy and in monasteries.

When Pope Damasus II, a Bavarian, died after only a month in office, Bruno accepted Emperor Henry III's appointment to the papacy, provided that the bishops and laity of Rome agreed. When Bruno arrived there dressed as a pilgrim, the laity and clergy alike greeted him wildly and he was crowned as Pope Leo IX on Feb. 12, 1049.

Two months after assuming office, Leo called a synod that condemned simony (the buying and selling of church offices) and violations of clerical celibacy, leading to the removal of several bishops who obtained their offices through simony.

He also condemned one leader for denying transubstantiation, helped mediate a dispute between the emperor and the king of Hungary and added territory to papal lands.

He also appointed a committee - one member later became Pope Gregory VII - to help him reorganize the church's central offices.

Leo began traveling Europe, promoting the reforms and earning the name the "Apostolic Pilgrim." He also held synods in Italy and Germany, where he insisted that the laity and clergy elect their bishops and monks elect abbots.

One reform he advocated that still affects the church was the election of the pope by the College of Cardinals. The change in church practice was made five years after Leo died.

But there's another side to Leo. He led an army against the invading Normans, who captured him. St. Peter Damian severely criticized Leo for taking on this military role. And in 1053, Leo spoke out against growing differences in rites between the Eastern and Roman churches. His outspokenness helped lead to the Great Schism in 1054.

Leo spent his last days ruing his mistakes while lying on his bed, which he had placed next to his coffin in St. Peter's Basilica. Some 70 cures were attributed to Leo's intercession in the first 40 years after his death.

(Sources: Dictionary of Saints, Lives of the Saints, Lives of the Saints II, 365 Saints)

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