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How are saints made?

  • Souvenir tiles are displayed for sale at a shop in the village of Aljustrel, outside Fatima, Portugal. The tiles show Lucia Santos, Francisco Marto and Jacinta Marto, the Portuguese shepherd children who say they saw visions of the Virgin Mary 100 years ago. Pope Francis visited the Fatima shrine on May 12 and 13 to canonize Francisco and Jacinta Marto. AP Photo

  • In this photo taken May 4, 2017, china plates with images of Francisco and Jacinta Marto are displayed for sale in a shop window in Fatima, Portugal. Pope Francis is visiting the Fatima shrine on May 12 and 13 to canonize Francisco and Jacinta Marto, two Portuguese shepherd children who say they saw visions of the Virgin Mary 100 years ago. (AP Photo/Armando Franca) Armando Franca

  • In this photo taken May 4, 2017, mass is celebrated by the image of Our Lady of Fatima in the Chapel of the Apparitions at the Fatima Sanctuary in Fatima, Portugal. Pope Francis is expected to pray at the chapel when he visits the Fatima shrine on May 12 and 13 to canonize two Portuguese shepherd children who say they saw visions of the Virgin Mary 100 years ago. (AP Photo/Armando Franca) Armando Franca



Associated Press
Friday, May 19, 2017

VATICAN CITY — Lengthy historic investigations. Decrees of “heroic virtues.” Miraculous cures.

The Vatican’s complicated saint-making process has long fascinated Catholics and non-Catholics alike, and was on display May 12 and 13 when Pope Francis canonized two children whose “visions” of the Virgin Mary 100 years ago turned the sleepy farming town of Fatima into a major Catholic pilgrimage site.

Francis recently reformed the process to address financial abuses that had long tarnished the Vatican’s saint-making machine, but the basic criteria remain.

How are saints made?

A postulator — essentially the cheerleader spearheading the project — gathers testimony and documentation and presents the case to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints. If the congregation’s experts agree the candidate lived a virtuous life, the case is forwarded to the pope, who signs a decree attesting to the candidate’s “heroic virtues.”

If the postulator finds someone was miraculously healed by praying for the candidate’s intercession, and if the cure can’t be medically explained, the case is presented to the congregation as the possible miracle needed for beatification. Panels of doctors, theologians, bishops and cardinals must certify that the cure was instantaneous, complete and lasting — and was due to the intercession of the saintly candidate. If convinced, the congregation sends the case to the pope, who signs a decree saying the candidate can be beatified.

A second miracle is needed to declare the candidate a saint.

Martyrs — people killed for their faith — can be beatified without a miracle. A miracle is needed, however, for martyrs to be canonized.

The Marto case, a first

Francisco and Jacinta Marto, who were canonized May 13, became the Catholic Church’s youngest-ever non-martyred saints. They are the youngsters who, along with their cousin, reported the visions of the Madonna 100 years ago.

Portuguese Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martians pushed their case through the first phase of beatification when he was in charge of the Vatican’s saint-making office. He says it was the first of its kind.

“Before we couldn’t even talk about the beatification of children in the history of the church because the principle prevailed that they didn’t yet have the skills to exercise the heroic level of Christian virtues,” Saraiva Martins said in an interview.

But the Marto siblings earned the designation by refusing — despite threats they would be fried in olive oil — to recant their visions. Aged 9 and 7 at the time, they held firm in their faith, and ultimately Portuguese church officials declared the apparitions authentic.

And the Martos’ miracle?

The miracle attributed to the Martos’ intercession concerns the inexplicable healing of a Brazilian boy, Lucas Baptista, who in 2013 fell from a window and suffered such a serious brain injury that doctors said he likely wouldn’t live.

His parents, Joao Baptista and his wife, Lucila Yurie, broke their silence on Thursday in Fatima to tell the story of his recovery on the eve of Francis’ arrival. Doctors had told them that even if Lucas survived, he would be severely mentally disabled or be in a vegetative state.

The boy, however, woke up a few days later and is “completely fine ... with no after-effects,” his father said.

Francis’ reforms

Francis has issued two major reforms to the multi-million dollar saint-making process after the Vatican uncovered gross abuses that were revealed in two books. The books estimated the average cost for each beatification at around $550,000, with much of the proceeds going to a few lucky people with contracts to do the time-consuming investigations into the candidates’ lives. Francis last year issued new rules requiring external vigilance over individual Vatican bank accounts created for beatification and canonization.

The second reform concerned the miracle certification process: One new rule stipulates a potential miracle can no longer be presented for consideration if it fails to pass before the board of medical experts three times. Secrecy must be respected at all times.