Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sainthood for Cory

Blessed Corazon. Santa Cory. Saint Cory Aquino of the Philippines. Filipinos will have to get used to the sound of it.

The renewed groundswell of adulation and fervor directed toward former President Corazon C. Aquino who died on Aug. 1 could point to a new direction: Rome. Already, many people, Church leaders among them, are putting religious significance in the manner, time and timeliness of her death.

It will not be farfetched if many Filipinos begin to consider Cory a candidate for canonization, or at least for beatification by the Roman Catholic Church. I, for one, think she could be a candidate.

A clamor could grow and begin a process toward officially proclaiming her a “servant of God,” then a “blessed” and, finally, a canonized saint with a capital “S.”

If such a process is initiated, Cory will not be the first national leader to be considered for beatification that could lead to canonization. Julius Nyerere (1922-1999), first president of Tanzania (formerly Tanganyika), a republic in Africa, is the object of a beatification process initiated by the Catholic bishops of Tanzania.
There is already one Aquino in the roster of saints: the great theologian St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).

If sainthood is officially conferred on Cory, she would be the first modern-day Filipino, and a woman and president at that, to be given the sacred honor. It could be argued that Cory’s practice of her faith in all aspects of her life—as a Filipino patriot, national leader, wife, widow, mother—was widely known and documented.

Pope Benedict XVI called Cory a woman of deep unwavering faith. It was her display of courage after her husband Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. was assassinated in 1983 and when she was called upon to lead an oppressed nation that showed the kind of woman she was. The spiritual overtones of the 1986 People Power that ended the Marcos dictatorship were due in part to Cory’s spiritual charisma.

Thrown into public life, this housewife born to a wealthy family became a national leader, a recognized world figure whose religious faith influenced her actions and pervaded her personal life.

Journalist Malou Mangahas who covered the Aquino presidency wrote: “As president, Cory took her oath of office before the Constitution, but defined her politics by the canons of her faith, the heavenly virtues of charity, diligence, patience, kindness, temperance and humility. If politics were a test of sainthood, we can count by the fingers of one hand the Filipino politicians who would make the grade. In my book, as a journalist who had covered Cory then and now, even with sometimes testy results, Cory would be in top running.”

Cory died on Aug. 1, a first Saturday of the month dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Testimonials about her deep religious faith even while she held the most powerful position in the land have been heaped on her. Cory attended Catholic schools in the Philippines and the United States and was known to be a very devout Catholic. She was a known Marian devotee. She had her faults, she was the first to admit.

Canonization, it has to be stressed, does not turn a person into a saint. It works the other way around. The person has to have had the qualities of a saint to begin with. Canonization is an official affirmation by the Church of a person’s saintly life or holy martyrdom, but it is a very long, arduous and costly process. It can take years, decades and even centuries.

But Pope John Paul II made sweeping changes to make the process faster. He canonized several persons who had lived during his own lifetime. Among them was Carmelite nun Sr. Teresa Benedicta (the scholarly Edith Stein) who died in the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz. Mother Teresa of Calcutta who died in 1997 was beatified in 2003 by the ailing JPII. He canonized persons who lived exemplary lives and died heroic deaths in the modern age and who were part of a historical process. JPII, who died in 2006, is himself now the object of a beatification process.

The process begins with the opening of the cause of a candidate for sainthood. The bishop of the region where the candidate lived assigns a postulator or advocate for the cause to examine the life of the candidate. An extraordinary life of holiness and outstanding virtue, or heroic martyrdom must be proven by eyewitness accounts. The candidate could then be categorized as “servant of God.”

The candidate’s life and writings must reveal a life consistent with authentic holiness and heroic love of God and neighbor. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints is charged with the canonization process. Once a study commission is formed, the candidate for sainthood is granted the title “Venerable.” This means the person’s qualities are deemed worthy of reverence and emulation.

The next step is beatification. Miracles related to the candidate are closely scrutinized. In cases of martyrdom proven miracles may be waived. But two proven miracles are required as evidence of extraordinary holiness. In case of doubt, two or more miracles may be needed.

After the requirements are fulfilled, the candidate is beatified in official ceremonies and given the title of “Blessed.” Two more miracles are required before the candidate can move on to the last stage.

Canonization formalizes the declaration of sainthood. This raises the person as one worthy of public veneration by the universal Church, a model for imitation and a powerful intercessor for all.

No one becomes a saint—with a big “S” or a small “s”—on one’s own merits. Canonized or not, saints—warts and all and despite their weaknesses—are God’s own making.

Tell me what you think.