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VATICAN LETTER May-6-2005 (780 words) With photos posted May 3. xxxi

Papal priorities: Sainthood causes getting a new look at the Vatican

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI agreed on the need for saints and on the fact that God continues to call and raise up saints among the faithful.

But whether the Catholic Church and the pope himself should be proclaiming so many men and women blessed or saint appears to be an area where they would differ.

The differences were on display in early May -- at the May 2 presentation of a book about the men and women Pope John Paul beatified or canonized, and in the May 4 announcement that Pope Benedict had delegated a cardinal to preside over a May 14 beatification.

Before 1971, popes presided only over canonization Masses; a cardinal was delegated to celebrate beatification Masses.

Pope Benedict has asked Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, to preside at the May 14 beatification of Mother Marianne Cope of Molokai and of the Spanish founder of a religious order.

Pope Paul VI started presiding over beatifications in 1971, and Pope John Paul carried on the practice, but at a substantially increased rate.

In the more than 26 years of his pontificate, he beatified more than 1,300 individuals and proclaimed more than 480 new saints -- compared to the combined total of 302 saints proclaimed by all his predecessors between 1594 and 1978, according to Vatican statistics.

As a cardinal, the future Pope Benedict did not question the pastoral importance of holding up examples of holy men and women for others to imitate, but he did say some rethinking might be needed about candidates known only in their home town or only to members of their religious orders.

In a 1989 interview, he said he wanted one thing to be clear: "I have never said that there are too many saints in the church. That would be absurd, because there can never be enough saints."

And, in fact, there are "many more saints than is possible to canonize," he told 30 Giorni, an Italian newspaper.

The long process of gathering information, studying a person's life, interviewing people who knew the candidate and scrutinizing alleged miracles attributed to the candidate's intercession means the church already is "making a choice based on a priority."

He said it might be time to fine-tune the priorities "in order to place before the eyes of Christians those figures who, more than others, make visible the holiness of the church amid many doubts about its holiness."

The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said it is legitimate to give extra weight to candidates from countries that have never had one of their faithful recognized as a saint, but a clear distinction needs to be made between those "figures who can be examples in a specific environment and those who have a message to transmit to the entire church."

Some inside the Vatican would argue that Pope John Paul thought each person he beatified or canonized had something to say to the entire church. At the very least, they each said something to him.

Bishop Renato Boccardo, who was in charge of organizing Pope John Paul's trips, said looking at the individuals recognized by the church between 1978 and 2005 "opens a window into the secret life of John Paul II."

"He lived with the saints. They were his friends and traveling companions, some of a lifetime and some whom he met along the way," the bishop said May 2 at the presentation of the Italian book, "The Saints and Karol," referring to the late pope's birth name.

"Each day, every day, everywhere in the world, he prayed a litany of Polish saints. He had a little white card with the litany printed on it, but he had added in his own writing the Polish saints he had proclaimed," Bishop Boccardo said.

By presiding personally over beatification ceremonies at home and abroad, Pope John Paul "made sainthood truly universal, instead of being centered on the Mediterranean," said Cardinal Saraiva Martins, a Portuguese, at the May 2 book presentation.

While it was true that Pope John Paul would push the congregation to help finish causes he wanted to crown on a given trip, history was the biggest reason for the huge increase in the number of beatifications and canonizations during his pontificate, the cardinal said.

"The century that just ended produced more martyrs than any other century in history" with Nazi, communist and other totalitarian regimes persecuting the church, he said.

"To finish the causes of all the 20th-century martyrs submitted (to the congregation), you would need two more Pope John Pauls," he said.


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