Saturday, May 13, 2017

It doesn't take much to become a Catholic saint these days

So, what does it take to become a saint these days? Not much, it seems.
Pope Francis has just canonized two Portuguese kids who died in the European influenza epidemic of 1918-19. Francisco and Jacinta Marto were shepherds living neat Fátima, Portugal, who reported seeing the Virgin Mary (sound familiar?) exactly one hundred years ago today. A third child, cousin Lúcia Santos, who seems to be on a different schedule to the others for some reason, is currently in the process of canonization. It was Lúcia - who did not die and became a nun after her experiences - who wrote down the so-called "Three Secrets of Fátima", in which Mary is believed to have revealed truths to supposedly help the whole of mankind. A huge complex of religious buildings, known collectively as the Sanctuary of Fátima, now exists on the site of the so-called revelations, and about 4 million Catholic pilgrims visit the basilica every year.
And just what were those world-changing revelations? Well, Sister Lúcia finally got around to telling the world about them in her memoirs in the early 1940s. She recounts for us:
  • a terrifying vision of hell, complete with a great sea of fire, demons and human souls (i.e. straight out of Catholic orthodoxy);
  • the end of World War 1, and the start of another second World War (probably a safe bet), as well as an ambiguous prediction worthy of the Delphic Oracle, that Russia will be "converted" or "consecrated" only if it listens to Mary's message, otherwise it will "spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church";
  • a tantalizing secret bonus revelation - sealed in an envelope and made available to the Vatican in 1957 but only revealed to the world in 2000 - suggesting that the Pope (no indication of which pope) will climb a mountain with some other clergy, only to be killed by soldiers with bullets and arrows. Some have taken this to predict the shooting attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981, despite the lack of mountains, soldiers and arrows.
It's not a lot to go on, really, certainly nothing that any astute charlatan couldn't come up with. Apparently, though, it was enough for a whole cult to develop around in Portugal, and for sundry alleged miracles and intercessions to be recorded in dubious circumstances, and ultimately for the call for sainthood. The old long-held view within the Church that it was just not possible for young children and minors to display "heroic virtue" was overturned in 1979, and Pope John Paul II himself declared the siblings "venerable" in 1989, the first step on the road to today's announcent of sainthood.
Ah, gotta love that old Catholic Church...

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