Newman and other new saints

Later this week, Roman Catholics celebrate All-Saints Day. A few weeks ago, last October 13, in a canonization ceremony presided over by Pope Francis in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, four women and one man were added to the communion of saints remembered when Catholics recite the Apostle’s Creed: Giuseppina Vannini, Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan, Dulce Lopes Pontes, Marguerite Bays, and most famous among the new saints – John Henry Newman.

The Roman Catholic Church recognizes the sanctity of a deceased person through the process of canonization whereby he or she is elevated to the altar of the church for exhibiting exemplary and heroic virtues or offered his or her life for the faith. When a saint is canonized it is understood that he died in the grace of God and is now in heaven worthy to be invoked by the faithful. In the Roman Catholic Church the act of canonization is the function of the Apostolic See. The process of canonization normally starts five years after a person’s death. Some however have to wait a long time before the process starts as in the case of St. Saint Bede who died in 735 but had to wait 1,164 years before he was formally declared a saint. However, the waiting period can be waived by a pope as in the case of St. Pope John Paul II and St. Mother Theresa where the process started shortly after their death. One more step involved is the declaration of the saint to be as a servant of God, an investigation of their life and death and miracles attributed to the intercession of the saint. During his pontificate St. Pope John Paul II had canonized 482 in 110 causes while Pope Francis has decreed  896 new saints for veneration, including the five new saints.

St. Giuditta Vannini (7 July 1859 – 23 February 1911), was an Italian Roman Catholic nun, one of the founders of the religious congregation known as the Daughters of Saint Camillus of which she served as Superior General until her death.  Early in life, Vannini tried joining the religious life but had to leave during her novitiate period after suffering from ill health. In the late 1970s she became titled as a Servant of God; and in 1882 as Venerable in 1992 upon confirmation of her heroic virtue.

St. Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan (born Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan; 26 April 1876 – 8 June 1926) was an Indian Syro-Malabar Catholic professed religious and the founder of the Congregation of the Holy Family. She was reputedly known as a visionary and had frequent ecstasies as well as even receiving the stigmata which she hidden from the public. She spent most of her life on apostolic work her entire life and pushed for strict adherence to the rule of her order amongst her fellow religious.

St. Dulce Pontes, also known as Saint Dulce of the Poor (26 May 1914 – 13 March 1992) was a Brazilian Catholic Franciscan Sister who founded the Obras Sociais Irmã Dulce also known as the Charitable Works Foundation of Sister Dulce. During her lifetime, she cared for the poorest of the poor in her convent’s chicken yard in Salvador, Bahia which exists even today catering to more than 3,000 people to receive free medical treatment. She also established CESA, a school for the poor in one of the most impoverished cities in the state of Bahia. In 1992, Sister Dulce had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and had two personal audiences with Pope John Paul II. Because of her charitable works she was named the most admired woman in the history of Brazil by O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper and the most influential religious person in Brazil during the 20th century, by ISTOÉ magazine.

St. Marguerite Bays (8 September 1815 – 27 June 1879) was a member of the Secular Franciscan Order. A Swiss seamstress by profession, she was a Roman Catholic mystic who lived a simple life as a Franciscan and adapted the tenets of the order’s charism into her own life and social apostolate, especially after she was cured of bowel cancer on 8 December 1854. She devoted much of her life on teaching catechism to children and often visited those who were ill. As a stigmatist, she bore the wounds of Christ, joining other notable holy stigmatists of the Catholic Church such as St. Padre Pio and St. Francis of Assisi.

St. John Henry Newman (21 February 1801 – 11 August 1890) was an important figure in the English religious history. He converted from Anglican to Roman Catholic becoming a priest and later as a cardinal. A formidable intellect and a holy person, Cardinal Newman has always been one of my favorite Catholic thinkers. No less than Prince Charles, who will one day be the head of the Church England, has sung the praises for this new saint. I end this column with excerpts from an opinion piece the Prince of Wales published on the eve of Newman’s canonization:

“When Pope Francis canonises Cardinal John Henry Newman tomorrow, the first Briton to be declared a saint in over forty years, it will be a cause of celebration not merely in the United Kingdom, and not merely for Catholics, but for all who cherish the values by which he was inspired.

In the age when he lived, Newman stood for the life of the spirit against the forces that would debase human dignity and human destiny.  In the age in which he attains sainthood, his example is needed more than ever — for the manner in which, at his best, he could advocate without accusation, could disagree without disrespect and, perhaps most of all, could see differences as places of encounter rather than exclusion . . .   

Newman engaged not merely with the church, but with the world. While wholeheartedly committed to the Church to which he came through so many intellectual and spiritual trials, he nonetheless initiated open debate between Catholics and other Christians, paving the way for later ecumenical dialogues. On his elevation to the Cardinalate in 1879, he took as his motto Cor ad cor loquitor (‘heart speaks to heart’), and his conversations across confessional, cultural, social and economic divides, were rooted in that intimate friendship with God.

His faith was truly catholic in that it embraced all aspects of life. It is in that same spirit that we, whether we are Catholics or not, can, in the tradition of the Christian Church throughout the ages, embrace the unique perspective, the particular wisdom and insight, brought to our universal experience by this one individual soul. We can draw inspiration from his writings and his life even as we recognise that, like all human lives, it was inevitably flawed. Newman himself was aware of his failings, such as pride and defensiveness which fell short of his own ideals, but which, ultimately, left him only more grateful for the mercy of God.

His influence was immense. As a theologian, his work on the development of doctrine showed that our understanding of God can grow over time, and had a profound impact on later thinkers. Individual Christians have found their personal devotion challenged and strengthened by the importance he attached to the voice of conscience. Those of all traditions who seek to define and defend Christianity have found themselves grateful for the way he reconciled faith and reason. Those who seek the divine in what can seem like an increasingly hostile intellectual environment find in him a powerful ally who championed the individual conscience against an overwhelming relativism.”

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