Francis, the pontiff who proclaimed the most saints: from a historic double papal canonization to 813 martyrs at the same time

Francis with John Paul II, whom he canonized just nine years after his death, in 2005

At the end of the funeral Benedict XVI in Saint Peter’s Square in the month of January of that 2023, some people shouted in Italian “Holy Subito!” (Make it holy now!). It was the same phrase used at the pope’s funeral John Paul II in 2005, although by then many more people were asking for it. Not a surprising request, considering that three of the last five popes have been sanctifiedbut only about a third of all pontiffs have been canonized in the 2,000-year history of the Church.

Francisco He is the Pope who has proclaimed the most saints in his ten years at the helm of the Vatican. add up 911 canonized since he took over the reins of San Pedro in 2013, an unusually high number that includes the 813 Martyrs of Otranto as a group. The second most canonized was John Paul II, with 482.

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Francis’ first canonization, on May 12, 2013, was 813 people at a time. It’s about the Martyrs of Otranto, known as Antonio Primaldo and companions because the name of this person is preserved but almost nothing is known about the other 812.

Two of the most notorious canonizations of his pontificate were those of his predecessors John XXIII and John Paul II in front of more than half a million pilgrims on April 27, 2014, whom he described as brave men who resisted the tragedies of the 20th century.

It was a historic double papal canonization. The Vatican said more than 500,000 people packed the area of ​​the basilica while another 300,000 watched the event on big television screens across Rome.

Another of the best-known saints that was canonized by Francis is the Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She was beatified by Saint John Paul II on October 19, 2003 and canonized 13 years later by Pope Francis in Saint Peter’s Square on September 4, 2016 as part of the Jubilee celebration of mercy volunteers and workers.

One of the most recent was that of the nun Maria Francisca de Jesus (1844-1904) on May 15, 2022, born in Italy but considered the first saint of Uruguayin a ceremony in Saint Peter’s Square in which nine other blessed were also proclaimed saints, such as the Dutchman Titus Brandsma and the Frenchman Charles de Foucauld.

María Francisca de Jesús, whose real name was Ana María Rubatto, was the founder in 1885 of the Congregation of the Capuchin Sisters, dedicated to the care of the sick and, above all, abandoned children and young people.

Pope Francis during the canonization of Mother Teresa (AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO)
Pope Francis during the canonization of Mother Teresa (AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO) (AFP /)

The third pope to be proclaimed a saint in just four years by Francis was Paul VIwho he was canonized together with the martyred salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero. Paul VI was beatified and canonized by Pope Francis on October 19, 2014 and October 14, 2018, respectively.

The last to be canonized so far -October 9, 2022- were the Italian-Argentine Artemides Zatti and Giovanni Battista Scalabrini. Zatti was a nurse, a Salesian layman, born in Italy and an emigrant to Argentina who “dedicated his entire life to satisfying the needs of others.”

“Artémides Zatti was a living example of gratitude. Cured of tuberculosis, he dedicated his entire life to satisfying the needs of others, caring for the sick with love and tenderness. It is said that they saw him carry the corpse of one of his patients on his back. Filled with gratitude for what he had received, he wanted to show his thanksgiving by assuming the wounds of others”, praised Francisco during his homily.

Scalabrini, Italian, was Bishop of Piacenza and founder of the Congregation of the Missionaries of San Carlo. When he canonized him, recalling his work to help migrants and refugees, the pope stated that the exclusion of migrants is “scandalous” who “die in front of us” in the Mediterranean, which is now the “most biggest in the world”.

The sanctification process

The process that can lead to sainthood, known as the “cause,” usually cannot start until five years after a person’s death. In some cases, the Pope may waive this five-year waiting period if there is overwhelming evidence that the person under consideration lived a holy life.

This was precisely the case when Pope John Paul waived the five-year term to canonize the Mother Teresa of Calcuttawho died in 1997, and Pope Benedict did it for the cause of the sanctity of the Pope John Paulwho died in 2005. Both proceedings began within five years of his death.

In the early years of the Church, a saint could be declared by popular acclamation or by cardinals or by papal decree.

Today, the Vatican department that studies the causes of sainthood is known as the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Its origins date back to 1588 but the department has undergone several modifications over the years.

Artemides Zatti
The Italian-Argentine Artémides Zatti

After the Congregation accepts a person’s name for consideration for sainthood, they are given the title of “God’s servant”. If initial investigations show that the candidate for sainthood lived what is known as a life of “heroic virtues,” he is given the title of “Venerable”.

The Congregation’s historical and theological commissions study the person’s life, read their writings, and interview those who knew them. At this point, for the procedure to continue, a miracle.

Miracles are not performed by future saints but by God. The Church believes that, because a possible saint or saint is in, he can intercede before God to perform the miracle on someone on earth who has prayed invoking him.

A miracle is usually a medically unexplained healing. A Vatican-appointed medical commission determines whether or not there was any scientific explanation for the cure.

Miracles are not necessary if a person was a martyrsomeone murdered in what the Church calls “hatred of the faith.”

If a miracle is determined for those who were not martyrs, the person may be “beatified” and given the title of “Blessed”. For example, John XXIII was beatified in 2000 and John Paul he was beatified in 2011.

A second distinct miracle it must take place after beatification to proceed to sainthood.

Juan Pablo is attributed two miracles: the inexplicable healing of a French nun suffering from Parkinson’s disease and the healing of a Costa Rican woman suffering from a brain aneurysm. They had both prayed to her after her death.

John XXIII, on the other hand, is credited with only one miracle: the healing of an Italian nun suffering from a stomach ailment that doctors had determined would be fatal.

In the case of Pope John XXIII, Pope Francis waived the requirement of a second miracle, ruling that after more than half a century since his death, there was no doubt that John was a holy man.

Although canonization is meant to reflect a person’s virtue, some critics say that the Church has placed itself in an awkward position by making holiness almost a default option for modern popes. John Paul II was canonized nine years after his death, in 2005.

Infographic by Marcelo Regalado

Keep reading:

Pope Francis proclaimed Argentine Artémides Zatti a saint: “He was a living example of gratitude”

Pope Francis will proclaim the first saint of Uruguay

Pope Francis canonized Cardinal Newman