(The Conversation) – Albino Luciano, better known to the world as Pope John Paul I, only reigned as Pope 34 days before his death in September 1978. But he would soon join the ranks of the Popes of the 20th century that the Catholic Church canonized. It literally means that they were inscribed on the “canon” or the list of people officially declared to be in heaven and received the title of “blessed” or “saint”.
The process requires a rigorous examination of a candidate’s life and holiness and involves several stages that can last for years or even centuries.
After the death of a person known for his exceptional holiness, a bishop can open an investigation into his life. At this point, the person can receive the title of “Servant of God”. Further details and research are needed for them to be recognized as “Venerable,” the next step in canonization.
The next step is beatification, when someone is declared “blessed”. This usually requires the Vatican to confirm that the person has performed a “miracle” by interceding with God. Two miracles are necessary before a “blessed” can be declared a saint.
What then is a miracle?
More than medicine
The word is widely used in a non-religious way. However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which summarizes the teachings of the Church, defines it as “a sign or wonder such as healing or control of nature, which can only be attributed to power. Divine “.
In the process of canonization, a miracle almost always refers to the spontaneous and lasting remission of a serious, life-threatening illness. The healing must have taken place in a way that the best informed scientific knowledge cannot explain and follow the prayers to the holy person.
The beatification of Pope John Paul I was marked by the sudden recovery of an 11-year-old girl in Buenos Aires who suffered from severe acute brain inflammation, severe epilepsy and septic shock. She was nearing what doctors considered almost certain death in 2011 when her mother, nurses and a priest began desperately praying to the former pope.
The bigger picture
The Catholic belief in miracles is long standing and rooted in what the church believes about the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth. The Gospels describe Jesus as a teacher, but also as a miracle worker who turned water into wine, walked on water, and fed large crowds with minimal food.
As a Catholic theologian and teacher, I have written about saints, especially the Virgin Mary, and I have taught university courses on hagiography, or the lives of saints. In the Catholic tradition, miracles represent more than physical healing. They also confirm what Jesus preached: that God is ready to intervene in people’s lives and can take away their suffering.
For Christians, therefore, Jesus’ miracles strongly suggest that he is the Son of God. They point to what Jesus called “the kingdom of God,” in which Christians hope to be reunited with God in a world restored to its original perfection.
Of course, thoughtful people may object to the claimed supernatural origin of such events. And the development of medical science means that some healing processes can indeed now be explained purely as the work of nature, without needing to claim that divine intervention was at work. Some Christian writers, notably the Protestant theologian Rudolf Bultmann, also interpreted the miracles of Jesus as having purely symbolic significance and rejected them as necessarily historical and literal truth.
The Catholic Church has argued for centuries that science and faith are not sworn enemies but rather different ways of knowing that complement each other. This understanding guides investigations into supposed miracles, which are being undertaken by the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, which has about two dozen employees and more than 100 clergy and counselors.
Theologians working for the Congregation assess all aspects of the life of a candidate for canonization. These include the “Promoter of the Faith” (sometimes referred to as “the devil’s advocate”), whose role was changed in 1983 from finding arguments against canonization to overseeing the process.
Separately, a medical board of independent scientific experts is appointed to investigate an alleged miracle. They start by looking for purely natural explanations by reviewing the medical history.
The process of canonization has undergone continuous revisions throughout history.
In 2016, Pope Francis launched reforms in the way the church assesses miracles, which aim to make the process more rigorous and transparent.
Catholic groups that request the opening of a canonization file for a particular person are funding the investigation. Costs include fees paid to medical experts for their time, administrative expenses and research. But the cases were often opaque and expensive, running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi wrote in a 2015 book.
Among Francis’s reforms in 2016 was a new rule that all payments should be made by traceable bank transfer so that groups can better track Vatican spending.
Another of Francis’s reforms is that for a canonization case to advance, two-thirds of the medical commission must affirm that the miraculous event cannot be explained by natural causes. Previously, only a simple majority was needed.
The general purpose of these reforms is to protect the integrity of the canonization process and to avoid errors or scandals that would discredit the church or mislead believers.
Since Catholics believe that the “blessed” and saints are in heaven and intercede before God on behalf of those who ask for their help, the question of miracles is a matter of being confident that prayers can and will be heard.