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What do the 912 saints canonized by Francis tell us about him?

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Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

Anna Kurian - published on 02/12/24

The Argentine Pope has canonized a record number of saints, including some that seem to represent his particular priorities.

With the canonization of “Mama Antula” on February 11, Pope Francis has canonized a record 912 saints since the start of his pontificate. 

Although canonizations are the fruit of a very long process, which can take several decades or even centuries, we can sketch out a few features of the panorama of “Francis’ saints.”

If we exclude the 813 Italian martyrs of Otranto, massacred in 1480 by the Turks and canonized all at once by Francis in 2013, the Argentine Pontiff will have raised 99 saints to the glory of the altars since the beginning of his pontificate. And some of these canonizations appear more personal to Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the first South American pope and the first pope to come from the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.

Mama Antula

For example, it is not insignificant that Mama Antula is the first Argentinian-born female saint in the history of the Church, and that she spread Ignatian spirituality in Francis’ native country in the 18th century. It seems that the Argentine pope — who also decreed her beatification in 2016 — gave priority to her cause in the dicastery, where over 2,000 files are under study.

Similarly, it’s interesting to note that since 2013, after Italy, the second-largest provider of saints is Brazil, with 31 saints. 

If we had to offer a general panorama of Francis’ saints, here’s what it might look like: 

Great witnesses

Since 2013, Pope Francis has canonized great Catholic witnesses, including Mother Teresa of Calcutta (2016), Archbishop Óscar Romero (2018), Cardinal John Henry Newman (2019), and Charles de Foucauld (2022), the “universal brother.”

The latter is very dear to Pope Francis, as he was one of the inspirers of his encyclical Fratelli tutti.

“Francis is the Pope of the peripheries, and he is going to canonize Charles de Foucauld, the saint of the peripheries,” the cause’s postulator, Fr. Bernard Ardura, said ahead of the event. 

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VATICAN CITY, May 15, 2022: Pope Francis leads a canonisation mass in St. Peter’s Square, creating 10 saints including India’s Devasahayam, French hermit Charles de Foucauld and Dutch theologian Titus Brandsma.

Popes

The Argentine pontiff has also raised to the glory of the altars three of his predecessors: John XXIII (2014), Paul VI (2018) and John Paul II (2014), three popes of the 20th century and the Second Vatican Council. These choices are particularly noteworthy, given Pope Francis’ many references to the Council, whose fruits he believes have yet to fully come to light.

Papież Jan Paweł II w Ars podczas pielgrzymki do Francji (6 października 1986)
Pope St. John Paul II

The canonization ceremony for John Paul II and John XXIII was particularly symbolic, bringing together no less than four popes in St. Peter’s Square, with Benedict XVI emerging from his retired life for the occasion. 

The first married couple 

The most prolific pope in terms of recognizing saints has honored a variety of profiles: He included in the catalog of saints the first married couple to be canonized together, Louis and Zélie Martin (2015), the parents of Thérèse of the Child Jesus.

He also included two children, brother and sister, Jacinta and Francisco Marto (2017), the two shepherd visionaries of the Fatima apparitions and the youngest non-martyr saints.

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Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin with their daughter St. Thérèse

It’s likely that these causes were close to the heart of the 266th pope, who has often admitted that the Carmelite nun from Lisieux is his favorite saint, and who has expressed his particular attachment to Fatima, where he has visited twice.

Atypical profiles

Atypical profiles stand out in Francis’ saints, such as Carmelite Titus Bransma (2022), a Dutchman who founded Europe’s first school of journalism and was a martyr to Nazism. The Argentine pontiff has also sought to offer models of rarer provenance, giving Sri Lanka its first saint in the person of Joseph Vaz (2015), and canonizing India’s first layman, Lazarus Devasahayam Pillai (2022). These canonizations of distant figures, while not a novelty in the Church, resonate with Pope Francis’ well-known attraction to the peripheries.

Equipollent canonizations

Notably, on a number of occasions, Francis has used an exceptional procedure, decreeing so-called “equipollent” canonizations, without recognition of a miracle or a canonization ceremony.

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St. Francis Xavier, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and St. Peter Faber, cofounders of the Jesuits

This procedure, which is used above all when the facts relate to the distant past, has undoubtedly enabled the Pope to promote figures to whom he was particularly attached. An example would be Peter Faber (2013), a member of the first group of Jesuits working with St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century.

Ecumenical saints

Most recently, in May 2023, the Pontiff announced a historic initiative. He decided to add 21 Christian martyrs, including 20 Coptic Orthodox — killed by ISIS in 2015 in Libya — to the Roman martyrology.

Icon of the 21 Coptic martyrs of Libya – fr
Icon of the 21 Christian martyrs killed in Libya in 2015

While the Catholic Church and the Coptic Church have saints from the early centuries in common, these will be the first saints both Churches will recognize since the schism in the 5th century. It’s a sign that represents the “ecumenism of martyrdom,” to which Pope Francis often refers.

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ChurchPope FrancisSaints
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