Faith Forum with Father Charles Bober: How the Church canonizes saints

Father Charles Bober
Photo credit: Dena Koenig Photography

How does the Church canonize saints, and who decides which saints will be canonized?  For example, a young man recently was declared “blessed.” Why him and not others?

Considering someone a “saint” began early in the life of the Christian community.  Many Christians were persecuted for their faith in Christ and some were martyred.  They inspired other Christians who held onto their memory and called them “saints.”

Through the centuries, individual regions, towns and even families felt it important to have a “saint” from among them.  By the 10th century, popes began to exercise more jurisdiction over the naming of saints.  By 1170 A.D., the process of Roman canonization became the norm in hopes of bringing more objectivity to the process.

Since then, various popes promulgated decrees regarding the canonization of saints and put rules into place.  For example, any process leading to canonization must begin at least five years after the person’s death and be initiated by the bishop of the place where the person died. 

After the process is underway, those who knew the person are called upon to speak about their experience of them.  Questions are asked to determine the person’s faith in Christ, fidelity and life of virtue.  Documentation is gathered and sent to the Rome where it is scrutinized by a panel that includes theologians to determine if the person displayed “heroic virtue.”

If the group decides in favor of the heroic virtue of the individual, the information goes before the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.  A person cannot be declared “blessed” until a miracle is determined to have taken place through their intercession.  For canonization, a second miracle is needed as determined by a panel of medical professionals and other experts. 

While it is true that many holy people are in various stages of the process of canonization, more recent popes have sought a particular intent, declaring saints from the global church who represent laity of all ages, as well as priests and religious.

This seems to apply to the Italian teenager, Carlo Acutis, who was was best known for documenting Eucharistic miracles around the world. He catalogued them onto a website that he created in the months before his death from leukemia in 2006 at age 15. Acutis was beatified in Assisi last Saturday, October 10, 2020.  An apostolic letter from Pope Francis was read proclaiming Acutis “blessed,” the final step before canonization.  His parents then processed toward the altar carrying a relic of their son.  The reliquary was engraved with Carlo’s quote: “The Eucharist is my highway to heaven.”

The life of this young man was marked by a love for the Eucharist, devotion to the Blessed Mother and making friends with the poor.  In his homily, the Holy Father’s delegate, Cardinal Vallini, said that like most young people his age, Carlo was a “normal, spontaneous, friendly” teenager who used modern forms of communication to transmit the “values and beauty of the Gospel.” He could become the first millennial saint.