Pope Francis added a new group of Catholic saints on May 15 in Piazza San Pietro, raising to the altars 10 people whom the Church declares among the blessed in heaven and worthy of emulation by faithful believers. They are: Maria Domenica Mantovani, Maria Francesca Rubatto, Giustino Maria Russolillo, Luigi Maria Palazzolo, César de Bus, Lázaro Devasahayam Pillai, Carolina Santocanale, Anne-Marie Rivier, Charles de Foucauld and Titus Brandsma.
While all of these characters have led diverse and intriguing lives dedicated to Jesus Christ and the community that still proclaims him as Lord, the last two are probably the most familiar to non-specialists or those who do not belong to particular religious orders.
Charles de Foucauld was born in Périgord in France. He ended up becoming a Trappist and then left the order to live a solitary life as a sort of contemporary Desert Father, founding the Congregation of the Little Brothers of Jesus. In the 1920s, a successful biography was written about him by René Bazin, who described him as “Explorateur en Maroc, Ermite du Sahara” – “Explorer in Morocco, Hermit of the Sahara”. Expert by immersion in the Tuareg Berber culture, he published the first dictionary to translate their language into French. He was eventually murdered by tribal bandits and declared a martyr for the faith.
Titus Brandsma was a Dutch Carmelite priest and teacher who repeatedly criticized the growing threat of the Nazi regime in Europe. Like the more famous Maximilian Kolbe, Brandsma paid for this position with his life, the latter being injected with carbolic acid in the Dachau death camp. He gave a set of wooden rosaries to the nurse who performed it, and she was later converted away from the distortions of atheist Nazi ideology to become a devout Catholic. Her pseudonymous testimony, the Report of “Tizia”, was the subject of in-depth studies during the process of beatification and canonization.
On a recent visit to the National Shrine of St. Therese of Lisieux in Darien, Illinois, I was struck by the exhibit on her fellow Carmelite, Brandsma. A few of his warnings stuck with me: “Don’t give in to hatred. We are in a dark tunnel, but we must continue. And, in the end, an eternal light shines for us. “Our mission is not really to do big things, but rather to do small things with greatness.” And, perhaps more profoundly: “Prayer is life, not an oasis in the desert of life.
My friend and colleague Miguel Diaz, former ambassador to the Holy See, was present at the canonization ceremonies. Fresh from a private meeting Pope Francis had with him and some of my Loyola colleagues, Diaz told me, “In his homily for the events, Pope Francis captures what it means to be holy: the love of God, of oneself and of neighbour. Love is the summit of the Christian life. A love that begins with the radical acceptance that it is God who loves us first and calls us to do the same with our neighbors. To be holy is to exist for and through others. This existence, the Pope reminds us, is an incarnated accompaniment. It means “touch and look, touch and look at the suffering flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters”. The women and men he has declared saints today have demonstrated love in their lives. And as Pope Francis pointed out, like them, each of us is called to embody love in our own distinct and human way.
He went on to say that there are no “clone saints”. Rather, each of us is called to imitate Christ’s love for humanity in our own and various stages of life.
These newly canonized figures who will be remembered in elaborate liturgies, stained glass windows and marble statues around the world are above all not saints in plaster, but rather human beings better understood as those who have lived a life of love. without limits. So there is much to learn from them for our contemporary divided and contentious culture.
Originally from Collingswood, Michael M. Canaris, Ph.D., teaches at Loyola University Chicago.