The essential role of saints in the Church

The essential role of saints in the Church

Michael Gilchrist

All Saints Day is an annual reminder for the faithful of the essential role played by saints in the life and history of the Church. Their examples of heroic sanctity have been of incalculable help over the centuries in motivating and inspiring countless men, women and children to lead holier lives in line with their Christian Baptism.

The visit to Australia last year of the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux highlighted the immense appeal particular saints have for believers.

During the pontificate of John Paul II, the importance of saints has been particularly emphasised, with an unprecedented number of canonisations, representative of almost every corner of the globe.

This is appropriate, given that John Paul II is the last Pope of the 20th century, the most bloody period in the history of mankind, during which the Church suffered the most extensive persecution and produced most martyrs for the Faith in her long history. The names of Father Pro, Edith Stein and Maximilian Kolbe come immediately to mind.

The Holy Father himself had first hand experience of the principal persecutors - the Communists and Nazis.

In addition, in line with Vatican II's emphasis on inculturation, he has appreciated the importance of providing where possible local saints for each nation and culture in an increasingly universal Church. Australia was a beneficiary of this with the 1995 beatification of Blessed Mary MacKillop.

Elsewhere, canonisations have been representative of the Church's rich expressions of spirituality. Recent high profile examples have included Padre Pio and the founder of Opus Dei, Josemaria Escrivà de Balaguer.

The latter was proclaimed a saint by John Paul II on 6 October at a Mass in Rome attended by over 300,000. The present issue of AD2000 includes a first hand report of this event (see page 8) as well as a Reflection article (page 20) on the significance of the young 20th century saint, Maria Goretti - who highlighted the fact that heroic sanctity is not restricted to adults.

  • Michael Gilchrist: Editor (E-mail -

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