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Pope John Paul Turns Vatican Into Saint Factory
by Crispian Balmer (Reuters, October 14, 2003)

Pope John Paul II has traveled more, spoken more and published more than any of his predecessors during his 25-year reign at the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

But perhaps his most remarkable record is that he has created more saints and beatified more people than any pontiff in history -- more indeed than all the previous popes combined.

To date, John Paul has named 477 men and women as saints, and beatified a further 1,318, putting them in the waiting room for eventual elevation to sainthood.

The ranks of the blessed will grow by one more on Sunday with the quick-fire beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta just six years after her death.

That represents hurtling down the road to canonization at the speed of light in church terms. Joan of Arc took almost five centuries to be noticed, while religious poet Herman the Cripple had to wait 800 years for his beatification.

Mother Teresa's record-breaking sprint toward sainthood underscores the importance that John Paul has pinned on filling his church with new role models from all walks of life in an effort to bring a fresh burst of dynamism and zeal to the faith.

"I think that this pope will deservedly pass into history as the pope of sainthood," said Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, who heads the Vatican office responsible for saints' causes.

"The pope often recalls that sanctity is part of the church's nature, it is in its DNA," he said in an interview with Vatican Radio.

CONTROVERSIAL CANDIDATES

The flurry of saintly activity has raised eyebrows among some traditionalists, who fear that the sanctity of sainthood has been diluted by an influx of often little-known newcomers.

And while few church-goers would begrudge the recognition granted to Mother Teresa, India's revered "Saint of the Gutters," other choices have provoked unease and even dismay.

The beatification of Pius IX, a 19th century pontiff widely viewed as deeply anti-Semitic, proved highly controversial, as did the canonization of Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, founder of the ultra-conservative Opus Dei group.

Given the huge numbers of new blessed and saints it is perhaps inevitable that some advances have caused a stir.

John Paul has made saints of people from every class and culture -- popes and priests, patricians and peasants -- to show that anyone from any age can lead a holy life.

He has also been eager to honor those who lived under communism, and those from regions such as Africa and Asia that have not had many saints to their name.

"The pope has wanted to sustain generations that suffered in an atheist world," said Paolo Molinari, a Jesuit priest and an expert on saintly issues.

"He hopes that if people follow the example of his saints, then the world will become a slightly better place," he said.

One group -- martyrs -- has come in for special papal attention, with some 80 percent of John Paul's army of blessed and saints having died for their faith.

The mass advancement of martyrs happened thanks to radical changes to the saint-making process that were introduced in 1983 to simplify guidelines originally drawn up in 1588.

Whereas other mortals can only become blessed if a miracle is attributed to them, martyrs won a special dispensation to enter the elite club for having sacrificed their life.

In order to become saints, however, martyrs need a miracle to their name while non-martyrs require a second miracle to show that they are in heaven and can intercede with life on earth.

Although the 1983 rules swept away some of the checks and balances that slowed the Vatican's saint-production lines, the pope has withstood pressure to end the miracle requirement.

Those who question it say it puts the church at the mercy of medicine, with advancements in modern science making it increasingly easy to explain "miraculous" recoveries.

MEDICINE OR MIRACLE?

That problem is clear in Mother Teresa's case.

The diminutive nun was named as a blessed after a Vatican panel of experts ruled that an Indian woman, Monica Besra, recovered from stomach cancer in 1999 thanks to the miraculous intervention of Mother Teresa.

"The moment I felt mother's presence around me, my body started feeling so much lighter," Besra told Reuters.

But a local doctor who examined Besra says she was only suffering from a tubercular cyst which was cured by medicine.

"It is not a miracle when there is definitive clinical evidence of her taking tubercular drugs for nine months and the tumor disappearing," said Ranjan Kumar Mustaphi.

"It is nothing -- they just want to prove that with the miracle Mother will get sainthood."


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