Can Anyone Become A Catholic Saint? Yes, With This 5-Step Process
Find out how heroic deeds can lead to a life of eternal holiness.
Becoming a saint is a high tribute given to holy men and women by the Catholic Church. The faithful ask for their intercession and honor them for their selfless deeds in prayer and recognize the hardships they went through for their calling.
The U.S. Catholic reported that in 2013, there were more than 10,000 saints venerated by Catholics, and certainly the number has grown even more since then. When you read about the lives of saints, you will realize that many of them were ordinary people like you and me during their lifetime. That said, you may ask: Can anyone become a saint?
“Everyone is called to sainthood; therefore, anyone can be a saint as it is a universal calling,” says Juanito Nasataya, Jr., a Piarist Seminarian at the Loyola School of Theology. He shares that living a holy life in accordance with the Gospel is a way to become a saint.
There are five steps that need to be observed before a person is deemed a saint:
First step: Five-year waiting period
“[The first step to sainthood is to] wait for five years,” says Sr. Rhea Castillo, Congregational Director of Religious Education of the OP Siena Schools System.
She shares that the process of sainthood does not begin until five years after one’s death.
The five-year waiting period also paves the way for the processing of emotions after the death of the candidate and guarantees the deceased person’s case can undergo objective evaluation.
However, there had been some cases where exceptions were made, and the waiting period was disregarded by the Supreme Pontiff due to profound evidence that the person has lived a holy life. An example of this exemption was Mother Teresa of Calcutta in 1999 when Pope John Paul II relieved the five-year period after her death. Similarly, Pope Benedict XVI lifted the waiting process for Pope John Paul II in 2005.
Second step: Be a ‘Servant Of God’
Sr. Rhea says the next step to sainthood is to be a “Servant of God.”
Once the five-year period ends, a local bishop can conduct an investigation on the person’s life and writings as proof that the person has indeed lived a life that is ‘heroic in virtue’. All information discovered by the bishop is sent to the Vatican, where a group of theologians and cardinals of the Congregation for Causes of Saints can assess the individual’s life.
“If the bishop believes there is sufficient proof to regard the person for sainthood, he asks for permission from the Vatican to conduct a special tribunal,” says Sr. Rhea. “Witnesses are summoned to confirm the person under consideration for his or her devotion to God, goodness, holiness, and other virtues.”
According to the Vatican, primary witnesses may include blood relatives and kins through the sacrament of matrimony of the Servant of God, as well as confidants and acquaintances, all of whom must be truthful with their testimonies.
The Vatican also states that all papers and testimonies acquired should be verified by the signature of any public official or notary to certify its legitimacy.
Sr. Rhea shares that once the candidate passes this step, he or she is deemed a “Servant of God.”
Third step: Presentation of evidence on living a life of ‘heroic virtue’
In this phase, a positio, a book containing the remarkable life and virtues of the Servant of God, will be prepared by the relator, who is a member of the Congregation’s staff.
After this is properly developed, the theological panel decides whether the person under consideration has experienced martyrdom or spent a life of heroic virtue.
EWTN reports that once the theological commission approves of the cause, it is given to the Supreme Pontiff, who will give the final verdict.
Once the Pope certifies that the candidate has indeed lived a life of heroic virtue, he or she is now proclaimed as “Venerable.”
According to Sr. Rhea, a Venerable is a person recognized as a role model of Catholic virtues, which include faith, hope, and charity, as well as the cardinal values of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.
Fourth step: Miracles
The next step prior to entering sainthood is beatification, which allows a candidate to be honored by a particular group or region.
“Before a candidate can be beatified, he or she must be responsible for [one] posthumous miracle,” says Sr. Rhea. She shares that most cases in the past have been associated with miraculous healings of fatal medical conditions.
Sr. Rhea mentions that one prevalent misconception among saints is that they perform miracles. However, she clarifies that the saints from heaven, who are praying to God, are merely “interceding” for us, making them “responsible” for these miracles.
In the Philippines, the healing of Alegria Policarpio, a two-year-old child who was diagnosed with hydrocephaly in 1983, was attributed to the intercession of Venerable Lorenzo Ruiz.
“The [Catholic] church is still extremely traditional in the types of deeds: one miracle for beatification and another miracle for the canonization through the intercession of the candidate,” adds Sr. Rhea.
“To ensure that each miracle is divine intervention, it will have to undergo strict theological and scientific evaluation,” says Sr. Rhea.
On February 18, 1981, Pope John Paul II beatified Blessed Lorenzo Ruiz in Manila, which marked the first beatification rites that occurred outside the Vatican.
According to the Vatican, beatification rites can occur either in a diocese where the cause of the future Blessed was advocated, or other places within the same religious region.
Once the venerable is beatified, the Catholic Church proclaims the candidate as “Blessed.”
Martyrs, however, are exempted from this step as they are recognized to have died in the name of their faith. They can be beatified even without a verified miracle.
Fifth step: Canonization
To achieve the last step of sainthood, a proof of a second posthumous miracle through the intercession of the Blessed is required.
Sr. Rhea shares that once a second verified miracle is attributed to a Blessed, then the person can be considered a saint. “The Pope officially deems a person as a saint through canonization,” she adds.
A Eucharistic celebration occurs during the canonization rites, where the Pope will read the candidate’s biography and recite a Latin prayer to deem the person a saint. This religious ceremony is held at the Vatican City in Rome.
In order for martyrs to become saints, they are to have at least one confirmed miracle.
According to Sr. Rhea, the term “saint” is mostly used in the Catholic faith. “Other religions have their own way of calling their respective ideal persons.”
Filipino saints and venerables
Mother Francisca Del Espiritu Santo de Fuentes, born in Manila to Spanish parents in 1647, and eventual founder of the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, is only two steps away from becoming a saint. She was declared a Venerable by the Vatican on July 5, 2019.
The Philippines currently has two declared saints: St. Lorenzo Ruiz and St. Pedro Calungsod, both of whom are regarded as patron saints of the country and of the Filipino youth.