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CURRENT ISSUE:  May 8, 2006 • VOL. 44, NO. 9 • Oakland, CA

Pope says caution needed in choosing more new saints

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church should be more selective and very rigorous in choosing candidates for sainthood, Pope Benedict XVI said in a message to the Congregation for Saints’ Causes.

The pope, who as a cardinal expressed concern over the number of causes being promoted, wrote to the congregation as its members met last month for a plenary assembly.

Pope Benedict said he had put into effect changes that met the “widespread hope” that the difference between beatification and canonization would be underlined and that local churches would be more involved in the entire process.

Modern men and women need true models of holiness, he said, and they must be chosen with care.

Second, he said, there must be a real “fame of holiness” and not just a conviction among a small group of people that the person in question was a good Christian.

“The uninterrupted practice of the church establishes the necessity of a physical miracle,” he said. “A moral miracle is not enough.”

“In addition to reassuring us that the servant of God lives in heaven in communion with God, miracles are the divine confirmation of the judgment expressed by church authorities about the virtuous life” lived by the candidate, he said.

The congregation’s plenary also included a discussion of the definition of martyrdom, a debate that has been going on for at least 30 years.

The traditional definition of a martyr is someone who was killed out of hatred for the faith.

But, for example, Conventual Franciscan Father Maximilian Kolbe was canonized in 1982 as a martyr even though the Nazis at the Auschwitz death camp did not kill him explicitly because of his faith.
When a prisoner escaped from the death camp, Nazi officials announced 10 would die in his place. One of the 10 chosen was a Polish army sergeant who asked to be spared because he had a wife and children.

Father Kolbe stepped forward and asked the camp commandant to let him replace the man. The commandant agreed, and Father Kolbe and the other nine were locked up in a bunker to starve to death. When guards entered the bunker to remove the bodies, Father Kolbe was still alive. They killed him with an injection of carbolic acid.

Pope Benedict told congregation members that while the strength of the faith of martyrs has remained unchanged, “the cultural contexts of martyrdom and the strategies on the part of the persecutors” have changed.

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he leads his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican May 3. Through the living tradition of the church, Christ remains with his disciples until the end of time, teaching, guiding and comforting them, the pope said in his audience talk.

CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters

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