Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 29 April 2014

Saints and Superstition

I’m not a huge fan of organised religion.

It seems to me that God does his best work through the best of individuals, and the best of individuals are not necessarily the same ones who seek power.

The most powerful people in any organisation are, almost by definition, the most ruthless and self-serving.

There are probably exceptions to this rule. I can’t, off-hand, think of one.

Pope John Paul II was canonised on Sunday. He is now a saint. I wonder if he knows. It doesn’t matter. I suppose what actually matters is that the rest of us know, that the Roman Catholic Church decided it must be so and went ahead and did it.

There are rules for canonisation. A candidate has to qualify. For beatification, the candidate must be proven to have performed a miracle. In Pope John Paul’s case, a French nun who prayed to him was cured of Parkinson’s Disease. For canonisation, a second miracle has to be proven. A Costa Rican woman prayed to Pope John Paul when she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain aneurism, and she too was cured. 

Job done.

Of course, the Vatican came under quite a lot of pressure from Roman Catholics for the canonisation of Pope John Paul II. He was a charismatic and popular pope, and, even on the day of his funeral, his followers were calling for his sainthood with chants of Santo Subito. The usual five year waiting period to begin the process, after the death of the candidate, was waived. I suppose there’s no reason why the Vatican shouldn’t choose to break its own rules.

The news story from The Times
Last week, near the town of Cevo in Italy, a ceremony was held to celebrate the canonisation of Pope John Paul II. The site was chosen because a crucifix, designed by the sculptor Enrico Job and dedicated to the Saint to commemorate his visit to Brescia in 1998, was erected there.

A curved structure suspended the 600kg crucifix 100 feet over the site. It was nothing if not impressive.

Marco Gusmini, a young disabled man attended the celebration with a small group. They could not travel to Rome for the canonisation on Sunday. There were similar celebrations all over the World, although close to a million followers did make the journey to Rome.

When the sculpture collapsed, Marco Gusmini was unable to get himself clear. He was killed instantly when the crucifix fell on him.

In the news story that I read in the Times on Saturday, Marco’s grieving parents found solace in the idea that their son was in heaven with Pope John Paul II whom he venerated so dearly.

I’m glad they find comfort in their faith. They are among the best of individuals.

As to the church’s comment that it was superstitious nonsense to blame an accidental death on the Saint?

Words fail me.

Agents of the Roman Catholic Church set about beatifying and then canonising Pope John Paul II using their own complex set of secret, arcane rules. They set out to show, in the twenty-first century, that not one, but two miracles had been performed by a mortal man. I know little or nothing about science or medicine, but I know that all kinds of phenomena go unexplained every day. I know that individuals still believe in these so-called miracles. The rational believe that we simply haven’t found all the answers yet.

I know that the purpose of canonisation is to give the faithful role models. I wonder how many saints there are, and how many more role models the Roman Catholic Church feels its followers need. Surely it is the role of any leader in any community to be a role model while he lives, while he leads.

Pope John Paul II was a role model in his lifetime. Surely it is the turn of Pope Francis to take up that mantle and be a role model right here, right now.

If a miracle isn’t akin to superstition, I don’t know what is.

If a woman being healed by praying to a photograph of a pope isn’t akin to a boy being crushed to death by a crucifix dedicated to the same pope... Well... I’m stumped.

For me, on this one, the Roman Catholic Church wants to have its cake and eat it too.

The parents of Marco Gusmini are the real saints in this story. I wish them peace.

1 comment:

  1. As a former member (if that's the word for it) of the Roman Catholic Church, I think having its cake and eating it is endemic to its creed. As for the saintification, I struggled to believe that this was a serious news item in the 21st-century