Monday, November 19, 2012




Vatican City, 19 November 2012 (VIS) - This morning the Holy Father Benedict XVI received in audience Thomas Boni Yayi, president of the Republic of Benin. The president subsequently went on to meet with Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone S.D.B. who was accompanied by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for Relations with States.
During the cordial discussions pleasure was expressed at the good relations that exist between the Holy See and Benin, with particular reference to the Holy Father's apostolic visit there last year. Mention was also made of the positive contribution that the Catholic Church makes to development in the country.
Attention then turned to the question of the value of local cultures in Africa, and to the important role the Church has in educating people in peace and reconciliation. Finally consideration was given to certain regional challenges currently affecting the continent, which are of particular interest to the head of State in his role as president of the African Union.
Vatican City, 18 November 2012 (VIS) - At midday today the Holy Father appeared at the window of his study to recite the Angelus with faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square. He commented on this Sunday's Gospel, focusing on Jesus' words about the end of time, often considered one of the most difficult texts in the Gospel.
"This difficulty derives from both the content and the language", explained Benedict XVI. "It describes a future that exceeds our own categories of comprehension, and Jesus therefore uses images and words from the Old Testament, but above all, He introduces a new centre, Himself, the mystery of His person, His death and His resurrection. … It is Jesus Himself who connects present and future; the ancient words of the prophets finally find a point of reference in the Nazarene Messiah: He is the true foundation which, amid the world's disorder, remains firm and stable".
"We know that in the Bible the Word of God is the origin of creation. All of creation, starting from the heavenly bodies - the sun, the moon and heavens - obey the Word of God, and exist inasmuch as they are 'called into being' by the Word. This creative power of the Divine Word is concentrated in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, and passes through His human words, the true 'firmament' that guides man's thoughts and actions on earth. Therefore, Jesus does not describe the end of the world, and when He uses apocalyptic images, He does not act as a 'seer'. On the contrary, He wishes to ensure that His disciples in every age remain unmoved by dates and predictions, and gives them instead a more profound understanding, showing them the right path to take, now and in the future, towards eternal life. Everything changes, the Lord reminds us, but the Word of God does not change, and before it each of us is responsible for our own actions. It is on this basis that we will be judged".
"Natural disasters occur in our times too, as, unfortunately, do wars and violence. We too need a stable foundation for our lives and our hopes, especially in view of the relativism that surrounds us. May the Virgin Mary help us to find this stable centre in the person of Christ and His Word", the Pope concluded.
Following the Angelus, in his greetings in several languages the Pope mentioned the fact that Maria Crescencia Perez (1897-1932) had been beatified yesterday in Pergamino, Argentina. She was a religious of the Congregation of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Orchard and was known as "an example of gentleness inspired by faith. We give thanks to God for her witness", Benedict XVI said.
Vatican City, 18 November 2012 (VIS) - His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, recently elected as the one hundred and eighteenth patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, was enthroned today at St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt. The ceremony was attended by Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who brought a letter from the Holy Father.
In the text, Benedict XVI expresses his hope that the Almighty may grant "abundant spiritual gifts to strengthen you in your new ministry, as you guide the clergy and laity along the paths of holiness, for the good of your people and the peace and harmony of the whole of society".
The Holy Father mentions Tawadros II's predecessor, Pope Shenouda III, his interest in improving relations with other Christian Churches, and his concern that this might "reinforce our hope that one day all the followers of Christ will find themselves united in that love and reconciliation which the Lord so earnestly desires".
He adds, "I pray that the Holy Spirit will sustain you in your ministry, so that the flock entrusted to your care may experience the teaching of the Good Shepherd. May they be blessed with the serenity to offer their valuable contribution to the good of society and the well-being of all their fellow-citizens".
The Pope concludes, "I pray too that the relations between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church will continue to grow closer, not only in a fraternal spirit of collaboration, but also through a deepening of the theological dialogue that will enable us to grow in communion and to bear witness before the world to the saving truth of the Gospel".
Vatican City, 17 November 2012 (VIS) - "Your nation has a long and rich Christian history that cannot be ignored or diminished, which bears eloquent witness to truth", said the Pope in his address to prelates from the Episcopal Conference of France on their five-yearly ad limina visit.
"The Year of Faith helps us to grow in confidence in the intrinsic strength and richness of the evangelical message", observed the Pope. "How many times have we seen that it is precisely the words of faith, those simple and direct words filled with the wisdom of the Divine Word, that best touch our hearts and minds, and best illuminate our decisions? … The Divine Word contains those words, basic convictions and ways of thinking which alone are able to bring hope to the world.
"In society's key debates, the voice of the Church must make itself heard ceaselessly and with determination. This must be achieved with full respect for the French tradition regarding the distinction between the respective spheres of competence of Church and State. It is precisely in this context that the harmony between faith and reason gives you special reassurance: the message of Christ and His Church is not merely a religious identity that demands to be respected as such; it carries also the wisdom that permits us to provide concrete answers to the pressing and sometimes troubling questions of our times. In continuing to exercise the prophetic dimension of your ministry, as you do at present, you bring to these debates the indispensable word of truth, which frees our hearts and opens them to hope".
The Pope went on to praise the many French intellectuals, believers and non-believers, who "are aware of the enormous challenges of our age, where the Christian message is an irreplaceable point of reference", and recalled the vitality of religious and especially monastic communities which "enrich the whole of society, not only the Church" in France. He also mentioned the liturgy and its "contribution to the civilising work" of the Church, emphasising how "respect for its established norms expresses love and fidelity to the faith of the Church. The beauty of her celebrations, far more than innovations and subjective adjustments, constitutes a durable and effective form of evangelisation".
Benedict XVI also turned his attention to the question of transmitting the faith to the young generations. "You are well aware of the challenges in that field", he told the bishops. These challenges include "family and social difficulties associated with the transmission of received faith, those associated with a faith adopted by people as they enter adulthood, or with a break in transmission as when several generations drift away from living faith. There is also the enormous challenge of living in a society which does not always share the teachings of Christ and at times ridicules and marginalises the Church in the attempt to confine her to an exclusively private sphere. To face these immense challenges, the Church needs credible witnesses".
"While remaining aware of the importance of example, you must also find the necessary words and gestures to encourage the faithful to incarnate the 'unity of life'", continued the Pope. "They must feel involved in their faith, that it represents liberation and not a burden, that its coherence is a source of joy and fruitfulness. This also applies to their observance of the moral teaching of the Church, for example in demonstrating the courage to adhere to their Christian convictions - devoid of arrogance but with respect - in the various environments in which they live. In this context, those who are engaged in public life bear special responsibility. Along with bishops, they must be wary of planned legislation which threatens marriage between a man and a woman, the protection of life from conception to death, and the correct guidance of bioethics in harmony with magisterial documents. It is necessary, more than ever, for Christians to follow the path of the common good and to deepen their awareness of the social doctrine of the Church".
Vatican City, 17 November 2012 (VIS) - This morning Benedict XVI addressed the participants in a conference being held by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers (for Health Pastoral Care) on the theme of "The Hospital, setting for evangelisation: a human and spiritual mission". The Church, he told them, "turns to those who experience pain with a spirit of brotherly participation, inspired by the Spirit of the One Who, through the power of love, restored meaning and dignity to the mystery of suffering.
"With the same sense of hope, the Church also reaches out to healthcare workers and volunteers", the Pope continued. "Yours is a unique mission which requires study, sensitivity and experience. However, for those who choose to work in the world of suffering, experiencing their activity as a 'human and spiritual mission', an additional competence is required, beyond academic qualifications. This is the 'Christian science of suffering', described by the Council as 'the only truth capable of answering the mystery of suffering. … Christ did not do away with suffering. He did not even wish to unveil to us entirely the mystery of suffering. He took suffering upon Himself and this is enough to make you understand all its value'.
"Be experts in this 'Christian science of suffering!' The fact that you are Catholic ... gives you greater responsibility in society and in the Church. … This is a commitment of new evangelisation also in times of economic crisis in which resources are withdrawn from healthcare. Precisely in this context, hospitals and health centres must rethink their role in order to ensure that healthcare remains a universal right to be guaranteed and defended, rather than becoming a mere commodity subject to market laws, and thus a privilege reserved to the few. We must never forget the special attention due to the dignity of the suffering, applying the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity also in the field of healthcare policy".
"It is to be hoped that the language of the 'Christian science of suffering' - of which compassion, solidarity, sharing, abnegation, selflessness and self-giving are a part - becomes the universal lexicon of those who work in the field of healthcare", the Pope emphasised. "From this point of view, hospitals are to be considered as an important location for evangelisation, because where the Church 'is the bearer of the presence of God' she also becomes an 'instrument for the true humanisation of man and the world'. Only by clearly focusing medical and healthcare activities on the well-being of man at his most fragile and defenceless, of man who searches for meaning in the unfathomable mystery of pain, can we conceive of hospitals as a place in which care is a mission and not merely an occupation".
The Holy Father concluded by addressing the sick: "Your silent testimony is an effective sign and instrument of evangelisation for those who assist you and for your families, in the certainty that 'no tear, neither of those who are suffering nor of those who are close to them, is lost before God'".
Vatican City, (VIS) - Benedict XVI addressed a message to the participants in the Portuguese session of the Courtyard of Gentiles, which is being held in Guimaraes and Braga, Portugal, on 16 and 17 November, on the theme of "The value of life".
"Awareness of the sacredness of life … is part of the moral heritage of humankind", writes the Pope. "We are not the chance product of evolution; rather, each of us is the fruit of God's will: He loves us. … God loves every person who, therefore, is unconditionally deserving of life. 'The blood of Christ, while it reveals the grandeur of the Father's love, shows how precious man is in God's eyes, and how priceless the value of his life is'".
"However, in the modern age, man has sought to subtract himself from the creating and redeeming gaze of the Father, looking only to himself and not to divine Power. … In a building without windows, it is man who has to provide air and light; yet even in such a self-constructed world, man seeks God's 'resources', which are thereby transformed into our own products. … We must reopen the windows, look anew upon the vastness of the world, the sky and the earth, and learn to use them in the correct way. The value of life becomes evident only if God exists; therefore it would be good if non-believers could live 'as if God existed'. While they may not have 'the strength to believe', they should live on the basis of this hypothesis. … So many problems exist, but they will not be resolved unless God is placed at the centre … once more visible in the world and crucial to our lives".
"He who opens himself to God does not distance himself from the world and man, but instead finds brothers: in God, the walls that separate us are broken down, we all become brothers, each a part of the other", the Pope concludes.
Vatican City, 19 November 2012 (VIS) - A note released today by the Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff announces that Cardinal Dominik Duka, archbishop of Prague, Czech Republic, will take possession of the title of Santi Marcellino e Pietro in Via Labicana 1, Rome, at 7 p.m. on Sunday 25 November.
Vatican City, 19 November 2012 (VIS) - The Holy Father today received in audience:
- Ten prelates of the Episcopal Conference of France on their "ad limina" visit:
- Archbishop Andre Lacrampe of Besancon.
- Bishop Claude Schockert of Belfort-Montbeliard.
- Bishop Jean-Louis Papin of Nancy.
- Bishop Vincent Jordy of Saint-Claude.
- Bishop Jean-Paul Mathieu of Saint-Die.
- Bishop Francois Maupu of Verdun.
- Archbishop Jean-Pierre Grallet O.F.M. of Strasbourg, accompanied by Auxiliary Bishop Vincent Dollman.
- Bishop Pierre Raffin O.P. of Metz.
- Fr. Daniel Ducasse, diocesan administrator of Pontoise.
- Archbishop Guido Pozzo, almoner of His Holiness.
Vatican City, 19 November 2012 (VIS) - The Holy Father appointed Fr. Nil Yuriy Lushchak O.F.M., professor of philosophy in the major seminary of Uzhorod, Ukraine, as auxiliary of the eparchy of Mukachevo of the Byzantine rite (Catholics 58,000, priests 39, permanent deacons 1, religious 72), Ukraine. The bishop-elect was born in Uzhorod in 1973 and ordained a priest in 1996. He has worked in pastoral service in various parishes within the eparchy of Mukachevo.
On Saturday 17 November it was made public that the Holy Father:
- Msgr. Henryk Ciereszko of the clergy of Bialystok, Poland, as auxiliary bishop of the same archdiocese (area 5,550, population 515,400, Catholics 455,400, priests 393, religious 202). The bishop-elect was born in Hermanowka, Poland in 1955 and ordained a priest in 1981. He obtained his doctorate from the Catholic University of Lublin and is currently a teacher in the Seminary of Bialystok, a promoter of justice at the metropolitan tribunal and a member of the presbyteral council.
- Bishop Lorenzo Ghizzoni, auxiliary of Reggio Emilia-Guastalla, Italy, as archbishop of Ravenna-Cervia (area 1,185, population 223,130, Catholics 200,000, priests 118, permanent deacons 6, religious 255), Italy. He succeeds Archbishop Giuseppe Verucchi, whose resignation from the pastoral care of the same archdiocese the Holy Father accepted, upon having reached the age limit.
- Archbishop Luigi Pezzuto, apostolic nuncio to El Salvador and Belize, as apostolic nuncio to Bosnia and Herzegovina and to Montenegro.


ASIA NEWS REPORT by Joshua Lapide
An Israeli raid, which was to kill the Hamas leader, responsible for the rocket attacks, has killed nine people, including some children: "a technical error". Yesterday nearly 150 missiles on Israeli cities have left two seriously injured. In Cairo, together with Israeli and Palestinian representatives, work is being done for a cease-fire.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) -  The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has again called for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, as the dead among the Palestinians and the wounded in Israel are increasing. Ban Ki-moon said he will travel to Cairo soon to promote the talks for a possible truce. A raid early this morning destroyed a police station in Hamas. But yesterday was the most violent day of the "Pillar of Defense" operation launched by Israel to stop the missiles from Gaza that are hitting the southern cities. At least nine people were killed in Gaza in the house of the Hamas policeman, Mohammed Dalou. Among them are many children. The Palestinian television aired horrific images of their burned bodies.
Hamas has vowed revenge for the massacre of the Dalou family. The Israeli army spokesman, Yoav Mordechai, explained that the objective of the raid was Yehiya Rabiah, the one responsible for the missile launches, but unfortunately "there were civilian casualties." According to information reported by Haaretz, citing army sources, it was due to a "technical error" that the raids hit a nearby house.
According to representatives of Israel, in the six days of fighting, already 80 Palestinians and three Israelis have died.
The Israeli military says that nearly 150 missiles were launched from Gaza yesterday; 41 of them were intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system, while others hit some residential areas. At Ashkalon two people were seriously injured, with 10 moderately or lightly hurt. One missile reached Tel Aviv.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that his men are ready for a ground attack, after calling up 75,000 reservists. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has warned of a possible ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, which could have "serious repercussions". Morsi and the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan are putting together a dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian representatives to reach a truce. Representatives of the two peoples are in Cairo to investigate the possibility of a cease-fire.


USCCB REPORT - November 19, 2012
WASHINGTON—The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Subcommittee on Catholic Home Missions announced November 19 the approval of over $8.4 million in grant funding to aid in evangelization, religious education, ministry training and other support of 84 mission dioceses across the country.
These home mission dioceses across the United States face great challenges due to the rugged terrain of their location and the poverty of the population they serve.
"Each year we are presented with the opportunity to share the generous gifts of the nation's Catholics with mission dioceses here at home. Most people are surprised to learn that over 40 percent of the dioceses in the United States receive our support," said Bishop Michael W. Warfel of Great Falls-Billings, Montana, chairman of the subcommittee. "We hear regularly from the bishops of home mission dioceses how essential our funding is to their ability to provide the sacraments and spread the Gospel."
The Subcommittee primarily supports home mission dioceses in the United States that are unable to offer their communities the basic pastoral ministries without assistance. The grants are financed through the annual fundraising campaign known as the Catholic Home Missions Appeal and support such pastoral services as: evangelization activities; religious education; training for priests, deacons, religious sisters and brothers, and laity, as well as ministry with ethnic groups.
Three examples of dioceses funded from the Catholic Home Missions Appeal are the Dioceses of Fairbanks, Alaska; Cheyenne, Wyoming; and El Paso, Texas.
The Fairbanks Diocese faces many challenges given its limited access to 41 of its 46 parishes. Many villages see a priest only once a month. A team of two priests, three sisters and three brothers serve eight villages. Grants will allow the diocese to offer adult catechesis and to train deacons and Eucharistic ministers. The diocese will receive $135,000 next year.
The Cheyenne Diocese faces challenges found in small congregations scattered over vast distances. There are 31 active diocesan and 14 active religious priests to serve 53,000 Catholics spread over 98,000 square miles. The diocese was granted $75,000 to help cover the costs of education for 11 seminarians.
The El Paso Diocese ministers to 678,000 Catholics, who represent over 79 percent of the total population of the area. The diocese also has a large and mostly uncatechized Hispanic population that is constantly changing because of its proximity to the Mexican border. The ratio of priests to Catholics is 1:6,800. A grant totaling $105,000 will fund youth and evangelization programs in nine parishes and 15 missions in rural west Texas, reaching out to 26 towns and communities.
The national date for the Catholic Home Missions Appeal is the fourth Sunday in April; however, some dioceses take up the Appeal at other times.
For more information on the work of the Subcommittee on Catholic Home Missions, visit and search "home missions."


Agenzia Fides REPORT- Mozambique is a young democracy which after 30 years of civil war, is trying to emerge from the economic and social poverty. Italy is very close to these people with various forms of cooperation and solidarity. These include the Opera Don Orione which has recently opened in Zimpeto on the outskirts of Maputo, the capital of the country, a new psychomotor rehabilitation Center. The structure will complement the " Don Orione Village " that for three years welcomes children with severe physical and mental disabilities. It offers a wide range for many disabled completely abandoned to their fate of suffering and marginalization. In addition to the children living there, the rehabilitation Center is destined for other disabled people in the region. 1 Km away there is also a machamba, a garden in which vegetables and agricultural products are grown precious to the livelihoods of these people. "The structure, - says a note by Fr. Flavio Peloso, Superior General of the Opera Don Orione, sent to Fides Agency - is a sign of hope for many families who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to care for their children and give them a future. It is a good sign of the closeness of the Church towards the most disadvantaged children. " (AP) (Agenzia Fides 19/11/2012)



Carmelite Way pilgrimage

Tuesday 20 November 2012

By Irene Hayes
LED by Fr Denis Andrew O Carm, Prior Provincial of the Carmelites of Australia and East Timor, a group of 29 people participated in the Annual 43km pilgrimage in the beautiful Yarra Valley. The pilgrimage took place over three days and is the third Pilgrimage organized by The Carmelite Centre Melbourne. This year pilgrims were joined by visiting Third Order Carmelite Johan Bergström-Allen, Projects & Publications Office Director of the British Province of Carmelites. Johan was delighted to join what he described as an ‘Antipodean-style’ pilgrimage.

After being commissioned in a special liturgy at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Middle Park on Sunday 4 November, the group left in two buses supplied by Whitefriars College Donvale and Bethlehem Community Inc, on Friday 9 November at 8am. The group travelled to Lilydale and walked to Mt Evelyn along the Warburton trail. As has become the custom, the pilgrims were joined at Mt Evelyn by Fr Ken Peterson and Sr Kathleen Murphy from the Sancta Sophia Mediation Community in Warburton. Here the pilgrims were welcomed to the Yarra Valley and shared prayer and reflection on finding God in the environment and using walking as a time for meditation and focus. The pilgrims were encouraged to remain open to how this experience may change them over the coming weeks and months as they continued to reflect on and absorb the pilgrimage experience.

After some light rain on the first day, the pilgrims were blessed with perfect weather for walking and enjoying the surrounds, with plenty of sunshine and an occasional cool breeze. This added to the tranquility of the experience.

The pilgrims were transported to and from walking tracks via bus from the accommodation at Pallotti College, Millgrove.

On the first evening Johan Bergström-Allen invited pilgrims to reflect on the Carmelite Rule of Saint Albert and its application for the spiritual journey today. Journey is a key metaphor in Carmelite Spirituality used by St Teresa of Avila (travelling through an Interior Castle) and St John of the Cross speaking about ascending Mount Carmel as a metaphor for the inner life. This theme of journey is significant for Carmelites who have been journeying since leaving Mount Carmel in the thirteenth century and establishing ‘Carmel’ as a space in the heart rather than a physical space.

The walk was broken into three sections with pilgrims walking 16km on the first day, 18km on the second and 9km on the third day taking in part of the O’Shannessy/Aqueduct trail.

The pilgrimage finished at the Sancta Sophia Meditation Community where Fr Denis was the main celebrant in a Mass thanking God for blessing the weekend. This was followed by a BBQ kindly provided by the Sancta Sophia community after which the pilgrims departed.

Feedback from participants indicates it was a special time of solidarity and contemplation that is difficult to find in the hectic pace of day to day living. Pilgrims also commented on the peacefulness of the stunning scenery and the support of being with like-minded people.

The Carmelite Centre Melbourne will have opportunities for other reflective experiences in 2013 and ‘The Carmelite Way’ Pilgrimage will be held again from 8-10 November 2013.

Please contact the Centre with your expression of interest: or

Photo by Johan Bergström-Allen



Revelation 1: 1 - 4

1The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants what must soon take place; and he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,2who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.3Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written therein; for the time is near.4John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne,
Revelation 2: 1 - 5
1"To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: `The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
2"`I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear evil men but have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and found them to be false;
3I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary.
4But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
5Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
Psalms 1: 1 - 4, 6
1Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
3He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
4The wicked are not so, but are like chaff which the wind drives away.
6for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. 
Luke 18: 35 - 43
35As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging;
36and hearing a multitude going by, he inquired what this meant.
37They told him, "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by."
38And he cried, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"
39And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent; but he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"
40And Jesus stopped, and commanded him to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him,
41"What do you want me to do for you?" He said, "Lord, let me receive my sight."
42And Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has made you well."
43And immediately he received his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.


St. Mechtilde
Feast: November 19
Feast Day:
November 19
1240 or 1241 at the ancestral castle of Helfta, near Eisleben, Saxony
19 November, 1298

Benedictine; born in 1240 or 1241 at the ancestral castle of Helfta, near Eisleben, Saxony; died in the monastery of Helfta, 19 November, 1298. She belonged to one of the noblest and most powerful Thuringian families, while here sister was the saintly and illustrious Abbess Gertrude von Hackeborn. Some writers have considered that Mechtilde von Hackeborn and Mechtilde von Wippra were two distinct persons, but, as the Barons of Hackeborn were also Lords of Wippra, it was customary for members of that family to take their name indifferently from either, or both of these estates. So fragile was she at birth, that the attendants, fearing she might die unbaptized, hurried her off to the priest who was just then preparing to say Mass. He was a man of great sanctity, and after baptizing the child, uttered these prophetic words: "What do you fear? This child most certainly will not die, but she will become a saintly religious in whom God will work many wonders, and she will end her days in a good old age." When she was seven years old, having been taken by her mother on a visit to her elder sister Gertrude, then a nun in the monastery of Rodardsdorf, she became so enamoured of the cloister that her pious parents yielded to her entreaties and, acknowledging the workings of grace, allowed her to enter the alumnate. Here, being highly gifted in mind as well as in body, she made remarkable progress in virtue and learning.
Ten years later (1258) she followed her sister, who, now abbess, had transferred the monastery to an estate at Helfta given her by her brothers Louis and Albert. As a nun, Mechtilde was soon distinguished for her humility, her fervour, and that extreme amiability which had characterized her from childhood and which, like piety, seemed hereditary in her race. While still very young, she became a valuable helpmate to Abbess Gertrude, who entrusted to her direction the alumnate and the choir. Mechtilde was fully equipped for her task when, in 1261, God committed to her prudent care a child of five who was destined to shed lustre upon the monastery of Helfta. This was that Gertrude who in later generations became known as St. Gertrude the Great. Gifted with a beautiful voice, Mechtilde also possessed a special talent for rendering the solemn and sacred music over which she presided as domna cantrix. All her life she held this office and trained the choir with indefatigable zeal. Indeed, Divine praise was the keynote of her life as it is of her book; in this she never tired, despite her continual and severe physical sufferings, so that in Hisrevelations Christ was wont to call her His "nightingale". Richly endowed, naturally and supernaturally, ever gracious, beloved of all who came within the radius of her saintly and charming personality, there is little wonder that this cloistered virgin should strive to keep hidden her wondrous life. Souls thirsting for consolation or groping for light sought her advice; learned Dominicans consulted her on spiritual matters. At the beginning of her own mystic life it was from St. Mechtilde that St. Gertrude the Great learnt that the marvellous gifts lavished upon her were from God.
Only in her fiftieth year did St. Mechtilde learn that the two nuns in whom she had especially confided had noted down the favours granted her, and, moreover, that St. Gertrude had nearly finished a book on the subject. Much troubled at this, she, as usual, first had recourse to prayer. She had a vision of Christ holding in His hand the book of her revelations, and saying: "All this has been committed to writing by my will and inspiration; and, therefore you have no cause to be troubled about it." He also told her that, as He had been so generous towards her, she must make Him a like return, and that the diffusion of therevelations would cause many to increase in His love; moreover, He wished this book to be called "The Book of Special Grace", because it would prove such to many. When the saint understood that the book would tend to God's glory, she ceased to be troubled, and even corrected the manuscript herself. Immediately after her death it was made public, and copies were rapidly multiplied, owing chiefly to the widespread influence of the Friars Preachers. Boccaccio tells how, a few years after the death of Mechtilde, the book of her revelations was brought to Florence and popularized under the title of "La Laude di donna Matelda". It is related that the Florentines were accustomed to repeat daily before their sacred images the praises learned from St. Mechtilde's book. St. Gertrude, to whose devotedness we owe the "Liber Specialis Gratiae" exclaims: "Never has there arisen one like to her in our monastery; nor, alas! I fear, will there ever arise another such!" -- little dreaming that her own name would be inseparably linked with that of Mechtilde. With that of St. Gertrude, the body of St. Mechtilde most probably still reposes at Old Helfta thought the exact spot is unknown. Her feast is kept 26 or 27 February in different congregations and monasteries of her order, by special permission of the Holy See.There is another honour, inferior certainly to that of sanctity, yet great in itself and worthy of mention here: the homage of a transcendent genius was to be laid at the feet of St. Mechtilde. Critics have long been perplexed as to one of the characters introduced by Dante in his "Purgatorio" under the name of Matelda. After ascending seven terraces of a mountain, on each of which the process of purification is carried on, Dante, in Canto xxvii, hears a voice singing: "Venite, benedicti patris mei"; then later, in Canto xxviii, there appears to him on the opposite bank of the mysterious stream a lady, solitary, beautiful, and gracious. To her Dante addresses himself; she it is who initiates him into secrets, which it is not given to Virgil to penetrate, and it is to her that Beatrice refers Dante in the words: "Entreat Matilda that she teach thee this." Most commentators have identified Matilda with the warrior-Countess of Tuscany, the spiritual daughter and dauntless champion of St. Gregory VII, but all agree that beyond the name the two have little or nothing in common. She is no Amazon who, at Dante's prayer that she may draw nearer to let him understand her song, turns towards him "not otherwise than a virgin that droppeth her modest eyes". In more places than one the revelations granted to the mystics of Helfta seem in turn to have become the inspirations of the Florentine poet. All writers on Dante recognize his indebtedness to St. Augustine, the Pseudo-Dionysius, St. Bernard, and Richard of St. Victor. These are precisely the writers whose doctrines had been most assimilated by the mystics of Helfta, and thus they would the more appeal to the sympathies of the poet. The city of Florence was among the first to welcome St. Mechtilde's book. Now Dante, like all true poets, was a child of his age, and could not have been a stranger to a book which was so popular among his fellow-citizens. The "Purgatorio" was finished between 1314 and 1318, or 1319 --just about the time when St. Mechtilde's book was popular. This interpretation is supported by the fact that St. Mechtilde in her "Book of Special Grace" (pt. I, c. xiii) describes the place of purification under the same figure of a seven-terraced mountain. The coincidence of the simile and of the name, Matelda, can scarcely be accidental. For another among many points of resemblance between the two writers compare "Purgatorio", Canto xxxi, where Dante is drawn by Matelda through the mysterious stream with pt. II, c. ii. of the "Liber Specialis Gratiae". The serene atmosphere which seems to cling about the gracious and beautiful songstress, her virgin modesty and simple dignity, all seem to point to the recluse of Helfta rather than to the stern heroine of Canossa, whose hand was thrice bestowed in marriage. Besides, in politics Dante, as an ardent Ghibelline, supported the imperial pretensions and he would have been little inclined to sing the praises of the Tuscan Countess. The conclusion may therefore be hazarded that this "Donna Matelda" of the "Purgatorio" personifies St. Mechtilde as representing mystic theology.