The Missionary cross of the St. James Society

Symbols can reflect reality. Missionary apostles always carried a scallop or cockle shell with them. This is the sign of baptism which brings us to spiritual life. The shell itself was the instrument used to hold water during the actual administration of baptism. Since the beginning, however, missionaries have always faced danger.

The scallop is also the traditional symbol of St. James and became the society’s own emblem. At the top of the golden shell is the red Pilgrim’s cross with three fleur-de-lis tips. One of the pointed tips stands for the pilgrim staff of St. James who introduced Christianity to Spain. At the bottom of the shell appears the Trimountaine and the waves representing the see city of Boston. The red colored cross symbolizes the blood of martyrs, which every missionary must be willing to accept as a possibility.

The annals of the St. James Society are filled with stories where, in the cause of bringing Christ to Latin America, the danger of death lurked ever so closely.

Consider Father Colin MacInnes in Ecuador. One day a young guerilla put a gun to his head and demanded money. Struck by the calm demeanor of the priest facing certain death, the would-be robber fell to his knees and asked for a blessing.

Another time when Father MacInnes preached against government corruption, armed police came to arrest him. Once in prison, they had plans to murder him. However, people from the parish came running to fight off the police with staves and iron poles and the priest escaped.

When Father Jack Davis worked in Chimbote, Peru his life was under constant threat by the terrorist group ‘‘Sendero Luminoso,’’ which we know as the Shining Path. Three of his priest friends had already been executed with Father Jack next on the list. Moving from house to house each night, however, he continued his pastoral work while managing to make a difference with the handicapped and in the health and nutrition of the poor. That courage and service earned him the Peruvian Congressional Medal of Honor.

When Father Jerry Pashby of Boston ordered dynamite for use in the construction of new roads and buildings, his rectory in Andahuaylas, Peru was broken into by terrorists who were prepared to kill him had it not been for people who interceded with them on his behalf.

In the work of a diocesan missionary priest, the shadow of the cross always hovers over the crib of Bethlehem. Still, they continue. For theirs is a special work of telling a great story never out of season. From the hot plains of Ecuador to the remote wind-swept Andean mountaintops they come to proclaim that Jesus Christ is born!

Frank Mazzaglia is a columnist and a layman associated with the Society of St. James.