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LOYAL TO CHRIST AND HIS CHURCH

Father Francis's picture
Saint Nicholas Pick and Companions

One of the greatest evils of the Reformation was the hatred which was generated between Catholic and Protestant. In the 16th century Protestant Holland was governed by Catholic Spain. The Calvinists rose up in rebellion against both civil and ecclesiastical authority, and in their fanatical hatred of the Catholic Church 19 priests and religious were murdered.

In the city of Gorkum there was a Franciscan community led by Fr Nicholas Pick. When the Calvinist forces captured the city in June 1572 they seized 11 of the friars, along with four secular priests and four from other religious orders. They were all thrown into prison and subjected to mockery, humiliation and torture, simply because of their Catholic faith.

On the following day the prisoners were visited by Calvinist ministers who tried to induce them to renounce their Catholic faith. There were two aspects of Church doctrine which the heretics particularly hated: the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and the authority of the Pope. The ministers opened a discussion with their prisoners on these two subjects, hoping to convert them and persuade them to abandon their Catholic beliefs, but Fr. Nicholas and his friends stood firm and defeated every argument. The Calvinists offered them their freedom if they would only deny the doctrine of the Blessed Sacrament but, again, the Catholics defended their faith.

Meanwhile two of Fr. Nicholas' relatives were trying to obtain his release. As a faithful guardian he refused to consider leaving the prison unless all his brethren could go with him. Once again he was tempted with the offer of freedom if he would repudiate the Pope's authority. One of his relatives suggested a way out: he could deny the supremacy of the Pope without denying God. Fr. Nicholas replied, "Anyone who separates himself from the Pope separates himself from the Church, and to renounce the Church is to renounce Christ the Lord.”

The imprisonment lasted for eight days, during which time the men were further abused, beaten, and tortured with burning candles. Finally, on 9 July 1572, they were taken by night to a deserted monastery near Briel. In a shed they were stripped naked and then, one after another, hanged from a beam. Fr. Nicholas was the first to die, shouting words of encouragement to the others. As a last gesture of contempt, their bodies were thrown into a ditch where they lay neglected for over 40 years until their remains were removed to the Franciscan church in Brussels.

Saint Nicholas and his companions were willing to suffer and die as witnesses to the truth of the Catholic faith, especially the doctrine of the Real Presence and allegiance to the Pope. These two foundations of our faith have been contentious issues ever since the Reformation, and continue to be regarded by many Protestants as stumbling blocks to unity. Yet Jesus Himself gave us the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood, and it was Jesus who invested authority in St. Peter, the first Pope. St. Nicholas and his fellow martyrs stood up for the truth. Despite being given several opportunities to save their lives, by denying their beliefs, they refused to compromise. May they encourage us never to compromise the truth and to love and respect our Catholic faith.