The Catholic Church makes saints to provide role models for the faithful, and Pope Francis has followed in the footsteps of his predecessors in churning them out at a rapid clip. The process is cloaked in secrecy and open to criticism, given that it deals with science-defying miracles, politicized choices and significant sums of money, as was recently revealed in some blockbuster books on Vatican finance.
But saints aren’t going away anytime soon, and Francis has actually made the process easier in some ways by doing away with the miracle requirement for several high-profile saints.
How are saints made?
A postulator – essentially the cheerleader spearheading the project – gathers testimony and documentation and presents the case to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints. If the congregation’s experts agree the candidate lived a virtuous life, the case is forwarded to the pope, who signs a decree attesting to the candidate’s “heroic virtues.”
If the postulator finds someone was miraculously healed by praying for the candidate’s intercession, and if the cure cannot be medically explained, the case is presented to the congregation as the possible miracle needed for beatification. Panels of doctors, theologians, bishops and cardinals must certify that the cure was instantaneous, complete and lasting – and was due to the intercession of the saintly candidate. If convinced, the congregation sends the case to the pope, who signs a decree saying the candidate can be beatified.
A second miracle is needed for canonization, which means the person becomes a saint. Martyrs – people killed for their faith – can be beatified without a miracle. A miracle is needed, however, for martyrs to be canonized.
What about Mother Teresa’s miracle?
A Brazilian mechanical engineer was suffering from a viral brain infection that resulted in multiple abscesses, the church says. In 2008 he was in a coma and dying, suffering from an accumulation of fluid around the brain. Surgery was scheduled for 6:10 p.m. but the anesthesiologist couldn’t immediately intubate him. When the surgeon arrived a half-hour later, he “found the patient inexplicably awake and without pain,” according to the postulator, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk.
“The patient asked the doctor, ‘What I am doing here?’ The next morning … the patient was fully awake and without any headache; he was asymptomatic with normal cognition,” Kolodiejchuk said in a statement. Kolodiejchuk said the man’s wife had been praying for Mother Teresa’s intercession specifically during the half-hour when her husband was supposed to be in surgery.
Kolodiejchuk said the man has since resumed working and is in good health – and despite tests showing he had become sterile has had two children since. The miracle that got Mother Teresa beatified in 2003 involved an Indian woman, Monica Besra, who said she was miraculously cured of a tumor. Some Indian doctors at the time insisted she was cured by medicine – not a miracle – and expressed concern that belief in such events would turn the poor away from science when they fell ill.
But hasn’t Francis done away with miracles?
In his zeal to give the faithful even more role models, Francis has on several occasions done away with the Vatican’s own rules requiring two miracles for someone to be canonized. His most famous waiver involved St. John XXIII, whom Francis canonized along with St. John Paul II in April 2014. The Vatican said Francis had the authority to dispense with the miracle requirement for John.
Francis isn’t the only one to bend rules when it comes to saints. Pope John Paul II waived the normal five-year waiting period for Mother Teresa’s beatification process to begin and launched it a year after her 1997 death.
Pope Benedict XVI subsequently waived the five-year waiting period for John Paul in launching his beatification process weeks after his 2005 death. In the end, John Paul beat out Mother Teresa’s record-fast beatification by just a few days when he was beatified May 1, 2011.
How many saints are there?
During his quarter-century papacy John Paul declared more saints _ 482 _ than all of his predecessors combined. Some of his big-name saints: Edith Stein, a Jewish-born Carmelite nun who was killed at Auschwitz, and Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan friar who sacrificed his life at the death camp so that a man with a family could live. He also beatified a record-number, 1,338. Among them was John XXIII in 2000 and Mother Teresa in 2003.
Benedict continued the process albeit at a slower clip – 44 saints under his watch. Francis overtook John Paul’s record within two months as pope: In May 2013, he canonized more than 800 15th century martyrs who were beheaded for refusing to convert to Islam. By canonizing Mother Teresa, he is clearly aiming to give his Holy Year of Mercy an icon for the faithful to venerate around the world.