Precinct 333

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

"Santo Subito" -- Sainthood Now!

The chant was heard at Pope John Paul II's funeral last week -- "Santo! Santo!" Cardinal Ratzinger's homily hinted that he believed the pope not to be in Purgatory (as traditional Catholic teaching suggest may be the fate of most believers for a time) but already among the heavenly host. And then there were the signs that read "Santo Subito".

Calls for sainthood began almost immediately after the pope died on April 2 and reached a peak at his funeral on Friday, when mourners in St. Peter's Square held banners saying, "Santo Subito," or "Saint at Once," and chanted, "Santo, Santo." Reports of miraculous cures through his intervention poured in.

Several Italian newspapers reported that the Vatican had quietly been collecting messages from people attesting to healings attributed to him.

Luigi Accattoli, one of the most respected Vatican reporters, wrote in the Milan daily Corriere della Sera that a petition had already been circulated among the cardinals seeking signatures for a fast-track canonization process for John Paul. The usual process involves years of careful investigation, and it sometimes takes centuries for the final declaration.

Several cardinals confirmed that the idea of rapid canonization was discussed the day after the pope's funeral at their daily meeting.

If John Paul is canonized, he will be only the fourth pope to be so honored in 900 years.

That the cardinals are already discussing the possibility of a speedy canonization is intriguing. The waiting period for the process to start is five years, but it can be waived. And one cardinal even talks of being healed by the intervention of John Paul several years ago.

Cardinal Francesco Marchesano evoked the idea of miraculous healing. He said that when he had been in the hospital for an operation on his carotid artery and lost his voice, John Paul caressed his throat and said: "The Lord will give back your voice. You will see. I will say a prayer for you.'" Cardinal Camillo Ruini spoke of "the certainty of his new, mysterious and luminous presence."

Some argue that this speedy move for canonization, or at least beatification, is intended to cement the Pope's conservative policies into place by making them inseperable from the holy man himself.

While there may be some cynics around who are doing that, I don't believe that to be the case. What I see instead is a return to an older tradition, one under which the faithful themselves had a role to play in the process of declaring sainthood. Consider Thomas a Becket, martyred by English knights loyal to King Henry II. Shortly after his death, the people themselves had made his tomb a place of pilgrimage and devotion. The faithful declared him to be a saint, and he was so recognized by the Church within three years. Please note -- it was the sense of the faithful that came first, not the public affirmation by the institution. The outpouring of grief and love and prayer we have seen may be the sign that the faithful have recognized something that the institutional church needs to acknowledge.


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