Three 'saints to be' clear last step required for canonization

Friday, January 04, 2002 - Updated: 12:01 am
When Pope John Paul II ordered the publication of
decrees in late December clearing the way for the
canonization of three new saints, the names of the
candidates were familiar to many Catholics.

Each of the candidates had faced difficulty in his life.
Each had also been subject to contemporary media
scrutiny for a variety of reasons. Yet despite this
scrutiny, and the controversies surrounding them, each
will soon be formally recognized as saints.

The decrees issued Dec. 20 recognized healings
related to intercessory prayers to Blesseds Juan Diego,
Padre Pio and Msgr. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer.

All three had previously been recognized as blessed by
John Paul II. Acceptance of a miracle is the last step
needed for canonization.

The story of Blessed Juan Diego and the apparition of
Our Lady of Guadalupe in the 16th century is a favorite
among Catholics throughout North and South America.

Blessed Padre Pio was a 20th century Italian
Franciscan mystic and stigmatist. Blessed Msgr.
Escriva founded Opus Dei in 1928.

Canonization is a formal, infallible declaration by the
pope that a person lived a life of extraordinary Christian
virtue, is in heaven and worthy of honor by the faithful.

A declaration of canonization is proceeded by a
declaration of beautification and a detailed study of the
person?s life, holiness and writings.

Except in the case of martyrs, a miracle attributed to the
intercession of that person after death is also required.

Blessed Juan Diego
The story of Juan Diego has been enormously popular
with Catholics in the Americas for centuries. Yet the
controversy that Juan Diego faced was unique. The
charge was leveled that he never existed.

Declared blessed in 1990, Juan Diego received four
apparitions of the Blessed Virgin in December 1531.

On Tepeyac, a hill just outside Mexico City, the Blessed
Virgin appeared to the young convert and instructed him
to see the local bishop to have a church built on that

The bishop asked Juan Diego for a sign. The Blessed
Virgin instructed him to gather roses, though the
flowers were out of season.

Finding the roses, he placed them into his cloak ?
called a ?tilma? by the natives ? and the Blessed Virgin
told him not to open the robe until he was in the
presence of the bishop.

Appearing before the bishop, he opened the cloak,
revealing not only the roses, but a portrait of the
Blessed Virgin. According to tradition, after the
apparitions Juan Diego devoted the rest of his life to
bringing others to the faith.

The tilma with the representation of ?Our Lady of
Guadalupe? became an object of great veneration from
the native population. It is preserved today in the
basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

In 1945, Pope Pius XII declared Our Lady of Guadalupe
patroness of all the Americas. In 1988, Pope John Paul
II designated Dec. 12 the feast of Our Lady of
Guadalupe in all dioceses in the United States.

In 1996, the retired abbot of Guadalupe, Abbott
Guillermo Schulemburg, caused an international
controversy when he questioned the existence of Juan
Diego. In 1999, he publicly requested that the Vatican
hold off on the canonization.

A Vatican historical commission, working in Mexico and
the Vatican archives, examined Spanish and
indigenous sources on Juan Diego, found that all
documents, though varying widely in their accounts,
converged on the basic facts concerning Guadalupe
and the existence of Juan Diego.

The canonization decree is an implicit formal
declaration that Juan Diego truly existed.

Blessed Padre Pio
Blessed Padre Pio (1887-1968) was an
internationally-known spiritual counselor, mystic and
stigmatist. He had enormous popular appeal during
his lifetime and after.

But the very commotion posed by his popularity led to a
time of enforced silence and scrutiny by the Vatican

Born in Pietrelcina, a little town in Southern Italy, on May
25, 1887, his father was a farmer. As a young man, he
joined the Capuchins and was ordained a priest in

In 1916, he came to the monastery of San Giovanni
Rotondo, where he would serve for the rest of his life.

On Sept. 20, 1918, he received the stigmata ? the
wounds of Christ?s crucifixion. According to
biographers, Padre Pio was uneasy about such
phenomena, saying, ?I only want to be a friar who

As pilgrims began to come to the monastery to see
him, his Capuchin superiors tried to limit his public

Charges of fiscal corruption were made, and rumors
were spread that Padre Pio?s personal life was not as
saintly as portrayed for the public.

The Vatican investigated his activities and temporarily
suspended him from most of his priestly ministries. He
was kept under a watchful eye in the 1930s and 1940s.

But after carefully reviewing all the accusations made
against him, the Vatican found no evidence whatsoever
of wrong-doing. His trials, the Vatican stated, only
highlighted his deep obedience to the church.

?We can say that he was an authentic saint, whom the
devil tried to cover with mud,? said Italian Bishop
Andrea Erba, who helped to prepare a report on
Blessed Padre Pio in 1997.

Padre Pio died Sept. 23, 1968. More than 100,000
attended his funeral and, since his death, San Giovanni
Rotondo is visited by millions of pilgrims each year.

Blessed Josemaria Escriva
Blessed Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer was the
founder of Opus Dei, Latin for the ?work of God.?

Opus Dei is a worldwide association of Catholics. Its
primary aim is the sanctity of its members through
theological and ascetic formation. Opus Dei focuses
strongly on the role of the laity in the transformation of
the world.

Opus Dei has generated controversy in media, where it
is rarely mentioned without reference to its ?tightly-knit?
organization. Accusations that Opus Dei is a ?secret
society? struggling for power and control within the
church plagued the movement for many years.

Yet it received formal approval in 1947 by Pope Pius XII.
Pope John Paul II has been particularly supportive,
declaring it a personal prelature in 1982.

As founder, Blessed Escriva has been the lightning rod
for much of the criticism aimed at Opus Dei. Rumors
spread that he was so opposed to the reforms of
Vatican II that he considered leaving the church.

There were also accusations that Blessed Escriva and
Opus Dei had pro-fascist tendencies, though no
evidence for such charges was ever uncovered.

Even the beatification process for Blessed Escriva was
condemned as being done too quickly, as he was
declared blessed in 1992, only 17 years after his death.

The Vatican study leading to Blessed Escriva?s
beatification rejected the attacks on him. The Vatican
focused particularly on his life and spiritual writing.

The commission?s favorable report cited one
theologian who called his beatification ?providential? as
his spiritual message is so much needed by
contemporary Catholics.

Dates for the canonization ceremonies will be set only
after Pope John Paul II discusses the causes for each
man in late January or early February with cardinals
living in Rome.

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