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Four saints and one missionary


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Diario de Navarra

Fermín Labarga

Professor at School of Theology

Four centuries ago, on March 12, 1622, St. Francis Xavier was canonized in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome by Pope Gregory XV. That same day four more saints were added to the catalog of saints: Isidore the Farmer, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Jesus and Philip Neri. The latter was the only one who was not a native of the kingdoms of Spain, so the Romans maliciously said that the Pope had canonized four Spaniards and one saint.

The fact is that this canonization was unprecedented. For the first time a collective canonization was carried out; for the first time the canonized had to overcome the previous phase of the beatification; for the first time people who had died recently were proposed as models and intercessors, with the only exception of the farmer from Madrid, Isidro, whose process had been carried forward with tenacity by the city of Madrid, eager to have a saint of its own to give even greater luster to the new capital of the Hispanic Monarchy. Actually, the canonization had been designed just for him, but different "pressure groups" were moving their chips to get their respective candidates to sneak into the brilliant celebration that took place on the cold morning of that March 12.

As it has been demonstrated, the second incorporation was that of St. Teresa, whose process was promoted by the Discalced Carmel after having obtained a resounding success in the beatification process, which the Roman Curia described as impossible to improve. The Order was very active, but it was the wife of the Spanish ambassador in Rome and the pope's own sister-in-law who, with real tenacity, obtained his approval.

In the meantime, the Society of Jesus moved its cards to achieve the canonization of its founder, St. Ignatius. It counted on the support of the King of France, educated by the Jesuits, along with other important personalities and institutions. It was not easy to convince the pope, especially because it was not customary at the time for many saints to be canonized in the same pontificate. Gregory XV, a great friend of the Society, seemed to feel pressured and asked to be allowed to consider it calmly in the presence of God. It was the month of November 1621.

And then came the surprise. One fine day at the end of that month, the Pope said that he also wished to canonize Blessed Francis Xavier. That was all. The missionary from Navarre had his own promoter, none other than the Roman pontiff himself. It does not seem that it was merely the fruit of devotion staff or even of the admiration that this intrepid adventurer to the divine, whose letters from the East had aroused waves of missionary fervor, had awakened throughout the Catholic world. In canonizing Francis Xavier, Gregory XV proposed the exemplary model of the Catholic missionary, the one who was called to become reference letter inescapable for the evangelizing work of the Church.

Three months after the canonization, in June, the Pope erected the new Congregation of Propaganda Fide. That is, the ministry in charge of the propagation of the Catholic faith, which took as its prototype the great missionary from Navarre, whose heart burned with the desire to carry the fire of Christ to the remotest corners of the wide world. On December 3, 1552, Xavier died, apparently alone and abandoned, at the gates of China. Seventy years later his name was inscribed in the catalog of saints in a memorable workshop that, more than ratifying the Hispanic political hegemony, ideally canonized in the person of its protagonists the success of the reform of the Catholic Church.

P.S. Philip Neri was incorporated at the last minute so that it would not be an exclusively Spanish canonization.