One of the things you notice living the liturgy here in Europe is that they have a lot of patron saints. Six, in fact. And so their feast days come around with some regularity:
- Cyril, monk, and Methodius, bishop, February 14
- Catherine of Siena, virgin and doctor, April 29
- Benedict, abbot, July 11
- Bridget of Sweden, founder (and mother of a saint, Catherine of Sweden), July 23
- Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, virgin and martyr (Edith Stein), August 9
Pope Blessed Paul VI declared St. Benedict patron of Europe in 1964 with the letter Pacis nuntius.
Pope St. John Paul II gave Cyril and Methodius to Benedict as co-patrons by his letter Egregiae virtutis of 1980, the sense of which is clearly to arrive at some balance between representatives of both western and eastern Christianity, in the same spirit as the image he uses in Ut unum sint of the Church breathing with the 'two lungs' of east and west.[A]s he once dispelled the darkness by the light of Christian civilization and radiated the gift of peace, may he now preside over all of European life and by his intercession develop and increase it all the more.
Then, nineteen years later, the Pope added the three women by his letter Spes aedificandi:
Therefore, after appropriate consulation, and completing what I did on 31 December 1980 when I declared Co-Patrons of Europe, along with Saint Benedict, two Saints of the first millennium, the brothers Cyril and Methodius, pioneers of the evangelization of the East, I have decided to add to this group of heavenly patrons three figures equally emblematic of critical moments in the second millennium now drawing to its close.
The Church has not failed, from her very origins, to acknowledge the role and mission of women, even if at times she was conditioned by a culture which did not always show due consideration to women. But the Christian community has progressively matured also in this regard, and here the role of holiness has proved to be decisive.
I guess John Paul II knew something, and that something told him that Europe needed a lot of prayer.The real reason then which led me to these three particular women can be found in their lives. Their holiness was demonstrated in historical circumstances and in geographical settings which make them especially significant for the Continent of Europe. Saint Bridget brings us to the extreme north of Europe, where the Continent in some way stretches out to unity with the other parts of the world; from there she departed to make Rome her destination. Catherine of Siena is likewise well-known for the role which she played at a time when the Successor of Peter resided in Avignon; she brought to completion a spiritual work already initiated by Bridget by becoming the force behind the Pope's return to his own See at the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles. Finally, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, recently canonized, not only lived in various countries of Europe, but by her entire life as thinker, mystic and martyr, built a kind of bridge between her Jewish roots and her commitment to Christ, taking part in the dialogue with contemporary philosophical thought with sound intuition, and in the end forcefully proclaiming by her martyrdom the ways of God and man in the horrendous atrocity of the Shoah. She has thus become the symbol of a human, cultural and religious pilgrimage which embodies the deepest tragedy and the deepest hopes of Europe.
Holy co-patrons of Europe, pray for us!