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Friday, July 30, 2021

Explained: The road to sainthood for Robert Schuman, the ‘Father of Europe’

Pope Francis on Saturday approved a decree declaring the "heroic virtues" of Robert Schuman. He can now be called “venerable” by Catholics, one of the many steps in the long process to be recognised as a saint by the Rome-based church.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: June 21, 2021 11:16:18 am
French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman signs a treaty. The Vatican said on Saturday, June 19, 2021 that the pontiff authorized a decree declaring the “heroic virtues” of Robert Schuman, a former French minister and Resistance fighter in World War II, who died in 1963 and who had been president of the European Parliament from 1958 till 1960. (AP Photo/1950)

French statesman Robert Schuman, known as the “Father of Europe” for his role in creating the institutions that became the European Union, has been put on the path towards possible sainthood by the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis on Saturday approved a decree declaring the “heroic virtues″ of Schuman, a devout Catholic during his life. He can now be called “venerable” by Catholics, one of the many steps in the long process to be recognised as a saint by the Rome-based church.

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Schuman is described by the European Commission website as “one of the founding fathers of European unity” and “the architect of the project of European integration”.

Robert Schuman’s role in creating the European Union

Born in 1886 in Luxembourg, Schuman later became a French citizen, and for a short while supported Marshal Pétain, a Nazi collaborator during World War II who was later sentenced to death. Schuman was arrested by the Nazi Gestapo in 1940 during Germany’s occupation of France, but escaped a year later, and remained in hiding until the war ended.

After the war, Schuman rose to great heights in French politics and held important portfolios in the national government, including two stints as prime minister in 1948. He channelled his energy in uniting the war-torn continent. In 1950, he proposed that coal and steel resources should be pooled among Europe’s nations to ensure lasting peace – which came to be known as the Schuman Declaration. The day on which this plan was announced, May 9, is now celebrated as Europe Day.

Consequently, France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands signed the Treaty of Paris to create the European Coal and Steel Community, which in 1957 became the European Economic Community, and in 1993 became the European Union. In 1958, Schuman served as the first president of the body, which later became the European Parliament. Upon his retirement, he was given the title “Father of Europe”.

Schuman also played an important role in founding the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), an alliance meant to ensure collective protection for its members — the United States, Canada, and American allies in Europe — against the threat of possible post-War communist expansion and aggression by the Soviet Union. He died in 1963.

What sainthood means

It is a title conferred posthumously. Once a person is canonised as a saint, he or she is venerated in the Church. Then, churches and church-run institutions can be named after such persons, and Christian children can adopt the names of these saints at the time of baptism.

The relics of the person declared as a saint are venerated, and festivals are held in their names. Their places of birth, death, and burial become centres of pilgrimage.

The Catholic Church has a very long list of saints that have been under preparation from the beginning of the Church. Saints in the early centuries after Christ had been martyrs who died after persecution by the Roman Empire. Later, those who lived pious lives and stood for the Christian faith were also made saints. There are Popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, nuns, ordinary men and women on the long list of saints.

The process of being recognised as a saint

Conferring sainthood on a Catholic is a long process. First, the demand for initiating the process should come from within the local community, which should establish that the candidate lived a saintly life amidst them.

If the demand merits attention, the local diocese constitutes a special body to look into the life of the candidate. If they find that the prospective saint is worthy of the honour, the diocese presents the case at the Congregation for the Cause of Saints in Rome. If the Vatican is convinced, it confers the title of ‘Servant of God’ on the candidate.

Then the real process begins. A postulator — a church official who oversees the canonisation process — must prove that the candidate lived by Christian virtues. Documents and testimonies are collected and presented to the Vatican Congregation.

In the next stage, the ‘Servant of God’, if found to be virtuous enough, is declared ‘Venerable.’ At this juncture, the postulator has to prove that a living person received a miracle from God through the intervention of the ‘Servant of God’.

Once this is done, the candidate is declared ‘Blessed’ by the Vatican. During the ‘Blessed’ period, proof of another miracle brought about by the intervention of the candidate must be established. If this is done, the ‘Blessed’ is declared a saint.

Sometimes, the entire process of declaring a candidate a saint would run into centuries.

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Saints in India

There are 11 saints connected with the country, according to the official data of the Church.

Of the 11, Gonsalo Garcia, born to Portuguese parents in Mumbai in 1557, is considered to have been the first India-born saint. In 2008, Kerala-born Sister Alphonsa was declared as the first woman Catholic saint from India. Mother Teresa had a fast-track to sainthood when she was canonised in 2016.

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