Santo subito. Do we need a process?
Fr Henryk Misztal
The common shouts ‘Santo subito’ (saint soon) of numerous people of God gathered at the funeral of John Paul II made many people ask the question whether we the cause for beatification was needed. There were many texts in the press and various other publications. There were discussions whether the process was needed considering the fact that during his lifetime and just after his death John Paul II enjoyed such a wide and almost universal reputation for sanctity, shared by both believers and even non-believing environments. There arose the question whether John Paul II could be announced saint by acclamation like it was done in the first centuries of the Church’s history.
‘Santo subito’ – ‘Santo sicuro’
Indeed, during the first centuries Christians gathered at the graves of martyrs or confessors; they spoke about their behaviours during their martyr’s deaths or about their holy lives; they prayed there and the bishop as the head of the local Church (community) celebrated the Eucharist and wrote down the martyr’s name in the calendar of that community. The cult of the saint was immediately spread in other Churches through letters. Then there originated accounts of martyr’s deaths, called martyrs’ acts, collections of miracles or lives, biographies referring to the confessors’ sanctity, which were read during such gatherings. However, those spontaneous canonisations were made too quickly because of the lack of profound investigation, which evoked many doubts as far as the authenticity of graves or sanctity was concerned. That’s why during synods bishops and then popes demanded more and more detailed verifications of candidates for canonisations and with time, for beatification. Thus the legal regulations concerning a detailed investigation following the example of a legal trial were established. These regulations regarding causes for canonisation and beatification were reformed and codified in 1983 by Pope John Paul II. No wonder they should have been applied to his beatification.
The causes for beatification of all candidates for the altars have not only pure evidence functions to recognise the candidates’ sanctity but also contribute to show the world a fuller beauty of candidates, their ways to sanctity and, what is very important, they fulfil the function of evangelisation, connected with the sanctifying mission of the Church.
On 15 January 2011, in his interview for ‘L’Osservatore Romano’ Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome, said that ‘Santo subito’ – saint soon – should be also ‘Santo sicuro’ – saint sure.’ The Church as the guard of the deposit of the faith, made by the command of the Saviour spoken to St Peter, ‘Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven’ (Matthew 16:19) in the act of beatification here, on earth, decides about heavenly reality, i.e., salvation of a given person, allows the person to be venerated publicly in the Church, shows the person as an example to follow and pray to God through his/her intercession. That’s why the Church wants to have the human guarantee in forms of evidence proceedings and supernatural confirmation by a miracle.
He showed the way to Christ
The universal and spontaneous reputation for sanctity of John Paul II, expressed by people shouting ‘Santo subito,’ did not exert pressure on those who were conducting his process of beatification but it accompanied it and was the basis for Pope Benedict XVI to waive the 30-year waiting period before the process could start in accordance with the canon law. After that act had been done the investigation aiming at collecting and analysing from the perspective of the faith the whole written output of John Paul II began. At first, all the most important witnesses were heard, preserving all the rigours of the process, to confirm the Pope’s sanctity. And finally, the whole documentation of his life and activities from his birth till his passing away to God was gathered and critically reviewed. This stage was the longest because all reservations made by various environments that were reluctant towards the Church and the Holy Father needed to be considered. Nothing was neglected to be sure that the figure of John Paul II is not only crystal-clear regarding his faith and morality but also worthy recommending to all believers.
It was in the process of John Paul II that the beauty of his really child’s faith and confidence in God, love of Christ and his Mother as well as his exemplary love of each person, regardless of his/her religious conviction and social origin or skin was revealed as in the limelight. The Servant of God embraced with his love especially the sick, the poor, the humiliated and despised by various regimes and even love of enemies – those who attempted to kill him. The process showed John Paul II’s charisma to communicate with the contemporary world, his wonderful message about the necessity to respect the dignity of every human person. Through his suffering and sickness John Paul II showed the Christian sense of suffering and through his pastoral involvement he gave evidence how everyone could fulfil his/her duties whether being a stone mason, worker, farmer, professor, priest, bishop or even pope. He wanted to go and talk to even those who did not want to let him enter their countries. He overcame barriers and made all believers close regardless of their religions and faiths; he promoted the value of the family, human labour, social justice. He loved his Homeland very much and taught to love each country, each land, for example by his gesture of kissing the soil of the country he visited. He discovered the traces of God the Creator in the beauty of nature, farmer’s work and birds’ singing or sounds of the ocean. And he showed the mutual support between science and faith. It is difficult to enumerate all the religious messages of John Paul II, e.g., the Divine Mercy, the cult of the Eucharist, the Marian cult, the missionary activities of the Church, sanctity of life, the role of the laity, especially women, ecumenism, universal call to holiness, the greatness of the calling to priesthood and consecrated life, the need of a new evangelisation, faithfulness to the Eucharist and service to the poorest, treating authority as service, respect for religious freedom, God’ presence in the whole unifying Europe. Studying and realising these messages can fill the whole life of each person regardless of his/her views. They are very valid in the light of the threats: laicisation of life, relativism of values and open persecutions of Christians. Do we still need to defend the heritage of the Cross and Poland’s adherence to the culture of the West and the East, faithfulness to the roots, struggle against our national vices, which many a time contributed to our lost of freedom, as well as the skill to use the freedom we regained? The purely legal proceedings showed the person of John Paul II as a great Bethlehem star, showing the way to Christ in our times. But the Church did not limit herself to peoples’ testimonies but waited for the confirmation of John Paul II’s sanctity by a miracle, which was examined independently and with such meticulousness that it became an extra seal of God, ensuring Benedict XVI to announce the date of the beatification. It will take only six years and 29 days between John Paul II’s death and his beatification to be held on 1 May 2011. In such a short time so much has been done to discover the whole beauty of this exceptional Person living at the turn of centuries.
Beatification – retreats for the world
As far as the evangelisation function of the process and the sanctifying mission of the Church, which is related to it, is concerned the process contributed to gather and evaluate the fruits of John Paul II’s sanctity in the form of numerous schools and universities, ecclesiastical and secular institutions named after him and deepening the truths he proclaimed, many social initiatives, e.g., scholarships for the poor, orphanages and other works that are hard to enumerate. The enthusiasm towards the person of John Paul II reminds us of the former enthusiasm of faith when streets, squares, cities and even states were named after saints; when little chapels with the picture of the Passion of the Lord or with Our Lady and saints were built near roads, motorways and paths. We do not know whether any other saint has got so many commemorative tablets, monuments, names of streets as John Paul II. Although they are not the most important things they testify about the great cult his person and the values he proclaimed enjoy.
The cause for beatification is a specific kind of retreats for the world, an occasion to organise many symposia, profound studies on faith and science, meditations, prayers, vigils, institutionalised and spontaneous charity activities, revival of volunteering work, youth days embracing numerous countries and nations, pilgrimages, international family congresses, ecumenical days and interreligious dialogue, understanding the Church as one big family of nations, the Church at service of mankind, the Church that deals with daily matters. It is so important to show John Paul II’s sanctity as ‘high measure of Christian life’ available to everyone. Paraphrasing the words of Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, referring to the sanctity of John Paul II, one can say that this process let us see better this great saint of our times, called Great John Paul II by many environments. In him as a saint as if the ‘DNA’ of the post-conciliar Church, witness of faith and ‘active presence of God among his people’ is shown as the words ‘that God speaks in history for the good of humanity to protect the Church against «mediocrity» and to give sense to the life of each man.’ Now we can venerate John Paul II publicly, ask for his intercession to God, build churches and follow at least one of his virtues and features of his great personality. The process showed John Paul II, according to the words of Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the closet witness of his sanctity, as a man of ‘prayer and enormous depth and simplicity’ whose ‘sense of humour stopped where his jokes could have insulted someone. The Pope showed great gentleness towards people.’ As the whole sun can reflect in a tiny dewdrop so we can see the big ocean of God’s love and mercy in John Paul II by publicly showing him to the world in the cause for beatification.