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CURIA-SARAIVA Feb-17-2006 (990 words) One in an occasional series. With graphics posted Feb. 8 and photos Feb. 17. xxxi

Portuguese cardinal is 'objective fan' of soccer, sainthood causes

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Portuguese cardinal who heads the Congregation for Saints' Causes has been given extra duties by Pope Benedict XVI.

The pope, having decided not to preside personally over most beatification ceremonies, usually delegates the responsibility to Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, the 74-year-old congregation prefect.

While no one expects Pope Benedict to match the super record-setting pace of canonizations and beatifications set by Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Saraiva Martins said the amount of work done by his office is not expected to slow any time soon.

"I foresee the rhythm continuing as it has been," he told Catholic News Service. "With 2,200 causes open here, it is clear things will continue.

"Even if no other causes were submitted, we would have enough causes to study to keep us busy for years and years, but new causes always are arriving," the cardinal said.

During the first 10 months of his pontificate, Pope Benedict has personally presided over the canonization of five people and proclaimed another 31 candidates blessed.

None of the causes were introduced or speeded up by Pope Benedict, who is letting them follow their normal path from introduction in a diocese through the often years of study at the Vatican.

One notable exception, however, was Pope Benedict's decision to set aside the five-year waiting period and allow the sainthood cause of Pope John Paul to begin.

Cardinal Saraiva Martins said Pope Benedict "has not decided the outcome -- absolutely not. He has just said the study and research can begin.

"The process for Pope John Paul is the same as the process for anyone," he said.

Although some may find the very idea shocking, the cardinal said, the process is serious and not just a matter of formality.

"It is possible, as has happened in other cases, that there could be a negative outcome," he said. "Nothing is guaranteed."

Asked about the impact of public reaction to the causes of Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul, the cardinal said, "Just because some people are very much in favor or very much opposed to a cause cannot influence our decisions. We want the historical facts, reality and that alone."

The Portuguese cardinal describes himself as an "objective fan," both when it comes to soccer and when it comes to evaluating material submitted in sainthood causes.

A well-known supporter of Lazio, one of Rome's two premier-league soccer teams, he said he is sad when Lazio loses, "but I know it will help them learn to play better."

The cardinal said his job as prefect of the congregation handling sainthood causes is a role that requires even more objectivity.

"For us, the process for a pope or for a cloistered nun is the same," he said. "Holiness is a very personal thing. What matters is that the individual lived his or her life in a holy way, whether the person was a prince or a chimney sweep."

Like the other Vatican congregations, Cardinal Saraiva Martins' office has about 30 full-time employees. They handle requests for Vatican approval to begin the local phase of sainthood causes, ensure that causes follow the procedures outlined in church law and coordinate the historical and theological review of materials submitted in support of a claim that an individual lived a saintly life.

Separate studies are conducted on miracles alleged to have occurred through the candidate's intercession.

Cardinal Saraiva Martins said his congregation actually has substantially more people working with it than any other Vatican office.

"We have 62 consultants," including theologians and historians who review all the written material submitted for each cause, and 70 physicians prepared to examine the clinical data submitted in support of miracles, he said.

In addition, about 200 postulators -- the official promoters of sainthood causes -- are in regular contact with the congregation, he said. "They buzz around here like flies."

The Catholic Church's process for recognizing saints is marked only by the rarest of exceptions; for the vast majority of causes, the process is very methodical and very orderly.

For the cardinal, a fan and former ice hockey player, the rules are the rules.

While the congregation does not have a penalty box, it does have nine tall, doublewide cupboards filled with material belonging to causes that have officially stalled and are unlikely to proceed.

The cupboards line the hallway leading to what the cardinal describes as "one of the greatest treasures of the Catholic Church" -- the congregation archives.

The huge rooms contain not only information on every sainthood cause submitted to the Vatican since 1588 -- much of it handwritten in Latin and bound in leather -- but also Vatican records dealing with every aspect of the Latin-rite liturgy from 1588 to 1969.

For 381 years, the former Congregation of Rites handled both the causes of saints to be added eventually to the church's liturgical calendar and the liturgy itself.

When the Congregation for Saints' Causes and the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments were separated, Cardinal Saraiva Martins' office was given responsibility for the historic archives.

Even without looking in the archives, the cardinal can tell visitors that the five-year waiting period the church usually requires before opening a sainthood cause is nothing compared to what it used to be.

"At first, it was 50 years, then it was reduced to 30 and now it is five," he said. "Why? For scrupulousness and objectivity.

"The 50-year period was instituted because it was unlikely that anyone who knew the person would still be alive and, therefore, the process would be much more objective. Certain passions generated when someone dies cool off and the remaining impressions are more objective," he said.

The cardinal said the current five-year period allows the excessive emotional response to slacken, but still gives the church access to the invaluable testimony of people who actually knew the candidate.

END


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