Pope Benedict XVI will add a dozen more names will be added to the Church’s litany of saints on October 21, a list that includes two Americans – the Franciscan sister Marianne Cope and the world’s first native American saint, Kateri Tekakwitha.
The newly canonized will include Mother Marianne Cope (1838-1918), a German-born Franciscan nun who grew up in Utica, New York and led a group of sisters to teh Hawaiian Islands in 1883 to care for leprosy patients.
Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha was the daughter of a Christian Algonquin mother and a Mohawk chief in upstate New York. Baptized by a Jesuit missionary in 1676 at the age of 20, she died just four years later and will become the first Native American to be canonized.
In an article appearing in The Washington Post, Catholic author Colleen Carroll Campbell says this news is very important for many reasons, not just the fact that two Americans are on the list.
First of all, the timing is symbolic because it coincides with the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council which advanced reforms that many American Catholics saw as discouraging devotion to the saints.
“Before the council opened in October 1962, attention to the saints was a defining feature of American Catholic life,” Campbell writes.
“Catholics planned their social schedules around celebrations of the holy men and women whose feast days crowded the liturgical calendar. Each ethnic group had its favorites: the Irish had St. Patrick, the Germans had St. Nick, the Italians and Poles had St. Joseph. Catholic babies took their names from the canon of saints; Catholic classmates traded holy cards with the same fervor that their Protestant and Jewish counterparts swapped baseball cards; and dog-eared copies of “Butler’s Lives of the Saints” were as common as altar rails, mantillas and novenas to St. Jude.”
But Vatican II’s concern about saints’ feast days distracting from the central mysteries of Christ’s life led to a gradual decline in this devotion.
“As with so much else that happened in the chaotic years after Vatican II concluded in 1965, the balanced tone of the council’s teaching on saints was lost amid the clamor for more radical change,” Campbell notes.
But then came Pope John Paul II who saw “an intrinsic link between the council’s universal call to holiness and devotion to the saints,” she writes. The new pontiff streamlined the Church’s canonization process which resulted in the beatification of 1,338 people and the canonization of 482. His famous “saint factory” gave the faithful a host of new saints to emulate: singles, spouses, parents, doctors, and a variety of ethnic backgrounds.
This resulted in a renewed devotion to the saints. “Many younger Catholics who never knew the pre-Vatican II subculture that shaped their parents and grandparents have begun discovering the value of having holy companions on the spiritual journey, wise guides whose stories suggest that fleeting trials, when embraced with faith, can become the stuff of eternal glory,” Campbell writes.
Pope Benedict XVI has done everything he can to encourage that discovery. Between 2007 and 2011, he gave more than 100 general audience addresses on the lives of the saints.
“A careful student of history with a gimlet-eyed view of the church’s position in the world today, Benedict knows that saints – and the passion for personal holiness and self-sacrifice they inspire – are keys to Church renewal in every age.”
Five other blesseds will be canonized on the 21st: Jesuit martyr Father Jacques Berthieu of France; Peter Calungsod, a lay catechist born in Cebu, Philippines and martyred April 2, 1672, in Guam; Father Giovanni Battista Piamarta, Italian priest and founder of the Congregation of the Holy Family of Nazareth for men and the Humble Servants of the Lord for women; Carmen Salles y Barangueras, Spanish founder of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception; Anna Schaffer, a lay German woman.
As the faithful enter the new Year of Faith, this is the perfect time to rediscover the beauty of the saints!
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