by Jill Ragar Esfeld
How often today have good people wished for a superhero with the power to break the chains of immorality, inhumanity, greediness and violence that cripple our world.
As Catholics we have that hero in the form of Mary.
As a matter of fact, one of the many Marian feast days celebrated this month is the Feast Our Lady of Mercy, formerly known as Our Lady of Ransom.
And she has a story to rival any Marvel character.
Our Lady of Ransom first came to our rescue centuries ago when massive slave trading existed in the Islamic-run Ottoman Empire.
In the 13th century, along the Mediterranean coast of Europe, Muslim pirates constantly attacked ships and coastal villages capturing Christians to force into slavery.
Those captured were not only imprisoned and enslaved, but often tortured until they renounced their faith.
It was possible to free those captured by paying ransom money, but few had the means to do so.
In 1203, a Catholic merchant from Barcelona, Spain, now known as Saint Peter Nolasco, formed an organization to raise funds to ransom and rescue poor Christian captives.
Many volunteered to join in his effort, but it was a very dangerous mission and the overwhelming number of those enslaved made progress almost impossible.
And so Saint Peter appealed to Our Lady for help.
On August 1, 1218, under the title of Our Lady of Ransom, Mary appeared separately to Saint Peter Nolasco, his confessor Saint Raymond of Penafort and King James I of Aragon.
In each apparition, Mary asked for the creation of a religious order to carry out the task or ransoming captives.
Subsequently the Royal, Military and Religious Order of Mercy for the Redemption of Captives, known as the Mercedarians, was established by the King.
In 1236, Pope Gregory IX granted the Mercedarians formal recognition as a religious order.
Mercedarian priests celebrated Mass and prayed for members of the order.
Most of them knights, members were committed to raising funds for ransom, guarding the coasts, and giving themselves in exchange for captives who were in danger of denying their faith.
Saint Peter died in 1256, but his mission continued.
From 1200 through the 1800s, more that a million European Christians were captured and enslaved – and it’s estimated the Mercedarians rescued 500,000 of them.
In 1696, the feast of Our Lady of Ransom was established on September 24. The name was changed to Our Lady of Mercy after Vatican II.
Mercedarians still exist in countries throughout the world and are committed to freeing Christians in bondage to sin, addiction and poverty.
Mary is as much a superhero today as she was centuries ago. If you want to break the chains of bondage to any evil for your family, your community, your world or yourself, pray to Our Lady of Mercy:
Our Lady of Mercy, Immaculate Mother of God, hear our prayer. You responded in love to the captives who cried out to you from their oppression, breaking the chains of their bondage. Be with us as we seek to be heralds of God’s love and freedom. The word of God became flesh through your fervent and pure love. We ask you, dear Mother, break the chains of our slavery (mention any need or addiction or difficulty) for free of them, we are able to imitate your Son, Jesus Christ.