Who was Saint Patrick? Some may think that he belongs only to Irish Catholics. Did you know that Patrick was neither Irish nor Roman Catholic?
Most of what we know about Patrick comes from one of his own writings. The exact location of his birth is unknown, but it was somewhere in southern Britain around 390. When he was sixteen years old, he was captured by Irish pirates and became a slave in Ireland. He worked for his Irish master as a shepherd. During his captivity, he turned to God. He spent many hours in prayer.
After six years in captivity, he escaped and returned to Britain. A vision came to him in the night and he was told to return to Ireland to bring Christianity to the people. Soon after, Patrick began religious training, a course of study that lasted more than fifteen years. After his ordination as a priest and then as a bishop, he was sent to Ireland with a dual mission...to minister to Christians already living in Ireland and to begin to convert the Irish.
He was met with much adversity. He spoke out against slavery. He stood up to paganism which was wide-spread. Familiar with the Irish language and culture, Patrick chose to incorporate traditional ritual into his lessons of Christianity instead of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs. For instance, he used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honoring their gods with fire. He also superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross, so that veneration of the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish.
Patrick was successful and little by little brought Christianity to the people. Patrick predated the Roman Catholic Church. His missionary work in Ireland, which lasted about 30 years, led to his being considered a Saint by the people before he was given the title by the Roman Catholic Church and added to their list of Saints.
Patrick is known as the "Apostle of Ireland" although he wasn't Irish. Some 200 churches were established during his missionary work. The wide-spread belief that he used the Shamrock to explain the Trinity has led to it being a national symbol of Ireland.
Patrick began as a boy rejecting God and went on to become a powerful evangelist for Christianity. He left his homeland and his family to dedicate his life to Christ. He died around 460, some believe on March 17th, which is when we celebrate St. Patrick's Day.
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