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What is a Saint?

VATICAN CITY, JUL 29, 1997 (VIS) - When Pope John Paul canonized Blessed John Dukla, a Bernardine Franciscan, in Poland on June 10 during a pastoral visit to his homeland, the new saint was the 278th that this Pope has proclaimed since he was elected in 1978.

In 33 canonization ceremonies the Pope has proclaimed 278 saints, including 245 martyrs and 33 confessors. The penultimate step to canonization is beatification and the Holy Father has presided at 100 such ceremonies in nearly 19 years, proclaiming 770 blesseds, of whom 579 were martyrs and 191 confessors.

All Christians aspire to become saints, that is, persons in heaven (officially canonized or not), who lived lives of great charity and heroic virtues.

In official Church procedures there are three steps to sainthood: one becomes Venerable, Blessed and then a Saint. Venerable is the title given to a deceased person recognized as having lived heroic virtues. To be recognized as a blessed, and therefore beatified, in addition to personal attributes of charity and heroic virtue, one miracle, acquired through the individual's intercession, is required. Canonization requires two, though a Pope may waive these requirements. Martyrdom does not usually require a miracle.

When beatification and canonization procedures were not yet consigned to the authority of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (instituted in 1588 by Pope Sixtus V) and to the Holy Father himself, it was the "vox populi" or "spontaneous local attribution" which led to the proclaiming of saints. This was the case, for example, of St. Anthony of Padua.

No precise count exists of those who have been proclaimed saints since the first centuries. However, in 1988, to mark its 4th centenary, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints published the first "Index ac status Causarum." This book and its subsequent supplements, written entirely in Latin, are considered the definitive index of all causes which have been presented to the congregation since its institution. It has been updated through 1993.

Excluding beatifications and canonizations celebrated by Pope John Paul, these volumes show that 3,464 causes are pending, 1,385 cults have been confirmed and 565 blesseds and 285 saints have been proclaimed.

These actual totals are probably slightly higher, because in several cases the name of the person was accompanied by the words "and companions," without specifying a number. One such example is the pending cause (begun in 1932, protocol number 333) for "Ioannes Maria Gombault Duval Tussanus et Socii."

The editor of these books, Msgr. Pietro Galavotti of the same Congregation, explained in 1993 when the third supplement was published that "saints are venerated by the universal Church and blesseds by the local Church. The martyrs are those who die in defense of their faith."

To read or search for articles from the Vatican Information Service, go to the Official Holy See Site. To have the daily VIS news brief sent to you by email, subscribe to the CIN Totus Tuus mailing list at CIN.

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