The Catholic Defender: The St. Edmund Campion Story
England during the time of King Henry VIII became a place of misery. Beginning with the persecution of Catholics in 1534, the Church went underground much as it had been during the horrible Roman persecutions.
I remember the heroic story of St. Thomas More, King Henry's Lord Chancellor (October 25, 1529) refusing to acknowledge the King's divorce and remarriage. The Church leadership caved to the heresy and apostosy slipping into darkness the Church of England never recovered.
From 1534 until 1829, the Catholic Faith was planted underground. I remember watching the movie "A Man For All Seasons" specifically about St. Thomas More. My Mother also had a book I read "The prey of the priest catchers: The lives of the 40 martyrs" whom Pope Paul VI canonized on December 1, 1970 whom represent untold accounts of martyrdom throughout the British Empire.
Queen Elizabeth was the daughter of King Henry and his second wife Ann Boleyn who became Queen of England 17 November 1558 until her death on 24 March 1603.
In 1566, Oxford University was a major resource for higher learning which helped secure the Governments control over the people.
Much like how today's major places of higher learning leans ultra left today, England's culture was shaped into darkness by willing individuals supporting King Henry VIII and his anti-Catholic positions.
Despite that, even though a huge shadow was covering the whole land, the Light of Christ was still able to touch those worthy souls who sought the Lord's will, not their own. One such student of Oxford, twenty-six year old Edmond Campion who was chosen by his peers to greet Queen Elizabeth with a salutary speech impressing Queen Elizabeth. Campion was regarded a Protestant scholar with great potential by his faculty and peers alike.
But those burdensome Church Fathers became a thorn in Edmund's soul. The more he read the story of the Saints, Church Fathers like St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Polycarp, the more his soul was troubled. As a result his Protestant foundations began to shatter.
Night after night his soul could not sleep as he was discovering the truth of the Catholic Faith. Not through some close associates but through the voices of the past who beckoned Edmund to keep digging. In 1569 because of his doubts in the Oath of Supremacy he had taken in 1564 recognizing Queen Elizabeth as head of the Church, Edmond escapes heading to Ireland where he first began his real journey to Christ and His true Church, the Catholic Church.
Forced to flee when persecutions heightened as a result of Pope Pius V excommunication of Queen Elizabeth, Edmund escaped to France where he journeyed to Doui where his restless soul found true peace. In 1572, Edmond Campion converted to the Catholic faith and subsequently began his studies for the priesthood.
During the following year, he traveled to Rome where he entered the Jesuit Order. There, while praying in a a garden, he received a vision of the Virgin Mary which totally set Edmund's course of action to go back to England to serve the persecuted Church.
The Queen of Heaven gave the account of Edmond's final sacrifice for Christ and his eternal glory to be shared for all time with the great cloud of witnesses in Heaven.
Being ordained a Catholic priest in 1578, his religious formation was preparing him for what Our Lady had called him to serve.
in 1580, Father Campion, a priest of the Kingdom of God on earth and a child of Our Lady, was on his way back to England. Being a priest for three years by this time, he was ready spiritually and physically for what his mission was intended.
Traveling on horseback, Father Campion would go from place to place offering the illegal Mass and preaching as many as three times a day all under cover. Winning many converts back to the Church of Rome, the one true Faith that the Apostle Jude wrote that we were to contend for (Jude verse 3), Father Campion became a high target for the Protestants.
Father Edmond eventually began working the underground mission near the very place he once held high honors at Oxford. Writing pamphlets (The Ten Reasons) and distributing them quickly placed Edmond on the Protestants radar screen. A massive manhunt ensued into a cat and mouse game as the Elizabeth authorities did everything they could to catch Father Campion.
With a huge bounty on his head and Protestants laying traps everywhere, in 1581, Father Edmond would be betrayed by another Judas, a notorious heretic where Father Edmond was caught near Oxford serving the people Our Lady had called him to do.
Imprisoned in the Tower of London, he repeatedly refused to abandon Christ despite the many riches they offered him. Edmond kept the real riches of Heaven in his sights.
After spending some time in the Tower of London, he was sentenced to death by hanging, drawing and quartering. His martyrom in Tyburn on December 1, 1581 sparked off a wave of conversions to Catholicism. He was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970.
Father Edmond suffered horrendously as they dislocated his limbs using the rack and despite his pain, would win debates against his torturers. Father would preach from the rack.
Being convicted of treason, despite Queen Elizabeth's plea for him to save his life by renouncing his Catholic faith, he took St. Paul's advice to stand firm and held out to the very end.
On December 1, 1581, a large crowd gathered to see the execution of this Catholic priest. Many hurling insults while others cried for their beloved priest.
Coming upon the scaffold, the Protestant Minister offered one last chance to renounce the Catholic faith, Father Edmond declined and offered the faithful, which was stunned to silence, a Confession and absolution for the people. The Judas who originally betrayed Father Campion, came through the crowd begging Father for his forgiveness. Father Campion gave it immediately. This so enraged the Protestant Minister that he quickly called for the torture to begin.
What the executioner would do to deaden the pain as an act of mercy were to hang the person so as to numb the pain, but in Father Edmond's case, the rope was cut so that the disembowelment process was fully felt.
At his last breath, like St. Stephen of old, he forgave his torturers and everyone involved and placed himself before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. "Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
Edmund Campion was declared a Saint by Pope Paul VI in 1970.