To be a saint is not really a privilege for the few, but a vocation for everyone.
Saints were not superhuman, they were people who loved God in their hearts, and who shared this joy with others.
A saint is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness or likeness to God. They are also historically referred to as hallow.
While the English word saint originated in Christianity, historians of religion prefer to use the appellation in a more general way to refer to “the state of special holiness that many religions attribute to certain people”.
Depending on the context and denomination, the term also retains its original Christian meaning, as any believer who is “in Christ” and in whom Christ dwells, whether in “Heaven” or on Earth.
Many religions other than Christianity also use similar concepts to venerate persons worthy of some honour. The terminology varies, like the Jewish Tzadik, the Islamic Walī, the Hindu Rishi or Sikh Guru, and the Buddhist Arhat or Bodhisattva also being referred to as saints.
Though in almost all the religions, all of their faithful deceased in Heaven are considered to be saints, but some are considered worthy of greater honour or emulation, official ecclesiastical recognition, and consequently veneration.
Depending on the religion, saints are recognized either by official ecclesiastical declaration through the process of canonization as in the Catholic faith, or by popular acclamation and glorification as in the Orthodox Church.
According to Author John A. Coleman, saints across various cultures and religions have the following family resemblances:
- exemplary model
- extraordinary teacher
- wonder worker or source of benevolent power
- a life often refusing material attachments or comforts
- possession of a special and revelatory relation to the holy.
According to the Catholic Church, a “saint” is anyone in Heaven, whether recognized on Earth or not. The title “Saint” denotes a person who has been formally canonized, that is, officially and authoritatively declared a saint, by the Church as holder of the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and is therefore believed to be in Heaven by the grace of God.
Till now reserved for three categories of people: martyrs, those who have lived a life of heroic values and others with a clear saintly reputation, it is an absolutely progressive approach by the present Pope, Pope Francis to declare that Christians who lay down their life to save others, “following in the footsteps and teaching of Jesus”, will now be eligible for beatification, which is the first step on the path toward sainthood.
This decision from Francis is a liberal and open-minded thinking accepting the true fact that the heroic offering of life, suggested and sustained by charity, expresses a true, full and exemplary imitation of Christ.
By declaring in the Apostolic letter that to be beatified, the “free and voluntary offering of life “must be defined by “the heroic acceptance out of charity of certain death in a short term”, candidates for beatification under the new pathway could include Christians who tended to sick people with plague and other deadly diseases and who later died because of the disease.
The Catholic Church teaches that it does not “make” or “create” saints, but rather recognizes them. People leading such exemplary lives are worthy of that admiration which the community of the faithful had so far usually reserved for those who have voluntarily accepted the martyrdom of blood or have exercised the Christian virtues to a heroic degree.
By taking this bold initiative, Pope Francis has yet again shown his reformist approach that the Church is supposed to remain holy, can never stop being holy and is duty bound and called upon to show the holiness of God by venerating those who lay down their life to save others, which is following the footsteps and teaching of Jesus, i.e. living the life of Christ.