Under a blue and nearly cloudless sky over the Eternal City, the Holy Father Pope Francis proclaimed four new Saints "to be venerated as such by the whole Church."
It was, by Vatican standards, a small congregation that gathered in a warm St. Peter's Square for the canonization of Saints Jeanne-Emilie de Villeneuve,Maria Cristina of the Immaculate Conception Brando, Marie-Alphonsine Danil Ghatta, and Mary of Jesus Crucified Baouardy.
The heat, though, did not hinder the spirits of the pilgrims who came mostly from France, Italy, and the Holy Land.
As I considered the high temperature and sitting under a blazing sun in several layers of vestments, I considered staying home and watching the canonization on my computer. But then I asked myself, "How can I not concelebrate the canonization Mass of a levitating, bilocating Carmelite stigmatic?!" That settled it for me and off to the basilica I went.
As the congregation sang, "God is king, let the earth rejoice, alleluia!", Pope Francis arrived in St. Peter's Square with his ministers to begin the sacred rites. After greeting the faithful in the usual manner, the congregation implored the assistance of the Holy Spirit in the decision soon to be made. The faithful joined in the singing of the Veni, Creator Spiritus, which, as given in the booklets for the ceremonies, begins as follows (in English):
Come, Holy Ghost, Creator, comefrom thy bright heav'nly throne;come, take possession of our souls,and make them all thine own.
I could not help but smile and laugh as we began the second verse, for just as we ended the first verse a great wind entered the piazza and blew the chasuble of the priest to me left right into my face (the chasubles were exceptionally large, going all the way down to my ankles, and were heavier than my cassock and alb combined). The welcome wind caught us all by surprise (though, given our prayer, probably shouldn't have) and cooled things down a bit. The wind continued throughout the celebration of the Holy Mass and made the warmth bearable.
After the invocation of the Holy Spirit, His Eminence Angelo Cardinal Amato, S.D.B., Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes for Saints, petitioned His Holiness to enroll the four women among the Saints so "that they may be invoked as such by all the Christian faithful," and gave a brief biography of each of the four. The joy of the Palestinians could not be contained at the mention of the Blesseds Marie-Alphonsine Danil Ghatta and Mary of Jesus Crucified Baouardy.
Pope Francis then invited us to unite our prayers "to God the Father Almighty through Jesus Christ, that through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all his Saints he may sustain with his grace the act which we now solemnly undertake." So began the great Litany of Saints.
During the Litany of the Sainits, I took special notice of the inclusion by name of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More (invoked immediately after Saint Thomas Becket and before Saint Paul Miki), who were not explicitly invoked at the canonization Pope Saints John XXIII and John Paul II. Like Saint John the Baptist, Saints John Fisher and Thomas More lost their lives in witness to the dignity and truth of marriage. Given the climate of much of western society today, I cannot help but think the inclusion of these witnesses is purposeful and not accidental.
Following the Litany of the Saints came the moment for which we had all gathered, as the Holy Father proclaimed:
For the honor of the Blessed Trinity,the exaltation of the Catholic faithand the increase of the Christian life,by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ,and of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul,and our own,after due deliberationand frequent prayer for divine assistance,and having sought the counsel of many of our brother bishops,we declare and define BlessedJeanne Emilie de Villeneuve,Maria Christina of the Immaculate Conception,Marie Alphonsine Danil Ghattas,and Mary of Jesus Crucified Baouardyto be Saints and we enroll them among the Saints,decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole Church.In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
With their canonization now complete, the relics of the new Saints were brought forward one by one and placed near the altar for the veneration of the faithful. The relics were honored with placement of candles and flowers as the congregation sang, "Shout [joyfully] to God, sing to the Lord"!
As the relic of Saint Mary of Jesus Crucified, at whose tomb I have prayed and whose mantle I have worn, I was filled with a profound peace and joy and tears began streaming down my face. I felt a special closeness to the one they call the Little Arab, though she only wanted to be known as the little nothing. I'm going to have see if I can't obtain one of her relics.
After a deacon incensed the relics of the new Saints, the Mass continued in the usual way with the Gloria.
In his homily, Pope Francis spoke of the "secret of the saints: abiding in Christ, joined to him like branches to the vine, in order to bear much fruit (cf. Jn 15:1-8). And this fruit is none other than love."
In reference to Saint Mary of Jesus Crucified, the Holy Father said:
An essential aspect of witness to the risen Lord is unity among ourselves, his disciples, in the image of his own unity with the Father. Today too, in the Gospel, we heard Jesus’ prayer on the eve of his passion: “that they may be one, even as we are one” (Jn 17:11). From this eternal love between the Father and the Son, poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 5:5), our mission and our fraternal communion draw strength; this love is the ever-flowing source of our joy in following the Lord along the path of his poverty, his virginity and his obedience; and this same love calls us to cultivate contemplative prayer. Sister Mariam Baouardy experienced this in an outstanding way. Poor and uneducated, she was able to counsel others and provide theological explanations with extreme clarity, the fruit of her constant converse with the Holy Spirit. Her docility to the Spirit also made her a means of encounter and fellowship with the Muslim world.
From the great depths of her humble simplicity, the fruit of her close union with Christ and her devotion to prayer, the Little Arab once said:
Let us go and praise God, and sing His praises. Everyone is sleeping, the whole world is asleep, let us go and wake them up. Jesus is not known, Jesus is not loved. He, so full of goodness, He who has done so much for man!
Let us ask her to teach us to sing the praises of God in all things and at all times. Let us ask her to teach us how wake up the world. Let us ask her to teach us how to help the world know and love Jesus, know that, as she said, "Only Love can fill the heart of man."
I hope to return to the Holy Land early next year and will make a point to return to her convent to thank her and to beg her continued intercession. Saint Mary of Jesus Crucified, pray for us!