On February 1st, during the Memorial of the Claretian Martyrs, Fr. Krzysztof Gierat CMF offers his insights and experiences as a postulator in the process of recognizing an individual as a saint in the Church. Fr. Krzysztof is the current Postulator General of the Claretian Missionaries. In this interview, he provides a valuable perspective on the steps involved in the canonical procedure of beatification and canonization. He also shares information about the saints and beatified individuals from the Claretian Missionaries.
To begin this interview, before asking you about what a Postulator General does, I would like you to share with us, how can we identify a saint?
In an interview with Fr. Fabio Ciardi OMI, Pope Francis reminded us of what was sown by the Creator in us from the beginning: the world needs saints, and all of us, without exception, are called to holiness. Holiness is the fullness of charity. All saints are notable because they have reached the heights of love each in a unique, specific, particular way, exalting in a heroic way their Christian virtues, in the conscious of the task received from God in the not always easy concrete daily realization of their mission on earth. It is not only a question of bishops, clerics, religious men, and women, but of every person, many lay people, of different vocations, and professions, who in the course of their lives, and sometimes in different situations, can choose love.
In the history of the Church, we see many people who, throughout their lives, were not afraid to become witnesses of Christ by trusting and relying on Him. Generosity, courage consistency, and humility characterize the saints. They had the strength to go against the current. They asked God for the gift of knowing how to follow. They followed Jesus with all their strength giving fulfillment to their own lives. The saints “are not heroes,” but are “sinners who follow Jesus on the path of humility and the cross and thus allow themselves to be sanctified by Him because no one sanctifies himself: holiness is the fruit of ‘accepting the Good News of Christ.
Holiness often sounds old-fashioned, a bit anachronistic. How would it translate today? How to be a saint today?
Someone might ask a question: what does it mean, then, to be a saint today? Is it a scary thing? Is it difficult? Even today the world needs the courage to choose Christ and to be holy as a commitment to be integral persons, spread throughout the world to bring the breath of the Gospel to it, to be responsible and carry on difficult situations, to build universal brotherhood, a new world. This is what, today, the world needs. We, while we are pilgrims on this earth, need God’s grace in our journey to achieve personal holiness, but also the spiritual reference, the heavenly part of the Church, the beautiful examples and testimonies of the holiness of life, of those who intercede for us before God as the blessed and the saints.
For this reason, the Church chooses some of the many Christians who have achieved holiness through actions in their lives or martyrdom and raises them to the altars to accompany us on our journey to holiness.
Now that we are clearer about holiness, what is the mission of a Postulator General?
The Church, when it perceives the need to show a person’s holiness, or when communities of Local Churches, religious institutes, or other communities request it, carries out a procedure to recognize the holiness of individuals. The postulator is the one who accompanies this process.
From the legal point of view, the postulator is the representative of the petitioner of a cause before the dicastery and other competent ecclesiastical authorities. His task, therefore, is precisely to follow and fulfill in a prompt manner all the steps involved in the canonical procedure of beatification and canonization. That said, the figure of the postulator should by no means be reduced to only a juridical role. As the regulations state, he or she promotes and coordinates the practical activity in promoting a candidate worthy of the dignity to be on the altars and foments his or her intercession. In this context, I would like to emphasize that before requesting the formal initiation of a cause on virtues or martyrdom or the giving up of one’s life, the postulator must pay special and appropriate attention to verify the presence of an authentic, enduring, and widespread reputation for holiness and signs.
The role of a Postulator is distinct in the different phases. First of all the diocesan phase, then the Roman phase where the canonical proceedings take place at the Dicastery. Finally, there are duties of the postulator at the time of beatification, canonization, or the granting of the title of Doctor of the Church. And finally the work of the postulator in reference to relics and mortal remains.
Are there Claretians who have already been declared Saint or Beatified?
Yes, we Claretian Missionaries also have outstanding brethren who have filled their missionary lives with the gift of holiness. There are many of them, but the Congregation of the Claretian Missionaries also wants to show some of them, to raise them on the altar so that they may be for us and many faithful, an example, a source of strength, and as companions in the journey of life and vocation. So far, we have St. Anthony Mary Claret, Founder of our Congregation, declared a saint and canonized by Pope Pius XII on May 7, 1950. 184 Claretian Martyrs have also been beatified.
What is the procedure for someone to be declared a saint?
For a beatification process to begin, a certain “fame of holiness” of the person is always necessary, that is, the common opinion of people that his or her life was whole, rich in Christian virtues. This fame must endure and can magnify. Those who have known the person speak of his life’s exemplarity, positive influence, apostolic fruitfulness, and uplifting death.
To officially become a Saint, a candidate must first be a Servant of God, Venerable, and Beatified. A faithful Catholic whose cause for beatification and canonization has been initiated is called a Servant of God. And of this later, we have three.
In the beginning, the specially appointed postulator gathers documents and testimonies to help reconstruct the person’s life and holiness. The first phase begins with the official opening of the process, and the candidate is defined as a Servant of God. The objective is often to verify the heroicity of the virtues, that is, the habitual disposition to do good with firmness, continuity, and without hesitation. It is necessary to show that the candidate has practiced the virtues at a very high, above-average level. In other cases, the object of verification concerns the requirements of Christian martyrdom or the offering of life.
So what is the main source of information to prove their sanctity?
The reconstruction is done by following two tracks: by listening to the oral testimonies of people who knew the Servant of God and can accurately recount facts, events, and words; by taking in documents and writings concerning the Servant of God.
When this work is finished, the diocesan phase of the process is closed, and all the material is delivered to Rome to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, which, through one of its Relators, will guide the postulator in the preparation of the Positio, that is, the volume summarizing the evidence gathered in the diocese; this is the so-called Roman phase of the process.
The so-called Positio must confidently demonstrate the life, virtues, martyrdom, and relative fame of the Servant of God. If this complicated stage ends positively, the documentation will be submitted for further judgment by the Bishops and Cardinals of the Congregation.
Suppose the judgment of the latter is equally favorable. In that case, the Holy Father can authorize the promulgation of the Decree on the heroicity of the virtues or martyrdom of the Servant of God, who thus becomes venerable: that is, he is recognized as having exercised to a “heroic” degree the Christian virtues, or as having suffered true martyrdom, or as having offered his life according to the requirements laid down by the Dicastery.
And how many processes do the Claretian Missionaries have open right now?
Currently, all the causes of beatification and canonization of our Congregation are outside the Roman phase. Some cases are before the diocesan stage, others are after the conclusion of the diocesan process and await, according to the requirements of ecclesiastical law, the confirmation of a miracle performed through the intercession of these Servants of God.
How many cases are in my hands? In a broad sense, all of them, because as Postulator General, in a broad sense, I handle all these cases on behalf of my Institute, but I have the assistance of vice-postulators in the various parts of the Congregation who handle the cases in the diocesan stages on my behalf. Currently, there are seven cases in multiple stages of the process. All of them are in the pre-roman stage.
If anyone would like to know more about those brothers who are “on their way to the altars”, where can they consult?
Information about these candidates for the altars can be found through various studies that illustrate their lives or martyrdom, and indeed the most accessible tool is the website of the General Postulation https://postulgen.claret.org in the section dedicated to the Causes. There we can find a description of the profiles of these Servants of God and Venerables such as Fr. Francis Crusats y Franch – the first Claretian who obtained the crown of martyrdom; Brother Michael Palau; Brother Peter Marcer Cuscó; the venerable Fr. James Clotet, co-founder of the Congregation of Claretian Missionaries; and Fr. Mariano Avellana Lasierra de Chile. The section also contains more recent cases awaiting the formal initiation of the process in the diocesan phase, such as the cause of martyrdom of Fr. Rhoel Gallardo, a Claretian missionary in the Philippines.
On the Postulation website, we can also find other information regarding the Postulation itself, necessary contacts and liturgical information materials, and a presentation of the profiles of blessed Claretians who have already been raised to the altars.
Finally, any recommendations, any Servant of God or Venerable that you would advise us to recommend?
It is difficult for me to name a particular Venerable or Servant of God or Blessed. It is always a very individual matter. Sometimes it is a Martyr or another Venerable that comes from the region where a person lives, so this Martyr or the Venerable will be closer to his heart, and then these people ask for information or prayers through his intercession. For example, Venerable Fr. Mariano Avellana was a missionary from Chile, so he is better known there, and his fame for holiness and private devotion is spreading in Chile. Venerable Fr. Clotet, for example, devoted a lot of energy and time, among other things, to pastoral ministry with the deaf and dumb, so he will be closer to those who experience this or who do ministry for the deaf and dumb.
Everything, then, depends on our inner experience, the circumstances of our life, sometimes the region in which we live or the intention for which we want to pray, and then we choose a Venerable, Blessed or Saint for whose intercession we ask God for some grace. Each Venerable, Blessed, Saint has a characteristic trait, which is the decisive factor for which we ask for grace through his or her intercession.
I would like to encourage getting to know our blessed and saints, whom we might find close to our hearts and experience.
Thank you very much for your time helping us to discover so many Claretian Missionaries who are on the way or already on the altars. Today, February 1, as we celebrate the Memorial of the Claretian Martyrs, we ask them to intercede for the Congregation.
Interviewed by Fr. José Enrique García Rizo CMF
Interview translated from the original in Italian.