September 24 marks the Feast of Our Lady of Ransom, a title attributed to Mary due to her intercession in the kidnapping of Spanish Christians in the 13th century. She is often depicted as holding her arms outstretched with her mantle providing shelter and protection for the figures below her.
In 1218 AD, Our Lady appeared to St. Peter Nolasco, St. Raymond of Penyafort, and King James I of Aragon, imploring them to found an Order whose focus would be to recover Christian hostages. For centuries, the Christians had been at war with the Moors and one tactic the Arabs employed was to kidnap Christians and torture them into denying their Faith. This new order would use prayer, ransom money, and hostage exchange to recover the poor souls who had been enslaved in African prisons.
Originally a military group, the order came to be known as the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, or the Order of Mercedarians, and they were known for going to any lengths to save their Christian brothers and sisters. They divided the funds they received into thirds: One third went to the freeing of prisoners, one third would go to assisting the poor, and one third would go to maintaining the order. Besides their prayers and ransom money which proved invaluable in freeing prisoners, members of the Order also took vows to offer themselves, if necessary, to take the place of the Christian hostages.
Their efforts, guided by the Our Lady of Ransom, were incredibly effective and they ended up freeing tens of thousands of Christians. Peter Nolasco and Raymond of Penyafort went on to be canonized in 1608 and 1601, respectively.
The order still exists today, and they operate in seventeen countries, working to free people from modern types of imprisonment like addiction. They often find themselves working in bad neighborhoods, hospitals, and jails to identify those who need them most. To their aid, let us pray to Our Lady of Ransom for all those suffering at the hands of human trafficking, those who have been taken and held against their will, all those enduring unjust trials at this time, and for the friars of mercy working to help them.
On this feast, we should also go to Our Lady with our own petitions and needs. Take all of the situations that cause stress and anxiety and place them under her protection. Mary will remedy the issues that paralyze us and hold us captive.
Our Lady of Ransom, pray for us.