Continuing the spirit of Christmas, this blog deals with conferring of Sainthood on special persons in Christianity. Generally, there’s a waiting period up to 5 years after the death of the person. This is to allow time for emotions to die down. However, this wait period can be waived by Pope (Pope Benedict XVI set aside the waiting period for his predecessor, John Paul II). Once the five years are up or waiver is granted, the bishop of diocese where the person died can open investigation into the life of the person to establish whether the person lived his or her life with sufficient holiness. Evidence is gathered, including witness testimonies. If there’s sufficient evidence, then recommendation is sent to Pope and once the case is accepted for consideration, the individual can be called a “servant of God”.
A group ( called the congregation of the causes of saints) scrutinises the evidence of the candidate’s holiness and if congregation approves the case, it is passed to the Pope. If the Pope decides that the person had indeed lived a life of heroic virtue, the person can then be called “venerable”. The next stage, beatification, can be reached if a miracle can be attributed to prayers made to the individual after his/her death. These incidents of miracles need to be verified before acceptance. After beatification, the candidate is given the title “blessed”.
Canonisation is the final step in declaring a deceased person a saint. To reach this, a second miracle needs to be attributed to prayers made to the person ( for example, the second miracle in John Paul’s case was the reported “inexplicable recovery” of a Costa Rican woman from serious brain illness) .
Thus, it’s a very structured process – wait period to servant of god to venerable to blessed to saint. And while the above process of canonisation could be of theoretical interest to us earlier, the process assumed significance for us when our very own Mother Teresa was canonised as a Saint on 4th September 2016.
We have sadhus, fakirs, gyanis in religions other than Catholicism and they have their cult following, asanas, gaddis and mazars where thousands of devotees throng to pay their obeisance and offer prayers. However, in the absence of any structured process of establishing their holiness and attributing miracles to them, they are there in the minds and hearts of their followers but not on the World’s horizon. Whether we believe in miracles, rituals, prayers, sainthood or not, nothing should bar us from celebrating the spirit of festival, be it Diwali, Eid or forthcoming Christmas!