The scene is in Italy in the troubled thirteenth century. The city of Forli had revolted against the authority of the Church. For this reason, it had been placed under an interdict by Pope Martin IV.
The Pope chose a holy Servite monk, Father Philip,1 to go to Forli and convince its people to return to God. Father Philip was glad to answer the call of the Holy Father. He went to Forli, and was directed by the people to the platform built for his convenience.
Hardly had the priest made his appeal to repentance when he noticed an agitation in the ranks of the people. The leader of the group was a young man by the name of Peregrine.
He ascended the steps of the platform, planted himself before the priest and shouted, “Who are you, and why have you come uninvited to our city?” Having uttered these words, he slapped the priest on his face.
The priest raised his cross and blessed the assailant, “May God forgive you, my son.”
Peregrine shouted, “I don’t need your forgiveness and I am not your son. Get out from here and tell those who sent you how you have been received in Forli.”
The priest said nothing, but his lips were moving in a silent prayer. Very calmly, very slowly, Father Philip walked to the steps and went away, not turning his head.
Peregrine left the platform and walked in the direction of his home. He felt the world spinning around him. He heard a voice repeating these words, “Judas, Judas, what have you done?” He did not know how long he remained in this state of stupor. He woke up, unable to silence the voice of his conscience. “What have I done indeed,” he said. “In the person of the priest, I have slapped the face of Christ. I have hurled insults and obscenities against Christ. Heaven above, is there forgiveness for me? Am I condemned to endure the torments of my conscience until the end of my life?”
All of a sudden, he saw a cross raised over his head, and heard a voice saying, “May God forgive you, my son.” A ray of hope filtered through the darkness of his soul. He ran through the streets of the city like a hunted beast of prey, and presently reached the highway.
“Let me overtake him, Lord,” he prayed, “let me find him!” After a long distance, he saw a shrine on the side of the way. He entered the holy place. He saw a man dressed in black kneeling before the altar. The man, hearing the sound of footsteps, turned his head.
Peregrine ran to him and fell prostrate at his feet. “Father,” he sobbed in a voice choked with emotion, “Father, in the name of Christ, forgive me!”
Father Philip-for it was he- lifted him to his feet, and pressed him to his heart. “I have already forgiven you, my son. Wipe your tears away.”
Peregrine returned to Forli, a completely changed man. He spent hours in church. He was seen in the hospitals taking care of the sick, mostly those who had nobody to visit them. He spent days in prayer, meditation and works of charity.
Nobody understood the cause of this radical change in his life. At the end of six months, he left Forli for Siena. He knocked at the door of the monastery of the Servites. Father Philip opened the door and was happy to see his friend. Peregrine manifested his desire to join the order. He was accepted as a postulant.
At the end of his postulancy, which lasted for two years, because of the splendid example he had given to the priests and friars of the order, Peregrine was accepted to study for the priesthood. Six years later, he was ordained a priest.
Peregrine was known mostly for his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to Our Blessed Mother, and to all the sick and abandoned people of the city.
Peregrine lived in Forli and died in the odor of sanctity. He was canonized by the Church and given as a model to those sinners who wanted to make their peace with God.
As Peregrine could become a priest and a saint, maybe you too can.
1. This holy Servite was Saint Philip Benizi, who would later have to hide himself so as not to be elected Pope.
This story is reprinted with the permission of Father Aurelius Maschio, S.D.B.,
from his monthly magazine, Don Bosco’s Madonna.