BLESSED BERNARD FRANCIS DE HOYOS, SJ
First apostle of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Spain
By HEDWIG LEWIS, SJ
Bernard Francis de Hoyos y Seña (1711-1735) is the latest name added to the list of Jesuit Blesseds. Fr Hoyos had lived a life of ‘heroic virtues’. His reputation for holiness spread immediately after his death. However, because the Society of Jesus found itself opposed by the Jansenists, the cause for beatification was not introduced at that time. Later the Society was suppressed. It was only on 11 February 1914 that the process for his sainthood was started. Pope John Paul II decreed Bernard “venerable” on 12 January 1996. Pope Benedict XVI authorized his beatification on 17 January 2009. His beatification ceremony was held on 18 April 2010 in Valladolid, Spain The liturgical feast of the Blessed de Hoyos will be held on 29 November, the day of his death.
Bernard was born on 21 August 1711 in the historical capital of Castile, Torrelobatón, about 62 km from Valladolid in north-western Spain. He did his initial schooling in his native village, and then attended the Jesuit Colleges of Medina del Campo and Villagarcia de Campos.
On the physical side, Bernard was described as “frail, being lean and short of stature. But this in no way inhibited him from being an extrovert. He was distinguished by his vivacity, enterprise, sportsmanship and piety. He was affable and kind by nature. He possessed a sharp intelligence and had a remarkable capacity to apply himself to study. On graduation from High School, he could write and speak Latin with ease.
The Jesuit novitiate was next-door to the college, and Bernard was inspired by the young incumbents there. After college, he sought admission to the Society of Jesus but was told to wait a year because he was only fourteen. And then, though he had not reached the mandatory age of fifteen, he was granted a dispensation to enter the Novitiate at Villagarcia on 11 July 1726. Bernard spent nine years of his Jesuit life in formation, doing his novitiate, Philosophy and Theology successively. He was ordained on 2 January 1735 and had a short spell of pastoral ministry. He began his Tertianship at the College of St Ignatius in Valladolid in September 1735. He contracted typhus on 18 November and succumbed to it on 29 November 1735.
His quality of life and apostolic reach were so exceptional, that though he was only 24 when he died, the Provincial asked the rector of the college to circulate a brief biography to be read out in all the communities of the province. This was a practice reserved only for prominent Jesuits. It became a source of inspiration and motivation for young Jesuits in training. It revealed how a life charged with the fires of Love can set a myriad hearts aflame with love for God and neighbour.
During the novitiate Bernard was initiated into the mystical life. During his Philosophy studies, however, he underwent a period of interior purification beginning14 November 1728 and ending on Easter Sunday, 17 April 1729; it was for him the dark night of the soul.
Mysticism is God’s special gift. Bernard’s life in the Society is replete with awe-inspiring “mystical experiences”. Bernard was a ‘man of God’ in the truest sense of the word, and his entire being inside-out was suffused with the divine. He became aware of and alive to the reality of God in all things and all things in God. He was exceptionally sensitive to God’s presence and intervention in his life. Anyone so ‘obsessed’ makes the best of the divine gifts that Providence sends his way in his quest for ‘perfection’. As Bernard would note in his diary after he had committed himself to be an apostle of the Scared Heart: “From this moment, I have been submerged and absorbed by the Divine Heart. As for eating, sleeping, studying and the rest, my soul appears not to recognize anything by the Heart of its Beloved.”
Bernard’s mystical experiences climax to his “mystical marriage” on the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, 15 August 1730. At the time the events were happening and being recorded, no one ever suspected, least of all Bernard himself that they would be leading to his role as a pioneer Apostle of the Sacred Heart in Spain. The records of his spiritual experiences, which he kept for his use and to help in communicating them to his spiritual director, reveal the depth of his spirituality and how the Lord was preparing him to carry out His mission. Bernard’s journals put his visions in perspective and provide us with several insights. They help us understand the delicateness of his soul, as well as the struggles he underwent to discover their authenticity and do justice to their demands.
He dutifully revealed his blessings and bruises to those entrusted to direct him spiritually but kept them kept hidden from his peers. His companions noticed the glow on his face and felt the warmth of his love, and occasionally observed his aloofness, but least suspected the intensity of the consolations and desolations he was experiencing interiorly, because he led an otherwise normal, simple community life, keeping to the ‘rules’ as stringently as Berchmans did. Bernard's extraordinary graces in prayer never interfered with his studies, and very few people knew that he had been so gifted by God. Hence, at least exteriorly, he lived the typical life of a Jesuit scholastic, faithful to his allotted time for study and spiritual duties. His biographers insist that he did not compromise on his studies in spite of his apostolic involvements, driven as he was by the Magis in his quest for perfection in all things.
In the extensive account of conscience he gave to Fr Juan de Loyola, his Spiritual Director, in October 1732 he said: “I see that everything in my heart is moving towards God, drawn like iron to a magnet. It desires only God, searches only for God, and longs only for God….” Because of the clarity with which Bernard was able to perceive and describe his inner life, his Director insisted that this young man was “far more advanced than a man of his age, with more knowledge than he could have acquired from books.”
Bernard kept notes of his experiences in his spiritual journal. He wrote hundreds of letters, to those guiding him in his prayer life. He wrote over 200 letters to his spiritual director and biographer Fr Juan de Loyola. The letters contain such extraordinary experiences and matters of spiritual depth that Fr de Loyola had to reassure the readers of the veracity of these documents by stating that the originals were preserved and were accessible to anyone who sought verification. The letters reflected the soul of the young man in his striving to find God in all things and in his commitment to the mission of Christ in spreading the devotion to His Sacred Heart as he was instructed to do.
How does one evaluate them objectively? Fr John Baptist Couderc, SJ, in his biography of Fr Hoyos (1907), succinctly examined the veracity of the visions according to the rules of discernment indicated by a scholarly book. The conclusions he reached were comparable to the answer of Jesus to Bernard, who had worried considerably about his visions and revelations. “Generally speaking”, concludes Couderc, “the young religious’ visions are substantially veracious; on a few occasions, however, all unwittingly he may have added a few flourishes. No one cognizant with mystical literature will be surprised.” 1
Apart from being favoured by
mystical graces, heavenly visions and saintly visitations, Bernard also
suffered excruciating attacks from
As happens to those who arrive at the threshold of mystical life, he was not
spared “the dark night of the soul”, through which he struggled for five months.
In September 1731 Bernard was sent to the College of St Ambrose in Valladolid to begin his course in theology. Soon after his arrival he visited the chapel. At the end of April 1733, Bernard received a letter from his friend, Fr Augustine Cadaveraz in Bilbao, requesting him to translate from Latin the chapter relating the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi in Fr Joseph de Gallifet’s book On Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1726).3 On 3 May, Bernard took the book from the house library to his room and immediately began to read it. It threw open to Bernard, for the first time, the unexplored vistas of the Sacred Heart. For all his earlier visions of the Sacred Heart, it was only now that he became completely aware of the Divine Heart. He felt so enthused that he knelt before the Blessed Sacrament and offered to work at diffusing this devotion. For two days, the idea that this offering was more binding than he had first thought grew and grew. The third day, again before the Blessed Sacrament, the Saviour confided that He had picked him to spread devotion to His Sacred Heart.
On 4 May 1733 Bernard received this decisive mission from Jesus: “I wish for you to spread the Devotion to My Sacred Heart throughout all of Spain.” From then on, Bernard did not live for anything else. On 14 May he obtained what is known as the “Great Promise” from the Sacred Heart of Jesus: “This will always be my place of rest. I will make my home here – the place where I have desired and chosen to be. I will reign in Spain with more veneration than in other places.” Bernard connsecrated himself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on 12 June 1733, using the same formula written by St Claude La Columbière fifty years earlier. The College of St Ambrose, now a Basilica was established as the National Shrine of the Great Promise in 1941.
“Bernard was the first among Spanish Jesuits to grasp intuitively the transcendent nature of the cult of the Sacred Heart as means of personal sanctification and effective apostolic tool. For him the cult of the Sacred Heart is in substance the cult of the love of Jesus, Incarnate Word, Redeemer, which reveals in itself the love of the Most Holy Trinity loving us with a heart of flesh in virtue of the hypostatic union, and presenting the heart as a symbol of this love to animate us to imitate him and love him in return.” 4
On the occasion of the beatification, Fr Adolfo Nicolás, Superior General of the Society of Jesus noted: "Bernard de Hoyos's passion for the Heart of Jesus faithfully corresponds to the devotion that St Ignatius felt for Jesus poor and humble, before whom he asks that our affections be moved in order to accompany Him in each step of His life: ‘As companions with him on mission, his way is our way, so that in what we do in the world there must always be a transparency to God’ (GC35, D2, nn 14, 10).” 5
Bernard’s last words before he died were: "Oh, how good it is to dwell in the Heart of Jesus!"
Bernard took his spiritual development seriously. He had had a sound Christian upbringing both at home and in school. He was familiar with and enjoyed pious practices, not only of devotions but also of charity to the needy. He entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus with the specific conviction of leading a life of perfection.
Bernard’s life and attitude reflected his spiritual orientation. His classmates and teachers in school, and his companions and superiors during his training for the priesthood attested after his death that Bernard was a young bridge-builder, through the responsibilities he held, and a channel of grace to those around.
Faithfulness to duty
The test of the genuineness of ones call to religious life is one of fidelity to duty and joyfulness in fulfilling the tasks assigned one.
All through his formation, Bernard was known to have kept the rules “perfectly”. Periodically in the novitiate there are “Charity Classes” in which the novices learn lessons in humility through critical feedback on their behaviour, it was reported that when it came to Bernard, not a single one of his companions could recall anything with which to reproach him, not even the slightest infringement of the smallest rule.
Bernard, in fact, was so mature and exemplary, that in 1727, despite his very young age, he was appointed as ‘beadle’. It was his duty to see that the orders of the novice master were duly executed and to assign common tasks to his co-novices. This office gave him an opportunity to learn how to handle responsibility, and how to balance relationships between superiors and subjects. He performed his job to the satisfaction of the novice master and of his companions.
Choosing a role-model
Role-models provide a challenge and sense of direction in life. Bernard chose John Berchmans [1599-1612] as his model and intercessor. There was no authorized biography of Berchmans at the time, except a few notes circulating among the novices in Villagarcia, which were copied and read avidly. In order to imitate his saintly model more closely, Bernard requested Fr de Prado, the novice master, for a picture of he saint. He reinforced it with thick paper, added red paint to make it show up, and placed it on the table in his room. Fr Juan de Loyola, in his biography, called Bernard de Hoyos "a perfect imitator of John Berchmans and in turn a model himself, closer to us, and worthy of imitation."
The real test came at the end of his course in Theology, when Bernard proved that he was a man of convictions. Bernard had not reached the canonical age of 24, which meant he could not be ordained with the others in his batch. Everyone urged him to apply for an exemption from the ruling, but Bernard clearly indicated that he would seek no compromises. So, his superiors, who were greatly impressed by his character and holiness, took it upon themselves, to obtain a dispensation so that he could be ordained with his companions.
A Jesuit who lived with him five years, Fr John O’Brien, testified after Bernard’s death: “Nothing singular or extraordinary appeared in him, although he was always so completely adjusted to our rules that I ever considered him, novice, student or priest, as a living copy of them…”
Application of mind and heart to study
Bernard gave top priority to study during his formation. He was an outstanding student and performed brilliantly in the academic field He was keen on developing his soul and mind through extensive reading and reflection. This is evident in his journals and writings. Reading books on spirituality and biographies of saintly men and women increases our awareness of the divine mysteries and makes us sensitive of the movements within us in our spiritual quest.
Because of his solid grounding in spiritual matters, his superiors and spiritual directors assigned Bernard to instruct younger companions in spirituality and asceticism, even though he was still a student and not yet ordained. One of his instructions, to Ignatius Enrico Osorio (1713-1778), was discovered in 1948; it reveals his great prudence but at the same time his amiability and humility.
His writings mirrored the state of his soul and had great autobiographical value; in particular, this instruction reveals an interesting and important aspect of his spirituality: his very frequent use of Sacred Scripture. In fact, in this instruction written when he was only 21 years old there are no less than 160 citations from 32 books of both the Old and New Testaments – signalling a noteworthy familiarity with the Scriptures. He had a copy of the Bible always on his desk, and he never spent a day without reading a chapter, generally kneeling.
Bernard’s reading included the works of St Ignatius, St Francis de Sales and St Teresa of Avila, his preferred authors, but also to other classical authors like Luigi del Ponte, Alfonso Rodriguez. Luigi de la Palma, Michele Godinez, Francesco Suarez and many others – as numerous writings attest. There are also frequent references to lives of the saints, so that one discovers in Bernard a precocious influence, well ahead of his peers, which created a new spiritual current up till then unknown among Spanish Jesuits. To that current Bernard, beginning with the Ignatian spirit, added the traditional Spanish mysticism of St Teresa the devout humanism of St Francis de Sales, and the new spiritual thrust represented by the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the form St Margaret Mary Alacoque gave it.
His wide knowledge gave Bernard a high degree of self-confidence when it came to discussing intellectual matters. It is not surprising that during the scholastic disputations included in the weekly curriculum, Bernard, despite the vigour of his temperament, always remained cool and collected when temperaments were wont to flare. Given his intelligence and studiousness, he was chosen, toward the end of his philosophy course for the most important role in the solemn academic disputation in the house of studies – a role he fulfilled brilliantly.
A striking characteristic of Bernard was his complete transparency before God and his spiritual directors. He always fulfilled the obligation of giving an account of his conscience punctually and meticulously. He routinely revealed his trials and triumphs, agonies and ecstasies in the spiritual life in all honesty and sincerity of heart. He could not, however, divulge everything about what he had contemplated, because, as he put it, “The very loveable secrets that were revealed to me can be neither expressed nor explained.”
“Brother Bernard made it incredibly easy for his director to read his conscience, almost at any time, as though it were an open book. He did so in order to comply with the advice of his dear Father, St. Ignatius, and also to protect himself from all illusion. He was so scrupulous in this matter that, at the time of Heaven’s great visits to him, he went every day, and even several times a day, to account for his slightest thoughts, his simplest affections and his least concerns. As he was humble, he admitted that he had no experience and was afraid of mistaking the enemy for an angel of light. His transparent and expansive conscience did not keep anything hidden.” 6
This was particularly necessary since Bernard was graced with an extraordinary spiritual life of – mysticism, especially his gift of visions. Bernard responded to these divine favours graciously – but not naively as one may tend to believe. He would discern the spirits carefully, and check and counter-check them for their authenticity. There is clear indication that Bernard in no way wanted to give in to any self-delusion; but on the other hand, he was careful to comply with those graces which he considered genuine.
To ensure that these spiritual experiences were trustworthy, his Novice Master gave him six ‘signs’ to discern the presence of Christ: a disregard for created things, a hatred of sin, a steadfast obedience, a desire for humiliation, a zeal for souls and, finally, a yearning to suffer for Love Crucified. Thenceforth, Bernard was always extremely careful in examining his conscience and just as sincere in revealing it to his superior.
The ‘information’ sent to Rome in 1730 before Bernard could be admitted to Theology, stated: Good health. Very penetrating intelligence, judgment and prudence: quite admirable in one as young as he. Tenacity in overcoming difficulties, capacity for cordial relationships, qualified for all ministries, especially for preaching.
In a letter of 6 December 1735 informing the communities of the Castile Province of Bernard’s death, Fr Manuel de Prado (Bernard’s Rector who had also been his Novice Master) emphasized: “his perfection was more than ordinary, a very special gift of prayer which during these last years God revealed to him the most hidden mysteries of the divinity and a tender and particular devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”
Bernard did not feel that he should wait till he was ordained a priest in order to carry out an apostolic mission. His confidence came from his prayer life and from his intimacy with the Lord. Not being a priest had its limitations in his time and age. So Bernard acted as an instrument in the Lord’s hand to motivate others to do what was beyond his reach.
It is amazing how this young scholastic, three centuries ago, without any training in managerial skills, would use an efficient approach to fulfil the mission entrusted to him by Christ. By modern standards, he was a ‘professional’. Aware that the task of spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart far and wide was a gigantic one, and realizing that his main duty was to pursue his theological studies seriously, he believed that over and above the divine graces he received, he needed human cooperation. Putting his leadership skills to the fore, he formed a “network” of like-minded and qualified Jesuits, which came to be known as the “Group of Five". They were deeply spiritual men, representing different ministries. The members consisted of Fr Juan de Loyola, 47, his spiritual director. Fr Pedro de Calatayud, 44, a missionary who preached missions from Spain to Portugal. Fr Pedro de Peñalosa, 38, a good preacher who occasionally accompanied Fr Calatayud. Fr Augustine Cardaveraz, 32, Bernard’s confidant and the one instrumental in initiating him into the devotion to the Sacred Heart. Scholastic Juan Lorenzo Jiménez, 23, his companion in theology. And, of course, Bernard, 22 – the youngest of them all! Keeping in contact through snail-mail “chain correspondence” and meetings, the team chalked out a concrete 7-pronged action plan with specific targets: 7
1. Rally the support of the Jesuits, especially those of the most important ones and those in highest authority in the province, toward this almost new devotion.
2. Publish a book providing “the essence and the soundness of this devotion”.
3. Distribute “holy pictures” to inspire many of the simple folk who were not literate.
4. Prepare a simple novena to the Sacred Heart, since novenas were very popular forms of devotion at the time.
5. Enthuse the popular missionaries, who travelled across the cities and towns in Spain preaching to the masses, to commit themselves to speak in their missions "of piety and devotion to the Sacred Heart”.
6. Urge the Spanish Bishops to officially petition the Holy Father, that the use of the liturgy of the Mass and Office of the Sacred Heart, as it existed in some countries, be extended to Spain.
7. Appeal to the Spanish royalty, in particular King Philip V, to beg the Pope to grant the petition made by the bishops, not only to Spain but also to its colonies in Latin America and the Philippines.
Implementation of the Action Plan
The team-members mutually helped to achieve their targets. Here we shall single out Bernard’s leadership role.
Given his pleasant nature, seriousness of purpose, and charism for relationships, Bernard did something which he conjectured would be “much more difficult than convincing St Theresa”: he won the hearts of the members of the Jesuit Province of Castile over to his cause. In the biography written three years after Bernard’s death, Fr Juan de Loyola noted: “I consider it as something prodigious that so young a religious has been able to set on fire, with so sacred an enthusiasm for a new and unknown devotion, men who were learned, prudent, constituted in authority, the best brains of the country. Among the Jesuits there were provincials, rectors, masters of novices, preachers, missionaries – in short, the eminent Fathers of the Province of Castile. But since the Sacred Heart Himself set fire to the words and the writings of our young Apostle, human prudence and wisdom could not resist him.”
Fr Juan de Loyola was entrusted with the task of writing a short but substantial study on the Sacred Heart. Bernard scrutinized the manuscript, revised it, raised funds, and did all in his power, against odds, to have The Hidden Treasure published on 21 October 1734. It soon became a ‘bestseller’, and was published from eight cities in Spain. He brought the Sodality of the Sacred Heart to Spain, and was instrumental in establishing it in many cities. Also, with the help of Fr de Loyola, he prepared a novena to the Sacred Heart. Six months after Bernard’s ordination, the first public novena to the Sacred Heart was held with great solemnity at the college of St Ambrose in Valladolid. The first edition of the novena was published and was immediately out of print. In order to reach the unlettered people of Spain, Bernard printed thousands of picture-cards of the Sacred Heart as found in the frontispiece of Fr de Gallifet’s book: Jesus’ Heart pierced by the lance, crowned with thorns and surmounted by a cross. The cards were easy to distribute. In a short period, each person from every rank of society throughout the land possessed this illustration of the Sacred Heart.
Through Bernard’s intervention, in 1735 the Church hierarchy in Spain together with His Majesty King Philip V, appealed to Pope Benedict XIII for the feast, office and Mass of the Sacred Heart for all the churches of the country. Unfortunately, because of the expulsion of the Jesuits from Spain in the following decades, their request was conceded to the Spanish people nearly a century later, on 7 December 1815.
Bernard had not moved physically beyond the geographical confines of his hometown Castile province. Yet, his spiritual influence reached far and wide! Three years before his death, the devotion to the Sacred Heart was practically non-existent in Spain. Through Bernard efforts it became popular from one end of the Iberian Peninsula to the other. This in itself is Bernard’s greatest miracle, considering that most of his work was done while he was still a seminarian. Fr de Loyola concluded the biography with these words: “Thus the Divine Heart desired to dominate the hearts of our illustrious nation!”
At the cathedral of the Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre, France, in the chapel dedicated to the Society of Jesus, there is a splendid mosaic depicting the many Jesuit propagators of devotion to the Sacred Heart. The youthful Bernard de Hoyos, with his eyes fixed on the Sacred Heart, is placed between Fr Henry Ramiére, founder of the Apostleship of Prayer, and Fr James Bigot, founder of the Mission of St Francis de Sales among the Abenaki Indians of Maine, USA.
Before the Civil War in Spain [1936-1939] there was a gigantic monument of the Sacred Heart, erected by Spanish Christians, on the Cerro de Los Angeles, in the geographical centre of the country. At the feet of the statue of Christ were carved the images of all the saints that were devoted to the Sacred Heart. Among them, however, there was one un-canonized figure – Bernard de Hoyos, SJ! The Communists, to manifest to the world the spirit of their manifesto, had a firing squad shoot down the statue. 8
Bernard was a young Jesuit ‘on fire’. The mission of spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart entrusted to him by Christ was challenging and called for conviction, commitment and courage – and Bernard had them all. It demanded total trust in God and complete confidence in Christ – and Bernard possessed these in full measure. It required gigantic ‘feats’ – like penetrating the papacy and palaces, ecclesiastics and fellow Jesuits, yet our “David-junior”, though small in stature and ill-equipped physically, felt up to the task because he was clothed with the armour of Christ and wielded the power of grace. Bernard was a zero turned hero, a magnanimous soul, who maintained his humility, humour and humanity, through thick and thin, stillness and storm, spiritual highs and devilish lows.
Those who understand Bernard’s life will draw much fruit from his spiritual experiences and his spirit of commitment, even though he lived three centuries ago. I had made a study of our three “boy saints” – Aloysius Gonzaga, Stanislaus Kostka (who were canonized during Bernard’s first year in the novitiate) and Blessed John Berchmans – while working on my book Profiles in Holiness. They were great young men who lived out their religious commitments to the admiration and edification of all. Bernard de Hoyos is no less admirable. The difference according to me, is that Bernard turned out to be more dynamic than the other three. He lived out his religious life par excellence, by the added dimension of being an apostle, entrusted with a specific mission by Christ and which he would carry out in an extraordinary manner, though his life-span, too, was brief. While the focus of the three youth saints, whom he had emulated, was on “intensivity”, Bernard’s included “extensivity” in keeping with the mission given him.
Bernard is a model for youth and youthful hearts on how to convert mission into passion, love into action, and holiness into wholeness. He enkindled countless hearts with flames from the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
1. Couderc, Le Vénérable Père Bernard-François de Hoyos, Tournai, 1907, p. 25), quoted in Brother Francis of Mary of the Angels, “Father Hoyos, A Disciple of St Margaret Mary”, in “He Is Risen!”, No 23, July 2004, online.
2. Henri Bechard, The visions of Bernard Francis de Hoyos, SJ, Apostle of the Sacred Heart in Spain; a biography, Vantage Press, New York, 1959, 15-16. This book is the main source of information for this article.
3. Joseph de Gallifet SJ (1663-1749) was a French Jesuit priest, known for his promotion of the devotion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. During his formation he came under the direction of Father de la Colombière. His book in Latin "De cultu Sacratissimi Cordis Dei Iesu" was published in Rome in 1726.
4. Paulo Molinari, SJ, A New Blessed: Bernard Francisco de Hoyos, SJ, Jesuits, Yearbook of the Society of Jesus 2010, 55-58.
5. Adolfo Nicolás, SJ, letter ‘To the whole Society’, Rome, 12 April 2010.
7. See Official Site of the Beatification, Centro Diocesano de Espiritualidad de Valladolid, Spain, Biography of Bernard de Hoyos, April 2010.
8. Bechard, 10.
© Hedwig Lewis SJ,
Updated 15 April 2010
Fr Hedwig Lewis, SJ is the author of "Profiles in Holiness, Brief Biographies of Jesuit Saints", and several other books on professional and psycho-spiritual subjects. He resides in Ahmedabad, India. His website: http://joygift.tripod.com
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