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St. Juan Grande Román (1546-1600)
Hello and welcome to INSPIRING LIVES, a series on the lives of Saints in the catholic church from around the world. In this series we bring you those saints who are canonized by Pope John Paul II. Saints are holy people who lived ordinary lives in extraordinary ways. Each saint the Church honors responded to God's invitation to use his or her unique gifts. These saints are examples of great holiness and virtue, and they invite us to follow their paths to holiness. Their unique stories inspire us to be rooted in our faith. God calls each one of us to be a saint. As Pope Francis þ wrote on 21 November 2013, ‘to be saints is not a privilege of the few, but a vocation for everyone’. God calls each one of us to be a saint.
Today we shall listen to the inspiring life of St. Juan Grande Román. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II on 2nd June 1996 in the Vatican Basilica. His feast is celebrated on 3 June.
Juan Grande Roman was born in Carmona, Seville, Spain, on 6th March 1546. His parents, Cristobal Grande and Isabel Roman, were devout Christians. Juan Grande was baptized by the parish priest, Andrés Muñoz. He was given a sound Christian upbringing, firstly in his family and after the age of seven as a choir-boy in his parish. Juan was a choir boy from age 7 to 12. Juan’s father, a craftsman, died when John was only eleven years old.
Juan Grande completed his human formation and vocational training in Seville, learning the trade of a weaver and cloth-maker. At the age of 17, he returned to Carmona to start his own shop, selling cloth. Shortly afterwards, however, his work caused him to undergo a profound spiritual crisis. At the age of 19 he left his family and business behind, gave away his possessions, and became a hermit at Marcena.
In the Hermitage of St Olalla, at Marcena, a town near Carmona, he spent a whole year in retreat trying to discover his true vocation. He then decided to devote himself to God. He exchanged his clothes for a sack-cloth habit, and renounced marriage. Since then he referred to himself not just as Juan Grande, but Juan Grande Pecador or John the Great Sinner.
When he was only 19 years old, Juan Pecador moved to Jerez de la Frontera, Cadiz, to start a new life there. He personally looked after needy people, prisoners in the 'Royal Prison', incurably sick and convalescents who had been left to their own devices. To help them he would beg for alms around the town. And he soon realized that his new vocation was to serve the poor and the needy.
During this time he used to frequent the church of the Franciscans, where he prayed and took spiritual advice from one of the Fathers. Juan Pecador worked in prisons and hospitals in Jerez de la Frontera in Spain. Juan Pecador attracted the admiration of the people of Jerez because of his generous life of charity.
In January 1574 a serious epidemic broke out in Jerez, and he addressed a petition to the Cathedral Chapter urging them to assist the many sick people who had been cast out on to the streets. During the outbreak of the plague, he organized a group to help tend to victims, and they were very successful. In fact, he did everything he could to cater to their needs. With the aid of a wealthy couple in the area, he eventually founded and managed a hospital at Jerez. He devoted it to Mary and called it ‘Our Lady of Candlemas’.
Juan Pecador devoted his whole being and all his work to God, expressed through his service to the poor, sustained by his deep life of faith and prayer. Meanwhile, he had heard of the Institution founded by St John of God in Granada. He visited it in 1574 and decided to join it, accepting the rules and applying the same form of professed life in his own hospital. Eventually he affiliated the place with the Order of Hospitallers.
With his new project, his witness and his exemplary self-giving he attracted new companions to join him, and he trained them according to ‘The Statutes of John of God’. This gave him the opportunity to reach more widely a field and work with other foundations in and around Spain.
The care provided to the destitute sick in Jerez left much to be desired, while small centres mushroomed. The authorities therefore decided to reduce the number of hospitals, demanding greater efficiency. But this measure struck at the interests of not a few, whose attachment to the hospitals was not so much out of a desire to serve the sick, but because they were a source of personal profit. Juan’s path was therefore fraught with criticism, opposition and obstacles.
Juan Pecador's hospital was also affected. Like all the others, he submitted his report to the authorities, explaining his way of caring for the sick in his hospital. The Archbishop of Seville, Cardinal Rodrigo de Castro, entrusted the delicate mission of reducing the number of hospitals and raising efficiency to Juan Pecador. The Archbishop considered Juan to be the most appropriate and skilled person for this task in view of his spirit, vocation and Hospitaller experience.
John Pecador set about reducing the number of hospitals boldly and lovingly, and despite the great and small difficulties he encountered, he revealed his particular sensitivity, capacity, sense of humour and great virtue. The report on his hospital stated that the care was provided ‘with diligence, care and great charity, doing good and serving God our Lord, because he and his brothers of the cloth are virtuous men and practice this charity of caring for the needy sick’.
In addition to an intense interior life John Grande devoted himself body and soul to the external task of seeking out, caring for and serving the poor and sick, and showing his concern for the most serious and urgent issues of his day. They included the prisoners, the convalescing sick and the incurably ill, prostitutes, rejected sick soldiers, abandoned children, etc. He truly practiced all the works of mercy.
Juan Pecador was a man who did good because he was good. He was a practical and efficient man of few words, a merciful tenant of the Gospel of Life, a Good Samaritan, an organizer of hospitals and of hospital care, a critical conscience against injustice, abuse of authority and inadequacy. In short, he was a prophet and apostle of health care.
Juan was blessed with mystical gifts, and predicted the fall of the Spanish Armada. He ran afoul of many in authority, chastising officials and those who ran charities when they lived well, and those they were supposed to serve continued to suffer. He arranged anonymous dowries for poor girls so they could marry and avoid lives on the street. He fed and clothed prisoners and refugees, and died tending to plague victims.
When Juan Pecador was 54, living his life dedicated entirely to his community and his hospital in Jerez, he was stricken by a terrible outbreak of the plague. He worked everywhere, assisting the people, and devoting all his strength and generosity to them. But he himself was eventually infected by the plague, and died on Saturday 3rd June 1600.
Juan Pecador was beatified by Pius IX in 1853. Pope John Paul II canonized him on 2nd June 1996. He was proclaimed the Patron Saint of the new Diocese of Jerez de la Frontera in 1986. His feast is celebrated on 3 June. His remains are venerated in the ‘Diocesan Shrine of St John Grande’ in Jerez, at the hospital of the Brothers of St John of God that bears his name.
You have been listening to INSPIRING LIVES, a weekly series based on the lives of Catholic Saints from around the world, brought to you by Vatican Radio’s English Service for South Asia.
By P.J. Joseph SJ
FRIDAY, 28 FEBRUARY 2014