The Saint of the First Red Cross

St. Camillus of Lellis

The Saint of the First Red Cross

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If you’ve ever been tempted to think that you’re not cut out for sanctity, consider the case of Camillus of Lellis. Here is a saint—the patron of hospitals, health care workers, and the sick— whose burning love for God effected a widespread reform of patient care.

“I’ll never forget the sight,” wrote one person who saw six-foot-six Camillus in action. “When he was attending a sick person, he looked like a hen with her chicks or like a mother at her child’s bedside.”

And yet for the first third of his life, nothing about Camillus suggested a saint in the making. The man who would become such a gripping image of God’s mercy started out as a weak and disadvantaged character who was in pitiful need of mercy himself.

Expecting the Worst. The story of Camillus begins auspiciously enough. His devout mother, Camilla, was childless and nearly sixty when he was born, on May 25, 1550. Wondering neighbors in her small Italian town called her St. Elizabeth, after John the Baptist’s mother, and saw the pregnancy as a miraculous answer to her prayers. And like…

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