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FHM Explainer: What Makes a Saint?

We've never felt prouder...
by Mikey Agulto | Oct 22, 2012
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Hurray for holy history! Former Filipino altar boy turned missionary Pedro Calungsod was officially canonized as a saint by Pope Benedict XVI at Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City last Sunday, October 21! This makes Calungsod the second Filipino to attain sainthood, following San Lorenzo Ruiz's canonization in 1987.

A little backgrounder: Pedro was a 17-year old missionary catechist who, along with Blessed Diego Luis De San Vitores, suffered religious persecution and martyrdom in Guam for their missionary work in 1672. They are widely credited to be responsible for the spread of Roman Catholicism in the Mariana Islands, which led to them being condemned by Chamorro locals who despise missionaries, including the village chief.

Determined with their cause, San Vitores and Calungsod both proceeded with their Catholic mission, baptising local newborns and continuously spreading the word of the Lord. To cut the story short, unwilling villagers found it offensive, got a little too aggressive, and attacked the martyrs with their weapons. Calungsod was killed with a machete blow to the head by a man named Hirao, but not before getting absolution from San Vitores.

In line with Calungsod's canonization, we explain the long process that goes behind the church's efforts to introduce our new beloved saint.

Step 1: Servant of God

The process leading towards canonization usually begins at the diocesan level. A bishop—usually one who has authority in the place where the candidate died or is buried in—will give permission to open an investigation as a response to the petition made by the members of the faithful. Such a thing generally takes place not less than five years after the candidate’s death so long as the Bishop of Rome requests for it—like in the cases of Mother Teresa, Lucia Santos, and Pope John Paul II.

A guild to promote the cause of the candidate’s sainthood is then created, and writings, speeches, sermons, eyewitness accounts, and biographies concerning the candidate will be gathered. By this time the candidate shall be referred to as “Servant of God,” and all accounts gathered about him will be surrendered by the bishop to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. The congregation will then assign a postulator, whose task is to gather further information about the servant of God.

In Calungsod's case, then-Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal asked permission from the Vatican to initiate the beatification and canonization of Pedro back in 1980.

Step 2: Declaration “Non Cultus”
After a certain amount of time, permission is granted for the body of the servant of God to be examined, earning itself a certification that makes sure no superstitious or improper cult groups have associated itself with the servant’s body or tomb. The relics will be taken as well.

Step 3: Venerable
After garnering the proper requirements, the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints will recommend to the Pope that he make a proclamation of the servant of God’s heroic virtue, which basically indicates that the servant has exhibited the theological values of faith, hope, and charity, and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance during his lifetime. Once proclaimed as heroic in virtue, the servant will be referred to by the title “Venerable.”

By this time the venerable has the privilege of being honored by means of prayer cards and other materials, and the faithful may pray for a miracle under the venerable’s name as a sign of God’s will that the person be canonized. A venerable however is not entitled to a feast day and no churches may be built in his or her honor. The church in fact still does not acknowledge his or her certain presence in heaven.

In March 1997, the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of the Saints approved the acta of the diocesan beatification process for Calungsod. Cardinal Vidal also appointed Fr. Ildebrando Leyson to compile a Positio Super Martyrio (position regarding martyrdom) to be scrutinized by the Congregation, which was completed in 1999 thanks largely to San Vitores' own beatification.

Step 4: Blessed
The process for beatification begins. The church will state that it is worthy of belief that the venerable is in heaven, having come to salvation. If the venerable is a martyr, the pope will make a declaration of martyrdom, which means the venerable gave his or her life voluntarily as a witness for the faith and in an act of heroic charity for others.

If the venerable is not a martyr, it must be proven that a miracle had taken place by his or her intercession—a sign that God gave the venerable a Beatific Vision through a miracle in response to the venerable’s prayers. A non-martyr is usually referred to as a “confessor,” having confessed or bore witness to their faith by how they lived their lives.

The venerable will be given the title of “Blessed” upon beatification. A Blessed is entitled to a feast day, though its observance is usually limited to the person’s home diocese. The decree of Pedro Calungsod's cause was approved by Pope John Paul II in January 2000 and the man was officially beatified at Saint Peter's Square in Rome two months later.

Step 5: Sainthood
To be canonized as a saint, at least three miracles must have been performed after the candidate’s death. The church shall announce the person capable of enjoying the Beatific Vision, also known as the ultimate direct self-communication of God to the person when he or she reaches perfect salvation in its entirety.

The saint is assigned a feast day, which may be celebrated anywhere within the Catholic Church. Parish churches may now be built in the saint’s honor, and the general public may also freely celebrate and honor the new saint without any restrictions. And with that we give a big congratulations to St. Pedro Calungsod; a guy who went through this rigorous but righteous process! Viva St. Pedro!

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