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Despite What You Might Have Heard, St. Christopher is Still a Saint
By Angelo Stagnaro
A few years ago, I was at a Broadway performance of Nunsense―the only slightly-offensive but fantastically humorous comedy.
I recall one point in the interactive play when the "Mother Superior" of the Little Sisters of Hoboken asked a question of the audience but warned us that she would only call upon boys and girls who raised their hands.
Shades of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Elementary School!
All I could do was smile as I dutifully raised my hand without yelling out the correct answer like some of the naughtier boys and girls in the audience! No doubt their parents would get a call from Sister later that evening.
She turned to me and asked in a sweet, lilting voice, “Why didn’t you yell out the answer?”
“Well…,” I began, “Sister asked us to put our hands up and not yell out.”
My response made the audience laugh and brought a huge smile to the actress' face.
“You are soooooo good! Thank you! For that, I want to give you a St. Christopher medal!” she said, placing one in my hand. “Oh! Wait! He's not a saint anymore...let's just call him MISTER Christopher!”
In 1969, St. Christopher's feast day was indeed removed from the Church’s universal calendar.
Despite this, Christopher is still a saint—thus boys named “Christopher” still have a valid onomastico (Italian for “name saint day”) on July 25 and may still reap all the benefits that a shared feast day bestows upon them.
According to his hagiography, Christopher had always been understood to be a third century martyr, probably killed during Emperor Decius', or possibly Diocletian's, reign. What we know about St. Christopher comes from Jacob de Voragine's 13th century hagiographic compilation known as The Golden Legend that most Christians know.
A pagan king, alternatively in Canaan or Arabia, through the prayers of his wife to the Blessed Virgin, had a son, whom he called Offerus (Offro, Adokimus, or Reprebus) and dedicated him to the gods Machmet and Apollo. As he grew up, he became extraordinarily large and strong. He was said to be 5 cubits (7.5 feet or 2.3 m) tall and with a fearsome aspect. Being conscious of his unique stature and strength, Offerus resolved to serve only the strongest and the bravest ruler in the world. At first, he bound himself to a mighty king, but abandoned him when he realized that the monarch was frightened by Satan. He committed himself to man who called himself Satan but abandoned him also when he realized he was frightened by the sight of a cross at the roadside.
Offerus sought the Crucified One but never found Him. Instead, he met the hermit Babylas who told him to offer his allegiance to Christ. The hermit then instructed him in the Faith and baptized him “Christopher,” “the bearer of Christ.”
Despite being a Christian, Christopher refused to either fast or pray but did accept the task given to him of carrying people across a river. One stormy night, a small child appeared to Christopher crying and lost. The man, feeling sorry for the child, offered to carry him across the river. Christopher lifted him up to his shoulder and stepped into the river. Almost instantly, the child became so heavy that Christopher struggled greatly as he forded the river. It seemed to him that he was carrying the weight of the entire world on his shoulders. When he got to the other side of the river, Christopher collapsed and, looking up, asking the child who he was. The child responded, “You had on your shoulders not only the whole world but Him Who made it. I am Christ, your king, the Creator and Redeemer of the world Whom you are serving by this work.” The child directed Christopher to plant his staff in the ground and then disappeared. The next morning the staff grown into a palm-tree which had born fruit. The miracle converted many to the Faith. The pagan king of the region was furious at this development and had Christopher imprisoned, tortured and beheaded.
There are people, Catholic and otherwise, who take these stories quite seriously—specifically, the good people of Riga, Latvia. Modern Rigans believe that the river across which Christopher carried the Christ Child is the very river that bisects their city. Keep in mind that only 22.7% of Latvians are Catholic, but even when Riga was predominantly Lutheran, they warmly embraced the giant Christ-Bearer whom they call "Kristaps."
In AD 1590, a statue of Lielais Kristaps (Latvian: "Big Christopher") was carved from an eight-inch pine log and placed on the bank of the Daugava River. This much-loved statue managed to survive the violent ravages of the Protestant Reformation, when many other Catholic devotional objects were desecrated. Protestants and Catholic Letts alike would visit the statue to ask Kristaps to protect them from evil.
That statue of Kristaps is currently preserved in the Museum of Riga’s History and Navigation. However, a replica replaced it near the river he once forded. The Letts are so in love with Kristaps that he appears on the reverse side of the 10-lati coin which is worth approximately US$5. In addition, the National Film Board of Latvia calls its equivalent of the Oscars the "Lielais Kristaps." Further, Kristaps still remains a popular name for boys,
But even if not all of the stories about St. Christopher are verifiably true, he still serves by reminding us that all Christians are called to be “Bearers of Christ” both in our hearts and in the way we build society. Christ bears us up. (Psalm 68:19) The least we can do is to return the favor.
St. Christopher's Patronages: athletes, sailors, ferrymen, travelers, motorists, surfers, bachelors, archers, bookbinders, epileptics, fullers, fruit dealers, gardeners, rosarians, truckers, chauffeurs, a holy death, St. Kitts Island (in the Lesser Antilles), bridges, bus drivers, protection against floods, florists, for a safe journey, landscapers, naval officers, navigators, pilgrims, porters, road builders, ocean voyages, protection against shipwrecks, storms at sea, against plagues, against sudden death
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