John Paul II will enter ecclesiastical history as the most prolific saint-maker in history. Often criticised for operating ‘a factory of saints’, John Paul II’s saints maintain an important role in Catholicism, fulfilling the role of intercessors between heaven and earth.
As of October 2004, Pope John Paul II beatified 1,338 people and canonised another 482. These included the beatification of three Maltese on their way to sainthood: Dun Gorg Preca, Adeodata Pisani and Nazju Falzon. However, in the list of canonised priests lie a number of a number of notorious figures too, like Pope Pius IX and Opus Dei Founder Saint Josemaria Escrivá. Vatican analysts interpret the beatification of conservative figures as a balancing act in the Pope’s bid to appease conservatives and progressives alike.
The Maltese Blessed
Even in his choice of Maltese saints the Vatican struck a balance between innovators and more mainstream figures. While Dun Gorg Preca was a man of humble origins, Nazju Falzon was a doctor of civil and canon law and Adeodata Pisani was the daughter of Baron Benedict Pisani Mompalao.
Dun Gorg Preca shocked the Church authorities of his time by organising a lay religious organisation composed of working class adherents. In 1909, Dun Gorg was ordered to close down all his houses for Catholic doctrine by the Curia. It was only in 1932 that Archbishop Mauro Caruana approved the M.U.S.E.U.M. society.
Nazju Falzon’s exploits included the conversion of 656 Protestants, four Arabs and two Jews to the Catholic faith. Adeodata Pisani lived for 25 years in perfect observance of a cloistered life at St Peter’s Monastery as a Benedictine nun consecrated to God.
John Paul II is credited for democratising the concept of sainthood. Traditionally few women have made it to sainthood. John Paul II had a particular affinity for declaring women saints, perhaps in part because of what has been described as his almost mystical relationship with the Virgin Mary. One of the women canonised by the Pope was Edith Stein. Stein was born a Jew, became an atheist, and then converted to Catholicism. She entered a convent in Cologne, but fled to the Netherlands in 1938 after the Nazis stepped up their anti-Semitism campaign. When the Dutch bishops issued a pastoral letter protesting the deportation of the Jews and the expulsion of Jewish children from the Catholic school system, the Nazis arrested all Catholics of Jewish extraction in Holland. Edith was taken from the Echt Carmel convent on 2 August 1942, and transported by cattle train to the death camp of Auschwitz, the conditions in the box cars being so inhuman that many died or went insane on the four day trip. She died in the gas chambers at Auschwitz on 9 August 1942.
Pope Pius IX
Pope John Paul II beatified Pope Pius IX, an ultra-conservative 19th-century Pope on the same day he beatified Pope John XXIII, the progressive Pope who had convened the Vatican Council II.
The beatification of Pius IX displeased the Jewish community because he was the last Pope to confine Jews to the ghetto. He had also condoned the kidnapping of a six-year old Jewish boy, Edgardo Mortara. Mortara was baptised by an illiterate Catholic housemaid, thereby justifying his seizure by the Papal police under the law that does not allow non-Catholics to raise a baptised child. Pius IX also insulted Jews by calling the Jews of Rome “dogs”.
Pius IX reigned from 1846 to 1878, the longest tenure in the church’s history. He presided over the first Vatican Council, which supported his decision to declare papal infallibility. From then on, all papal utterances dealing with the issues of faith and morality were considered infallible. In Roman Catholicism, beatification is the last step before sainthood. Pope John Paul II felt that “beatifying a son of the Church does not celebrate particular historic choices that he has made, but rather points him out for imitation and for veneration for his virtue.”
Saint Josemaria Escrivá
Saint Josemaria Escrivá was canonised on 6 October, 2002. The Pope put him on the path to sainthood by beatifying him in 1992. Since then he is deemed to have brought about dozens of miracles. Escrivá, accused of being a supporter of the Spain’s fascist dictator General Francisco Franco, has achieved full sainthood in near record-breaking time. He died in 1975. He earned the right to canonisation, or full sainthood, by saving a Spanish doctor, Manuel Nevado, from certain death. Vatican investigators have said that he performed a “scientifically inexplicable” cure of the doctor’s chronic radiodermatitis.
Escrivá went into hiding to avoid anti-clerical factions in Republican Spain when the civil war broke out in 1936. Escrivá’s ultra-conservative movement Opus Dei, which means ‘The Work of God’, recruited many of its members from Spain’s wealthy and powerful families and flourished under Franco, eventually providing ministers to his governments.
Padre Pio, who died in 1968, was regarded as a saint during his lifetime in Italy, as he performed good works and was said to bear the marks, or stigmata, similar to the wounds Christians believe Jesus Christ suffered when he was crucified. At one time during his life, the Vatican was reluctant to recognise the stigmata, but the Pope now says they were genuine. The small town in southern Italy where Padre Pio preached and lived has become a shrine rivalling Lourdes, visited by millions of pilgrims each year. His cult has spawned a huge business in souvenirs, statues and icons worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year. He is also present on the internet, with more than 3,000 websites in his name.
Mother Theresa is a living example of humility and compassion revered by millions of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Following Mother Theresa’s death in 1997, the Holy See immediately began procedures for sainthood. In fact, Mother Theresa was fast tracked to sainthood.
This process requires the documentation of a miracle. In 2002, the Vatican recognised as a miracle the healing of a tumour in the abdomen of an Indian woman, Monica Besra, following the application of a locket containing Theresa’s picture. Monica Besra said that a beam of light emanated from the picture, curing the cancerous tumour.
Although Mother Theresa was noted for her charitable work and humility, she is also criticised for questionable relationships with some of the word’s worst dictators. In 1981, Theresa flew to Haiti to accept the Legion d’Honneur from the right-wing dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, who, after his ouster, was found to have stolen millions of dollars from the impoverished country. On that occasion she said that the Duvaliers “loved their poor”, and that “their love was reciprocated.”
Pope John Paul II did not show the same enthusiasm for the beatification of Óscar Romero, a prominent Roman Catholic priest and Archbishop in El Salvador during the 1960s and 1970s.
After witnessing numerous violations of human rights, he began to speak out on behalf of the poor and the victims of El Salvador’s long and bloody civil war. This led to numerous conflicts, both with the government in El Salvador and with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
After speaking out against US military support for the government of El Salvador, and calling for soldiers to disobey orders that harmed human rights, Archbishop Romero was shot to death while celebrating Mass at a small chapel near his cathedral. It is believed that his assassins were members of Salvadoran death squads, including two graduates of the US-sponsored School of the Americas.
On the tenth anniversary of Romero’s killing, his successor appointed a postulator for the cause of his canonisation. After investigations into Romero’s life, work, and writings, the archdiocese submitted the results to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints in 1997. To date however, Rome has not taken the matter any further, probably due to the institutionalised church’s continued mistrust of liberation theology.