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  • Writer's pictureMary Beth Keenan

Peruvian Pride: An Introduction to Saint Rose of Lima

I was first introduced to the Peruvian saints by a Sister of Bon Secours, Hermana Amabelia. My husband and I were in Peru to provide ministry of presence alongside these sisters. We were surprised to be taken sightseeing in Lima in our first few days in the country.

We saw many different churches and beautiful things in the Plaza Mayor neighborhood of Lima, but The Basilica and Convent of Santo Domingo stands out in my mind. It holds many treasures: bright colored facades, an amazingly old library, and the burial sites of three Peruvian saints: Saint Juan Macías, Saint Martín de Porres, and Saint Rose of Lima. Each saint is very unique, yet Hermana Amabelia’s voice soared with pride as she told us their individual stories.

My husband and I knew almost nothing of the Peruvian saints when we arrived. It was a surprising gift to learn about them while in the country where they lived.

Saint Rose of Lima was the first person born in the Americas to be canonized. Born in the 1500s in colonized Lima, her nickname comes from an experience that an early childhood caregiver had of seeing her face transform into a rose.

The beauty of roses stayed with her into adolescence when she was highly regarded for her looks. At this point she had already begun to secretly perform much of Saint Catherine of Siena’s Dominican rule. She cut her hair and rubbed pepper on her face to try to deter the suitors her parents facilitated. She sold her embroidery work and flowers she grew to help both her family finances and the poor.

When her parents forbade her from becoming a nun she joined the Dominicans as a Third Order, or lay associate, still living with her parents and taking a vow of virginity. She was known to inflict severe penances on herself. This practice of mortification potentially stemmed from Saint Dominic’s wish for a slow and tortuous martyrdom as well as her inability to be a missionary due to gender standards at the time. In a way, she created her own version of martyrdom at home. She died at the age of 31 and was quickly considered for sainthood after.

I struggle with the harm that saints inflict on themselves in the name of piety, Saint Rose of Lima included. It is hard to imagine that God desires and appreciates our pain. While we are all asked to pick up our Cross and follow Christ, it seems counterintuitive to make the Cross for ourselves. It is clear though, even with colonization and self-harm as part of her story, Peruvians are so proud to call this woman with fearless faith, their own.

We have not traveled internationally again since we got home from our Peruvian adventure. However, we have now made it a goal to research and visit the saints of a new country the next time we go abroad. We can thank Sister Amabelia and the Peruvian saints for their hospitality and inspiration.

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