Humility and patience: Two virtues not much spoken of in our ego-driven, impatient 2021 America. Both are exemplified to an almost unbelievable degree by a newly canonized medieval saint, Margarita di Castello (Umbria) — 1287-1320.
Paula and I watched a docudrama on her life recently on EWTN-TV. We were moved to tears by a child’s strong faith in God as her protector after her parents abandoned her as a hopeless case, and, as her father put it, “a cross too heavy for us to bear.”
Margarita was born with crippling disabilities and no eyesight. The temper of the times held to the notion that such a child was a curse, a sign from God of his displeasure with the parents or the family. Best to just put her out the door and leave her to fend for herself on the streets.
Scores of children apparently were left to wander the streets in central Italy based on the superstition of the day.
Margarita’s parents did not abandon her immediately. They suffered through 12 years of dealing with her infirmities, then, with a great rush of prayers, took her to a church to pray for a miraculous cure for her blindness.
When the cure did not happen, the father took it as a sign that God was giving them permission to proceed with the abandonment he had been contemplating. Her mother reluctantly yielded to her husband’s desire.
Unable to see and left alone in the church, Margarita calls out, “Mamma, papa, where are you? Where have you gone? You cannot be leaving me alone!”
An unbearably poignant scene in the documentary.
Even the friar doorkeeper for the church shows her no pity. “Come on, come on,” he says to the blind and distraught child, “I have to lock up. You cannot stay here in the church.” He escorts her to the big main door and bolts it behind her.
Margarita soon finds herself in the company of other abandoned children who have somehow learned to survive on the streets in ways not dissimilar from coping tactics of the homeless in American cities and towns today.
Margarita had already been devout before being turned out. Her devotion to and trust in an Almighty God deepens and buoys her up.
She finds herself drawn to smaller children to tousle their hair, pat them on the shoulder and reassure them that “all will be well.” By and by she memorizes all 150 psalms from the Bible just by having someone read them to her. And she teaches the psalms to “her” children.
Before long she is admitted to a convent of Dominican nuns and lives and prays with them for a year or so. Her own holiness, however, shames them because they see that she is much farther advanced spiritually than they. Incredibly, they end up by doing exactly what her parents had done: putting her back on the streets.
Another period of homelessness ensues before a group of Dominican lay women who follow the rule of St. Dominic make her welcome and keep her for good. Margarita died at age 33 like her savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.
A group of 20 Catholic women in Columbus, Ohio, seized upon the Margarita story and wrote letters about her cause to the Vatican. This and similar appeals from other quarters led Pope Francis to canonize Margarita a saint on April 24 of this year.