These saints know firsthand about surviving pandemics

In the midst of turmoil and strife, these holy men and women put their lives at the service of refugees, the sick, and the poor.

There is no country that hasn’t been strained by the pandemic that continues to rage. Resources are stretched thin, especially in nations that have been generous in accepting refugees from recent crises throughout the world.

But God’s command to welcome the stranger still binds, especially for countries that have benefited from the work of Afghans whose lives are now at risk. Let’s ask the intercession of the saints who served refugees, that we would be given generous spirits and the wisdom to serve well.

Servant of God Leonard LaRue (1914-2001)

Servant of God Leonard LaRue (1914-2001) was an American Merchant Marine serving during the Korean War when he was sent to Hungnam in what is now North Korea. There he saw tens of thousands of Korean civilians trying to escape the advancing Chinese army. Though LaRue’s ship was designed for only 12 passengers, he dumped all his cargo and weapons into the sea and loaded 14,000 Korean refugees onto the ship. They were unarmed, with no food, little water, no medical care, and no translator, but LaRue packed these people shoulder to shoulder to evacuate as many as possible. It took them two days to sail 450 miles (during which time five women on the ship gave birth), but he brought them all to safety in what’s been called “the greatest rescue by a single ship in the annals of the sea.” The descendants of those refugees number one million, including the current president of South Korea. LaRue left the sea behind to become a simple Benedictine monk in New Jersey.

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Saint Virginia Centurione Bracelli (1587-1651)

Saint Virginia Centurione Bracelli (1587-1651) was a wealthy widow devoted to charitable works. She served the poor and sick and began providing for refugees when war filled the city with them. When a plague broke out in Genoa, Virginia housed many of the sick in her home; running out of space, she rented a vacant convent, then built more housing. Though the plague ended, Virginia’s hospital continued serving hundreds of sick people and providing for refugees and the religious order Virginia founded in the midst of all this continues to this day.

Saint Mary Zhu Wu (1850-1900)

Saint Mary Zhu Wu (1850-1900) was a Chinese mother of four, married to Zhu Dianxuan, the lay leader of the Christians in their village. During the Boxer Rebellion, Wu and her husband led their village in accepting nearly 3,000 Christian refugees into their village of only 300 people. Dianxuan led the men in building fortifications and fighting against the 4,500 Boxer soldiers who came against them, but was killed when a cannon backfired. By the time the Boxers breached the village’s defenses, some thousand Christians were packed into the church seeking general absolution. As the Boxers burst into the church, Wu stood in front of their priest, Saint Léon-Ignace Mangin, and held her arms out to shield him from the bullets. She was killed, as were hundreds of others. Only 500 Christians survived the massacre; most were then sold into slavery.

St. Jose Brochero (1840-1914)

St. Jose Brochero (1840-1914) was an Argentinean priest. Immediately after his ordination, Fr. Jose nursed the sick through a cholera epidemic and emerged unscathed. Then, to serve his parishioners, he built 125 miles of roads and connected his parish with mail and telegraph services and a railway line. Eventually, he contracted leprosy and began to go blind, after which he retired both from active ministry and from single-handedly building the infrastructure of the region. He had spent over 40 years serving as priest, nurse, lobbyist, carpenter, and construction worker.

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