Posts Tagged “canonization”

Our Lady of Fátima and the Children - Igreja de São Domingos - LisbonIt’s the hundredth anniversary of the Virgin Mary’s famous appearance at Fátima, Portugal. Pope Francis celebrated it by going on a pilgrimage there, and as the Jesuit America magazine reports, he canonized two of the children who saw the apparition (WebCite cached article):

History was made at the shrine of Fatima at 10:30 a.m. on May 13 when Pope Francis declared that Francisco Marto and his sister Jacinta are saints. Francisco and Jacinta are the first child saints who are not martyrs in the history of the church.

Francisco, Jacinta and their cousin Lucia are buried here side by side in the basilica. Before Mass, Francis prayed in silence at the tombs of the three shepherd children. When Jacinta’s body was exhumed before being brought here, 15 years after her death, it was found to be totally uncorrupted. Because of this, the local bishop asked Lucia, by then a contemplative nun, to write the memoirs of Jacinta and Francisco, detailing the extraordinary events that have so powerfully impacted the lives of believers ever since [cached].

The Fátima sighting, of course, was not just a single event: it was six of them. Today is the anniversary of the first of these appearances; the last was 5 months later in October of 1917. The now-famous “three secrets” were delivered during the third of the six appearances, in July.

These secrets — mainly, the third — are the subject of more than a little conspiratorial thinking. The third was withheld, and put in writing in the early 1940s by the surviving witness (at that time), Lúcia dos Santos (who had become a nun), sealed in an envelope by her. It was not to be opened until 1960, for some reason; Pope John XXIII read it at that time, but decided not to disclose it. John Paul II finally revealed the “third secret” in 2000, and the Church decided then that it had referred to the assassination attempt against him in 1981. It’s been published, and is even available on the Vatican’s Web site (cached).

The Church’s interpretation of the “third secret” is rather deficient, by any standard. Its vision of a bishop in white being killed by soldiers does not, in any way, reflect the shooting of John Paul II. This, plus the sketchy way the “third secret” was treated, fostered conspiracy theories. Many of these theories assume the Vatican’s published version of the “third secret” is either incomplete or fraudulent, and the actual “third secret” is being withheld for nefarious reasons (which they’ve spun out of thin air, having nothing else to base them on).

There’s just one problem with all of this: Sister Lúcia was alive in 2000, and published commentaries on the “secrets” as late as 2001, and died in 2005. She never contradicted the Vatican’s released version of the “third secret.” (This is why Lúcia wasn’t sainted along with her two friends today; they died long ago due to the Spanish flu pandemic and qualified for canonization already; Lúcia’s sainthood cause has yet to run its course.)

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Missionaries of Charity Mother HouseThe canonization of Mother Teresa has been brewing since her death in the late 1990s. The Pope at the time, John Paul II, had been a serious fan of hers, and greased the skids so as to speed up her sainthood — something that usually takes decades, if not centuries. He arranged for her beatification (the first step in the process) in 2003, and many in the Vatican have worked hard since then to get her sainted. As the Religion News Service reports, she is now “Saint Teresa of Calcutta” (WebCite cached article):

Mother Teresa, the tiny nun who devoted her life to the poor, was declared a saint by Pope Francis at the Vatican as he celebrated her “daring and courage” and described her as a role model for all in his year of mercy.

At least 120,000 people crowded a sun-drenched St. Peter’s Square for the canonization of the acclaimed nun who may have worked in the slums of Kolkata but was a force to be reckoned with by political and religious leaders around the world.

Mother Teresa’s reputation for charity goes beyond just the Catholic Church, largely thanks to her having won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. But the reality of her work doesn’t support this reputation. She’s been accused of not having actually helped all the ailing in her “hospital,” due to her devotion to the idea that it’s actually good for people to suffer (good for them, and for humanity as a whole).

Among her critics was the late British journalist Christopher Hitchens, who hosted a documentary and wrote a book explaining that her charitable reputation was undeserved. You can watch that documentary, Hell’s Angel, right here:

But for many fans of Mother Teresa, particularly devout Catholics, wouldn’t accept anything Hitchens had to say about her; after all, he was one of those horrific “New Atheists” and isn’t to be listened to. But she had other critics, including Dr Aroup Chatterjee, who’d worked for her clinic for a time (cached), and a team of Canadian academics, whose review of her work concluded she was “anything but a saint” (cached). None of those folks has any anti-Catholic or anti-religious axe to grind. So their criticisms should get some attention … even if they weren’t enough to prevent her canonization.

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Pope Francis recognized two of his most famous papal predecessors in a ceremony St. Peter’s Square in Rome. Andreas Solaro/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesIt’s been coming for months now. In office only just over a year, Pope Francis … with his retired direct predecessor Benedict XVI on hand … today canonized two of the most famous popes of the twentieth century, if not of all time: John XXIII and John Paul II. The New York Times reports on this canonization rite and some of its ramifications (WebCite cached article):

Pope Francis made history on Sunday, elevating to sainthood John XXIII and John Paul II, two of his most famous papal predecessors, in a ceremony bearing themes of hope and reconciliation for the world’s one billion Roman Catholics.…

Francis, who made the decision to hold the joint canonization, portrayed the two former popes as “men of courage” who shared a place in history.…

Never before had two popes been canonized at the same time, and the pairing attracted large, joyous crowds tramping through Rome, with many people waving flags or banners. Francis declared the two men saints shortly after the Mass began, a pronouncement greeted with rising applause from the square and followed by the presentation of relics linked to the two new saints.…

Notable among the cardinals and political leaders seated near the outdoor altar was Benedict XVI, the former pope who has remained largely out of the public eye since his historic resignation last year. His decision to step down led to the papal election of Francis.

As the Times explains, the Vatican has been veering away from the (rather obvious) appearances evoked by this unprecedented event:

In the days before the ceremony, however, Vatican officials had sought to dispel the political subtext of the event — that the two former popes are icons to different constituencies within the church, and that by canonizing them together, Francis was making a political statement as well as a religious one.

John XXIII is a hero to many liberal Catholics for his Second Vatican Council of the early 1960s, which sought to open the church to the modern era. John Paul II is a hero to many conservative Catholics — not only for his anti-Communist heroism and personal charisma, but also because of his resistance to liberalizing elements of the church.

By pairing their canonizations, Francis sought to de-emphasize their differences, many analysts said, in the service of trying to reconcile divisions within the church and finding consensus as he prepared for the meetings, known as synods, centered on the theme of family.

I for one do not, for a single moment, buy into the idea that this couldn’t have been a way for Francis to appeal simultaneously to both the liberal/reformist and conservative/reactionary factions of his Church. Both factions were sure to be pleased by the elevation to sainthood of each of their most recognizable recent leaders. There’s just no way around it; the Vatican’s efforts to insist differently, are simply not credible.

A lot of ink has been spilt … and bits transmitted … concerning the unusual speed of John Paul’s canonization and the lack of two miracles to support John’s. For instance, Religion News Service asks why their canonizations were so speedy (cached):

Yet despite the vast popularity of the two popes, there is intense debate about whether these canonizations are nothing more than an elaborate public relations exercise — and whether they should be taking place at all.

John Paul II will hold the record for the fastest saint to be canonized in the history of the Catholic Church [sic]. John XXIII is even more controversial since Pope Francis approved his canonization with evidence of only one miracle — instead of the two normally required.

“It’s controversial among the saint makers at the Vatican, who consider themselves sticklers when it comes to the miracle requirement,” said longtime Vatican watcher John Thavis, author of “The Vatican Diaries.”

The article is incorrect when it says John Paul was canonized sooner after his death than any other saint (which is why I put a “sic” after that sentence above). Both St Anthony of Padua and St Peter of Verona, for example, were canonized much more quickly … each less than a year after their deaths, around 20 years apart during the 13th century. Despite this error, it’s true John Paul’s canonization is the quickest to have occurred in modern times. Moreover, consider as a comparison the protracted elevation of the Martyrs of Otranto: Killed in 1480, they were beatified just under 3 centuries later in 1771, and finally canonized almost 250 years after that, in 2013. Overall, their canonization took over 5 centuries to happen. The just-over-9-year span between John Paul’s death and canonization is a drop in the bucket, when viewed alongside that.

The Vatican and Church officials have, so far, defended these actions (i.e. John Paul’s quick elevation and John’s elevation without a second miracle) as proper within the boundaries of canon law and Church rules. For all I know, they may be correct about that. However, these moves are definitely unusual for a Church that’s known for not moving very fast on anything and for being fiercely legalistic about everything it does. To say otherwise is fucking laughable.

Photo credit: Andreas Solaro/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images, via the NY Times.

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Pope John Paul II at Madame Tussaud's in New YorkThe canonization of Pope John Paul II has zoomed along at record speed. He was formally beatified in 2011, a mere — and record-setting — six years after his death. It’s a campaign begun by his successor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Just this past summer, a second miracle attributed to him was approved by the current Pope Francis; at that point, John Paul’s canonization was virtually a “done deal.” As CBS News reports, he will be canonized on Divine Mercy Sunday, 2014, along with the reformer Pope John XXIII (WebCite cached article):

Two of the most-loved leaders of the Catholic Church, Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, will be raised to sainthood together in a joint canonization ceremony — the first such ceremony in the church’s history.

At a consistory in the Vatican, Pope Francis announced Monday that the joint canonization will be held on April 27, the day on which the Catholics celebrate the Second Sunday of Easter, marking the feast day of Divine Mercy.

Not only have the rules been bent in order to speed up John Paul II’s canonization, so too have they been bent in favor of John XXIII:

Normally two miracles are required for someone to become a saint, but in a rare (though not unprecedented) break with the rules for canonization, Pope Francis waived the requirement of a second miracle for John XXIII. This means that the man who led the church from 1958 to 1963 and convened the Second Vatican Council, will be declared a saint despite having had only one official miracle attributed to his intercession.

The plan to canonize John Paul on Divine Mercy Sunday is no coincidence. This solemnity is based on the “visions” and writings of John Paul’s fellow Pole St Faustina. John Paul canonized her in 2000, and at the same time put her Divine Mercy solemnity on the Catholic calendar, the Sunday after Easter. Moreover, as it turns out, John Paul died on Divine Mercy Eve (i.e. April 2, 2005).

At any rate, that Pope Francis wants to canonize both these men on the very same day … one in exceptionally-little time (an unprecedented 9 years after his death), the other in exceptional fashion (without the required second miracle), suggests he’s sending a very intentional message. Vatican-watchers interpret it as Francis’ affirmation of the two tracks that Catholicism followed during the latter half of the 20th century: a reform effort, championed and personified by John XXIII, who’d convened II Vatican; and a reactionary effort, championed and personified by John Paul II, a fierce ecclesiastical conservative.

While this sounds reasonable on the surface, I’m forced to ask what the point of that would be? Is he trying to say he supports both enacting reforms and rolling them back? How does that make any sense? I can’t figure out what the hell the new Pope is doing.

Photo credit: mharrsch, via Flickr.

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John Paul II Monument in Borkowo Ko?cielneThe Vatican has been eager to get the late Pope John Paul II canonized as soon as possible. That process is amazingly protracted and cumbersome. It can take decades or even centuries for people to be sainted. For instance, the Catholic Church took almost 300 years just to beatify the Martyrs of Otranto, and over 500 years to make them saints. Yet, this same wizened and supposedly-deliberate group, as the CNN Belief Blog reports, is on the cusp of granting the same honor to their late associate: (WebCite cached article):

The Catholic Church is on the verge of declaring late Pope John Paul II a saint, a Vatican source familiar with the process told CNN on Tuesday.

The committee that considers candidates for sainthood voted Tuesday to credit the late pope with a second miracle, the source said, asking not to be named discussing internal Vatican deliberations.…

The Polish-born pope was fast-tracked to beatification when he died in 2005 [cached], and became “the blessed” John Paul II barely six years after his death — the fastest beatification in centuries.

“For an institution that typically thinks in centuries, this is remarkably quick,” said CNN Vatican analyst John Allen.

In fact, the phrase “record-breaking speed” leaps to mind, and not without reason, as CNN explains:

The record for the fastest canonization is [sic] modern times is St. Jose-Maria Escriva, the Spanish-born founder of Opus Dei, a Catholic order of laypeople and saints dedicated to finding God in daily life. Escriva was made a saint 27 years after his death.

John Paul could shatter that record.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to point out that Pope John Paul II had built up something of a “cult of personality” during is reign, and many of the hierarchs now in charge of the R.C. Church had been appointed by him, or had put them into position to move up into the hierarchy. They appear now to be clamoring to repay his favors posthumously.

It would be nice if they could instead find a way to devote more of their attention and energy to something other than a dead man. Figuring out how to deal constructively and candidly with the worldwide clerical child-abuse scandal that’s wracked their institution for more than a decade, would be one of those things.

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As though most Catholics … especially of the reactionary sort … don’t already view the late Pope John Paul II as a saint, it seems he’s on target for formal recognition as one. The (UK) Telegraph reports on his pending beatification:

The mayor of Rome, who would play a pivotal role in organizing the event, said the beatification of John Paul is expected to take place “at the latest” by 2010.

Speaking on a visit to Krakow, in the former Pope’s native Poland, Gianni Alemmano said: “These are internal decisions (for the Vatican) but it is expected to take place at the latest by next year.”

Vatican observers say the most likely date for the beatification would be April next year, on the fifth anniversary of the popular Pontiff’s death.

The article mentions that beatification is the next step for John Paul II in his rise to sainthood. It requires — among other things — a verified miracle associated with him.

In John Paul’s case, the miracle under consideration is said to have taken place when a French nun was cured of Parkinson’s disease.

And of course, we all know it’s not possible for a nun, or the Catholic hospitals that no doubt treated her, to be swayed to exaggerate her experience and her miraculous recovery. Oh no. That could never happen. (OK, enough sarcasm.) The Telegraph points out that John Paul II’s canonization case is being handled with what is — for the Vatican — unusual (if not unprecedented) speed:

The process leading to sainthood usually takes decades, but Pope Benedict XVI launched the beatification process for John Paul just two months after his predecessor’s death on April 5, 2005.

I suspect — but cannot prove — that the current Pope, Benedict XVI, would like to be able to canonize his mentor and guide, the man who essentially set him up as his successor, in the same way that John Paul II himself famously wanted to — and eventually did — canonize one of his own favorites, Mother Teresa. If this is the case — and again I don’t know it for sure, I can only guess it’s the case — then we have two Popes accelerating the canonization process to suit their own whims.

Hat tip: Holy Post blog (at Canada’s National Post)

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