Saint of the Day for 14 October: St Callistus I
St Callistus I: the bishop who defended the Christian faith
St Callistus I
2nd century, Rome
II secolo, Roma
Hear, Lord, the prayer that the Christian people raise to you in the glorious memory of St Callistus I, Pope and martyr, and through his intercession guide and sustain us on the hard journey of life.
St Callistus I, pope, martyr: as a deacon, after a long exile in Sardinia, he took care of the cemetery on the Appian Way known under his name, where he collected the remains of the martyrs for the future veneration of posterity; later elected pope, he promoted righteous doctrine and benevolently reconciled the lapsi, finally crowning his industrious episcopate with a luminous martyrdom. The deposition of his body in the Calepodium cemetery in Rome on the Via Aurelia is commemorated on this day.
The Saint and Mission
St Callistus I, remembered in Church history not only as the 16th pope, but also as a tangible example of perseverance and dedication to the Christian mission, shines in the collective memory as a beacon of apostolic zeal and unrelenting commitment to the spread of the Gospel.
His life, steeped in personal and spiritual challenges, becomes a powerful symbol of how a missionary vocation can transform a person, leading them through unimaginable paths of growth and service. Callistus, from slave to supreme leader of the Church, bears witness to a trajectory of faith that embraces humility and a profound recognition of God’s sovereignty in shaping human destinies.
St Callistus’ mission developed in a particularly complex and dynamic historical and social context, in which the young Catholic Church faced not only external persecution, but also internal challenges in terms of heresies and the definition of doctrine. And in the midst of these storms, the figure of the pope emerges with an unyielding commitment to the consistency of faith and the promulgation of Christ’s saving message.
St Callistus’ dedication to mission is not limited to the mere preaching of the Gospel, but permeates every aspect of his pastoral leadership, seeing the care of souls and the theological orientation of the Church as a crucial element of the divine mission. It is he, for example, who introduces important innovations and doctrinal clarifications, and who confronts the heresies that threaten the unity and purity of the faith with determination and love for the truth.
His papacy thus becomes an example of how the Christian mission is intimately linked to fidelity to the revealed message and the ardent desire to bring it to as many hearts as possible, despite difficulties and opposition. St Callistus navigates through the challenges with a gaze always fixed on the unwavering core of Christ’s message, affirming that the truth of the Gospel is the unwavering compass that guides every authentic missionary journey.
St Callistus teaches us that mission is not just a verbal work of evangelisation, but is intrinsically linked to the truth, charity and integrity with which one lives and bears witness to one’s faith. His life, marked by the grace that elevated him from slavery to the highest service in the Church, and his ministry, marked by a constant struggle for the truth and righteousness of Christian doctrine, invite us to reflect on the depth of our missionary commitment and the synchronicity with which we tread the path that God has marked out for us.
In remembrance of St Callistus, the invitation is to rediscover the freshness and urgency of the missionary mandate, recognising that every Christian is called to be, in the circumstances of his or her own life, an authentic witness to the mercy and salvation offered by Christ to every man and woman in every age.
The Saint and Mercy
In the history of early Christianity, the figure of St Callistus I emerges not only as a pontiff of great impact in shaping ecclesiastical structures, but also as a living symbol of divine mercy. His life and papacy are imbued with episodes and decisions that reflect the immense goodness and mercy that characterise the essence of the Christian message.
Historical narratives reveal a life marked by profound ups and downs, a trajectory from slavery to supreme leadership of the Roman Church. This in itself demonstrates a working divine mercy that not only elevates but also redeems, restores and renews. St Callistus, from slave to pope, embodies a story of redemption that emphasises how God elevates the fallen, restoring dignity and perspective where society sees only failure and dejection.
In the context of his papal decisions, Callistus stands out for his openness and acceptance, especially in his famous statement on penance and the readmission of repentant sinners into the Christian community. At a time when the Church was still defining its posture towards those who had sinned grievously, St Callistus dared to embrace a position of open acceptance, thus showing a face of the Church ready to actively exercise forgiveness and mercy.
It is important to emphasise that his doctrine of mercy was not just an abstract idea, but a lived practice, manifest in the welcoming of those who, despite their failures, sought comfort and regeneration through the Christian faith. Callistus shows us a Church that, firmly anchored in the truth of divine mercy, does not hesitate to show generosity and forgiveness.
In a world that was – and remains – often cruelly punitive and exclusionary, St Callistus’ stance on forgiveness and reconciliation was, and continues to be, a beacon of hope and a model of the mercy that must pervade the Church in all its expressions and decisions. Mercy, as embodied by St Callistus, makes room in the ugliness of sin and the pain of repentance, offering a path to redemption and the re-creation of the whole person.
St Callistus, through his life and ministry, reminds us that mercy is not a mere doctrine, but a lived practice, a constant commitment to see the humanity of the other, especially when it is obscured by sin and suffering. His testimony spurs every generation of believers to never close the doors of the Church to those who knock, seeking mercy and welcome, and to reflect, in every gesture and word, the infinite goodness and mercy of God.
This great pope is famous for the cemetery named after him. On the entrance door is written: “Whoever enters this cemetery contrite and confessed, will obtain remission of sins for the merits of one hundred and seventy thousand martyrs buried here with 46 Popes who died for Jesus Christ”. His name, derived from the Greek, means “beautiful” and was well suited to him because of his rare gifts and…