A Little Shrine in the Desert Offers Hope to Cancer Sufferers

A Little Shrine in the Desert Offers Hope to Cancer Sufferers

Any mention of a miracle and my ears perk up. After my parents’ deaths from cancer in 2011 and 2014, my fascination for miracles grew so much that I even wrote a column for Catholicdigest.com called Everyday Miracles

My interest in miraculous happenings may have sprouted out of the soil of regret. Looking back, I wish I had prayed harder for God to heal my parents. But sometimes, when caught up in the rollercoaster of a loved one’s serious illness, you behave like a deer in headlights, too confused and stunned to act. 

Cancer Makes Us Feel Alone and Hopeless 

In March 2024, Catherine, Princess of Wales (better known in the U.S. as Princess Kate), expressed an important message to the world when, in a recording, she revealed her cancer diagnosis. She also earnestly told how she was thinking of all those suffering from cancer, saying: 

“Please do not lose faith or hope. You are not alone.”

A lot of people struggling with cancer do feel alone and hopeless. I recall how isolating cancer was for my mom, Sharon. As her cancer progressed, she turned people away and let her ringing phone go unanswered. I also saw this same behavior in friends who had cancer. They pushed people away.

As my mom became sicker and sicker, the crushing weight of sorrow made me feel hopeless. Though I never lost trust in God, I did lose hope that she would recover. I would pray for her soul, but not for a miracle.

The author’s parents on their wedding day

A few years later, my father, Bob, was diagnosed with blood and bone cancer. For him, hope waned when cancer robbed him of a good portion of his independence. I recall that, near the end, he insisted on driving to town. Concerned for his safety, I tried convincing him that his driving would be dangerous to him and to others. He had lost a lot of mobility. 

In response, Dad looked me in the eye and raised his voice, saying, “Daughter, if I can’t drive, it’s no use my living.”

Cancer eats at you emotionally as well as physically.

Patron Saint of Cancer Sufferers 

For a long time, it felt like our family couldn’t escape suffering. I prayed a lot for my parents’ souls before and after their deaths, though I never asked for the Cancer Saint to intercede. At the time, St. Peregrine Laziosi wasn’t on my radar.

Fast forward to March 2024, when Princess Kate announced that she was fighting cancer. Suddenly, St. Peregrine began popping up on social media. Many people felt for Kate and wanted to pray for her, and they were asking for St. Peregrine, the patron saint of cancer, to intercede. I learned that many sufferers of cancer and their families have found peace and hope with St. Peregrine, who also had cancer.

Rebel Turned Saint

St. Peregrine Laziosi (1265-1345) is an example of how God takes something ugly and brings forth beauty. 

Young Peregrine lived in Forlì, Italy, one of the Papal States, and acted as a ringleader for an anti-papal faction. The people of Forlì were angry because the pope had closed the churches in the city. (Editor’s note: the forbidding of public worship was part of an ecclesiastical penalty called an interdict, imposed because of Forlì’s disobedience to the pope.) At Pope Martin IV’s behest, Friar Philip Benizi, a General of the Servite Order, visited Forlì to try to preach to the people and calm the situation.

Caught up in the crowd’s angry frenzy, Peregrine laid hands on the friar because of his hatred for the French pope. Peregrine instantly felt remorse after striking the future saint and begged Philip for forgiveness. The priest graciously forgave Peregrine, and the young rebel changed his life forever.

A Man of Peace

Peregrine changed drastically and became known as a man of peace and prayer. He eventually joined the Servite Order as a lay brother. It’s reputed that he experienced a vision from the Blessed Mother Mary, who directed him to become a Servite. The saint-in-the-making dedicated his life to helping the sick and poor of Forlì.

The Glory of St. Peregrine Laziosi by Francesco Trevisani
(photo by Sailko/CC BY-SA 4.0)

At 60 years of age, St. Peregrine developed a cancerous ulcer on his right leg. According to the Servites, the malignant sore was brought on by physical penances Peregrine took upon himself. His physician told Peregrine that he’d have to amputate to save his life.

The night before the surgery, Peregrine, unable to walk upright, dragged himself in front of a large crucifix to pray. According to the Servites, he had a vision of Jesus coming down off the crucifix to heal his leg. The next day, his doctor pronounced him healed, and Peregrine, understandably, couldn’t stop proclaiming the news of the miracle God had given him.

St. Peregrine Cancer Shrine 

Miracle-seekers worldwide look for consolation at Mesa, Arizona’s St. Peregrine Cancer Shrine, whose mission is to offer a sanctuary of spiritual healing and emotional peace. Since 2009, this holy place has been dedicated to praying for people living with cancer and promoting perpetual adoration of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Every year, more and more pilgrims make their way to this little oasis in the desert.

Fr. Rolyn Francisco, pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church, told Good Catholic, “Jesus Christ went to commune with His Father in the desert. People, just like Jesus Christ, are looking to commune with God here at our desert shrine.”

The bronze statue of St. Peregrine outside the Shrine

Nestled on the campus of Christ the King, St. Peregrine’s Cancer Shrine features a life-size bronze statue of St. Peregrine and a gold-domed roof outside. Inside are stained glass windows with depictions of saints and simple but lovely decorations directing visitors’ attention to the gold monstrance holding Our Lord in the Eucharist. It is a small space, approximately 2,300 square feet, with a capacity of 70 people. Despite the shrine’s simplicity, those sick with cancer feel drawn to the shrine.

The Shrine’s beautiful Adoration chapel

Maria de Jesus Gutierrez, Director of the St. Peregrine Cancer Shrine, shared with Good Catholic, “I’ve been able to meet people that come from out of state, even other countries, visiting the shrine because they’re either grateful for the blessings they’ve received or hopeful to receive a miracle from St. Peregrine.”  

Many Miracles

Karen Greifzu visited the day St. Peregrine opened, and she felt she never wanted to leave because of the peace she experienced there. Greifzu has been a volunteer there ever since. She shared with Good Catholic, “I’ve heard this from many, many people that they also feel a sense of peace and holiness at the shrine.”

Karen at work at the Shrine, writing support notes for cancer patients

As a volunteer, Greifzu has heard many testimonies of healing. She volunteers in the hospitality ministry in the shrine office, so she comes in contact with visitors eager to share their stories. 

One shrine healing happened in the Cancer Shrine’s Adoration chapel. Sandra Smith from Arizona was praying for God to heal her breast cancer when suddenly she and the other adorers were startled by a big boom.  

Greifzu relates the story, sharing, “And then, Sandra looked up and her gaze happened to land on the stained glass window of St. Luke with the Holy Spirit above him. She said that this ray of bright light came right through the Holy Spirit [depicted in the stained glass window] right into her body as she sat there. And that’s when she was healed of breast cancer.”

Another visitor named James was experiencing considerable pain from skin cancer when he came to visit the Cancer Shrine for the first time. While adoring the Lord in the Shrine’s Adoration chapel, he felt the sensation of his skin cancer peeling away. Suddenly, the pain in his face and body disappeared.

“With tears of joy, he told me this story,” Greifzu shares. 

Healing Rather Than Cure

Some pilgrims, like Sandra and James, receive a cure, while others receive spiritual healing. They may not have received a cure for their cancer, but they are in a better place spiritually and emotionally.

“They accept their situation and are leaving everything to God. We see the calmness and serenity on their faces,” Fr. Francisco says.

For others, healing comes in the form of a conversion. Mary Ressler, also a Shrine volunteer, shared a story about an atheist who became a believer because of prayer. This gentleman from Canada had cancer and his friend asked the Shrine to send him a prayer shawl and to have prayers said for him. 

Ressler shared with Good Catholic, “Later on we got a letter back from this person who had requested the prayers for him. This man who didn’t believe in God felt so impressed that people from another country, who didn’t know him, were praying for him that it turned him back to God.”

These miracles point to the power of prayer, especially prayers said in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

Praying for Those with Cancer

Prayer infuses all that the volunteers do at the St. Peregrine Cancer Shrine. The volunteers are always mindful of the sacredness of life and the mission of helping those whose lives are hanging in the balance. Visitors come to the Cancer Shine seeking hope and healing. Others call or register on the website to ask for prayers. Those prayer intentions, printed on a “Bio Card,” include the first name, initial of last name, type of cancer, and details about the person and the prayer request.

“For instance, we had a young veteran say that, though he wanted prayers for himself, it was important to him that we also prayed for his wife and young family. So when people picked up his card, they knew to include his family in their prayers,” Griefzu says.

The Bio Cards are honored on a designated wall before entering the Adoration chapel in the Cancer Shrine. Every time someone prays for the person in front of the Blessed Sacrament, they can write a short note with words of encouragement. Volunteers, for a period of 28 days, collect those notes and send them to the person with cancer.

Cancer sufferers feel nurtured by the prayer and support they receive from the Cancer Shrine’s prayer warriors. In a letter to the Shrine, Mickey writes, “It is humbling to think that people will take the time to pray for someone they don’t know. It has touched my heart.” 

The person’s name is also written in the Book of Perpetual Prayer, located in the Shrine’s Adoration chapel below the beautiful monstrance. Thousands of names line the pages of the book.

“All those names in the book are always lifted up by people who come into the shrine,” says Greifzu. “The grace of all those prayers is still being offered.”

Care Packages & Prayer Companions

The volunteers also send care packages that include a blessed prayer shawl or lap blanket made by Catholics from Christ the King and other Catholic churches in the area. Those interested may also request a prayer packet, which includes a rosary, the Brown Scapular, and prayer cards.

“In 2023, we sent out 818 shawls within the United States and 59 internationally,” Ressler shares.

Statue of St. Peregrine at the Shrine

The St. Peregrine Cancer Shrine also offers an Online Prayer Companion program where the person battling cancer gets connected with someone who will pray for the specific needs of the person for 28 days and send encouraging emails at least once per week. All that the Cancer Shrine offers comes free of charge.

Prayer—The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Gutierrez has witnessed how the Shrine impacts families. They are grateful for the prayers their loved ones receive. Reading the thank you letters sent to us, “some people start out their letters so nicely, you think they’re going to say someone received a miracle, but instead they say, ‘My relative, my father, my mother, or my brother passed away. We thank you for your prayers and for being so supportive.’”

Fr. Francisco shares that the prayer not only changes the lives of those fighting cancer and their families but also impacts all those who volunteer at St. Peregrine’s Cancer Shrine and Christ the King parish.

For more information about St. Peregrine’s Cancer Shrine, visit CancerShrine.org.

Two Feast Days

According to the liturgical calendar, May 1st is St. Peregrine’s official feast day. However, his feast day is also traditionally celebrated on May 4th. St. Peregrine’s remains are displayed in a glass reliquary at the Basilica of St. Peregrine Laziosi in Forlì, also known as the Servite Church or Santa Maria dei Servi.

Prayer for St. Peregrine’s Intercession

We look to you, St. Peregrine, as a mighty wonder worker because of the miracles obtained through your intercession for the people who have recourse to your kind and powerful prayers. For many years, your body was afflicted with a cancerous disease. When the power of man could help you no longer, you were graced with a vision of Jesus, leaning down from the cross, touching and healing you. Trusting in your compassion and powerful intercession, we ask your prayers for our ailing brothers and sisters. May the saving power of God—Father, Son, and Spirit—fall upon all our sick friends and relatives. May it be accompanied by the healing they desire and for which we pray. Intercede for us, dear St. Peregrine, that we may be thankful for every healing, favor, and blessing from the Lord who is glorified in His saints. Amen.

St. Peregrine, pray for us!

The Catholic Company offers a wide variety of St. Peregrine devotional items, such as statues, rosaries, and even a fun pair of socks! Choose one as a gift for a friend with cancer or to remind you to pray for them.