March 16, 2013 6:11:32 PM
This is a true story about a slave. He was abducted from his home and family when he was 16 years old. He was taken to a land colder and more brutal than his. He was sold to a cruel master who had little respect for himself and none for a slave.
The slave master put him to work tending his herds on a cold, windswept plain. The way he assured that his slave would not run away was to take away all his clothes. The slave had to scrounge for his own food and shelter.
Naked and hungry, the slave spent about six years at his bizarre prison. Misery was his only companion.
Although he had been exposed to Christianity, he had scorned it and scoffed at its followers; yet in his dreadful circumstances he was driven to prayer. He prayed constantly, day and night. One night, in a dream, he had his first mystic experience when a voice told him, "Your hungers are rewarded. You are going home. Look, your ship is ready."
He had no idea where he was. There was certainly no body of water nearby. He struck out walking, not knowing where he was headed or whom he might encounter. He only knew that, as a runaway slave, he traveled in jeopardy for his life. He walked some 200 miles.
Miraculously, on his long trek he encountered no one to detain him. If and how he acquired clothes or money is not known, but he eventually arrived at a seaport where a ship was being prepared to take a cargo to another land.
He tried to get passage or to sign on as one of the crew, but the sailors would have nothing to do with him. Dejected, but still praying, he started to return to the hut where he was seeking shelter. He knew how precarious his state was, a fugitive slave with no resources, no safe haven and no prospects.
Before he had gone far, he heard the sailors call him back to the ship. They had decided he could sail with them after all.
Bad news awaited at their destination. The land looked as if it had been the site of a battle; it was a wasteland. They could find no source of food for themselves or the animals they carried.
The sailors chided their fugitive passenger, since he professed Christianity, and asked what his God was doing to protect them. He assured them that God would provide. Soon a herd of wild boars ran by, and the men were able to kill some of them for food.
They stayed on that continent a while, and the slave was able to find and reunite with his family. He wanted to enter the priesthood, but he was severely limited. He had had no education during his isolation.
Finally, however, he was able to study and become a priest, later a bishop; but he always remained deficient in Latin. He petitioned to be allowed to return to the country where he had been enslaved, because he realized how much the wild people of that country needed religion and the civilization it conferred.
Through the church Patricius went back to Ireland where he was able rapidly to convert masses of people to Christianity and thereby bring them relief. St. Patrick had seen how desperately the wild Irish people needed, hungered for, something they did not have or even knew existed.
Legends abound about St. Patrick, but it is not certain that he ever used the shamrock to explain the Trinity, and it is almost surely not true that he drove all snakes out of Ireland. But it is likely this former slave was a pioneering missionary and, most likely, one second only to St. Paul.
Happy St. Patrick's Day!
Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.