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from issue no. 09 - 2008

An army of friends... in Paradise

An interview with Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, from 1998 till last July Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. Ten years in which 1,108 blesseds and 217 saints were proclaimed

Interview with Cardinal José Saraiva Martins by Gianni Cardinale

On 9 July, the Portuguese Cardinal José Saraiva Martins left the post of Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, where he was replaced by the Salesian Angelo Amato, until then Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Cardinal Saraiva, who turned 76 in January, held the post for just over ten years and has willingly agreed to draw up for 30Days a balance sheet of his “prefecture” in one of the most important and sensitive departments of the Roman Curia.

Cardinal José Saraiva Martins

Cardinal José Saraiva Martins

On 30 May 1998 you were the first non-cardinal to be named immediately Prefect, and not pro-Prefect of a Roman Congregation.
JOSÉ SARAIVA MARTINS: In effect, that’s how it was. I remember that someone called me that day saying that in publishing the news of my appointment L’Osservatore Romano was wrong and had committed a huge gaffe... Because in effect until then if a non-cardinal was appointed head of a Roman department he assumed the post of pro-prefect and the “pro” disappeared only when the person concerned was created cardinal. But no, there was no gaffe, of course, the Holy See had decided that the time had come to simplify the procedures for appointment. Because in fact the powers of a pro-prefect were the same as those of a prefect.
In ten years at the helm of the department how many blesseds and saints have you “helped” to rise to the honors of the altar?
SARAIVA MARTINS: I can answer now because my former colleagues have taken the trouble to make that kind of calculation. I must say first of all that my appointment was made by John Paul II, who during his pontificate recognized more saints and blesseds than all his predecessors put together, at least since the Apostolic See has taken to itself these kinds of decisions . Before Pope Wojtyla in fact – from 1588, the year the Congregation was founded, up to 1978 – 808 blesseds and 296 saints had been raised to the honors of the altars. With John Paul II, from 1978 to 2005, 1,353 blesseds and 482 saints were “made”, and among these, during my prefecture, 553 blesseds were elevated in 39 ceremonies and 203 saints in 17 ceremonies. To those should be added the saints (14) and blesseds (555) recognized during the papacy of Benedict XVI up to July last year. Overall therefore in ten years I have had the privilege of “helping” 1,108 blesseds and 217 saints rise to the honors of the altars. A fine army, it must be said... Let’s hope that at least some of them remember me in Heaven.
In line with the practice adopted at the beginning of the new pontificate, you then, also presided over the beatification ceremonies...
SARAIVA MARTINS: In fact, according to the new practice, these ceremonies, which were previously presided over by the Pope, now are presided by a cardinal, and usually by the Prefect of the Congregation. It was precisely in that capacity that I had the privilege of presiding over 41 of the 49 beatification ceremonies that were held during the, so to speak, “Ratzingerian” phase of my prefecture.
What was the ceremony, among those 41, that most struck you?
SARAIVA MARTINS: All were fine, but I was particularly touched by the one celebrated in Mexico for the beatification of the martyrs of the persecution of the last century. It was held in the stadium in Guadalajara in the presence of eighty thousand faithful. There I understood even better the wisdom of the new practice that includes beatification ceremonies not in Rome, but in the local Churches. If this celebration had been held in Rome very few of those people could have afforded the trip... Without counting the fact that in the stadium in Guadalajara a plaque was put up to immortalize the ceremony. Something unimaginable here in old Europe.
And the army of saints and blesseds that you have helped here on earth... is there someone who has particularly remained in your mind and heart?
SARAIVA MARTINS: While obviously the saints and blesseds are all equal before the Lord, I can’t hide that some of them touched me more closely. Starting from the beatification of Pope John XXIII happily coupled with that of Pope Pius IX, that had had problems. Then that of the little shepherds of Fatima. My mother began talking of them to me when I was a child, inviting me to invoke them, to pray to them, so imagine my joy in accompanying them to the honor of the altar. Then Blessed Mother Teresa and Saint Pio of Pietrelcina: two beautiful figures, much loved and invoked by the ordinary faithful. There, my favorites, so to speak. I hope that the other saints and blesseds understand my weakness.
Isn’t there the danger that the proclamation of a large number of saints and blesseds, as has happened over the past thirty years, will lead to a sort of “inflation”?
SARAIVA MARTINS: John Paul II, who was well aware of that type of objection, didn’t think so. And he replied, well, giving a whole series of reasons: God makes saints and if there are saints, the Church cannot but recognize them and propose them; the Second Vatican Council had spoken of the universal call to holiness; the multiplication of local Churches entails the proliferation of models of sanctity; sanctity is the easiest way to the unity of the Church and therefore has strong ecumenical implications. We believe, the Apostolic Symbol that we recite at every Mass reminds us, in the “Ecclesiam unam, sanctam...” All reasons that I fully share and that have inspired the work of the Congregation.
With the election of Benedict XVI there were those who thought that it would be possible to return to the old...
SARAIVA MARTINS: As the statistics clearly show that was not the case. The new Pope has not given any indication contrary to the previous. The pace has not slackened. Indeed, the decision to decentralize ceremonies of beatification to the local level has done nothing but multiply such celebrations.
Have you any regrets at leaving office?
SARAIVA MARTINS: No, I’m happy because they have been very fruitful years for me and for the Department. In addition to individual causes, in fact, I have had the satisfaction, for example, of seeing the new regulation of the Congregation approved, or, most recently, the Sanctorum Mater instruction I wanted in particular. It is an important tool to help bishops to initiate processes satisfactorily at the diocesan level. A tool, in fact, whose lack was felt. Not to mention a number of initiatives, such as the 1999 Symposium on “Eucharist, sanctity and sanctification”. And then the fine audience Benedict XVI granted the postulators was a joyous event. It was the first time it happened.
Yet it happened that a beatification ceremony, that of Father Leone Dehon, for which even the date was set, was then postponed sine die...
SARAIVA MARTINS: It was so decided in order to better study the question given the controversy that broke out about the alleged anti-Semitism of Father Leone. Personally, I think the accusations unjust and anachronistic, and I hope that as soon as possible Dehon may merit rising to the honor of the altar.
Earlier you mentioned the fact that there were problems with the beatification of Pius IX also...
SARAIVA MARTINS: In that case it was a question of opportunity linked to assessments of a political kind. There were historiographical currents particularly adverse to Pope Mastai and therefore the decree concerning the miracle was blocked for a number of years. But then, after seeking the opinion of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, which was positive, it was decided that the reservations no longer had reason to exist. Also because, and this applies to Pius IX, but not only to him, when a servant of God is “beatified” it is not his political views, right or wrong as they may have been, that get beatified.
Our Director has wondered in the past whether before initiating the causes of beatifications of popes it might not be better to wait fifty years after their death, rather than five...
SARAIVA MARTINS: The Church discipline on this point has changed several times in the past. Hence nothing prevents it from possibly changing again. It’s true that the causes concerning popes are particularly delicate, not least because we know that their archives are fully accessible only after decades. What seems to me important is that such causes be free from external interference, both positive and negative, by persons or institutions outside the process. Such attempts must be rejected. And it’s clear that if a process begins ten or twenty years after death its’s easier for such influences to be less if not non-existent. This applies to popes but also to others.
So in principle you would not be opposed to extending the current limit of five years...
SARAIVA MARTINS: I think that such a decision, if taken, could help avoid undue pressure.
John XXIII was beatified despite his archives not being accessible yet. Isn’t that anomalous?
SARAIVA MARTINS: I like to believe that those who studied the cause had the opportunity to carefully assess all relevant documents, regardless of them not being accessible yet.
If one looks at the list of popes of the last century we have a saint (Pius X), a blessed (John XXIII), and four servants of God (Pius XII, Paul VI, John Paul I and II). Practically only two popes over that period are not on the way to the altar...
SARAIVA MARTINS: If there is a reputation for holiness the Congregation cannot prevent the process starting. That does not mean, however, that even popes for whom such a reputation has not become manifest may not be considered great popes. Benedict XV and Pius XI were certainly very worthy successors of Peter.
At a press conference Father Lombardi mentioned the fact that, as regards the cause for beatification of Pius XII, the Congregation has done its job and now it is up to the Pope to decide about the publication of the decree on the heroic virtues...
SARAIVA MARTINS: In fact, the Congregation has done an excellent job. The Pope for his part gave a mandate to go further into some aspects. We are confidently awaiting further developments. The Pope’s words to the participants at a conference and especially those for the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Pope Pacelli, and the foreword written by the Cardinal Secretary of State to a book by Sister Marchione provides positive hope.
Your Eminence, the prevailing theological view is that in canonizing a saint the Pope performs an act of infallible magisterium. But there’s no lack of authoritative theologians who do not think so. What is your opinion about it?
SARAIVA MARTINS: I am firmly convinced that canonization is a dogmatic fact involving the infallible magisterium of the Pope. A canonization has to do with universal devotion and therefore the faith of the Church. In recognizing a new saint, in fact, the Pope does not permit devotion at the local level, as is the case instead for the blesseds, but prescribes it for the whole universal Church.
Cardinal Saraiva Martins perorating the causes for canonization in the ordinary public consistory held in the Vatican Apostolic Palace on 1 March 2008 [© Osservatore Romano]

Cardinal Saraiva Martins perorating the causes for canonization in the ordinary public consistory held in the Vatican Apostolic Palace on 1 March 2008 [© Osservatore Romano]

Forgive me the irreverence of the question, but with the large number of saints that have been proclaimed over past decades, is there any danger of surprises in the future?
SARAIVA MARTINS: I rule that out. The Congregation works in most scrupulous fashion and so I rule out future surprises. But above all I firmly believe that in this the Lord will never let His Church and His Vicar on earth fall into error.
Your Eminence, permit me a somewhat mischievous question. Some years ago a postulator quantified the cost of the process of beatification of a candidate at around 750,000 euro. With such large sums is there no danger that someone might fall into temptation?
SARAIVA MARTINS: I understand what you’re alluding to. I would like to clarify that the expenditure on every beatification is, so to speak, daily expenses, covering the cost of printing the Positio, the right, and moreover modest fees to the theologians and doctors involved, the cost of the ceremonies. So not even a penny ends up in the account of the Congregation. The Congregation merely informs the postulators, who hold the pursestrings, about who and what to pay. Period.
Your Eminence, one last question. Don’t you now feel that you’re out of work?
SARAIVA MARTINS: Out of work? Not too much. God willing, up to eighty I shall be a member of some departments and offices of the Roman Curia, the Congregation for Worship and that for Bishops, the Pontifical Council for Health Workers, the Pontifical Commission for the State of Vatican City. And then the Holy Father has asked me, as Prefect Emeritus, to still preside at some ceremonies of beatification.
SARAIVA MARTINS: On 4 October in Vigevano for Father Francesco Pianzola founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Queen of Peace and of the diocesan Oblates of the Immaculate. On 19 October in Lisieux for Louis and Zelia Martin, parents of Saint Theresa. On 24 November in Nagasaki, Japan, for the 188 17th century martyrs. On 29 November in Camagüey, in Cuba, for Brother Olallo Valdés, of the Fatebenefratelli. As you see there’s no lack of work.

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