During his Sept. 13 general audience, Pope Francis presented the life of Blessed José Gregorio Hernández Cisneros as an example of the Gospel in action and service to the greater good.
The general audience was the latest installment of the pope’s ongoing series on apostolic zeal, which is an opportunity for the faithful to “meet passionate witnesses to the proclamation of the Gospel,” individuals who embodied “the will and also the inner passion to carry the Gospel forward,” according to the pope.
Wednesday’s catechism focused on the Venezuelan Hernández, the “people’s doctor,” and was the 20th installment in the series, which opened Jan. 11 with the life of the Apostle Matthew.
‘The doctor of the poor’: a life of works of mercy
Hernández was born Oct. 26, 1864, in Trujillo state, Venezuela. Though he wanted to pursue the priesthood, he was unable to due to ill health. Nevertheless, his faith was at the center of his life; he was a daily communicant, had a rich prayer life, and was a Third Order Franciscan layman.
After completing his studies in Caracas, he went to Paris, where he took advanced coursework in bacteriology. Hernández was, the Holy Father said, “a doctor close to the weak.” He was someone who often gave medical assistance to the poor and needy, often without asking for any compensation. Instead of the “wealth of money he preferred that of the Gospel,” the pope remarked. This life of service was predicated upon charity and mercy and underscored by his willingness to listen to the will of God.
The Holy Father said this apostolic zeal derived from “a certainty and a strength. The certainty was the grace of God.” Hernández died in 1919 at the age of 54 after being struck by a car on his way to deliver medicine to a sick patient. He died “while carrying out a work of mercy,” Pope Francis noted. Following his death, Hernández went on to gain a massive following in Venezuela and throughout Latin America.
Hernández was the first Venezuelan layperson to be beatified. On the eve of his beatification in 2021, Pope Francis in a video released by the Vatican said: “He is a model of holiness committed to the defense of life, in the challenges of history and, in particular, as a paradigm of service to his neighbor, like a good Samaritan, without excluding anyone. He is a man of universal service.”
The Holy Father tied the life of Hernández to the larger theme of today’s reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to Timothy (1 Tim 2:1-4), which not only underscores the importance of prayer but also juxtaposes it with gossip. Christians are called “to pray,” the pope said, and “to engage not in chatter — chatter, it is a plague — but to promote good and to build peace and justice in truth.” The critique of chatter or gossip has been a recurring theme of the pope’s messages, one that is the antithesis of promoting “good” and building “peace and justice in truth,” he said.
Pope Francis also took a moment to speak about the importance Hernández’s mother played in passing down the faith. The pope recalled the words of Hernández: “My mother taught me virtue from the cradle; she made me grow in the knowledge of God and gave me charity as a guide.”
The Holy Father went on to emphasize the important role all mothers play in transmitting faith to their children: “It is mothers who pass on the faith. Faith is transmitted in dialect; that is, with the language of mothers, that dialect that mothers know how to speak with their children. And to you mothers: Be careful when transmitting the faith in that maternal dialect.”
This emphasis on motherhood and a life of service to those in need is also seen in the recent beautification of the Ulma family.
“Wiktoria [Ulma] also learned, especially from her parents, how important it is to be open to the needs and requirements of other people” said Father Witold Burda, postulator of the Ulma family’s cause for beatification, on the occasion of the Sept. 10 beatification.
At the conclusion of Wednesday’s general audience, Pope Francis acknowledged Polish Archbishop Adam Szal of the Archdiocese of Przemyśl for bringing to Rome the relics of the Ulma family, who are, the pope said, a “model of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.” The pope then met with Szal and Burda in St. Peter’s Square, where they presented the official portrait of the Ulma family to the pontiff. In turn, the pope blessed the portrait and prayed before the relic.
The Ulma family — parents Josef and Wiktoria as well as their seven children — were beatified Sunday in Markowa, Poland. They were killed in 1944 by the Nazis after giving refuge to Jews in their home. It was an unprecedented beatification as it was the first time in the history of the Church that an entire family was beatified together. The beatification liturgy was presided over by Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, and was attended by Polish President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
“I invite you to join my prayer for those who have lost their lives, for their families and for the displaced. May our solidarity not be lacking towards these brothers and sisters, tried by such a devastating calamity,” the pope said. This comes only a few days after a powerful 6.8-magnitude earthquake hit Morocco, leaving an estimated 3,000 dead there.
Matthew Santucci is a CNA Rome correspondent based in EWTN's Vatican bureau. He grew up in Connecticut and has been living in Rome since 2020. He has a B.A. in History from Fordham and an M.A. in International Relations from Luiss Guido Carli.
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