Sunday, 10 July 2011

Life of brother Jeremiah (2)

Written by Br. Francesco Saverio Toppi in 1983, in occasion of the beatification

He comes to Italy
Brother Jeremiah was born in "Tzazo", village of peasants and shepherds, on 29th of June 1556. He was the eldest of four brothers and two sisters. When he was, he received the name John. His parents, Margareta Bărbat and Costist Stoica, were wealthy farmers who cultivated a small land property with their children. The family environment was healthy and religious. In the testimony submitted to the canonical process, the brothers who lived together with Jeremiah have witnessed unanimously the edifying memories that he has always kept about his family and his homeland.
His maternal uncle, during a cold winter, arranged to be chopped wood at his own expense and took care to be distributed free to the poor. While a drought, his father, having a considerable amount of wheat, thought to sell it at a high price, but his mother convinced him to make bread for the poor, for love of God. Brother Jeremiah kept his mother's example and teachings in memory, especially of the love for the lacking neighbour. Whenever he required to offer alms to the poor, he was offering the best things, for the love of God, because they are given to Jesus himself; he always liked to emphasise that his mother taught him so. Perhaps the father did not have the same generosity as his mother, but he was easily persuaded by her, for the love he was bearing to her. Equally shared with his wife the care of educate the children in the spirit of honesty and fear of God. He was the one whom, one day, gave a new impetus to the young John on the road to religious vocation. Both worked in the field, when suddenly passed a flock of birds above them, rising increasingly above, chirping and cheering people and nature.

- You see - he said to his son - the birds that always high to the sky, soaring with such speed in the air? They are just like the monks, free from any obstacle, fly to the Lord.
Images and suggestions of this kind infix easily in the fantasy of a young boy and influence his decisions about the own life. This happened to Ion Stoica too. He was like a bird in this flock, when one morning before dawn, without saying anything, “took off” to Italy, where his mother had said that "good Christians are living and all monks are saints ".

In the simple language of the mother reflects the plight of the oppressed Wallachian Catholic minority pressured by the Orthodox, Protestants and Turks. Italy, the centre of Catholicism and the residence of the Vicar of Christ appeared in her eyes as an ideal country where it was easier to be a good Christian and to become a saint monk. Of course, that holy woman had met the conventual missionaries, some of whom were of Italian origin, which by their zeal, contributed to the formation of an ideal image of their country of origin. Margaret’s meditative son accumulated in his soul all these incentives, assimilated them well and finally had realised them by the power of grace, when he left home. In this risky step he was supported by the word of Christ: "Who leaves the house, brothers, sisters, mother, father for me and for the gospel, will receive a hundredfold here, but not without persecutions, and eternal life in the world to come."

It is impossible to accompany him in all his long travel adventures. But it must have been very hard if he gave it as an example of trial and suffering when he was encouraging others to carry the cross for love of God. He said, "to get where he had arrived and to be saved, he suffered greatly during the trip from his country to Italy, doing all kind of work: to help as laborer, to till the ground, to keep animals, to serve a physician and a pharmacist… and that only two jobs he had never practised: the henchman and the executioner. "

He endured hunger. He was always in a hopeless situation, sleeping outdoors or in any hay deposit, often risking to be killed by robbers and Turks. Leaving his village, he crossed the Carpathians along the Trotuş valley and reached Braşov, then Alba Iulia, the capital of Transylvania, the residence of Prince Stephen Bathory. Here he was compelled to remain for almost two years, pending a suitable opportunity to go on. Harsh experiences in the journey taken so far have determined never to venture alone. Meanwhile gained his every day bread carrying the stones and bricks on the back during the works of consolidating the city, which at that time were underway and were accelerated by the attacks of the Turks. Providence didn’t delay to open a path to him. Prince Stephen Bathory, being seriously ill, had called from Bari Pietro Lo Iacomo the famous doctor. This one, after having fulfilled the mission with good results, preparing to return to Bari, was seeking a servant to accompany him on the journey. He had been indicated our young John, who wanted to reach Italy. The doctor took him with joy at his service.

From Alba-Iulia, passing through Belgrade, they arrived to Ragusa, in Dalmatia: almost 2,000 km of ineffective road. It took them three months. John went on foot and the doctor was riding the horse. With the help of God, they arrived to Ragusa and here embarked on a ship headed to Bari, where John was left free by the doctor Lo Iacono and was taken to help the pharmacist Caesar Del Core.

The young Wallachian should have been happy, because he had finally reached the target. But no! Here is where he experiences the biggest disappointment of his life. From what his mother told him, he dreamt a country with good Christians, but he saw with his eyes the reality was quite different. In his country some people were too cursing each other, but here they were doing it too much and at every step. He remembered that Wallachians too liked wine, but they weren’t getting drunk as those from here; on the contrary, there were daily pubs full of people yelling and arguing because of the drink. In terms of morality he could not make a comparison between the country people and the ones from a port on the Adriatic, where so many nations were meeting. His people was peaceful, but here hates turned into a life and death brawl, and there were not missing the paid killers to meet the thirst for revenge. In his country, he says one day to a brother, were not so many notaries and witnesses; it was enough the word for any contract; here on the contrary, with all the documents done by the notary, the deceptions and processes were multiplying. In a word, the image of the country “with good Christians” dissipate with the direct experience of the young Wallachian peasant, and determined him to think of returning home.

He left the pharmacist Del Core and headed to the port in search of a ship to take him to Ragusa. But once again the Providence directs the course of events so that he can fulfil its plan. A mysterious old man met the young John and asked him directly:
- Where are you going, dear John?
The Wallachian was surprised to hear his name called by an unknown. He could not hide his eyes. He knew he faces a man sent from God.
- I return to my country, Wallachia! he said. I came to Italy to live among good Christians, but I didn’t find them.
- But Bari, said the mysterious old man, it's not all Italy. Go to Naples and see, go to Rome where lives the vicar of Christ, go to Loreto where the Virgin wanted to keep her house and see that good Christians are not lacking in Italy.

John realised that the old man’s observation was correct. Returned to the pharmacist Del Core and expressed his wish to go to Naples. This one had a brother and an aunt in Naples, the capital of the kingdom. With a letter of recommendation, sent his faithful servant to her and gave him to the care of a friend who just headed in that direction.

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