Sainthood No. 101

23 March 2015 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — St. Turbius of Mogrovejo Day

Based on feedback from readers throughout the diocese (at least two of them), I was surprised that many are unaware of the canonization process now underway for Servant of God Guido Schaffer, the Brazilian medical doctor known as the “Surfing Angel.” To summarize, immediately after the death of young Dr. Schaffer in a surfing accident, people began praying for his intercession before God and making pilgrimages to his grave (called a cultus).

The Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro petitioned Rome to open an investigation. Might Dr. Schaffer be something more than a holy and righteous man? The Congregation for the Causes of the Saints granted permission for the archbishop to proceed. He named a “postulator” and established a tribunal to determine whether or not the late seminarian exhibited “heroic virtue” during his life on this planet. The formal process of canonization had begun.

You will recall that Guido Schaffer had been dead five years when his archbishop made petition. This tells us three things about the canonization process. First, you have to be dead. There is, contrary to common opinion, no such thing as a “living saint.” Secondly, you have to be dead for at least five years, unless, of course, you are acclaimed a martyr for the faith. Martyrs are put on the fast-track to sainthood. In fact, there was a time in our early history when sainthood was reserved exclusively for martyrs. The first non-martyr saint wasn’t until Martin of Tours in 397. Note, too, how quickly the supreme head of the Coptic Orthodox Church canonized those 21 Egyptian martyrs recently beheaded by terrorists in Syria. In the case of a martyr, our pope could act as quickly, too. Thirdly, it was Servant of God Guido Shaffer’s own local bishop who initiated the proceedings. This is a must. No other bishop but your own can petition for your cause of sainthood.

Let us now proceed to answer the burning question, “What’s next for Guido Schaffer?” If and when the tribunal in Rio rules that a life of heroic virtue is proven as far as they are concerned, their affirmative judgment goes back to the Roman Congregation for review. 

This process of canonization is a real cliff-hanger. It can be halted at any point by a single negative vote. And the pope himself can intervene in the process anytime, if he so desires.

In Rome, a “realtor” is appointed. This is not the same kind of realtor you would engage if you wanted to buy, rent, or sell a house. In this case, the job of the realtor is to oversee the rest of the process of canonization — as far as it goes. 

In Rome, yet another theological commission is convoked. After review of the facts, a vote is taken to proceed or not. If the vote is positive, it is sent by the realtor to the episcopal members of the Congregation for the Canonization of the Saints. They, in turn, review, discuss, and vote. If their vote is in the affirmative (that a life of heroic virtue has been proven), their decision goes to the pope. He may or may not decide to raise the Servant of God to the rank of “Venerable Servant of God.” 

After that, the diocese of the venerable candidate (and any other diocese in which a miracle is alleged to have taken place) forms its own theological tribunal. The members of these theological tribunals study, ponder, and finally decide if an alleged miracle(s) can only be attributed that an act of God worked through the candidate’s direct intercession (and not through the intercession of some other random saint). Theological commissions consider mostly medical miracles these days. They prefer medical conditions that were without any hope of cure but were nevertheless cured almost instantaneously. This would indicate that the Venerable Servant of God truly dwells in the presence of God.

The establishment of a true miracle involves not only a theological tribunal but a scientific tribunal as well. What’s the scientific tribunal, you ask? A scientific tribunal is a panel of medical experts who also review the alleged miracle. They, too, like the theological tribunal, must decide in the affirmative that there is no natural or medical explanation for the cure. 

Back to Rome for the review by the episcopal members of the Congregation to determine if the decision of the local tribunals that the miracle is valid is itself a valid decision. If the vote is positive, it goes to the Holy Father. It’s up to the pope to declare the Venerable Servant of God “Blessed” (Beatification) — or not.

The whole process is repeated for a second miracle. Finally, if all goes well, it’s back to the Holy Father. Technically, the pope doesn’t name a person a saint but rather formally declares that the candidate is with God and worthy of imitation by the faithful. 

This is the new streamlined canonization process introduced by St. John Paul II. Guido Schaffer has a long way to go. 

Say a prayer.

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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