St John of God healing oil
St John of God, (1495 –1550) was a Portuguese -born soldier turned health-care worker in Spain. His followers later formed the Brothers Hospitallers of Saint John of God. They were dedicated to the care of the poor, sick, and those suffering from mental disorders.
St John of God was born João Duarte Cidade . One day, when John was eight years of age he disappeared. Whether he had been deliberately kidnapped, or whether he had been seduced from his home by a cleric who had been given hospitality in the home, is not clear. According to his original biography, his mother died from grief. Soon after he and his father joined the Franciscan Order
The young Cidade soon found himself a homeless orphan in the streets of Toledo, Spain. In a foreign land, he had no one to care for him. St John of God had nothing on which to live and he had to be content with whatever food he could find. He was eventually taken in by a man called Francisco Mayoral. The boy settled down as a shepherd caring for his sheep in the countryside.
The farmer was so pleased with Cidade’s that he wanted him to marry his daughter and to become his heir. When he was about 22 years of age, the young man joined a company of foot-soldiers. He fought for Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, eventually dispatched by the Count of Oropesa. Cidade was appointed to guard an enormous amount of loot. Suspicion naturally fell on Cidade; at the least he was guilty of dereliction of duty. He was condemned to death. That would have been his fate had not some more tolerant officer intervened to win his pardon.
Cidade becomes a soldier
He was disillusioned by this turn of events after what he felt was faithful military service. Cidade returned to the farm in Oropesa. He then spent four years again following a pastoral life. This went on until the day that the Count and his troops marched by. Still unmarried, he immediately decided to enlist with them, and left Oropesa for a final time. For the next 18 years he served as a trooper in various parts of Europe.
The Count and his troops helped in the rout of the Turks. They set sail to return to Spain, landing in A Coruña in Galicia. Cidade found himself close to his homeland. He decided to return to his hometown. There he could see what he could learn of the family he had lost so many years before. Cidade had forgotten his parents’ names. He retained enough information from his childhood that he was able to track down an uncle. There he learned their fate from this uncle. Realizing that he no longer had real ties to the region, he returned to Spain.
He goes to Africa
Cidade arrived near Seville, where he soon found work herding sheep, which was familiar to him. With the time now available to him to ponder his life, he began to realize that this occupation no longer satisfied him and he felt a desire to see Africa, and possibly give his life as a martyr through working to free Christians enslaved there. He immediately set out for the Portuguese territory of Ceuta (located on the northern coast of Morocco). On the way, he befriended a Portuguese knight also traveling there with his wife and daughters, who was being exiled to that region by the King of Portugal for some crime he had committed.
The knight found that the few possessions the family had were stolen, leaving them penniless. Additionally the entire family had become ill. Having no other recourse, the knight appealed to Cidade for his help. He promised to care for the family. He began to nurse them and found work to provide them with food.
Cidade returns to Spain
One of Cidade’s coworkers deserted to a nearby Muslim city in order to escape this treatment. He conversion to that faith, leading to a growing feeling of despair in Cidade. He felt spiritually lost from his failure to practice his faith during his years of military service. Cidade went to the Franciscan friary in the colony. There he was advised that his desire to be in Africa was not working to his spiritual growth. They told him to consider returning to Spain. He decided to do this. Landing in Gibraltar, he began to wander around the region of Andalusia. He wanted to find what God might want from him.
It was during this period of his life that Cidade is said to have had a vision of the Infant Jesus, who bestowed on him the name by which he was later known, John of God, also directing him to go to Granada. Cidade then settled in that city, where he worked disseminating books.
Cidade experienced a major religious conversion on Saint Sebastian‘s Day (January 20) of 1537, while listening to a sermon by John of Ávila, a leading preacher of the day who was later to become his spiritual director and would encourage him in his quest to improve the life of the poor. At the age of 42, he had what was perceived at the time as an acute mental breakdown.
He is committed to mentally ill hospital
Moved by the sermon, he soon engaged in a public beating of himself, begging mercy and wildly repenting for his past life. He was incarcerated in the area of the Royal Hospital reserved for the mentally ill and received the treatment of the day, which was to be segregated, chained, flogged, and starved. Cidade was visited by John of Avila, who advised him to be more actively involved in tending to the needs of others rather than in enduring personal hardships. John gained peace of heart, and shortly after left the hospital to begin work among the poor.
Around this time, he made a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Extremadura, where it is said he experienced a vision of Mary, who encouraged him to work with the poor. Cidade expended all his energy in caring for the neediest people of the city. He established a house where he wisely tended to the needs of the sick poor, at first doing his own begging. When John began to put into effect his dream, because of the stigma attached to mental illness, he found himself misunderstood and rejected.
St Raphael helps him
For some time he was alone in his charitable work, soliciting by night the needed medical supplies, and by day attending to the needs of his patients and the hospital; but he soon received the cooperation of charitable priests and physicians. Many stories are related of the heavenly guests who visited him during the early days of his immense tasks, which were lightened at times by the archangel St. Raphael in person. To put a stop to his custom of exchanging his cloak with any beggar he chanced to meet, Sebastian Ramirez, Bishop of Tui, had a religious habit made for him, which was later adopted in all its essentials as the religious garb of his followers, and the bishop imposed on him for all time the name given him by the Infant Jesus, John of God.
Slowly John drew to himself a dedicated circle of disciples who felt called to join him in this service.. One mark of honour to his labours is that this Order has been officially entrusted with the medical care of the pope. When St. John of God died the successor of the Order was Pedro Soriano
John of God died on March 8, 1550, his 55th birthday, in Granada.
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