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Honoring the Peruvian Patroness

Depending on where you live, the feast day for Santa Rosa de Lima is celebrated on August 23 or 30. I like to think of the 23-30 as her feast week. Widely known in South America, she is much less well known in North America. I like thinking of her during this semana de fiesta for many reasons. Santa Rosa was of both Spanish and Inca bloodlines, and one of the causes dearest to her heart was what we think of today as "equal rights" among ethnic groups. She was acutely aware of the treatment of Africans "imported" to South America as slave labor. She set up a small clinic in her family's courtyard to offer herbs and remedies to any who needed them, irrespective of their skin color. This--in the 17th Century--is behavior that challenges the most radical definition of "radical." Much against her parents' wishes, and those of various ardent suitors, she chose not to marry, but instead to live a life of service. For a beautiful woman whose impoverished family needed her to "marry well," this, too was radical. Such was her own mother's disapproval that Rosa had to move out of her family home and live with friends toward the end of her brief life.

She did reflect some of the environment of the time, however, particularly in the ways she chose to manifest her faith practice, which included doing her best to disfigure her face in order to diminish her physical beauty. This behavior was well within the tradition of self-induced punishments and sufferings, part and parcel of Catholic contemplative practice in South America and Spain during this time, and is just one of several anecdotes in a similar vein from her biography.

The Catholic Church named her the first saint of the Americas and considers her the santa patrona of the Americas (North and South), India, and the Phillipines.

She is one of the saints that continually holds my attention, not only for her piety and devotion to her faith, but also for her courage and vision. She practiced, worked for and prayed for racial equality before this term even existed. She was brave enough to admonish clergy when people were being noisy during mass, though she had no authority whatsoever to do so. She refused to bend to relentless social pressure and the view that women were to be vehicles and servants, wives and mothers, often in the very basest sense of the word. She blended caring for her family with her life in a tertiary order--living as a nun in the world, not separated from it, balancing the sacred and the secular. I return to her example, her modeling of how to walk one's own path, frequently. Even the things she did that seem less than healthy to us in the 21st century--like placing thorns beneath the wreath of flowers her mother made for her to wear to enhance her beauty with suitors--even these took courage and sheer "guts." I can admire that courage--even as I am unwilling to condone her physical immolation.

My favorite books on Santa Rosa de Lima are: St. Rose of Lima, Patroness of the Americas by Sister Mary Alphonsus, O.SS.R, published by Tan Books and Publishers; and The Rose and the Lily, The Lives and Times of Two South American Saints by Frances Parkinson Keyes, published by Hawthorn Books.

So, en honor de Santa Rosa de Lima y sus días festivos, recuerdo su ejemplo y me pregunto: ¿Estoy caminando por mi vida con integridad? ¿Compaginan mis creencias y valores con mi vida diaria? ¿Tengo el valor de enfrentar y participar en el mundo y a la vez mantener y proteger lo que es sagrado para mí? Sólo con la ayuda del Patrón de la Santa, con la ayuda de Dios, puedo decir que sí.


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