THE ENDS OF THE EARTH - BOOK REVIEW
Book Review Kevin Rowles
To the Ends of the Earth by José Ferreira
Published by the Municipality of Póvoa de Varzim, 2007
160 pages, 132 illustrations
III. A portrait of Alexandrina
IV. To the Ends of the Earth
V. The promulgation of Alexandrina
VI. Artists with Alexandrina
VII. Alexandrina in Póvoa de Varzim
VIII. Póvoa people associated with Alexandrina
IX. Holy Cross of Balasar
X. The Parish Church of Balasar
XI. The Fast
XII. Poetico-Mystical Anthology
XIV. Alexandrina’s bibliography
XV. Pictures Index
XVI. General Index
This book, on the Portuguese mystic Blessed Alexandrina Maria da Costa, is one of the most recent of author José Ferreira’s many efforts to help spread her name “to the ends of the Earth”. José, born in 1949, has dedicated much of his life to the study of local history, and learnt about Blessed Alexandrina in 2001. Since then he has made her “the primary focus of his attentions” and has spoken publicly and written extensively about her life and her message for the world. English-speaking devotees of Blessed Alexandrina particularly looked forward to its release, being the first book in English since Francis Johnston’s 1979 “The Agony and the Glory”.
M. Alphonse Rocha, the Webmaster of the official Blessed Alexandrina website, quotes in the foreword to the book, the words of Our Lord to Blessed Alexandrina:- “I desire that soon after your death, your life be known, and it will be; I will do everything so that this happens. It will travel to the ends of the earth . . .” The cover of the book, a scene from Blessed Alexandrina’s 2004 beatification ceremony in St Peter’s Square at Rome, shows how Our Lord’s prophecy is being realised – from Balasar, through Rome and on to the entire world. The author writes that Póvoa de Varzim has “good reasons to pay homage to its citizen, Bld Alexandrina, whose name has been spread so far abroad yet who, until now, has received scant acknowledgment from the civic authorities!” But then perhaps this is to be expected, as Our Lord Himself said that “a prophet is not without honour, except in his own country and in his own house” (Matthew 13:57).
The intention is to show us two aspects of Blessed Alexandrina – as a humble citizen of Póvoa, but also highlighting the universal dimension of her saintly apostolate. It is also pointed out that Blessed Alexandrina merits the special attention of youth, as she became a victim soul when young, and later became a Salesian co-operator with a special emphasis on praying for youth. The book is dedicated to the youth of today, especially those of Póvoa.
The author weaves together the life story of the Beata, using quotes from her diaries and autobiography, and by writing sections on the principal characters associated with Alexandrina - family, friends, spiritual directors, other priests, physicians - also using many accounts given by them. Excerpts from one such account by Alexandrina’s sister Deolinda, movingly recall the Beata’s mystical suffering of the Passion:-
“Before beginning, oh how we saw in Alexandrina the face of affliction . . . I comforted her as much I could and caressed her, although I was also full of fear and very afflicted . . . During the Passion, I could not move without crying . . . The agony in Gethsemane was very delayed and distressing . . . the flagellation and the crowning with thorns, how horrible it was! . . . The sweat was so copious that her hair was matted like paste and, when I felt her clothes, they were soaking wet. After the crowning with thorns, she seemed a complete corpse . . . “
Apart from the mystical sufferings that Alexandrina underwent, he also chronicles the sufferings caused by the misunderstanding and initially negative and critical stance of the authorities involved in examining her case. These trials pained her greatly. One example given is that of Alexandrina’s parish priest, Fr Leopoldino Mateus. His initial opposition towards the case of Alexandrina is well documented. The Beata’s doctor, Dr Azevedo, stated that Fr Mateus was “the most severe and the most influential in making the negative decision” of the commission held on Alexandrina’s case. Despite these negative happenings, the Beata remained perfectly patient, and also obedient and loyal to those investigating her case – which is a sign of authenticity and a far cry from the various false ‘seers’ that have multiplied around the world today, who blatantly ignore the legitimate ecclesiastical declarations that have been made regarding their cases. The Beata teaches us an important lesson here. In God’s good time, all opposition to Alexandrina’s case melted away, not least because of the revelation that she lived on the Holy Eucharist alone. The author has included a separate chapter on Alexandrina’s total fast, reproducing documents and statements that prove beyond doubt the incredible and miraculous nature of the fast.
The chapters titled “Alexandrina in Póvoa de Varzim” and “Póvoa people associated with Alexandrina” are very helpful in giving us an insight into the Beata’s surroundings and a glimpse of what life was like in Portugal at that time. “Alexandrina in Póvoa de Varzim” tells of her education, her first Holy Communion, Confirmation and other events of those times.
A special mention should be made about the many illustrations throughout the book, which provide a rich pictorial history of the Beata, along with those associated with her life, and her surroundings. One section, titled “Artists with Alexandrina” has pictures of the stained glass windows of the Balasar parish church where Blessed Alexandrina is buried, along with a picture of a reliquary containing a first-class relic of the Beata, and a beautiful icon of Alexandrina painted by Domenica Ghidotti. As well as the many pictures throughout the book, there is also a separate photo-biography section.
Two chapters of the book deal with the parish church at Balasar and the Mystical Holy Cross of Balasar which is nearby the parish church. We are told of the history of the mystical cross; how Custódio José da Costa was the first to see the cross of earth in 1832; how Balasar became a place of pilgrimage because of it, and how the cross was linked to Blessed Alexandrina. Our Lord told her: - “The cross was prepared; it lacked the victim, but already in the Divine Mind it had been chosen; that victim was you . . . “ The section on the parish church contains a picture of the tomb of Blessed Alexandrina, which has recently been renovated.
Also included is a chapter titled “Poetico-Mystical Anthology” in which the author has selected some of Alexandrina’s poetry from her diaries. The book concludes with a bibliography, an illustration index and a general index, which are comprehensive and helpful. Earlier in the book reference is also made to the continuing work of various groups and individuals who are helping to spread devotion to her throughout the world.
I think the author would agree that this book was never intended to be a definitive biography on Blessed Alexandrina –we still await such a work – but until that book is written, José has given us this very helpful reference and resource book, which is rich in history, to assist in deepening one’s knowledge of the Beata, and which certainly helps to set the scene of her being a humble citizen of Póvoa, and yet a character of universal importance.