Kids -- and some adults -- who hear references to saints may not know what makes them special or how they became saints in the first place. The Catholic Church recognizes only certain people as saints -- people who are beatified, or honored by the church -- after they die. Catholics believe that particular saints watch over every part of life, from work to travel to friendship. When a person who meets special qualifications has died, the church decides whether he should be remembered as a saint.
Because Christianity used to be an illegal religion, early Christians decorated the graves of saints with inconspicuous markers, or gravestones that didn't stand out too much, and visited them secretly. When Emperor Constantine decided to make the religion legal in the year 313, the church was able to create special markings for the graves. However, there was one problem: The church did not use one specific process to decide who should be a saint. If someone died and a local church felt that person should be a saint, he would automatically become one. This lead to many people becoming saints who probably did not qualify. In one case, one person died while in the middle of a violent fight with another person.
Congregation of Rites
In the year 1234, Pope Gregory IX decided to create one process to determine sainthood. He made sure to investigate the whole life of candidates to see whether they truly qualified, and to determine whether they performed any miracles. Later on, Pope Sixtus V created the Congregation of Rites, later known as the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints. The group investigates candidates for sainthood.
How a Person Becomes a Saint
To become a saint, a person must have lived a life of sanctity, meaning they lived a very devout life and performed miracles, or they must have died a martyr. After the death of a likely saint candidate, the Bishop of the Diocese begins the investigation. A group of investigators reads everything the candidate wrote to make sure nothing went against the Catholic Church. They then give the papers to the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints, which debates whether or not the person deserves to be called a saint. If they agree, the congregation declares the candidate venerable, or honored. The Pope then holds a special mass for that person.
As of 2013, the Catholic church had named 8,050 people as saints. However, some saints are referred to more often than others. For example, St. Paul, who helped spread the Christian religion, was Jewish but converted to Christianity when he traveled to Damascus. He traveled around the world, converting people to Christianity and creating churches. A saint who helped change the Catholic church through his writings is St. Augustine of Hippo. He lived a lavish life and spent his time partying. He then changed his life, and became an important Catholic author and priest, working to help the poor.
Some saints stand out because they have unusual stories or because they are the saints of odd things. One such saint is St. Drogo, who is the patron saint of people who are not attractive. He had the ability to bilocate, meaning he could be in two places at once. During one of his travels, he became so deformed that he terrified the people who saw him, and he decided to build a cell to live in so people would not look at him. A saint named St. Barbara watches over fire, artillery and lightening. When her father, Diosorus, learned that she converted to Christianity, he had her tortured and beheaded her himself. While walking home from the execution, lightning struck Diosorus dead. Another saint that kids may find interesting is the protector of gravediggers, St. Anthony. He earned this job because he decided to live in a tomb so he could spend time studying, and he could rise above boredom and temptation.
- Catholic Education Resource Center: The Process of Becoming a Saint
- Catholic Online: St. Paul
- Catholic Online: St. Patrick
- Catholic Online: St. Augustine of Hippo
- Catholic Online: St. Barbara
- Catholic Online: St. Drogo
- Mental Floss: Top 5 Weirdest Patron Saints
- BBC Religions: Roman Catholic Church
- Saints 101: How Many Saints Are There?
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