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Why John Paul II Proclaimed so Many Saints

Interview With Cardinal Saraiva Martins

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 5, 2006 (Zenit) - Quoting Pope John Paul II, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins insists that "there aren't too many saints."

We interviewed the prefect of the Congregation for Sainthood Causes to learn more about the workings of this Vatican dicastery. He also commented on the number of John Paul II's canonizations -- pegged at 480.

Q: How many causes of beatification and canonization have been introduced at present?

Cardinal Saraiva Martins: The number is very high. There are more than 2,200 causes.

Of these, more than 400 have completed the "positio" [a kind of report]; in other words, they are ready to be discussed, examined and studied further by the dicastery's different collegial bodies; and by historians when it is a question of a historical cause, theologians when it is a question of virtues, doctors when an alleged miracle must be studied and, finally, the cardinals of the congregation.

Q: Do you think there are too many or too few canonized saints?

Cardinal Saraiva Martins: Sometimes there is talk of a kind of inflation of saints. Some speak of there being many saints but I answer immediately that there aren't at all too many saints.

The number of saints and blessed increased in John Paul II's pontificate. He alone proclaimed more saints and blessed than all his predecessors together since 1588, the year this dicastery was founded.

John Paul II was very aware that there was talk of an inflation of saints and blessed, and he responded that it wasn't true.

The first reason the Pope gave was that he, by beatifying so many Servants of God, did no more than implement the Second Vatican Council, which vigorously reaffirmed that holiness is the essential note of the Church; that the Church is holy: one, holy, catholic, apostolic.

John Paul II also said that if the Church of Christ is not holy, it isn't the Church of Christ, the true Church of Christ, the one he desired and founded to continue his mission throughout the centuries.

Therefore, John Paul II said, holiness is what is most important in the Church, according to the Second Vatican Council. Then no one should be surprised by the fact that the Pope wished to propose so many models of holiness to Christians, to the People of God.

The second reason is the extraordinary ecumenical importance of holiness.

In "Novo Millennio Ineunte," the Pope said that the holiness of the saints, blessed and martyrs is perhaps the most convincing ecumenism, these are his words, because holiness, he said with even stronger words, has its ultimate foundation in Christ, in whom the Church is not divided.

Therefore, the ecumenism we all want calls for many saints, so that the convincing ecumenism of holiness is placed in the candelabrum of the holiness of the Church.

The Pope's third reason was that "the saints and blessed manifest the charity of a local Church," that is, today, the Holy Father said, local Churches are far more numerous than in the last 10 centuries.

Therefore, we shouldn't be surprised that there are also more saints, more blessed who express and manifest the holiness of these increased local Churches.

Q: What is the itinerary to attain to the honor of the altar, in other words, how does one become a Servant of God, venerable, blessed and saint?

Cardinal Saraiva Martins: According to juridical norms, every process of beatification and canonization consists of two fundamental phases: the diocesan "in loco" and the "Roman," namely, in the Holy See, in this dicastery.

In the diocesan phase, the bishop is the only juridical person who can decide if it is or is not a case of initiating a specific cause.

If a nun or layperson dies, the bishop must investigate if that person was really holy or not, according to the faithful.

Only if there is a reputation for holiness among the faithful, together with the local ecclesial community, can the bishop initiate the cause of beatification, once having obtained the sanction of this dicastery to begin the cause at the diocesan level.

If there is no reputation of holiness, if for the faithful that person has no reputation of holiness, the bishop cannot even initiate the cause.

This is very important, especially today, because there is much talk about the role of the laity in the Church.

Here we have a very important and fundamental case in which it is the laity that takes the first step in a cause of beatification. It is the laity that must say to the bishop, "In our opinion this person is (or is not) holy."

What must the bishop do specifically in the diocesan phase? First of all he must create a commission, a tribunal and collect all the documents relative to the person candidate to the cause of beatification, canonization, heroic virtues, martyrdom if it is a martyr, a miracle if there is an alleged miracle.

Once the bishop has collected all the documents relative to the person who has a reputation for holiness, he sends all the documentation to Rome, to the Holy See, to this dicastery.

Then the second phase begins, the Roman. When the documentation arrives here, the task of this dicastery and of the different collegial bodies within it is to examine and study it thoroughly.

For example, there is the historical consultation if it is about a historical cause, that is, old, of which there are no living witnesses.

There is the theological commission which must study, in the light of the documentation received by the diocese, if the real holiness of the person does or does not emerge.

If it is a question of a miracle, the medical consultation must study if the cure, the alleged miracle, is or is not really inexplicable in the light of medical science. For this objective, we have 70 medical specialists at our disposition. According to the nature of the cure presented by the dicastery as an alleged miracle, we can examine the case with the specialists of that branch of medicine.

If the doctors say that that cure has no scientific explanation, the question goes to the theologians who must study the problem of the relationship between the cure and the invocation and intercession of the candidate to sainthood. For example, if the sick person has prayed to Mother Teresa of Calcutta for his cure, that is, to intercede before God so that he will be healed, as the miracle is wrought by God.

One must analyze if there is a causal nexus between this inexplicable cure and the prayer that the sick person has made to God through the intercession of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Then the miracle can and must be attributed to the intercession of Mother Teresa. Therefore, the theologians must say if it is or is not a miracle.

Of course, once all these phases are completed, the process goes to the cardinals of the congregation. We have the so-called ordinary, made up of 30 cardinals, archbishops and bishops. They are the ones who have the last word.

The cardinals must or must not ratify, must or must not approve, the conclusions of the historians, doctors and theologians.

If the cardinals' ordinary approves the conclusions of the theologians, doctors and historians, the prefect of the dicastery takes it all to the Holy Father.

He speaks with him, discusses the different phases of the process; and he approves or does not approve, does or does not decide to beatify this person.

Therefore, it is quite a long process with a diocesan and Roman phase. They begin to be called Servants of God once the cause has been introduced at the diocesan level.

They become Venerable Servants of God once the Church has recognized their heroic virtues.

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Pope, John Paul, Saints, Martins, Sainthood

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