The saint who wasn’t … but still is

By Tim Lilley

Journey of Faith

This column appears in the issue of The Message dated July 24 – one day before the Church remembers and honors St. Christopher. He is one of the Holy 14 Helpers I wrote about recently. He also could be characterized by this column’s headline – the saint who wasn’t but still is.

It was May 1969 when United Press International – then a direct competitor with the Associated Press – distributed a story far and wide that announced, “Pope Paul VI today abolished St. Christopher and 32 others from the ranks of sainthood, questioning whether some of them ever even existed.”

UPI’s report is not factual. Blessed Pope Paul VI announced a revision of the Roman calendar that removed devotional feasts of a number of saints – Christopher included – from the Church calendar. In the case of Christopher, the 1969 “Calendarium Romanum,” which presented the 1969 revision of the liturgical year and the General Roman Calendar, left the celebration of his devotional feast “to particular calendars” – that is, to the calendars of particular nations or religious orders. He remains a saint; patron saint of travelers and, for at least 20 years, a patron saint of sports and athletes.

In case you continue to believe Christopher lost his sainthood 51 years ago, be advised that I tracked down his devotional feast day on The Vatican News website’s official online saints’ calendar.

Are you aware of why he is the patron saint of travelers? From the Vatican News website (

“According to … tradition, Christopher’s real name was Reprobus and he was a giant of a man who wanted to be at the service of the world's strongest king. When he visited the court of a king who was apparently invincible, he entered his service.

”One day, while the king was listening to a song that mentioned the Devil, Reprobus saw him make the sign of the cross and asked him why he performed this gesture. The king replied that he was afraid of the Devil and that every time he heard him mentioned he made the sign of the cross for protection.

“Reprobus then decided to look for the Devil who was evidently more powerful than his king. The Devil proved easy enough to find and Reprobus chose to serve him.

“But one day, while passing through a street where there was a cross, the Devil retraced his steps to avoid it. Reprobus was curious why he did so and the Devil was forced to admit that Christ had died on a cross which was why the image terrified him.

“Reprobus then abandoned the Devil and went looking for Jesus Christ. A hermit advised him to build a hut near a river that flooded dangerously and to use his great strength and stature to assist travelers cross to the other side.

“One day he heard a child’s voice asking for help to cross the river. Reprobus put the child on his shoulders and began to wade through the rapidly rising water. But the further he went into the river, the heavier the child became. It was only with great effort that he managed to reach the opposite shore. There the child revealed his true identity as Jesus. The weight that Reprobus (now Christopher) had been carrying was that of the whole world, saved by the blood of Christ.”

There’s even a rock song more than 30 years old about the beloved saint. The band Saraya, named for lead vocalist Sandi Saraya, included the song “St. Christopher’s Medal” on its 1989 debut album. The last few lines of its lyrics seem chilling, even startling, to me now … in this climate:

“Oh, I wonder how the world will be
When there's nothing left to believe in
I know I'll always keep my St. Christopher Medal.” – © 1989, Saraya

St. Christopher, continue to protect us on this journey.