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Culture & Religion

A Just Society: Sanctity and Politics

Without saints a society will not be a just society. Its politics will be dominated by anger and the struggle for power. Saints are needed to make society human  


A friend has sent me the following email from the Editor of the Kansas City Archdiocesan newspaper commenting on my last column about American Catholics and devotion to our native-born saints: “There is a Korean Catholic church in San Francisco and some of the members of that community are actually descendants of the Korean Martyrs. The saints are part of that community's identity, history, and literally DNA. Something similar attends to the Vietnamese Catholics - they are a community born of martyrs and nearly every Vietnamese parish is called Holy Martyrs.

The US does not have the presence of saints in the same way. They didn't found our identity - Thomas Jefferson did. We came here and joined that project. We don't look at our native born saints as saints, i.e. for their sanctity. We talk about them as institutional founders - schools, hospitals, etc. The perpetuation of the institution is the only purpose of reference to the saint. The sanctity of the saint is not remembered or even known and certainly doesn't animate the school or hospital anymore. Where is Seton buried? Cabrini? Does anyone visit there?

An exception might be St. Damian - he is an identity for Hawaiian Catholics and it is his sanctity that is remembered. Unfortunately, you cannot easily visit where he worked because it is still barely accessible, and at any rate, the King of Belgium stole his body - his grave is empty.

Blessed Junipero Serra should be an exception - but nobody in California is from California and is thus not connected to the prior history of the place. The history of California restarted in 1849 anyway. Again, he is thought of as a founder and people know little of his very great sanctity. I have a great devotion to him (and Damian). Whenever I visit his grave - which is in the Mission in Carmel - I'm amazed how everybody is walking around marveling at the beauty of the restored Mission and nearly nobody stops to notice the a Blessed is actually, physically there, much less to think to pray.” Which brings me to the upcoming mid-term elections coming up in November…