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William C. Altreuter
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Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Because we are having a blizzard the radio clicks on every morning with the school closings. These are, in turn, evidence of the ethnic diversity of the Catholics who settled in this icebox two or three generations ago. For example, until I lived here I'd never heard of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, a sort of Justice League of saints that Rhineland Catholics invoke as protection against various ailments. Some I knew. St. Blase, invoked for protection against diseases of the throat, is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. He extracted a fishbone from the throat of a choking child. On his feast day we'd go and have our throats blessed, an act performed with two crossed candles. Mr. Christopher, now thought to be apocryphal, is likewise familiar-- he used to be the patron saint of travelers, because in his origin story he carried the Christ child across a river. He is also good, I now know, for invoking against sudden and unplanned for death. Like the real Justice League the Fourteen Holy Helpers seem to be a group of several front line saints, and several who are more like the J'onn J'onzz or Red Tornado sort of saint. I think I am familiar with all of the 14, but in different capacities, generally, than in their disease-prevention roles: St. Elmo is the patron of mariners, for example, but also invoked for instances of abdominal maladies. St. Vitus is considered the patron saint of actors, comedians, dancers, and epileptics, which makes a kind of sense, and kind of doesn't.

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