Culture & Religion
The Vatican canonized five saints this month. In an era obsessed with celebrities—many of whom lead personal lives in direct defiance of traditional morality—the Vatican’s latest move is a refreshing exaltation of worthy individuals.
Pope Benedict XVI presided over the canonization mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome October 11. These men and women “did not put themselves at the center but chose to go against the current and live according to the Gospel,” said the Pope. He encouraged the flock to learn from “the luminous examples of these saints.”
Among those elevated to sainthood is the 19th-century Belgian missionary Damien de Veuster, better known to the world as Father Damien. He dedicated his life to caring for leprosy victims who had been placed under a government-sanctioned medical quarantine on the island of Molokai in Hawaii. By doing so, he also obtained the disease from which he died in 1889, at the age of 49. After praying fervently to him for years, 80-year-old Hawaiian teacher Audrey Toguchi is believed to have been cured from lung cancer. The Vatican proclaimed this as a miracle—an event that led to Father Damien’s canonization. The woman attended the canonization mass in honor of her saint and the miracle she received.
The other men and women canonized also exemplified selflessness. Jeanne Jugan of France founded the order of the Little Sisters of the Poor in the 19th century. By the time of her death in 1879, her order had grown to 2,500 workers who cared for elderly and solitary women in 177 homes around the world.
The 19th century Polish Archbishop of Warsaw, Zygmunt Szczesny Felinski, was the founder of the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary in 1857. As a sign of protest against the bloody repression by the Russians of the January Revolt of 1863, Archbishop Felinski resigned from the Council of State and wrote a letter to the Emperor Alexander II, urging him to put an end to the violence. He demonstrated bravery in light of the oppression of his countrymen.
Another new saint, Spanish Dominican monk Francisco Coll y Guitart founded the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1856. Saint Francisco was a popular preacher of missions in various dioceses of North Eastern Spain. His life was characterized by a fervent zeal for preaching; he prayed long hours, studied and dedicated a great deal of time to preparing the sermons for his missions.
Spanish Trappist monk Rafael Arnaiz Baron’s commitment to Christ began in 1930, just after he graduated from high school. By the time of his adolescence it became clear that he had special human, intellectual, artistic and spiritual gifts. He possessed a positive, joyful attitude that was filled with good humor, respect and humility. In 1933 he renounced his wealthy upbringing and entered the Trappist monastery. Despite being struck with a severe case of diabetes and plagued with other hardships, the monk remained committed to loving God and doing His will. Pope John Paul II beatified him in 1992 and proclaimed him as a model for contemporary youth.
In a statement two days before the canonization, President Barack Obama extended praise for Father Damien whose legacy he was familiar with since the president is from Hawaii. He said the Belgian priest can inspire us to action: “In our own time, as millions around the world suffer from diseases, especially the pandemic of H.I.V./AIDS, we should draw on the example of Father Damien’s resolve in answering the urgent call to heal and care for the sick.”
At the canonization ceremony there were over 10,000 pilgrims from all over the world. Dignitaries such as King Albert II and Queen Paola of Belgium, Washington’s new ambassador to the Vatican Miguel H. Diaz and Democrat Senator Daniel K. Akaka of Hawaii also attended. A large delegation of 500 people from Hawaii was also present.
The elevation of these five saints is in stark contrast to the individuals who usually receive widespread media coverage. Consider for example the media’s attention to the death of pop singer Michael Jackson in June. Jackson’s death dominated nearly every U.S. news organization. What did the King of Pop do to warrant this media blitz? He was at best a good singer and dancer—a far cry from having served his fellow man in a selfless manner as did the five saints.
A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 64 percent of Americans believed that Jackson’s death received too much media coverage. The Project for Excellence in Journalism also found that media coverage of Jackson’s death for the week of June 22-28 received 18 percent of all news coverage, second to protests in Iran against the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad which accounted for 19 percent of media stories. In fact, from June 25-26, coverage of Jackson accounted for 60 percent of all news programming, with coverage of Iran dropping to seven percent. The public’s distaste for the inordinate media emphasis on Jackson’s death, as expressed in the poll, points to a growing hunger for worthy role models.
By canonizing these five men and women, Pope Benedict XVI is sending a clear message regarding the values we should uphold and celebrate. Unlike many contemporary celebrities, these saints made daily sacrifices in order to serve others. They responded to Christ’s call to love our neighbor as ourselves. They also bore witness to Christ’s charity and they defended the truth of the Gospel. They deserve our respect and admiration. They are the worthies of our time—much needed to counterbalance the many exalted celebrity sinners who are all too often little more than false gods.
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