The Darlings Of God
"The Church gives thanks for all women
as they have come forth from the heart of
God in all the beauty and richness of their
femininity." These words penned by Pope
John Paul II in one of his Apostolic Letters,
are a fitting tribute to all women.
Many women have been instrumental in me being
who I am. Some of them are deeply inscribed
in my heart. Among them, two in particular
- Perpetua, a young married noble woman and
her good-looking companion, Felicity.
They lived in Carthage, upper North Africa
around the end of the first century. The
emperor in Roman was Septimius Severus. At
his time, all imperial subjects were forbidden
under severe penalties to become Christians
Perpetua, a well educated and high spirited
woman, attracted by the love that the Christians
showed towards each other, decided to enter
the catechumenate. Her maid Felicity followed
suit. It was a risky decision.
Her parents were the first to disapprove
strongly. Besides being a terrible blow to
their social status, they reasoned that their
daughter at 22 years of age, had every reason
to want to live - including a baby son who
was still nursing.
Perpetua and Felicity were arrested. "I
was much frightened, because I had never
known such darkness. What a day of horror!
Terrible heat, owing to the crowds! Rough
treatment by the soldiers! To crown all I
was tormented with anxiety for my baby."
They were brought to trial. The father made
a final desperate attempt to bring her back
to her senses. Carrying the baby in his arms,
he entered the court room, weeping and pleading,
"Lady, pity my white hairs! Pity your
father, if I deserve you should call me father,
if I have brought you up to this your prime
of life, if I have loved you more than your
brothers! Make me not a reproach to mankind!
Look on your mother and your mother's sister;
look on your son who cannot live after you
are gone. Forget your pride; do not make
us all wretched! None of us will ever speak
freely again if calamity strikes you."
"So spoke my father in his love for
me", comments Perpetua, "kissing
my hands and casting himself at my feet,
and with tears calling me by the title not
of 'daughter' but of 'lady'. And I grieved
for my father's sake, because he alone of
all my kindred would not have joy at my martyrdom.
And I tried to comfort him, saying, 'What
takes place on that platform will be as God
shall choose, for assuredly we are not in
our own power but in the power of God.'
'Are you a Christian?' asked Hilarion, the
magistrate, and I answered, 'Yes, I am.'
My father then attempted to drag me down
from the platform, at which Hilarion commanded
that he should be beaten off, and he was
struck with a rod. I felt this as much as
if I myself had been struck, so deeply did
I grieve to see my father treated thus in
his old age."
The sentence was clear - death by the wild
beasts. They gave thanks to God!
Meanwhile, Felicity was passing through her
difficult moments. She was eight months pregnant
and it was the law that pregnant women cannot
be executed. She was afraid she may lose
her 'chance' to be martyred. These people,
the Christians, they live in another world!
The guards hearing her groaning because of
the child birth pains, made fun of her, 'If
you think you suffer now, how will you react
when face the wild beasts?' Felicity's answer
portrays the conviction of the early Christians.
"Now I'm the one who is suffering, but
in the arena Another will be in me suffering
for me because I will be suffering for him."
A witness describes the final chapter of
their lives thus. "The day of the martyrs'
victory dawned. They marched from their cells
into the amphitheater, as if into heaven,
with cheerful looks and graceful bearing.
If they trembled it was for joy and not for
They were first scourged and then at the
demand of the blood thirsty mob, they were
mauled…. The men by a boar, a bear, and a
leopard, and the women by a wild heifer.
The heifer threw them away with his horns.
Perpetua got up and, seeing that Felicity
was prostrate, went over and reached out
her hand to her and lifted her up. Both stood
"The crowd wanted to see the sword thrust
into the bodies of the victims, so that their
eyes might share in the slaughter. Without
being asked they went where the people wanted
them to go; but first they kissed one another,
to complete their witness with the customary
kiss of peace."
Perpetua's last words were to her brother
in faith, "Stand fast in the faith and
love one another." Then she guided the
sword of the nervous executioner to her throat!
I believe it was Jesus Christ who said "If
anyone comes to me and does not hate his
father and mother, his wife and children,
his brothers and sisters … he cannot be my
disciple." He is right, of course.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission
hereby granted for any non-commercial
provided that the content is unaltered
its original state, if this copyright