On October 21st at St. Peter’s in Rome, Pope Benedict will preside over the canonization of seven new saints. The announcement of the date of their canonization coincided with the beginning of Lent. For me this was a particularly appropriate time for such an announcement, as a reminder that our primary and foundational vocation is to become holy, for each of us to become a saint.
The men and women who will be raised to the altars in October are an unlikely group of saints from a variety of peoples, generations, ways of life and historical periods. There two North Americans, a laywoman belonging to the Mohawk nation and a woman religious from the United States, a young male catechist from the Philippines, a French Jesuit missionary priest, a German lay woman, an Italian priest and a Spanish sister.
Two were martyred, the rest witnessed to Christ by their various ministries within the Church or in the world. All seven however, patterned their lives on the teaching and the example of Jesus. In the paradoxical world of the life of faith, the more they conformed themselves to Christ, the more they became their deepest and truest selves. This made them radiant with the holiness of the Lord they loved and served.
We can see this even in the brief outline of their lives.
Blessed Marianne Cope
The daughter of German immigrants to the United States and a Franciscan sister, in 1883 she left behind her family and religious community in New York State to lead a small band of sisters to care for the lepers in Molokai. Her commitment was total. Initially caring only for women and girls with leprosy, after the death of St. Damien she assumed leadership of the nursing ministry of the entire leper colony, where she remained for the rest of her life.
Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha
Born in present-day upstate New York and belonging to the Iroquois nation, Blessed Kateri (Catherine) had a Mohawk father and Algonquin mother. As a child she lost both of her parents to smallpox and while surviving herself, bore the scars of smallpox on her face for the rest of her life. Her mother and stepmother were Christians, but her conversion to the faith was opposed by her father and other members of her extended family. However, she was baptized at the age of 20 by the Jesuits in 1676 and remaining a virgin and unmarried, consecrated herself to Christ, until her death four years later.
Fr. Jacques Berthieu SJ
Blessed Father Jacques, a French Jesuit, was sent as a missionary priest to the island of Madagascar off the east coast of Africa at the end of the nineteenth century. After nine years as a diocesan priest in France, he joined the Jesuits and was assigned to the missions. He was taken prisoner in 1896 while trying to help his parishioners to escape from a tribal conflict that had broken out in his district. His captors offered to spare his life if he would renounce his faith and when he refused he was put to death.
Blessed Peter Calungsod
This young man was a lay catechist from Cebu in the Philippines. At the age of 14 he joined the Jesuit mission to the island of Guam where he helped to prepare Chamorro converts for baptism. The deaths of several infants after baptism angered some of the islanders, who believed that the sacrament had caused their children’s deaths. Consequently, in 1672 the catechist Peter and the Jesuit priest Diego San Vitores were martyred for the faith.
Blessed Father Giovanni Battista Piamarta
Blessed Father Giovanni was an Italian priest from northern Italy. He was particularly with poverty of working men and women in his country that forced so many Italians to immigrate to the United States and Latin America at the turn of the 20th century. He founded two religious orders: one for men, the Congregation of the Holy Family of Nazareth and for women the Humble Servants of the Lord. Both are dedicated to training young men and women in the Christian life through prayer, work and community.
Blessed Carmen Salles y Barangueras
Blessed Carmen was a Spanish sister who founded the religious order of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in the 1890’s in Barcelona. She initially joined an order that assisted women who were prostitutes or criminals. However, she began to wonder what the lives of these women would have been like if they had had the opportunity to go to school and become educated. This led Blessed Carmen to found a new religious community dedicated to helping to lift women out of poverty. She established day schools for the children of women working in factories and night schools where poor women could become literate and find alternatives to prostitution and street crime.
Blessed Anna Schaffer
Blessed Anna was a devout lay women living in Germany at the turn of the 20th century. She had hoped to live out a missionary vocation or to enter religious life but an accident in which her legs were badly burned left her completely disabled and bedridden. From 1902 until her death in 1925 she was largely confined to her room. She accepted the infirmity and pain that she suffered as a way of sanctification, spending each day in prayer, work (sewing) and spiritual correspondence.
This Lent then, is our opportunity to grow in holiness in the ways that are appropriate for our state of life. In the remaining weeks of Lent, let us continue to make time to listen to the voice of Jesus by withdrawing to the inner room of our hearts in prayer. Let us continue to find ways to deny ourselves, for the sake of Jesus who has given us everything. And let us continue to give generously to those in need, so that in them we might see Jesus and grow in our love for Him.
Newly glorified saints of God, pray for us.