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The Path to Sainthood at a Glance

The current procedure for causes of beatification and canonization can be found in the Apostolic Constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1983. The various stages leading to canonization are as follows:

Servant of God

The process begins at the diocesan level after at least five years have passed since the death of the candidate. Usually, the bishop of the diocese in which the candidate died is responsible for beginning the investigation after he receives a request from the faithful through the postulator, generally a priest who presents a plea for a beatification or canonization. In response, the bishop forms a diocesan tribunal for this purpose once the nihil obstat (a decree that no impediment exists that would prevent the investigation) of the Holy See is obtained.

The tribunal calls witnesses to recount concrete facts concerning the candidate’s exercise of Christian virtues considered heroic, i.e. the theological virtues (faith, hope and charity), the cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude), and other virtues specific to the candidate’s state in life. Additionally, all documents regarding the candidate must be gathered for review. At this point the candidate is entitled to the title of Servant of God.

When enough information has been gathered, the congregation will recommend to the pope that he make a proclamation of the Servant of God’s heroic virtue. From this point the one is referred to by the title of Venerable. A Venerable is not given a feast day, no churches may be built in his or her honor, and the church has made no statement on the person’s probable or certain presence in heaven. With that said, prayer cards and other materials may be printed to encourage the faithful to pray for a miracle wrought by his or her intercession as a sign of God’s will that the person be canonized.

Blessed (Martyrs)

The investigation is then passed on to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome. A summary report, or the Positio, is prepared that proves the heroic exercise of virtue. The report undergoes an examination by nine theologians who give their vote. If the majority of the theologians are in favor, the cause is passed on for examination by cardinals and bishops who are members of the Congregation. If their judgment is favorable, the Prefect of the Congregation presents the results of the entire investigation to the Holy Father, who gives his approval and authorizes the Congregation to draft the relative decree of beatification. The public reading and promulgation of the decree of beatification grants the candidate the title of Blessed.

Beatification is the permission to venerate the candidate within a limited sphere. Typically, it means that the person can be venerated by a particular region or group of people for whom the person holds special importance. In other words, it is not universally binding to the entire Church.

Blessed (Confessors)

If the candidate was not a martyr but rather a confessor who died peacefully after a life of heroic virtue, a miracle attributed to the Servant of God verified after his or her death is necessary. The miracle must be proven through another canonical investigation in a procedure that is comparable with that required for heroic virtues. If the investigation comes to a satisfactory conclusion, a second decree is promulgated that with the decree on heroic virtue grants the candidate the title of Blessed.

Saint

In order for the Blessed to be canonized and acquire the title of Saint, another miracle is required. This miracle must be attributable to the intercession of the Blessed and must have occurred after his or her beatification. The miracle is verified according to the same methods used during the beatification stage.

Once conferred, the title of Saint indicates that the person lived a holy life, is in heaven enjoying the Beatific Vision, and is to be honored by the universal Church. Saints may be publicly invoked and mentioned officially in the liturgy of the Church, especially in the Litany of the Saints. The Saint is assigned a feast day which may be celebrated anywhere within the Catholic Church, although it may or may not appear on the general calendar or local calendars as an obligatory feast. Churches may also be built in his or her honor.

The Pontificate of John Paul II by the Numbers

26 Years as pope of the Catholic Church  (October 16, 1978 – April 2, 2005)

Rank in terms of years as pope (Peter, the apostle, ranks 1st and Pope Pius IX is 2nd)

1342 People beatified

483 Saints canonized

14 Encyclicals promulgated

104 Foreign trips made (Pope Paul VI [1963-1978] was previous record-holder with five)

455 Years between John Paul II’s election and the last time a non-Italian served as pope

14 Languages spoken

17,647,800 People estimated to have taken part in his weekly general audiences

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