The history of the Church is the history of a love relationship between God and his people. All throughout this relationship God has shown a particular love for those who suffer and a special care in times of distress. Such times marked the end of the 12th century when Christians and Moslems were endlessly at war for the control of Southern Europe and the Holy Land. Those were times of violence and confusion, of social upheaval and ruined economies, of destroyed families, and of numberless prisoners of war who were held in captivity.
It was then, in the year 1194, when God, in his love, inspired a man - John De Matha - to found a new and original religious community in Paris, France.
John De Matha was born in Faucon, a town in the south of France, around the year 1154. He completed his graduate studies with honors at the University of Paris, where he later taught theology. Ordained to the priesthood, on the day of his first Mass he experienced a heavenly vision which made him understand that God wanted him to become a redeemer of Christian captives.
John De Matha felt deeply the pains of the Christians kept in bondage by the Moslems. His revulsion for human servitude and his love for God-Trinity led John to call his community The Order of the Holy Trinity for the Ransom of Captives, or The Trinitarians. He wrote the Order's Rule, which was approved by Pope Innocent III on December 17, 1198.
John spent the rest of his life founding houses of the Order, ransoming Christian captives and opening hospitals for the sick and hospices for the poor. John de Matha died in Rome on December 17, 1213, in the house and hospital of St. Thomas in Formis which he had founded.
The earliest Trinitarians first raised funds; then, braving perils and risks, they would embark on ransoming missions throughout the slave markets of North Africa and the Middle East. Upon returning to the home ports, the Trinitarians were confronted with the challenge of providing physical and spiritual assistance to those who had been freed. This they did by establishing hospices and hospitals, which they managed with the help of Trinitarian lay organizations. Their mission accomplished, the friars would return to their monasteries to live and pray with their fellow religious, while other Trinitarians prepared to undertake other ransoming missions.
During the next 500 years the Order grew vastly throughout Europe. In the 15th century the Trinitarians joined the historic voyages of Vasco da Gama, DeSoto and Cortez to bring the faith to the New World and to India. Among the great and the notables involved with the Trinitarians was Cervantes, the great Spanish writer of Don Quixote. He had been captive for five years when he was freed by the Trinitarians.
Thomas Jefferson, as ambassador to France, also enlisted the aid of the Trinitarians to free 21 American seamen captured by Barbary Pirates. Rescue efforts were thwarted, however, due to the outbreak of the French Revolution. But the Order's greatest glory is the score of Trinitarian men and women whom the Church recognizes as saints, blessed or venerables for having lived an intensely holy life or died as martyrs.
For eight centuries, the Trinitarians, faithful to the spirit of their Founder, have rendered glory to the Most Holy Trinity by alleviating the pains of suffering humanity.
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