Through the canonization of four women, Pope Francis reminds each of us how to achieve holiness.
Anyone who pays attention to Pope Francis knows that he regularly emphasizes certain themes that are dear to his heart. But it’s rare when these themes converge at one event the way they did at the canonization of four women religious May 17 at the Vatican. By formally declaring the sanctity of these women, Pope Francis underscored the significance of an encounter with Christ, strengthened his cry for peace in the Middle East, continued to emphasize the importance of mission and serving those on the peripheries, and concretely acted on his desire to give women a more prominent position in the Church. Through their examples, he issues multiple challenges to each of us.
First, the new saints — French-born Emilie de Villeneuve, Italian Maria Cristina of the Immaculate Conception, and two Arabic-speaking Palestinian sisters, Miriam Baouardy and Marie-Alphonsine Ghattas — found their home in God through encounters with him and his people, said Pope Francis during the canonization Mass.
“To abide in God and in his love, and thus to proclaim by our words and our lives the resurrection of Jesus, to live in unity with one another and with charity toward all, this is what the four women saints canonized today did,” the pope said. “Their luminous example challenges us in our lives as Christians. How do I bear witness to the risen Christ? How do I abide in him? How do I remain in his love? Am I capable of ‘sowing’ in my family, in my workplace and in my community, the seed of that unity which he has bestowed on us by giving us a share in the life of the Trinity?”
Second, while all four women were formed through an encounter with Christ, two women, in particular, are being heralded as beacons of hope for the conflict-ridden Middle East. In a news conference in early May, Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of Jerusalem said that he was “sure” Sts. Miriam and Marie-Alphonsine “follow our situation from heaven and will continue to intercede for peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land. Their intercession is strong and efficacious.” Emphasizing this point, the Holy Father specifically asked religious sisters from the Middle East to pray to the two new saints for peace in the region. The pope also reiterated his oft-repeated call for all of us to pray for the many thousands of persecuted Christians who have suffered for so long. Do we do this enough?
Third, since the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has canonized more than 830 souls, intentionally singling out men and women who have a missionary zeal and who reach out in a special way to those on the margins. Though natives of the Middle East, while they served in Palestine, Sts. Miriam and Marie-Alphonsine were in mission territory for Christians. There, they boldly proclaimed Christ, prayed and served in his name. In France, St. Emilie dedicated her life to the poor, the sick and the outcast. Do we, too, proclaim Christ loudly to the world, particularly in the peripheries?
Finally, each new saint emphasizes the significant role women can, and do, play in the Church. “Women should be promoted,” Pope Francis said the day before the canonization, adding that women in the Church must have a voice and be listened to, because the Church needs “the feminine genius.” How can each of us better listen to the voices of women in the Church?
All four women, the pope said, are “models of sanctity whom the Church invites us to imitate.” It’s our Holy Father’s final challenge, and it’s also the one that matters the most.
OSV Newsweekly Editorial Board, 5/31/15