There is not much even the Catholic Church can say with confidence about the earthly life of saints; at any rate, not much that is immediately verifiable. For centuries the Church had directed its followers to entrust their lives, when on the road or up in the sky, in the protective holy hands of a particular saint—until 1969, that is, when according to a well-respected Catholic forum on the Web, the Church decided to review all the saints on its calendar “to see if there was historical evidence of their existence.”
Imagine that! It soon emerged that what for eons had been common knowledge outside the Catholic faith was actually true: Many saints, including some very popular ones, never existed. In consequence, notes the cited account, “some were dropped from the calendar of feast days.”
Among the dropped was Saint Christopher, patron saint of travels. “There are several stories about him,” the Church acknowledged, “but he was determined to be based on legend.”
Before I move on with my own easily verifiable account of life in our worldly sphere, permit me to proffer another line or two from the earlier mentioned forum: “The Church began honoring saints by the year 100 A.D. The practice grew from the longstanding Jewish ritual of honoring prophets and holy people with shrines. Canonization has only been used since then tenth century. Prior to that saints were chosen by public acclaim. With that process, the stories of some saints were distorted by legend. Some never existed.”
The following tidbit may prove instructive to the irrevocably faithful, yet curious: “The removal of saints from the liturgical calendar is explained in the Second Vatican Council’s 1963 document Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.”
It must’ve cost the Church a pretty penny, as they say, this business of declaring the long sainted no longer sainted. Before the invented Christopher was pulled off his celestial pedestal, countless millions of faithful Catholics the world over had not only placed their lives and the lives of loved ones under his protection, but they had also parted with billions of dollars in exchange for jewelry, medals and other protective paraphernalia bearing the imagined Christopher’s image, to say nothing of the published inspiring accounts of his adventures with the Christ child that turned out to be, well, slightly exaggerated.
But already I’ve digressed way too far; this piece was never intended to be an expose of the saint industry. I was researching the lives of just two particular saints, when I happened upon the above about Christopher & Company—who knows if by divine guidance?
I can’t help wondering: where does the above leave the millions of people, male and female, that in good faith were named for a saint that not only had never been a saint, therefore in no position to deliver prayed-for miracles!—but was also merely a figment primordial peasant imagination?
Mirabile dictu, the saint for whom our country was named was not among the batch recalled. Which is not to say there’s a whole lot about Saint Lucy we could take to the bank. While my hardly exhaustive research failed to uncover her birth date, it nevertheless revealed she had died a martyr in 304, in Syracuse, Sicily, never having had knowledge of a man, at least not carnal.
To borrow from Encyclopedia Britannica, citing apocryphal texts: “Spurning marriage and worldly goods, she vowed to remain a virgin in the tradition of St. Agatha. An angry suitor reported her to the local Roman authorities. They sentenced her to be removed to a brothel and forced into prostitution. The order was thwarted by divine intervention: she became immovable and could not be carried away.”
When she was condemned to death by fire, Lucy had “proved impervious to the flames.” Alas, a sword found its way into her neck and killed her. Other sources claim her eyes were gouged out, which may explain why Saint Lucy is the patron of both blindness and light. We remain at liberty to speculate on why she is also patron of this Rock of Sages!
Pointless delving into the relatively well known history of Saint Jude, for whom a chain of hospitals was named, save to say he is the patron of “lost causes.” By recorded account the local branch was formally opened in Vieux Fort as a “charity hospital” on 5 September 1966. Mother Irma of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, a Franciscan order based in Wisconsin, USA, did the honors on behalf of the Catholic Church. Initially staffed by volunteer doctors and other personnel from God’s country, St. Jude patients were served free of charge.
The facility provided excellent health care under the management of the Sorrowful nuns. Still the 1992 government contracted new managers associated with the Mercy Medical Center of Des Moines, Iowa. Some seven years later parliament passed the St. Jude Hospital Act No. 7 that provided for “an independent board of directors” to operate the highly rated medical center, with authority to charge for services rendered. The intention was that hospital fees would help meet operating costs not covered by government subsidies.
It wasn’t long before the hospital’s impeccable image began to suffer. Then on 9 September 2009, while most Saint Lucians were asleep, a fire of indeterminate origin engulfed St. Jude. Two patients, one in intensive care when the fire broke out, perished. A badly burned third succumbed en- route to Victoria Hospital. A few days later it emerged that St. Jude, like so many other publicly-owned buildings here, had never been insured!
Almost a year following the St. Jude fire, the government headed by Stephenson King set about constructing a new hospital at the old site, with financial and other assistance from the people of Taiwan, represented here at the time by the remarkable Mr. Tom Chou. The estimated 66,000 people resident in the island’s southern half were promised hospital services at the appropriately transformed George Odlum Stadium.
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It is no easy matter getting from Castries to the only hospital in the world with huge Olympic rings front and back—credit for which must go to Tomas, the hurricane that on 30 October 2010 had flattened Saint Lucia when most of us were preoccupied with preparations for yet another porky, alcohol-soaked Jounen Kweyol.
Predictably, the day’s opposition all but blamed the government for the lives lost, for the devastated roads, bridges and trees that were washed away by angry rivers and floods created by long neglected clogged drains. The government, already crippled financially as a consequence of years of mindless unrestrained borrowing, announced that Tomas had done damage estimated at USD500 million (ironically, the precise sum demanded of the Kenny Anthony government by the Denver oil speculator Jack Grynberg, for breach of a once secret contract. (The matter is awaiting the attention of the ICSID, at enormous expense to the previously uninformed people of Saint Lucia!)
Within weeks the opposition party was demanding that busted water mains be restored to benefit citizens who for at least eight years before Tomas had been without running water. As I drove up, then down the Barre de L’isle road last Saturday I recalled the old Creole truism about rats that sing one tune when safely ensconced in the rafters and an altogether different song when in the claws of the resident mouser. Four years after Tomas and the exacerbating trough that hit Saint Lucia last Christmas Eve without a warning word from NEMO, driving from Castries to Vieux Fort remains a nightmare, night and day.
Several weeks ago, in an area of the Barre de L’isle notorious for its landslides, a road construction worker disappeared under tons of mud and rock that inexplicably had broken loose despite precautions allegedly taken by government contractors. Transit drivers continue to complain about damage to their vehicles, caused by sleeping policemen along the unlit Barre de L’isle-Dennery route. The contractors have positioned huge concrete culverts on both sides of the caved-in Desruisseaux road where two men in their car had perished last Christmas Eve. Miraculously their prepubescent passenger, the driver’s daughter, survived—thanks to an angel in red, some insist. Or was the angel painted yellow?
While the culverts would certainly stop most speeding cars, if not a Mack truck, in their tracks the collision would almost certainly kill their occupants. Still it has not occurred to the government or its road-safety advisors to place warning signals to drivers approaching the culverts. That no one has died in consequence is clearly a miracle dimensionally equal to the parting of the Red Sea.
Evidently little was learned from the deadly incident on January 4—just days after the earlier mentioned Christmas Eve trough that overnight had redesigned the Deruisseaux road—when a driver crashed his car fatally into a huge steel container near the collapsed Vide Bouteille bridge. Only following widespread public outrage did the government decide to put in place appropriate warning signals, including better lighting—alas, too late for 51-year-old Ian Bruce, a native Saint Lucian and longtime resident of Australia!
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From the outside the 4-year-old temporary St. Jude hospital looks like a deserted small-island sports stadium gone to the dogs. Its walls, once spotless, are today in dire need a coat or two of paint. Its wooden sections are fast rotting. Front and back there are bovine grazers and their droppings, and scores of worn-out car tires stacked together to from barricades in the way of drivers bent on parking in the wrong area.
Not only must George Odlum be groaning in his grave, he must also be wishing they’d had their way—his former Cabinet colleagues who had scoffed at the very idea of the King administration naming a sports stadium in Odlum’s memory. Thankfully, I’ve not had cause to sample the services offered by the four-year-old temporary hospital. However, it would be cause for pause if only half the stories told by patients and their concerned relatives are true. As for the on-going construction on the site of the original facility, more and more the advertised completion date appears to be a pipe dream.
As if already the project had not had more than its fair share of mishaps, just three or four weeks ago a worker at the site was decapitated. A faulty saw was blamed. More on that at a later date.
We conclude, then, as we started: with things, er, ethereal. I ask you who no doubt continue to believe in the magic of political angels and saints (at any rate until recalled): Might the chaos that surrounds us . . . the unexplained fires, the landslides without warning, the incessant accidental deaths, the suicides, the collapsed roads and bridges, not forgetting our near hopeless economy and so on, yes, could all of that be collateral damage from yet another war over Helen—this time between the patrons of blindness and lost causes?