Today the Church celebrates the sainthood of St. Peter Nolasco, the saintly founder of the Royal and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy of the Redemption of the Captives.
St. Peter (1182-1258) was born in southern France. After the death of his wealthy parents, he spent his inheritance in Barcelona to rescue Christians enslaved by the Moors. He formed a lay confraternity, which later developed into the religious order of the Mercedarians, and led his fellow workers into Moorish territory to purchase the freedom of Christian captives, and to make numerous conversions among the non-Christians. Later Peter's Mercedarians labored among the Indians of the far-flung Spanish American Empire.
The Royal, Celestial and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of the Captives also known as Our Lady of Ransom (Latin: Ordo Beatae Mariae de Mercede redemptionis captivorum) was established in 1218 by St. Peter Nolasco in the city of Barcelona, at that time in the Kingdom of Aragon, for the redemption of Christian captives.
All members of the order are required to take a fourth vow to promise to lay down their lives for another, should it be necessary, in order to save those Christians who find themselves in extreme danger of losing their faith. In the First Constitutions of the Order, the Amerian Constitutions (1272): "... all the brothers of the Order must always be gladly disposed to give up their lives, if it is necessary, as Jesus Christ gave up his for us..."
The purpose of the order is those summed up as an order of consecrated men and women committed "to visit and to free Christians who are in captivity and in power of the Saracens or of other enemies of our Law… By this work of mercy… all the brothers of this Order, as sons of true obedience, must always be gladly disposed to give up their lives, if it is necessary, as Jesus Christ gave up his for us."
St. Peter Nolasco was canonized by Pope Urban VIII. His festival was appointed by Pope Clement VIII to be kept on January 31, which was later moved to 28 January, when the former date was assigned to the liturgical celebration of Saint John Bosco (see General Roman Calendar as in 1954). He is inscribed in the Roman Martyrology, the official list of saints, on 25 December, the day of his death according to tradition.
Those devoted to the apostolic zeal of the order should seek out the Scapular of Our Lady of Ransom (i.e. Mercedarian Scapular). The scapular is white and the front has an image of Our Lady of Ransom. The back usually has an image of the order's coat of arms. The indulgences for the confraternity were approved by the Congregation of Indulgences in 1868 (Rescr. auth. S. C. Indulg., pp. 483 sqq., n. 36).
O God, St. Peter was divinely guided by the example of Your won love to enrich Your Church with a new community dedicated to the ransoming of imprisoned Christians. Release us from the slavery of sin through his intercession so that we may enjoy the eternal freedom of our home in heaven; who lives and rules with God the Father . . .
Prayer Source: 1962 Roman Catholic Daily Missal