A Catholic Monthly Magazine

St Peregrine — Patron of Cancer Sufferers

By Tricia O'Donnell

As saints go, is not amongst the most well-known, although many who do know him find great comfort through his intercession. He is the patron saint of cancer sufferers and today almost everyone is touched by this terrible disease is some way, if not personally, then through a friend or loved one. It is reassuring to have someone who has experienced the trials of cancer to intercede on our behalf, particularly when we are at our lowest.

Peregrine Laziosi was born around 1265 in the town of Forli, near Florence in Italy, to an affluent family. As a young man he became leader of the local rebels and it took a violent confrontation in the town centre one day to turn his life around.

For some years, the papal office had been in conflict with many of Italy’s small towns, including Forli, as it struggled for power with the German Holy Roman Emperors. Townspeople throughout the country were divided as to which side to support, which made for a healthy breeding ground for rebellion. By the late 13th century, Pope Martin IV decided that in Forli, at least, he might be able to gain some ground. Having failed to persuade the town’s new council to support him, Martin placed all its residents under interdict. He then learnt of a visit to Forli by the Prior General of the Order of the Friar Servants of St Mary, Fr Philip Benizi, and enlisted his help. The priest was known for his negotiating skills, and the Pope held high hopes of his being able to settle the matter once and for all.

However, things did not go well from the outset. Fr Philip addressed the people in the town centre, appealing to them on behalf of the Pope, but the hostile crowd became aggressive and began heckling and insulting him. When the physical violence started, Peregrine Laziosi was among those throwing the blows – and making contact by hitting Fr Philip hard in the face. The priest’s lack of anger at the assault astonished Peregrine, and as the crowd drove Fr Philip out of the town, the young man suddenly felt consumed by guilt.

After much soul-searching he sought the priest out and apologised, and was quickly forgiven. For Peregrine, there was no going back. He began praying to Our Lady, and it is said she appeared to him one day and told him to go to Siena, where he would “find devout men who call themselves my servants. Attach yourself to them.” She carried a black habit worn by the Servites, which was the name by which Fr Philip’s Order would later be known. The Servites’ work was focussed on the poor, the sick and the dying, especially within the hospitals, which became an integral part of the Order’s framework. Peregrine had found his vocation, and became known as the ‘Angel of Good Counsel.’ He was particularly gifted in working with the dying and bereaved.

Perhaps he never quite forgot his past, as he was especially harsh on himself, working hard for long hours on his feet. His self-imposed penance was to sit as little as possible, so the lengthy periods standing eventually caused him serious problems. One of his legs became infected and cancerous, and it was decided amputation was the only answer.

Peregrine agreed and spent the night before the operation praying before the crucifix in the chapter room. He eventually drifted off to sleep and he dreamt of Jesus descending from the cross and touching his leg. Next day no amputation was necessary as all signs of the disease had gone, and as word spread of the miracle people came to him for prayers and for healing.

Peregrine lived for many more years, dying on the 1st of May 1345 at the age of 80. Multitudes attended his funeral and it is believed there were many healings through prayer, and for some who touched his coffin. The terminally ill were especially drawn to him after his death, and as awareness of him grew, those emigrants to the New World took their knowledge of him with them and so, he became known as the ‘cancer saint.’

He became Blessed Peregrine in 1609 and was canonised in 1726 by Pope Benedict XIII. The United States of America have a special devotion to him, and have numerous shrines throughout the country dedicated to him. One in particular, Christ the King Catholic Church in Mesa, Arizona, has a mission to pray for cancer sufferers, and has a sanctuary for spiritual healing and emotional peace. St Peregrine is the patron saint of all incurable diseases, as well as foot or leg complaints. His feast day is on the 1st of May.

Christ the King Church, Mesa, Arizona

Prayer to St Peregrine

O great St Peregrine, you have been called ‘The Mighty’ the ‘Wonder Worker’ because of the numerous miracles which you have obtained from God for those who have recourse to you. For so many years you bore in your own flesh this cancerous disease that destroys the very fibre of our being, and who had recourse to the source of all grace when the power of man could do no more. You were favoured with the vision of Jesus coming down from His Cross to heal your affliction. Ask of God and Our Lady, the cure of the sick whom we entrust to you. (Pause here and name those for whom you are praying.) Aided in this way by your powerful intercession, we shall sing to God now and for all eternity, a song of gratitude for His great goodness and mercy. Amen

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