Miracles & Canonisation

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#1
Pope to beatify 'buffoon'

Pos. not the firs titme but.............

Pope to beatify 'buffoon' who was Austria's last emperor

Critics suspect political agenda behind campaign

Ian Traynor in Vienna
Monday January 19, 2004
The Guardian

In the ranks of his admirers nostalgic for the old empire, he was a pacifist cast among warmongers, a gentle soul out of his depth among backstabbing diplomats, ministers, and generals.

To his critics, Charles I, the last Habsburg ruler, was a dissembling buffoon who presided over the inglorious defeat and dissolution of his empire.

And to the Catholic church, the kaiser was a devout miracle-worker who has just been launched on his way to sainthood.

Charles I of Austria and Charles IV of Hungary, the last emperor who ascended to the Habsburg throne in the middle of the first world war in 1916 and died in exile on Madeira six years later at the age of 35, is to be beatified by the Vatican this year.

Historians argue the emperor's claims to Christian grace are undermined by the perceptions that he was a consummate liar, that he presided over the use of poison gas by his troops and that his chaotic leadership contributed to a fiasco when hundreds of thousands of his soldiers were taken prisoner in the war's last days.

But Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna who has been influential in the effort to beatify the monarch, insisted the last emperor was "a man of peace" and that the imminent beatification showed that political leaders could also be good Christians.

"The figure of Kaiser Karl is viewed differently," admitted Erich Leitenberger, the church's spokesman in Vienna. "But he led a very religious life, especially in his latter stages."

Last month the Vatican commission responsible for examining claims to sainthood - the Congregation for the Causes of Saints - certified, on the basis of three expert medical opinions, that Charles is to be credited with a miracle that occurred in 1960.

A nun in a Brazilian convent prayed for the late emperor's beatification and woke up the next morning able to walk for the first time in years.

Beatification, the intermediate stage to canonisation, is expected to follow by September. So the last emperor will become the Blessed Charles, although to become Saint Charles another miracle has to be attributed to him.

Some historians smell a political agenda behind the campaign to make a hero of one of the least impressive Habsburgs. They note that the Pope has beatified no less than 1,315 contenders for sainthood, vastly more than any of his predecessors, and that the Polish pontiff, with his intense interest in central Europe, is seeking to revive an Austrian church with a history of combative political activism, which in the 1930s degenerated into "clerico-fascism".

If the church is now celebrating Charles's religious record, the last emperor's political career was singularly undistinguished.

"He was a dilettante, far too weak for the challenges facing him. Out of his depth, not really a politician. I don't know why he is being beatified," said Helmut Rumpler, a history professor who heads the Habsburg commission of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

When Charles came to the throne in 1916 on the death of Emperor Franz Josef, amid war and with the Austro-Hungarian empire in its death throes, he was greeted with contempt.

His chief of staff complained: "He can't even write properly." One of his prime ministers quipped: "He is 30 years old, looks 20, and thinks like a 10-year-old."

As the empire collapsed at the end of the war, he fled to Switzerland, but refused to abdicate. He was then manipulated by rightwing Hungarian nationalists into staging two comic-opera attempts at reclaiming the throne in Budapest. The result: the British dumped him on Madeira where he died of pneumonia.

But the biggest controversy surrounding Charles is also the main reason the Vienna cardinal applauds him.

Through his French brother-in-law in 1917, Charles secretly sued for a separate peace with France, deserting his German ally. When news of the overture leaked, he strenuously denied all involvement. The furious French then published letters signed by him, infuriating the Germans and making him a laughing stock.

"He was a liar," says Brigitte Hamann, a Viennese historian. "He lied to everyone, the whole world."

The church maintains Charles was the sole wartime leader to follow the precepts of the Vatican and pursue peace.

Should he ever make the grade for canonisation, suggested the Austrian weekly Profil, he should be nominated as the patron saint of losers.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/pope/story/0,12272,1125947,00.html
 
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#2
Its a Miracle!

I couldn't find a general thread on miracles so here it is ;)

A miracle by any other name

An ailing girl's amazing recovery may offer proof needed for Francis Seelos' canonization.

Sunday January 25, 2004
By Bruce Nolan
Staff writer

Deep in the lonely hours of one terrible August night three years ago, Dr. Ann Kay Logarbo quietly slipped to the bedside of her great-niece, Caroline Crouch, in the intensive care unit of Children's Hospital. Sedated and on life-support, Caroline lay near death, probably already severely brain-damaged by a massive viral infection. She was 6 years old.

Logarbo, a pediatrician -- Caroline's doctor as well as her great-aunt -- bent to Caroline's ear and whispered an instruction:

"I told her, 'Baby, I'm here because God sent me here. He told me he's going to send you back to us. Come back, baby. Follow God's angels back home.

" 'I need to know you're coming back, baby. So if you can hear me, and I know you can, turn your head to me.'

"And that little girl, with tubes going in her every which way, she turned her head just a bit in my direction," Logarbo recalled recently. "The tech in the room about fell off the chair."

What happened that day and days afterward has convinced Caroline's family that they witnessed a miracle in the literal, theological sense of the word: a divine intervention that reversed a naturally unfolding disaster.

Her story has piqued the interest of the Catholic Church.

Because Caroline's family implored the help of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, among many heavenly figures, friends of the 19th century New Orleans priest say the story of Caroline's recovery is their best hope yet to be recognized as the decisive second miracle that might lead the Catholic Church to formally declare that Seelos is a saint.

But Caroline's case is more complicated than that.

Her illness and recovery illuminate also the varieties of faith, whether the kind embraced by Caroline's grateful family, who testify to being touched by a transcendent force that loved a sick child; or, alternatively, a belief shared by some of Caroline's doctors that the mystery of Caroline's recovery is testament to the beautiful, sometimes inexplicable, resilience nature has given children.

In any case, they all agree on this: The story of Caroline Crouch is astonishing.

Seizures begin

Barely 48 hours before Logarbo's pre-dawn visit, Caroline had been taken by helicopter to Children's Hospital from a small hospital in Amite in the grip of uncontrollable seizures. Doctors quickly determined she was being overwhelmed by an onrushing viral infection, probably either meningitis or encephalitis.

The older of Bryan and Mary Ann Crouch's two daughters, Caroline was in the last weeks of summer before entering first grade. She was also recovering from sinus surgery and lately had been running a fever with a viral rash.

But several of her doctors had seen her and pronounced her basically sound, said her mother, a sixth-grade public school teacher.

Certainly, Mary Ann Crouch said, doctors concurred there was no reason to opt out of an upcoming vacation on the Florida Gulf Coast. Besides, plenty of medical care would be on hand, she said. Logarbo, Caroline's great-aunt and doctor, would be there. So would several of Logarbo's brothers. All of them were doctors.

But about 2:30 a.m. on Aug. 4, 2001, the morning they were to leave, Mary Ann Crouch tried to rouse Caroline to force-feed her some water and give her a dose of medicine.

"She was limp," Mary Ann said. "I pulled her up off the bed, and she just fell back in my arms. Then she stopped breathing. That's when I started to scream."

Frantic, the Crouches scooped up Caroline's 4-year-old sister, Mallory, and dashed through the dark to Amite's Hood Memorial Hospital.

Mary Ann drove; Bryan clutched Caroline to his chest, his mouth over hers, pushing his own breath into her lungs and occasionally compressing her chest, hoping to push some blood out of her heart, Mary Ann remembered.

Caroline's seizures began as she reached the hospital.

Seizures are fierce electrical storms that sweep the brain. Chaotic and destructive, their energy starves the brain of oxygen. If prolonged, said Dr. Stephen Deputy, a neurologist at Children's Hospital, seizures batter and permanently damage neural connections, in the worst cases leaving patients profoundly brain-damaged, unable to recognize the world or provide the most minimal care for themselves.

At Children's, Deputy struggled much of the first day to control Caroline's continuing seizures, finally pushing her into a drug-induced coma as a solution of last resort.

By then she had been wracked for 12 to 14 hours, Logarbo said.

"To seize beyond 20 minutes is getting bad. To seize uncontrollably for 14 hours is a disaster," said Dr. Joanne Gates, another of Caroline's doctors.

A private, professional consensus began to form rather early among Caroline's attending physicians, several said later -- and among Logarbo and her brothers: Sedated, dependent on a mechanical ventilator for her next breath and swept by a devastating virus, Caroline's chances for recovery were slim.

And given the near-certainty of the accumulating brain damage brought on by a half-day of seizures, chances she would return to a normal life were even slimmer.

"She's not going to make it," a colleague confided to Logarbo privately. "And you and I both know it's better if she doesn't."

At one point, one of Caroline's doctors took Mary Ann Crouch aside to prepare her. "They said, if Caroline lives she will probably be a vegetable, and you need to plan to take about a year off from school and get prepared for a new kind of life," Mary Ann said.

Prayers to Seelos urged

By that time, the waiting room of the pediatric intensive care unit at Children's had become the gathering point for Caroline's large and devout family.

Catholic on Mary Ann's side, evangelical on Bryan's, the family stormed heaven according to their traditions, Mary Ann and others said.

Mary Ann's mother, Ursula Sherman, said she contacted every friend of every denomination and asked that Caroline be placed on every prayer list they knew of. Priests dropped by. Preachers dropped by.

In groups and individually, the Catholic wing of the family said rosaries, repeatedly beseeching the Blessed Virgin to intercede with Christ on Caroline's behalf.

Nor was that all. "We were praying to the Blessed Virgin, to St. Joseph -- you name it. We were praying to everyone we could think of," Logarbo said.

About midafternoon on Monday, about 36 hours after Caroline's admission, Logarbo's mother-in-law called from Baton Rouge and suggested prayers to Seelos, seeking his intercession.

"I'd never heard of him," Logarbo said. Indeed, it took some research to learn that in New Orleans there was a Seelos Center, a group of volunteers who memorialize the life and work of Seelos and hope to see him canonized a saint.

An uncommonly popular and devout Bavarian priest, Seelos worked among German immigrants in New Orleans for a year before his death by yellow fever in 1867. In 2000, after a formal study of his life and virtue, Pope John Paul II declared him blessed, one step from sainthood. As part of that process, the Vatican found that prayers to Seelos led to the unexplained disappearance of advanced cancer in Angela Boudreaux, a Gretna housewife, in 1966.

The church requires one more miracle to complete the process for canonization.

Seelos volunteers are regularly summoned to local hospitals, where they bless patients who ask with a replica of the Redemptorist missionary's cross.

"They said they could not get a volunteer out to bless Caroline until the next day but that they'd begin praying for her immediately," Logarbo said.

About that same time, Logarbo found later, Caroline's medical chart records that she drew her first spontaneous breaths over the ventilator.

A miracle needed

In their own ways, each of the people who loved Caroline was carrying on his or her own struggle, alternately praying, encouraging each other, sometimes weeping in solitude, several members of the family said.

For Mary Ann, time became a blur. But at some point on the second or third day of the crisis, she said, she felt swept by a deep reassurance.

Someone had pressed into her hands "God Calling," a book of devotionals that seemed to comfort her on every page, Mary Ann said.

"It said God wanted wonderful things for me, and I knew that it would be true, whether I got Caroline back as a vegetable or not. I can't explain it, but I was sure I'd be able to deal with whatever he was going to do," she said.

Separately, in the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday, the third day, Logarbo withdrew to be alone and pray. Her professional training told her Caroline was all but gone, she recalled later.

They needed a miracle, she thought. Nothing less would do.

"There was just nothing there to work with, medically," she said.

Alone, Logarbo said she experienced a crushing chest pain so unnerving she self-diagnosed a heart attack, "replaced by a fullness and a sense, not heard, but distinctly felt, that God was speaking to me."

"And what he said, was 'Get up and go see her.' "

At that point, she said, Logarbo knew with full confidence that Caroline would survive. It remained only to slip into her room and call Caroline back home.

"I was a faithful person before, but not with the faith like I have now," she said.

From that morning forward, Caroline's records document a steady, unexpected recovery, Caroline's family said.

On Tuesday, the evening of Logarbo's visit, Caroline lay calmly awake, taking in her surroundings and acknowledging commands, according to her medical records.

On Wednesday she spoke and took some food. On Thursday she sat up.

She began to recognize faces. She wrote her name and remembered her favorite songs. She ate. She walked.

Eleven days after her admission, she was discharged, and but for some residual "easily controlled" epilepsy, remains essentially untouched by her ordeal, Deputy said.

She began first grade a few days behind her classmates.

Decisive intervention

Today, Caroline lives with a mild form of cystic fibrosis diagnosed several months before her illness.

And a tragedy more terrible than Caroline's illness befell the family in September 2003, when Bryan Crouch died of a sudden, undiagnosed heart arrhythmia while on the job as an air-conditioning technician, leaving the family fatherless.

Yet in the months after Caroline's release, Mary Ann Crouch came to believe firmly that Seelos' intervention had been decisive for Caroline. They are untroubled, they say, by her remaining cystic fibrosis.

"We didn't pray that her cystic fibrosis be cured," Logarbo said. "We asked that she be given back to us without any neurological deficits. We were praying for life, and praying for quality of life. And that's what we got."

In the spring of 2002 the family, fulfilling a pledge that if Caroline were healed they would proclaim their gratitude, approached the Seelos Center with the full story of her recovery.

"Every time I wondered whether we should be doing this, I'd get a little nudge," Crouch said.

In what one person might regard as mere coincidences, Crouch saw signs pointing to Seelos, they said.

For example, Caroline was released from the hospital on the feast of the Assumption. Seelos served and is buried at St. Mary's Assumption Church.

And this past November, about the time she was praying for guidance, Mary Ann Crouch opened a suitcase of her husband's clothes and found a prayer card to Seelos. She knew it was in there somewhere, she said. But its very prominence in a place it had never been before -- "it was sitting right on top" -- suggested to her that Bryan was signaling her to proclaim Seelos' help.

Intrigued, the Seelos Center listened to family's story, then forwarded a summary to the Rev. Antonio Marrazzo, the Vatican-based Redemptorist priest whose job is to make the best possible case for Seelos in Rome.

Marrazzo has asked for a full set of medical records, which Logarbo recently prepared for his scrutiny. "He sent a very encouraging letter," said the Rev. Byron Miller, who heads the Seelos Center. "He didn't say, 'You're wasting your time, go look for something else.'

"At the moment, I think this is our best shot."

By the end of February, Caroline's full medical record, complete with physicians' transcribed notes, will be at the Vatican for scrutiny by Marrazzo, and perhaps later by the saint-makers at the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Miller said.

Different interpretations

But the lesson of Caroline's recovery takes different forms, depending on the observer.

Among Caroline's family -- including Logarbo, the pediatrician -- there is the firm conviction that "there is no medical reason this child should be normal."

Her recovery, they say, is literally miraculous.

"I sense that Mary's prayers to her son saved Caroline," said Logarbo, recalling their entreaties to the Blessed Virgin. "And it was Seelos' prayers that gave her back to us whole.

"Everything is part of a plan," she said. "And God's plan was to give Caroline back to us whole so Seelos could be made a saint."

Her other physicians, meanwhile, prefer to interpret Caroline's gratifying recovery as a breathtakingly rare, but natural, event -- perhaps unexplainable, but not unheard of, and not necessarily supernatural.

For one thing, as several said, children have astonishing recuperative powers. And encephalitis "produces a very wide and variable range of outcomes," said Deputy, her neurologist.

"I'm thrilled for her recovery, and I wouldn't have predicted she'd do this well," he said. "But to say this is a one-time case, absolutely unprecedented? I couldn't say that."

Indeed, in the course of a career every physician sees a very few cases that defy reasonable expectation, said Gates, who recently retired.

"Do we understand them? No. Do we know they happen? Absolutely. We've all seen them," she said.

"I think things happen for which there is no explanation. And I must admit I'm not sure whether any of us can say for sure whether it's one thing or another. These are things that happen, and we say that they're miraculous because they're unusual and they surprise us.

"Whether they are miraculous in the theological sense, I don't know.

"But inexplicable? Yeah, I'll take that one."

. . . . . . .

Bruce Nolan can be reached at [email protected] or (504) 826-3344.
Emps
 
A

Anonymous

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#3
I'm kinda intrigued by the beaureaucratic nature of the admisiion to sainthood - you must have 2 miracles. You'd think one would be sufficient.

I believe they're very strict about investigating miracles as well, lots of rigorous scientific investigation and the like. Wherever they store all this information in the Vatican must be an incredible source of fortean incidents over the last 2000 years. I wonder if its publicly accessible.
 

Imperial_Call

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#4
Hmm, and hasn't the current Pope beatified/sainted more people during his reign that all the other previous Popes put together?? Either the standards have dropped or there are an awful lot of mysterious happenings been going on ...
 

Mighty_Emperor

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#5
Shuggaroth said:
I'm kinda intrigued by the beaureaucratic nature of the admisiion to sainthood - you must have 2 miracles. You'd think one would be sufficient.

I believe they're very strict about investigating miracles as well, lots of rigorous scientific investigation and the like. Wherever they store all this information in the Vatican must be an incredible source of fortean incidents over the last 2000 years. I wonder if its publicly accessible.
This thread turned up in a search for soemthing else but I have been looking into this kind of thing and I ran across this book if you are interested (if you do get it let me know if it is any good):

Making Saints : How The Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes A Saint, Who Doesn't, And Why
by Kenneth L. Woodward
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0684815303/
http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0684815303/

Emps
 
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Anonymous

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#6
Ta Emps! I've requested it from my library, I shall post something about it once I've read it
 

Mighty_Emperor

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#7
Super I look forward to it - I will probably buy the book soon unless its rubbish so any feedback is gratefully received.

I did find an interesting book in the library on Sainthood - I'll dig the details out......

[edit: Here it is:

Sainthood: Its manifestations in World Religions (1990)
by Kiechefer, R and Bond, G.D. (eds). [291.KIE.]

PB:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0520071891/
HB:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0520051548/

it is quite thin but has some interesting things to say about saints and their worship, etc. the interesting thing is that it starts looking at Christianity but goes on to discuss 'saints' in other religions.]

Emps
 
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Anonymous

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#8
*Not* available from Camrbridgeshire libraries, but hey it was enough of a pleasant surprise to find they could get the first one ;). I'll look out for it though.
 

Mighty_Emperor

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#9
Shuggaroth said:
*Not* available from Camrbridgeshire libraries, but hey it was enough of a pleasant surprise to find they could get the first one ;). I'll look out for it though.
Ahhhhh thats a pity as it is on the shelves in my local library (where I stumbled across it). I suspect its not too relevant to the main subject at hand (although it does touch on it) and the first book is the one to answer questions on how canonisation works.

Emps
 

TheOrigDesperado

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#10
Hmm, and hasn't the current Pope beatified/sainted more people during his reign that all the other previous Popes put together?? Either the standards have dropped or there are an awful lot of mysterious happenings been going on ...
Or previous popes were just lazy and a backlog had accumulated.

But I agree with Shuggaroth - why two miracles? Why not one? It doesn't make sense.
 
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#11
Looking for Miracles

If Mary Virginia Merrick is to become Washington's first saint, her devotees need to find someone like Joey Peacock

By April Witt

Sunday, April 11, 2004; Page W12

The woman reclining on an easy chair in her large suburban living room is spent and labors for breath. She wears a turban. She has no eyebrows anymore. Chemotherapy erased them. This leaves her looking oddly blank as a friend lays the holy relic across her chest, where the cancer that is killing her took hold.

The relic doesn't look like much. It's an old cotton chin strap that a virtuous Chevy Chase invalid, long since dead, once wore to help hold up her head. Yet to the dying woman and the four friends gathered around her on a spring day in Scottsdale, Ariz., the tiny chin strap holds enormous spiritual power. It is the power of the invalid who once wore it, Mary Virginia Merrick, to transcend suffering through love.

The dying woman is a 68-year-old Catholic named Pat Binsfeld. She has five grown children, seven grandchildren, an insurance-executive husband and lung cancer. Resting on her heaving chest, the holy relic rises and falls as Pat's friends encircle her, stretch out their right hands to her and will her to feel the power of that love.

"Mary Virginia Merrick, our angel in Heaven," the women intone. "We pray to you, the Christ Child and Our Lord God for our friend Pat Binsfeld. We ask you to heal the illness in her earthly body and grant her the strength she needs to accept each day."

The women, spiritual devotees of Merrick, aren't just looking for miracles, they are lobbying for them. They want the Vatican to declare Merrick an official saint of the Roman Catholic Church. To succeed, they must convince Rome's saint-makers that the devout and stoic Merrick -- who clothed, nourished, housed and educated poor and neglected Washington-area children until her death in 1955 -- is now helping to order up miracles from a heavenly perch. Not just any miracles will do. They need scientifically verifiable supernatural feats -- like tumors tamed.

At noon each day, Merrick's most fervent fans stop whatever they are doing to pray for her canonization and ask her intercession in the earthly woes of their families, friends, co-workers and neighbors. In Phoenix, Diane Scalise, the national president of the Catholic service organization Merrick founded, the Christ Child Society, interrupts meetings to pray at noon. If she happens to be driving, she pulls off the highway.

One of the people she prays for is Pat, whom she has known for 10 years. Despite her battle with cancer, Pat has been a stalwart member of the Christ Child Society's Phoenix chapter. She's a woman with an intense faith in God and a deep desire to help poor children, Diane says. Once, Pat heard about a little girl going to school in clothes so dirty and stinking that the other kids teased her. The girl's family, it turned out, didn't own a washing machine. Pat quietly bought one for the girl's school. She didn't broadcast what she'd done, but Diane found out anyway and thought: That is just like Pat.

A while back, Diane was attending a meeting at Christ Child's national headquarters in Bethesda when a friend phoned with sorrowful news. Pat was failing and in great pain. Diane knew right away how she wanted to help her dying friend. She rummaged through boxes of Merrick's belongings in Bethesda, looking for the chin strap. She borrowed the treasure and took it back to Phoenix with her.

Like Diane, Pat considers Mary Virginia Merrick one of her spiritual heroes. Now the touch of Merrick's chin strap is bringing Pat comfort. Diane can see it in her exhausted face. Pat closes her eyes as her friends surround her and pray, first aloud and then silently, asking for her to be healed, believing that miracles are possible.

DIANE SCALISE, NOW 59, was in her late forties before she heard of Mary Virginia Merrick. She was, by then, the wife of a successful architect, the mother of two sons and a prominent fundraiser for Catholic Charities. She lives in a sleek, glass-walled house designed by her husband, an associate dean of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture in Scottsdale.

This world is nothing like the one she knew as a child. Scalise grew up in a home that wasn't just poor, it was chaotic. She wangled invitations to friends' homes so that their mothers would give her food to eat. She begged buckets of water from neighbors so she and her sister could bathe. She stuffed small bits of paper in the cavities in her teeth, hoping classmates wouldn't notice and make fun of her.

"My job was to act like nothing is wrong: I'm okay. We're not hungry. I'm not ashamed," says Scalise. "The year that my father left, 1955, was the year that Mary Virginia Merrick died." She thinks that's significant. It was, she believes, the beginning of her connection to Merrick. "In my heart I feel like Mary Virginia Merrick looked down and said, 'Put her on a path because someday we're going to use her.' "

Ten years ago, Scalise was running a fundraising drive for Catholic Charities in Phoenix when a couple of women from the local Christ Child Society invited her to speak to their group. She ended up joining the society, then running it.

Nothing had ever made quite as much sense to her as Merrick. The disabled woman's life story moved Scalise, spurring her to do more and more for kids leading the kind of desperate childhood she herself had survived. Today Scalise organizes clothing drives, gives antidrug talks in inner-city schools and lobbies for legal reforms to protect abused children.

"Sometimes you reach a place where everything comes together," she explains. "All of your past and all the things you have done in your life make sense. When I look back at my life, I know Mary Virginia Merrick is the one who made sure I was on the right path. I am forever grateful that that woman came into my life."

THE WOMAN WHO INSPIRED SCALISE was born into a prominent Washington family in 1866. Merrick's father was a respected lawyer who doted on Mary Virginia, the second of eight children. "It was my utter fearlessness that pleased him," Merrick wrote in a lengthy diary that the National Christ Child Society printed in 1992.

The family had a townhouse on F Street NW and a country estate in Ellicott City, where governesses taught the children to speak French and the exuberant Mary Virginia led her brothers and sisters on idyllic garden romps and flights of imaginative play. She conscripted her siblings and pet donkey to reenact biblical tableaux. "I thought the whole world was mine," Merrick wrote.

Steeped in her father's Catholicism, Merrick read the lives of the saints and declared herself ready to be martyred for the faith after making her first Communion. She took an early secret vow to remain a virgin before she had any idea what that meant and was so carried away with the book The Imitation of Christ that she read it while kneeling.

But it was through nature that Merrick felt closest to God. She describes walking into a wheat field as the sun set one evening: "With my heart afire with eagerness to find Him in the beauty before me . . . knelt in the wheat field and bowed my head to the ground and adored the Creator of all . . . I can vividly recall that I was one with the vast creation. A plaything in His hands."

Merrick was a rambunctious 14-year-old when she tumbled from the ledge of her playhouse window and her childhood idyll ended. The fall injured her back. As her desperate parents consulted doctor after doctor, Merrick grew increasingly immobile. She was later believed to have suffered from Pott's disease, which causes the spine to deteriorate. Merrick was often in excruciating pain and had to be carried to the garden to read the books her father brought her, novels by Dickens, Thackeray, the Bronte sisters. She was 18 when both her parents died in the same year.

Eventually, paralysis spread through her spine and legs until finally the girl who loved to wade in wheat fields could not walk, could not sit up unless wearing a heavy brace from chin to hip, and could not hold up her head without assistance.

Yet Merrick looked for reasons to be grateful and found them in every sunset. "I recall watching the sunset, evening after evening at the end of the garden, entranced, enraptured by its beauty when I was very young and suffering; and listening meanwhile to my sisters and their friends tell of this or that pleasure, theater, rides and walks, and clasping my hands before me and thanking God that I had the sunset and Him."

She suffered but didn't complain. She kept a holy card tacked on the wall above her bed. It depicted a lone soul dragging a large cross. Beneath the struggling figure, written in French, were these words: "Without love one becomes attached to his pain."

One year, before Christmas, she sewed a set of baby clothes and asked a family friend to ensure the layette was given to a poor family with a baby born on December 25. Merrick, who had always had sympathy for the poor, had found her mission. Soon she was cajoling friends and relatives to help sew hundreds of layettes for poor infants throughout Washington.

Merrick's informal network of volunteers eventually became the Christ Child Society, which today has 38 chapters and 6,500 members. In turn-of-the-century Washington, she and her volunteers anticipated modern social services by taking a holistic approach to helping poor families, according to biographer Harry Rissetto. At Merrick's direction, the Christ Child Society arranged for nurses to teach poor mothers how to care for infants. It opened recreational clubs and centers in Washington's poorest neighborhoods. The society also ran free dental clinics for children, a summer camp for African American girls and a home for sick children.

For all the sweet optimism that shines through in her diaries, Merrick ran her organization with no-nonsense determination. Some visitors to the elegant Chevy Chase home where she spent the final decades of her life found her canny, demanding and impossible to ignore. "She was a real taskmaster," Scalise says. "She didn't take crap from anybody. I always envision her on the telephone giving someone the devil for not doing what they were supposed to do."

Scalise has been among the most enthusiastic advocates of the effort to make Merrick Washington's first saint. The reason is simple: Merrick changed her life and continues to challenge her to be a better person. She wants more people to hear Merrick's story and be changed by it, too.

"Every morning when I get up," Scalise says, "my arthritis hurts, and I think I'm not going to make it. Mary Virginia Merrick's face comes to me and she says: 'Shut up, Diane! You are going to make it!'

"I bitch and complain all the time, but she never complained. She was such a holy woman. If she can help me be just a little bit more like her, that's a miracle."

THE ODDS OF MERRICK becoming a saint are long. She is little known outside the Christ Child Society, which has struggled to overcome its image as a kind of Catholic Junior League. She was a privileged woman from a wealthy country. And she has lots of competition.

There are more than 1,000 official candidates for sainthood in the Vatican pipeline. Some will languish there for centuries, though the most famous, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, is speeding through the Vatican's complex canonization process. She was beatified -- the final step before sainthood -- by Pope John Paul II last October, just six years after her death.

The would-be saints are a diverse cast of characters from all over the world. Candidacies launched in the United States include the Rev. Walter Ciszek, a Jesuit priest imprisoned in the Soviet Union in 1940 on charges that he was a Vatican spy; conservative radio and TV evangelist Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, who died in 1979; and Dorothy Day, who had an abortion and a child out of wedlock before converting to Catholicism, founding the Catholic Worker Movement and devoting her life to the poor.

In the Catholic tradition, saints are those rare human beings who lead lives of such incredible virtue that they are "deemed to be closer to God than the rest of us, so close they can even bring about miracles," explains Monsignor Brian Ferme, dean of canon law at Catholic University.

Christians who call on saints for help are not suggesting that God is too busy to hear their prayers. They are turning to the community of believers, much like asking a relative or friend to pray for you, says Notre Dame theology professor Lawrence Cunningham. Except saints are in Heaven and "stand before the face of God."

In other words, they might have more pull.

During the first several centuries of Christianity, the process of becoming a saint was simple and bloody. The first saints typically were martyrs who were stoned, fed to lions or otherwise tortured for their faith. Ordinary people flocked to these martyrs' graves to honor their sacrifice as reminiscent of Christ's Passion. Their graves became altars; their remains were dug up, dismembered and venerated. Bones, locks of hair, pieces of clothing became holy relics.

Saints were chosen by popular acclaim until the Vatican seized control of the canonization process, establishing formal rules and giving the Catholic Church the final say over who was named a saint and who wasn't. The first saint to be officially canonized was Ulrich in 993 A.D.

During the Reformation, Protestants emphatically rejected the veneration of saints. Relying on saints as heavenly intermediaries usurped Christ's unique role, they argued. But for many Catholics, venerating saints remains as enduring as it is controversial. Many people like having spiritual heroes with whom they can identify. And no one understands that better than Pope John Paul II. Over the past quarter-century, he has canonized 476 people, naming more saints than all of his 2oth-century papal predecessors combined.

The decision to recast mortals as saints can be a function of politics and marketing as well as virtue and sacred mystery. Many saints are dead white Europeans who took religious vows. This globe-trotting pope consciously set out to diversify the roster of official church heroes to include people who lived in Third World nations and didn't look anything like Saint Francis of Assisi. Pope John Paul II has said that he wants the Catholic Church to honor Christ by acknowledging his "presence through the fruits of faith, hope and charity present in men and women of many different tongues and races." When the pope travels to developing countries, he often brings along the gift of a newly beatified or canonized local.

The more diversity the better, says Notre Dame's Cunningham: "I wait for the day when we have some woman who has four kids and enjoys a martini now and then. We have too many nuns and invalids. I want a soccer mom."

Today the canonization process retains vestiges of the ancient system of saint-making by acclamation. No one is supposed to become a candidate for sainthood unless there is a genuine groundswell of popular devotion to him or her. But the Vatican's bureaucrats, lawyers and theologians are definitely in charge.

"The process of canonization may well be the world's most complex legal process," Monsignor Ferme says. It's also expensive. Getting someone canonized can cost more than 0,000. The candidate's virtuous life has to be documented and publicized. The work and travel of a host of canon law, theological and medical experts must be underwritten.

Yet Mary Virginia Merrick's devotees have raised only ,000 toward her canonization. Some think the Christ Child Society honors her best by devoting its time and money to helping poor children -- not by promoting its dead founder.

"Labels and titles don't mean that much to me," says Janeen Ehrhart, who has spent hundreds of hours creating a library for Holy Comforter-Saint Cyprian Catholic School in Southeast Washington as part of a Christ Child service project. "If Mary Virginia Merrick is the beautiful person I think she was, I don't think she'd care if she was a saint."

The society's Washington chapter has avoided controversy by not expending chapter funds on canonization efforts. When the chapter recently sold land in Calvert County where Merrick once ran a country camp for poor city children, its members did what they thought Merrick would want them to do. They donated
Looking for Miracles

If Mary Virginia Merrick is to become Washington's first saint, her devotees need to find someone like Joey Peacock

By April Witt

Sunday, April 11, 2004; Page W12

The woman reclining on an easy chair in her large suburban living room is spent and labors for breath. She wears a turban. She has no eyebrows anymore. Chemotherapy erased them. This leaves her looking oddly blank as a friend lays the holy relic across her chest, where the cancer that is killing her took hold.

The relic doesn't look like much. It's an old cotton chin strap that a virtuous Chevy Chase invalid, long since dead, once wore to help hold up her head. Yet to the dying woman and the four friends gathered around her on a spring day in Scottsdale, Ariz., the tiny chin strap holds enormous spiritual power. It is the power of the invalid who once wore it, Mary Virginia Merrick, to transcend suffering through love.

The dying woman is a 68-year-old Catholic named Pat Binsfeld. She has five grown children, seven grandchildren, an insurance-executive husband and lung cancer. Resting on her heaving chest, the holy relic rises and falls as Pat's friends encircle her, stretch out their right hands to her and will her to feel the power of that love.

"Mary Virginia Merrick, our angel in Heaven," the women intone. "We pray to you, the Christ Child and Our Lord God for our friend Pat Binsfeld. We ask you to heal the illness in her earthly body and grant her the strength she needs to accept each day."

The women, spiritual devotees of Merrick, aren't just looking for miracles, they are lobbying for them. They want the Vatican to declare Merrick an official saint of the Roman Catholic Church. To succeed, they must convince Rome's saint-makers that the devout and stoic Merrick -- who clothed, nourished, housed and educated poor and neglected Washington-area children until her death in 1955 -- is now helping to order up miracles from a heavenly perch. Not just any miracles will do. They need scientifically verifiable supernatural feats -- like tumors tamed.

At noon each day, Merrick's most fervent fans stop whatever they are doing to pray for her canonization and ask her intercession in the earthly woes of their families, friends, co-workers and neighbors. In Phoenix, Diane Scalise, the national president of the Catholic service organization Merrick founded, the Christ Child Society, interrupts meetings to pray at noon. If she happens to be driving, she pulls off the highway.

One of the people she prays for is Pat, whom she has known for 10 years. Despite her battle with cancer, Pat has been a stalwart member of the Christ Child Society's Phoenix chapter. She's a woman with an intense faith in God and a deep desire to help poor children, Diane says. Once, Pat heard about a little girl going to school in clothes so dirty and stinking that the other kids teased her. The girl's family, it turned out, didn't own a washing machine. Pat quietly bought one for the girl's school. She didn't broadcast what she'd done, but Diane found out anyway and thought: That is just like Pat.

A while back, Diane was attending a meeting at Christ Child's national headquarters in Bethesda when a friend phoned with sorrowful news. Pat was failing and in great pain. Diane knew right away how she wanted to help her dying friend. She rummaged through boxes of Merrick's belongings in Bethesda, looking for the chin strap. She borrowed the treasure and took it back to Phoenix with her.

Like Diane, Pat considers Mary Virginia Merrick one of her spiritual heroes. Now the touch of Merrick's chin strap is bringing Pat comfort. Diane can see it in her exhausted face. Pat closes her eyes as her friends surround her and pray, first aloud and then silently, asking for her to be healed, believing that miracles are possible.

DIANE SCALISE, NOW 59, was in her late forties before she heard of Mary Virginia Merrick. She was, by then, the wife of a successful architect, the mother of two sons and a prominent fundraiser for Catholic Charities. She lives in a sleek, glass-walled house designed by her husband, an associate dean of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture in Scottsdale.

This world is nothing like the one she knew as a child. Scalise grew up in a home that wasn't just poor, it was chaotic. She wangled invitations to friends' homes so that their mothers would give her food to eat. She begged buckets of water from neighbors so she and her sister could bathe. She stuffed small bits of paper in the cavities in her teeth, hoping classmates wouldn't notice and make fun of her.

"My job was to act like nothing is wrong: I'm okay. We're not hungry. I'm not ashamed," says Scalise. "The year that my father left, 1955, was the year that Mary Virginia Merrick died." She thinks that's significant. It was, she believes, the beginning of her connection to Merrick. "In my heart I feel like Mary Virginia Merrick looked down and said, 'Put her on a path because someday we're going to use her.' "

Ten years ago, Scalise was running a fundraising drive for Catholic Charities in Phoenix when a couple of women from the local Christ Child Society invited her to speak to their group. She ended up joining the society, then running it.

Nothing had ever made quite as much sense to her as Merrick. The disabled woman's life story moved Scalise, spurring her to do more and more for kids leading the kind of desperate childhood she herself had survived. Today Scalise organizes clothing drives, gives antidrug talks in inner-city schools and lobbies for legal reforms to protect abused children.

"Sometimes you reach a place where everything comes together," she explains. "All of your past and all the things you have done in your life make sense. When I look back at my life, I know Mary Virginia Merrick is the one who made sure I was on the right path. I am forever grateful that that woman came into my life."

THE WOMAN WHO INSPIRED SCALISE was born into a prominent Washington family in 1866. Merrick's father was a respected lawyer who doted on Mary Virginia, the second of eight children. "It was my utter fearlessness that pleased him," Merrick wrote in a lengthy diary that the National Christ Child Society printed in 1992.

The family had a townhouse on F Street NW and a country estate in Ellicott City, where governesses taught the children to speak French and the exuberant Mary Virginia led her brothers and sisters on idyllic garden romps and flights of imaginative play. She conscripted her siblings and pet donkey to reenact biblical tableaux. "I thought the whole world was mine," Merrick wrote.

Steeped in her father's Catholicism, Merrick read the lives of the saints and declared herself ready to be martyred for the faith after making her first Communion. She took an early secret vow to remain a virgin before she had any idea what that meant and was so carried away with the book The Imitation of Christ that she read it while kneeling.

But it was through nature that Merrick felt closest to God. She describes walking into a wheat field as the sun set one evening: "With my heart afire with eagerness to find Him in the beauty before me . . . knelt in the wheat field and bowed my head to the ground and adored the Creator of all . . . I can vividly recall that I was one with the vast creation. A plaything in His hands."

Merrick was a rambunctious 14-year-old when she tumbled from the ledge of her playhouse window and her childhood idyll ended. The fall injured her back. As her desperate parents consulted doctor after doctor, Merrick grew increasingly immobile. She was later believed to have suffered from Pott's disease, which causes the spine to deteriorate. Merrick was often in excruciating pain and had to be carried to the garden to read the books her father brought her, novels by Dickens, Thackeray, the Bronte sisters. She was 18 when both her parents died in the same year.

Eventually, paralysis spread through her spine and legs until finally the girl who loved to wade in wheat fields could not walk, could not sit up unless wearing a heavy brace from chin to hip, and could not hold up her head without assistance.

Yet Merrick looked for reasons to be grateful and found them in every sunset. "I recall watching the sunset, evening after evening at the end of the garden, entranced, enraptured by its beauty when I was very young and suffering; and listening meanwhile to my sisters and their friends tell of this or that pleasure, theater, rides and walks, and clasping my hands before me and thanking God that I had the sunset and Him."

She suffered but didn't complain. She kept a holy card tacked on the wall above her bed. It depicted a lone soul dragging a large cross. Beneath the struggling figure, written in French, were these words: "Without love one becomes attached to his pain."

One year, before Christmas, she sewed a set of baby clothes and asked a family friend to ensure the layette was given to a poor family with a baby born on December 25. Merrick, who had always had sympathy for the poor, had found her mission. Soon she was cajoling friends and relatives to help sew hundreds of layettes for poor infants throughout Washington.

Merrick's informal network of volunteers eventually became the Christ Child Society, which today has 38 chapters and 6,500 members. In turn-of-the-century Washington, she and her volunteers anticipated modern social services by taking a holistic approach to helping poor families, according to biographer Harry Rissetto. At Merrick's direction, the Christ Child Society arranged for nurses to teach poor mothers how to care for infants. It opened recreational clubs and centers in Washington's poorest neighborhoods. The society also ran free dental clinics for children, a summer camp for African American girls and a home for sick children.

For all the sweet optimism that shines through in her diaries, Merrick ran her organization with no-nonsense determination. Some visitors to the elegant Chevy Chase home where she spent the final decades of her life found her canny, demanding and impossible to ignore. "She was a real taskmaster," Scalise says. "She didn't take crap from anybody. I always envision her on the telephone giving someone the devil for not doing what they were supposed to do."

Scalise has been among the most enthusiastic advocates of the effort to make Merrick Washington's first saint. The reason is simple: Merrick changed her life and continues to challenge her to be a better person. She wants more people to hear Merrick's story and be changed by it, too.

"Every morning when I get up," Scalise says, "my arthritis hurts, and I think I'm not going to make it. Mary Virginia Merrick's face comes to me and she says: 'Shut up, Diane! You are going to make it!'

"I bitch and complain all the time, but she never complained. She was such a holy woman. If she can help me be just a little bit more like her, that's a miracle."

THE ODDS OF MERRICK becoming a saint are long. She is little known outside the Christ Child Society, which has struggled to overcome its image as a kind of Catholic Junior League. She was a privileged woman from a wealthy country. And she has lots of competition.

There are more than 1,000 official candidates for sainthood in the Vatican pipeline. Some will languish there for centuries, though the most famous, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, is speeding through the Vatican's complex canonization process. She was beatified -- the final step before sainthood -- by Pope John Paul II last October, just six years after her death.

The would-be saints are a diverse cast of characters from all over the world. Candidacies launched in the United States include the Rev. Walter Ciszek, a Jesuit priest imprisoned in the Soviet Union in 1940 on charges that he was a Vatican spy; conservative radio and TV evangelist Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, who died in 1979; and Dorothy Day, who had an abortion and a child out of wedlock before converting to Catholicism, founding the Catholic Worker Movement and devoting her life to the poor.

In the Catholic tradition, saints are those rare human beings who lead lives of such incredible virtue that they are "deemed to be closer to God than the rest of us, so close they can even bring about miracles," explains Monsignor Brian Ferme, dean of canon law at Catholic University.

Christians who call on saints for help are not suggesting that God is too busy to hear their prayers. They are turning to the community of believers, much like asking a relative or friend to pray for you, says Notre Dame theology professor Lawrence Cunningham. Except saints are in Heaven and "stand before the face of God."

In other words, they might have more pull.

During the first several centuries of Christianity, the process of becoming a saint was simple and bloody. The first saints typically were martyrs who were stoned, fed to lions or otherwise tortured for their faith. Ordinary people flocked to these martyrs' graves to honor their sacrifice as reminiscent of Christ's Passion. Their graves became altars; their remains were dug up, dismembered and venerated. Bones, locks of hair, pieces of clothing became holy relics.

Saints were chosen by popular acclaim until the Vatican seized control of the canonization process, establishing formal rules and giving the Catholic Church the final say over who was named a saint and who wasn't. The first saint to be officially canonized was Ulrich in 993 A.D.

During the Reformation, Protestants emphatically rejected the veneration of saints. Relying on saints as heavenly intermediaries usurped Christ's unique role, they argued. But for many Catholics, venerating saints remains as enduring as it is controversial. Many people like having spiritual heroes with whom they can identify. And no one understands that better than Pope John Paul II. Over the past quarter-century, he has canonized 476 people, naming more saints than all of his 2oth-century papal predecessors combined.

The decision to recast mortals as saints can be a function of politics and marketing as well as virtue and sacred mystery. Many saints are dead white Europeans who took religious vows. This globe-trotting pope consciously set out to diversify the roster of official church heroes to include people who lived in Third World nations and didn't look anything like Saint Francis of Assisi. Pope John Paul II has said that he wants the Catholic Church to honor Christ by acknowledging his "presence through the fruits of faith, hope and charity present in men and women of many different tongues and races." When the pope travels to developing countries, he often brings along the gift of a newly beatified or canonized local.

The more diversity the better, says Notre Dame's Cunningham: "I wait for the day when we have some woman who has four kids and enjoys a martini now and then. We have too many nuns and invalids. I want a soccer mom."

Today the canonization process retains vestiges of the ancient system of saint-making by acclamation. No one is supposed to become a candidate for sainthood unless there is a genuine groundswell of popular devotion to him or her. But the Vatican's bureaucrats, lawyers and theologians are definitely in charge.

"The process of canonization may well be the world's most complex legal process," Monsignor Ferme says. It's also expensive. Getting someone canonized can cost more than $250,000. The candidate's virtuous life has to be documented and publicized. The work and travel of a host of canon law, theological and medical experts must be underwritten.

Yet Mary Virginia Merrick's devotees have raised only $16,000 toward her canonization. Some think the Christ Child Society honors her best by devoting its time and money to helping poor children -- not by promoting its dead founder.

"Labels and titles don't mean that much to me," says Janeen Ehrhart, who has spent hundreds of hours creating a library for Holy Comforter-Saint Cyprian Catholic School in Southeast Washington as part of a Christ Child service project. "If Mary Virginia Merrick is the beautiful person I think she was, I don't think she'd care if she was a saint."

The society's Washington chapter has avoided controversy by not expending chapter funds on canonization efforts. When the chapter recently sold land in Calvert County where Merrick once ran a country camp for poor city children, its members did what they thought Merrick would want them to do. They donated $1 million to help build a community center in Anacostia.

Christ Child members eager to have Merrick canonized have been talking for years about launching a campaign on her behalf. But they made little real progress until they convinced Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, head of the Archdiocese of Washington, to write to the Vatican last year asking that Merrick be named a "servant of God" -- an official candidate for sainthood.

The Vatican said yes, giving Merrick's spiritual followers Rome's blessing to pray to her for help with their troubles. Christ Child members started handing out blue laminated prayer cards bearing a photo of a frail young Merrick wearing Victorian garb and reclining against a ruffled pillow. Recipients are urged to pray to Merrick -- a campaign her supporters hope will yield miracles.

The task ahead is daunting. Vatican saint-makers will demand elaborate documentation of Merrick's holiness and heroic virtue. They also will demand proof of miracles -- one before Merrick can be beatified, two to declare her a saint. These cannot be miracles that occurred during Merrick's lifetime. Feeding and clothing poor children from her wheelchair do not qualify. Merrick's followers must deliver posthumous miracles able to withstand legal and medical scrutiny. And they will need more than miracles to make her a saint. They will need to find powerful allies to help them negotiate the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Vatican bureaucracy where the rules are elaborate, the standards for proving holiness precise and the nitpicking legendary.

"It's the most convoluted process I've ever had anything to do with," says National Christ Child Society Executive Director Margaret Saffell.

As if overwhelmed by grappling with the really big questions (How does God work in the world? Why are some prayers answered while others are seemingly ignored?), some Vatican saint-makers seem to focus on procedural minutiae.

Was that report wrapped in brown paper and tied with twine before it was sealed with wax? Was that doctor's testimony forwarded in triplicate with a notary's signature on each page?

"They are almost to the point where you have to use a quill to write things," says Monsignor Robert O'Connell, a New York priest familiar with the challenges of trying to get someone canonized. He remembers one of his colleagues begging the Vatican's bureaucrats, "Get a fax machine! Everyone in the world has a fax machine. Get a fax machine so it doesn't take eight days to get something there and eight days to get back."

"Finally, they got one," O'Connell says. "But when they left at night they turned it off. It took another few months to convince them to leave the darn thing on when they were home sleeping, and we're here trying to work."

MARGARET SAFFELL WAS NERVOUS. She was on her first pilgrimage to Rome on behalf of Merrick, where she would seek guidance from one of the Catholic Church's most successful advocates for the creation of new saints, the Rev. Paolo Molinari.

Sitting with the handsome, gray-haired Jesuit priest in a small meeting room near the Vatican last October, Saffell says, she was awestruck as he advised her on the canonization process and its pitfalls. She felt like a kindergartner who needed a doctorate fast.

The 80-year-old Molinari has been advocating on behalf of would-be saints for more than four decades. Molinari has been the postulator, or lead advocate, for dozens of successful canonization candidates, from martyred Chinese Christians to Main Line Philadelphia's Katharine Drexel, who forsook a life of social prominence in the 19th century to found the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People.

Molinari doesn't work for the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, the 32 cardinals and bishops who make recommendations to the pope about candidates for sainthood. But he confers closely with congregation staff members. He knows exactly what kind of historical, legal and medical documentation Vatican bureaucrats expect to see. He's expert at finding and delivering what they demand.

"I don't like to call it a job," Molinari says. "It's a beautiful mission."

Given his track record, Molinari is much in demand among those eager for him to shepherd their candidate through the canonization process. He delicately fends off far more requests than he grants. Not every Catholic who lived a virtuous life should be named a saint, he says, only those of extraordinary holiness. And earthly saint-makers use evidence of miracles as signs from Heaven that they are making a good call.

"At my father's funeral, people said he was a saint," Molinari recalls. "There was not a single one there who had not been helped by him morally and economically. I have a photo of my father. From time to time I look at it and I say, 'Daddy, help me to be as good as you were.' But I haven't opened a cause for his canonization."

One of Molinari's most promising candidates for sainthood is Pierre Toussaint, who was born a slave in Haiti in 1766. Toussaint immigrated to New York City with his French owners, who apprenticed him as a hairdresser. He excelled at the trade, but became as well known for his acts of charity as for his elaborate coiffures. He tended the contagious sick, rescued orphans and supported his widowed owner until her death. "He did not think of his own glory," Molinari says. "He did not think of his own fortunes. He gave what he had. I wish every Christian, every human being, lived as he did."

But Toussaint's candidacy has been stalled for lack of proof that any miracles could be attributed to his intervention. Now, there is a possible breakthrough. Molinari is helping gather documentation that a Silver Spring boy might have been miraculously healed of scoliosis in 2000 with help from Toussaint.

The old priest counseled Saffell not to despair over bureaucratic obstacles or the pressure to produce miracles in Merrick's case. Don't worry, she recalls him telling her, Mary Virginia Merrick will guide you.

THE GOSPELS RECOUNT MIRACLES worked by Jesus in his lifetime, from turning water into wine to giving sight to the blind. But the Vatican doesn't take modern-day claims of miracles on faith. It checks them out.

If the alleged miracle is a medical cure, the Catholic Church convenes a tribunal where doctors and other witnesses give testimony under oath. A committee of doctors in Rome then examines the testimony to see if prayer is the only explanation for the cure.

A miracle is, by definition, something that causes wonder. It's a tangible event that defies logical explanation and seems to be the work of a higher force. Proving that an unexpected medical cure is a miracle is a tough job that is in some ways getting tougher.

Modern medicine's sensitive laboratory tests, accurate imaging technology and standardized recordkeeping make it easier than ever to prove that a patient once had a disease, say a brain tumor, and that all signs of the disease later disappeared. But the wide availability of medical treatment in wealthy Western nations also makes it increasingly difficult to prove the kind of supernatural intervention required to make saints.

"Theoretically, you have someone who is taking all kinds of medications and went through all kinds of therapies for cancer," says the Rev. David O'Connor, a canon lawyer for the Archdiocese of Washington. "Now, this person is also praying. The person gets healthy. Well, the obvious question is, Was it the prayer? It may well have happened that way. But how are you going to prove it? Impossible."

At the same time, modern Western medicine has raised standards of proof at the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints to levels that advocates for would-be saints from poor, undeveloped nations typically can't match, Molinari says. "If a cure takes place in the forests of the Congo, how can we possibly prove it? We will not even have an X-ray. In that case, is that not a question of discrimination, a lack of justice for the poor?"

For years, Molinari and like-minded colleagues have encouraged the Vatican to rethink the very nature of the miracles required for beatification or canonization, to look beyond medical cures. Molinari would like to see the Catholic Church consider moral as well as physical miracles for purposes of canonization.

"Is it easier for God to put together two pieces of a bone in one second or to change the heart of some people who are in pretty bad shape?" Molinari asks. "If a conversion takes place, that to me is a greater miracle than two pieces of bone put together. Of course, it's not easy to prove miracles along these lines. The thing has to be studied."

Such debates, however edifying, aren't going to get Toussaint canonized. To do that, Molinari has to document the kind of physical miracle the Vatican requires. Which is why he finds the case of the Silver Spring boy so intriguing.

AT NIGHT, Lisa Peacock often tucked her toddler son, Danny, into his bed with a rosary in his hand. She taught him his first prayers and smiled as he tried to follow along: "Hail Mary, full of grace . . ." Lisa and her husband, John, were eager for a second child, but she was slow to get pregnant again. She prayed fervently to the Virgin Mary for another child, saying countless rosaries.

So when she was finally about to give birth to her second son, Joey, on October 13, 1994, she couldn't help seeing special significance in the date. October 13 was the day in 1917 that the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared to 70,000 people in Fatima, Portugal.

Of course, Lisa had picked October 13 to give birth. She was having a Caesarean section and had scheduled it for that day, which was both her projected due date and the time her favorite obstetrician happened to be available.

Still, she liked to think Joey's birth date was a kind of confirmation that her prayers to the Virgin Mary had been answered. On the morning of the 13th she was sitting in a green easy chair talking on the phone, waiting to go to the hospital, when her water broke. To Lisa, who gave birth that day by C-section, this was not a coincidence. It was a sign from God.

JOEY'S PEDIATRICIAN ASKED HIM TO BEND OVER and touch his toes so she could get a better look at his back. Joey was an active, athletic 5-year-old on October 28, 1999, when My-Huong Nguyen noticed during a routine physical that one shoulder was lower than the other and his spine seemed abnormally curved. Joey was young to be developing scoliosis, a condition in which the spine begins to curve and twist like a spiral staircase. But scoliosis ran in his family. The pediatrician sent Joey to be X-rayed.

Lisa Peacock was in the back yard the next day watching Joey kick a soccer ball when the pediatrician called with the results. Joey, a boy who loved sports and dreamed of being a professional football player, had scoliosis. The X-rays showed Joey's spine had become a pronounced S-curve, with a 22-degree curve in his upper back and a 16-degree one in his lower back.

Over the next week, Lisa and John gathered as much information as they could about scoliosis. And they did what they usually do when facing troubles small or large: They prayed.

The couple had been dating since they met as sports-crazy young teens. They took turns going to each other's games. He played football. She shot hoops. When they married, he converted to her Roman Catholicism. Faith, family and sports were the bedrock of their lives. "We're a very active family," Lisa says. "Joey's first word was 'ball.' "

On November 29, 1999, Lisa and John took Joey to see a specialist, Paul Sponseller, chief of pediatric orthopedic surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Sponseller confirmed the scoliosis diagnosis and talked about their options. A 22-degree curve was not considered severe. But if the curve grew more pronounced Joey might have to wear a back brace, Sponseller told them.

Scoliosis is a medical mystery. There is no known cure. Hopkins researchers are trying to isolate the gene responsible for causing it. But the Peacocks knew it could be a life-changing condition. A second cousin on Lisa's side of the family had to have rods and pins inserted in his spine to try to correct a dramatic 60-degree curve.

In Joey's case, Sponseller thought it was safe to just wait and see if the curve of his spine progressed to the point where it required bracing. He told the Peacocks to come back with new X-rays in three months.

JOHN PEACOCK STOOD AT THE KITCHEN STOVE flipping pancakes one morning while his wife read a Washington Post story about the push to canonize Pierre Toussaint as the first black American saint. The February 12, 2000, article mentioned that his advocates were hoping to find a miracle that could be attributed to his intercession. Excited, Lisa started reading the story out loud to John. It was almost time for Joey to get his next round of X-rays. They should pray to Toussaint for help with the scoliosis, Lisa said.

That night as they put Joey and his brother to bed, they showed the boys a picture of Toussaint from the newspaper article. Lisa told Joey that Toussaint was a great man who lived a long time ago and was now in Heaven, and that they were going to ask him to tell God about Joey's back. Lisa, John and the boys knelt together by Joey's bed and took turns asking Toussaint for help before they recited the Lord's Prayer and the Hail Mary together. They repeated their prayers to Toussaint at Mass the following morning and at bedtime on Monday night.

For Joey, a sandy-haired boy with outsize blue eyes, praying was already as routine and natural as asking his mom or dad for help tying his shoes. Praying with his family every night at bedtime makes him "feel good," he says now. "God made everything. Without God there wouldn't be anything. There wouldn't even be the word nothing."

THREE DAYS AFTER THE PEACOCK FAMILY began asking Pierre Toussaint for help, Lisa drove Joey to a Laurel radiology center for follow-up X-rays.

The technician asked Joey to stand still and hold his breath. Afterward, Lisa left Joey with a babysitter and went back to her marketing job at Verizon, where a colleague, a Baptist minister who knew how nervous she was, urged her to have faith. "Miracles happen every day," he said.

Later that day Lisa returned to the radiology center to pick up the X-rays. The radiologist's written report wasn't ready yet, but the film was. Lisa pulled the X-rays out of a paper sleeve. To her untrained eye, Joey's spine looked a lot straighter. But she wasn't sure whether she was simply seeing what she wanted to see. Then she noticed that the radiologist had marked right on the film that the curve in Joey's upper back now measured only about 10 degrees -- insignificant compared with the previous 22-degree curve. There didn't seem to be any curve at all noted on the lower spine.

Lisa checked the name on the pictures to make sure they were Joey's. They were. Dumbfounded, she put the pictures back in the folder, then took them out again to gape. She cried all the way home. She called her husband, her two sisters, both nurses, and Joey's grandparents.

She left a message for Nguyen, Joey's pediatrician, who returned the call later and said curved spines don't just straighten without any medical intervention. "Keep praying," Lisa remembers the pediatrician, a Buddhist, telling her. "Keep doing whatever it is you are doing."

That night the Peacocks lined up the new X-rays next to the originals. "We couldn't believe our eyes," Lisa says. "God had worked a miracle for our 5-year-old."

When the Peacocks took Joey back to Johns Hopkins, the orthopedic surgeon was cautious about reading too much into the X-rays. "Patient is doing great," Sponseller said in his written notes on that visit. "It may be due to improved standing or a true reversal of the underlying process."

But Lisa was really excited. She tracked down the New York priest she'd seen quoted in the newspaper article about Toussaint to tell him what had happened.

Monsignor Robert O'Connell has spent almost 20 years trying to get Toussaint canonized. As the official "vice postulator," he's the point man for the cause in the United States, while Molinari promotes Toussaint's candidacy in Rome. Both men's efforts have been frustrated by the nettlesome lack of a single verifiable miracle attributable to Toussaint.

Early on, O'Connell thought, a bit naively, that documenting a miracle would be pretty easy. He'd read a biography of Toussaint that mentioned the case of a young Haitian gym teacher who had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer. The young man's doctors told him he had but months to live. The gym teacher prayed for Toussaint's help, regained his health, went back to work and died 25 years later -- of cancer.

That seemed like a pretty good miracle to O'Connell, now 79, who gathered all the documentation he could, including a letter from the dead man's priest, and sent it to Rome. But the gym-teacher cancer cure was a no-go. Vatican saint-makers rejected the alleged miracle because most of the medical records documenting the initial diagnosis of metastatic cancer had long since been destroyed. And because the man eventually died of cancer, the Vatican authorities viewed the intervening 25 years as a fortuitous remission, not a miraculous cure, O'Connell says.

There have been other possible Toussaint-related miracles that also didn't pan out, O'Connell says. Either the seriously ill person both prayed to Toussaint and received medical treatment, making it impossible to determine the cause of the cure. Or the patient didn't ask just Toussaint to intercede on his behalf, but also prayed to other holy people.

"If the person prayed to four holy people -- the Blessed Mother, and Pierre Toussaint, and a couple of others -- then [Vatican bureaucrats] will say, 'Hey, it might have been somebody else who was already canonized a saint who interceded for their health.' " To satisfy the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints in Rome, "a successful case has to have all doubt removed that the only way this person was cured was through the intercession of Pierre Toussaint," O'Connell says.

What O'Connell heard from Lisa Peacock was thrilling. Since Joey hadn't received any medical treatment for his condition, and his family had before-and-after X-rays apparently documenting changes in his spine, this sounded like just the kind of case O'Connell had been seeking. If Toussaint really had intervened to generate a miraculous cure of Joey's scoliosis, O'Connell wanted to make sure Toussaint got the credit in Rome.

"Don't pray to anyone else!" O'Connell told Joey's mother. "Don't pray to any other saints. That could ruin the cause."

IN ROME, MOLINARI WAS ENTHUSIASTIC about Joey's case, too. Lisa mailed him copies of the X-rays.

To investigate and document Joey's alleged miraculous healing, the Catholic Church would need to convene a tribunal to take testimony under oath from the Peacocks, Joey's doctors and other medical experts. By protocol, that task fell to the Archdiocese of Washington, in which the alleged miracle had occurred.

There was a hitch. As far as anybody could remember, the Archdiocese of Washington had never convened a tribunal to investigate an alleged miracle. So archdiocese officials first had to figure out how to do it to meet Rome's exacting standards.

Joey was one month short of his seventh birthday by the time the Peacocks dressed him and his brother up in sports jackets and went to the diocesan pastoral center to answer questions from the tribunal. They were ushered into a small room lined with canon law books. Around a conference table sat two priests, a doctor and a deacon who was a notary. The proceedings were very low-key. The Peacocks were asked to describe what had happened and whether Joey had had any treatment. It was September 14, 2001, three days after terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Nobody asked the Peacocks why God might have spared their son an illness that wasn't fatal when the prayers of so many people who suffered and died in the September 11 inferno seemingly went unanswered. It was just as well. The Peacocks wouldn't have known what to say.

"I think prayers go up and grace comes down," Lisa says. "We just happened to be blessed enough, lucky enough, that the grace came down for us. I don't know why."

The family waited months to hear whether the Vatican would officially declare Joey the beneficiary of a miraculous cure. But word came back that Rome had problems with the way the tribunal had been conducted. For one thing, the Peacocks had been asked to testify together in one room, not out of earshot of one another. The Vatican wasn't worried that the Peacocks' testimony had been compromised. The bureaucrats just wanted their procedures followed. The Archdiocese of Washington would have to start all over again. It would have to convene a whole new tribunal.

THE REV. DAVID O'CONNOR was asked to help run the new tribunal. As a canon lawyer for the Archdiocese of Washington's marriage tribunal, the 75-year-old priest reviews hundreds of annulment cases each year. A few years ago, he played a minor role in the investigation leading up to the beatification of Mother Teresa. Church authorities asked him to take sworn testimony from Christopher Hitchens, the Washington-based journalist who has gleefully denounced Mother Teresa as a self-promoter who accepted donations from dictators and corporate crooks and gave lousy medical care to the dying poor but flew first-class to a private clinic in California when she herself was sick.

O'Connor dutifully recorded Hitchens's views for the Vatican record, but he also told the writer he had the wrong idea about saints. "Saints are not perfect people," O'Connor recalls telling Hitchens. "I'm not sure I could be around Mother Teresa all that long. She was really overbearing . . . But there is no doubt she was an extraordinarily holy woman."

For the Peacock tribunal, O'Connor turned to a retired Georgetown University medical professor to serve as the lead medical expert. John Collins Harvey, 80, has spent years combining his deeply held Catholic faith with his medical expertise in ways that make him what might be called a skeptical believer. He was a full professor of internal medicine at Johns Hopkins when he began studying at night and on weekends at St. Mary's Seminary & University to earn a doctorate in moral theology. It took him seven years, and, by then, he'd joined the medical school faculty at Georgetown.

In the 1990s, he served on one of the medical advisory committees that help the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of the Saints examine alleged miraculous cures. For eight years, Harvey studied the medical records that the Vatican saint-makers sent him. He flew to Rome two or three times a year to discuss cases with fellow doctors on the committee. All of the doctors were Catholic, and most were Italian.

"I was always the naysayer," Harvey says, chuckling. "I'd say, 'Listen, this person was on a diet when their arteriosclerosis disappeared, and you are telling me medical science can't explain it! How do you know their diet isn't the explanation?' They found me very troublesome."

He believes miraculous physical cures can happen, but hardly ever do. Every year for two decades, Harvey has escorted groups of desperately ill people to bathe in the famed healing waters of a natural grotto in Lourdes, France. Not once in 20 years has Harvey observed what he considers an authentic physical cure among the patients he has accompanied.

"All of them, of course, are expecting a physical miracle," says Harvey, who warns them not to. "I say, 'This is the last thing to expect, a physical miracle. But everyone is going to experience a miracle, which I call a miracle of the heart. And that is accepting the functional incapacitation, accepting the impairment, accepting the disability.' When you see people in Lourdes all gnarled up or full of cancer, and you see the peacefulness on their faces after they've bathed in the waters, that's a miracle. They have been strengthened psychologically to live with what they have, to accept what they have, to no longer be resentful, no longer asking, Why me? They accept their fate with the grace of God."

HARVEY ASSUMED THERE HAD TO BE A MEDICAL EXPLANATION for the change in Joey Peacock's X-rays. He couldn't find one, he says.

He read the report from Sponseller, suggesting that perhaps Joey merely stood up straighter during the second X-ray than he had for the first. Harvey invited Sponseller to testify before the tribunal, he says. But Sponseller seemed uncomfortable with the process and reluctant to participate, so the tribunal went ahead without him.

Instead Harvey relied on other doctors, who didn't think it was possible for Joey's posture alone to explain the dramatic change in the two sets of X-rays. Joey's pediatrician testified that Joey's spine really had been curved at the time she ordered the first X-ray because she'd observed the deformity during her physical exam.

One of the orthopedic surgeons Harvey consulted told him that in some cases young children have had scoliosis apparently disappear only to return during growth spurts as they approach puberty. But Harvey says he was told that such cases were rare and didn't resemble Joey's. Harvey asked two other doctors to examine Joey. Both pronounced him perfectly healthy and found no hint of scoliosis returning.

Joey, Harvey came to believe, really was miraculously cured. His curved spine had dramatically straightened after he prayed to Toussaint. God had come to the aid of a 5-year-old boy through the intercession of a slave-turned-hairdresser.

"I think it's a sign," Harvey says. "We could all use signs."

SPONSELLER THINKS JOEY'S IMPROVED CONDITION is a different kind of sign: a sign that there's a lot doctors don't know about scoliosis.

Joey had scoliosis and then he didn't, and medical science can't explain why, Sponseller says. Nevertheless, "I don't think it's a clear-cut miracle." The initial 22-degree curve in Joey's upper back was "not really a big curve. It's a little unusual that it went away . . . It's nice that it got better. It could be a miracle. But it's also something you see in regular practice."

In two decades as a doctor, Sponseller says, he has seen five or six patients whose small-to-moderate spinal curves improved without bracing or other medical intervention. He was surprised by the Catholic Church's investigation into Joey's case as a possible miraculous cure. He's seen desperately ill patients, like a girl with a grave spinal injury, make dramatic, rapid and unexplained progress that seemed almost miraculous, he says. But Joey's case just didn't strike him as especially awe-inspiring.

Sponseller was reluctant to participate in the tribunal, he says, because he did not want to testify insincerely or be a naysayer. "I'm a Catholic myself," says the doctor, who spoke to The Post only after Joey's family authorized him to discuss the case. "I'm happy to be in support of somebody's canonization. [But] my genuine belief is this does not definitively support a miracle."

Sponseller thinks Joey's scoliosis could return during growth spurts when he's 13 or 14. In terms of declaring a cure, the orthopedic surgeon says, "it's way too soon to tell."

LAST SUMMER JOEY'S COUSIN MATTHEW ALTOBELLI, the 18-year-old son of Lisa's oldest sister, went for a ride on an all-terrain vehicle on a farm in Damascus where he was working. It was getting dark. Matthew, who had just graduated from Sherwood High School, didn't see a wire cable stretched across a dirt road. He was thrown from the ATV and killed.

In her grief, Matthew's mother had his worn bluejeans cut into pieces and stitched together to make small pillows for the people who loved Matthew most. Joey keeps one of the pillows on his bed, where he sits cradling it one afternoon. A picture of his patron would-be saint Pierre Toussaint hangs on a wall. His dresser top holds several sports trophies he's won in the four years since his curved spine mysteriously straightened.

"He's in Heaven," Joey says of his cousin. He's as certain of that as he is that God exists and Pierre Toussaint once helped him out with his back.

The Peacocks can't explain why the same God they're so certain cured Joey of his scoliosis would allow his teenage cousin to be killed. They don't expect to comprehend Matthew's death, just endure it and help Lisa's sister endure it, too. Their faith is all that makes their sorrow bearable. It's the 9/11 paradox all over again: How could God allow this to happen?

"When something happens, when Matthew was called home so unexpectedly, seeing my sister having to go through that, you hold on to the miracles," Lisa says. "You say there is a bigger plan in all this. Prayers go up and grace comes down. You hold on to that. You trust that God can do something. You trust that God can do anything."

Last month they heard from Rome again. The Congregation for the Causes of the Saints had discovered half a dozen technical problems with the report prepared by the second tribunal convened to examine Joey's alleged miracle cure. For one thing, neither Cardinal McCarrick nor his auxiliary had been physically present in the room when members of the tribunal were sworn in. Rome didn't like that. Revisions would have to be made before the report could be resubmitted and the merits of the cure determined.

The Peacocks aren't discouraged by the bureaucratic snafu. God works in mystery, man shuffles papers. What are you going to do?

One recent weekend, John Peacock hung a rope swing in the back yard. Joey, now 9, spent all Saturday dangling joyfully from the swing. Sunday morning Joey woke with a backache. His knees were bothering him, too. He probably overdid it on the swing, his mother says.

After Mass, the Peacocks sat in the crowded parish basement eating doughnuts amid a happy din. Life, John says, is 10 percent the facts -- the events of your daily existence -- and 90 percent how you choose to look at them. "We feel incredibly blessed," he says.

A few days later Lisa took Joey back to the pediatrician, who gave him a clean bill of health. "He's fine," Lisa says. "He's just growing."

LAST SUMMER PAT BINSFELD DIED OF CANCER at her Scottsdale home. She passed away just weeks after Diane Scalise and the three other Christ Child Society volunteers prayed to Mary Virginia Merrick on Pat's behalf.

Yet Diane does not believe those prayers went unanswered. Merrick did not fail them, she says. She brought Pat solace. It was not the kind of feat the Vatican will consider as it weighs whether to canonize Merrick. But Diane is certain of the power of that moment. Pat's expression changed as Diane draped Merrick's worn chin strap across her and the circle of friends began to pray.

"She was so peaceful," Diane says. "It was very beautiful. That probably wasn't the defining moment when she knew she was going to die and accepted that. I'm not saying that. But I know she felt peace, the love of her friends, and she was deeply moved. I knew she was one with Mary Virginia Merrick. She wasn't afraid. She embraced the unknown."

April Witt is a Magazine staff writer. She will be fielding questions and comments about this article Monday at 1 p.m. on http://www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.
million to help build a community center in Anacostia.

Christ Child members eager to have Merrick canonized have been talking for years about launching a campaign on her behalf. But they made little real progress until they convinced Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, head of the Archdiocese of Washington, to write to the Vatic
 
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#12
Sun, April 11, 2004

Do you believe in miracles?

By NOVA PIERSON, CALGARY SUN



Miracle: an extraordinary event attributed to some supernatural agency; any remarkable occurrence; a remarkable development in some specified area. -- CONCISE OXFORD DICTIONARY.

- - -

In a world where information travels at lightning speed and science has unraveled so many of life's mysteries, it would seem there's little room for miracles.

When an electrical surge on a defibrillator can restart a heart, and when tiny light-emitting diodes can illuminate a Christmas tree or even a village for decades, is there any place left for the power of prayer?

It depends on your perspective.

University of Calgary professor of philosophy John Baker suggests miracles run counter to the laws of nature -- requiring a complete suspension of knowledge to believe them.

He points to the works of 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume, whose words on miracles still stand nearly 300 years later -- all can be explained by science or by hoax.

"Anyone who has taken first-year philosophy knows Hume's argument and will have a hard time believing in miracles," said Baker.

But Calgary Catholic Bishop Fred Henry compares his faith to the pair of glasses that help him see properly and said miracles absolutely happen in the present day.

"People of faith tend to read these (events) with corrected vision," he said, while preparing for this weekend's celebration of the biggest miracle of all for Christians -- the Resurrection of Christ.

He said miracles have happened to members of his congregation, to his friends and even to his family.

"My father was on chemotherapy and they had to stop it, because it was killing him," Henry said.

"Now, the doctors can't find any indication of the cancer. My dad said to me, 'Prayer is pretty powerful.' "

That doesn't mean miracles can be ordered up, he said, but that the meaning should be sought when they happen.

Baker said believing there are no miracles doesn't make life's mysteries any less awe-inspiring.

"It doesn't matter if you've got an amaryllis flower blooming or spring unfolding, it's fascinating and interesting," he said.

In Calgary every year, lives are saved by what some call miracles. Here are just a few of their stories.

- - -

For Angie Fry, only one word describes the recovery of her son, Denim: Miracle.

"He is just ... life," says the mother, as the boy born without an immune system now teeters on the verge of walking.

In November 2002, Denim was born apparently healthy in Calgary, but seven days later he had a seizure.

On Christmas Eve, the diagnosis came by phone -- it was a severe form of the incredibly rare DiGeorge Syndrome.

"The doctor said he had never seen a case in 30 years of practice, and the only two he'd heard of died by age one," said Fry.

Denim's first surgery at the age of eight weeks was a major undertaking -- several repairs to his heart.

By March 2003, he was headed for North Carolina, after the family's MLA helped convince the government to fund a thymus gland transplant -- already denied twice -- for Denim.

Denim's last tests showed he had 536 working T-cells, a far cry from the zero he went into the transplant with.

And by next week, Fry expects to get the results of another blood test, and if the count is high enough Denim could visit a mall or a restaurant for the first time in his 16-month life.

And for Fry, there is a reason for Denim's hardship.

"He's opened the door for other kids in Canada (to have the treatment)," she said.

"He got through it, he didn't die. The biggest miracle is he's made it through for another kid to go, if another family gets dealt this."

Call him Calgary's littlest miracle worker.

- - -

After Dave Irwin crashed into the hard-packed snow on the slopes of the Sunshine Village in March 2001, doctors gave him an 89% chance of not surviving his coma.

They couldn't even say how much of a life he'd have if he happened to beat the odds.

But a year later, the Crazy Canuck -- the nickname given to the hardcore members of the Canadian national ski team during Irwin's 1970s to 1980s reign -- was back on the slopes.

"It's a miracle he survived, but I think a lot of it comes from the kind of person he is," said his girlfriend, Lynne Harrison.

She said, while still in a coma, the former Olympian began to wiggle a finger, then a hand, then scratch his nose.

While doctors believed they were involuntary movements, those who knew him saw Irwin's determination returning, especially when he began doing leg lifts while semi-conscious.

"That's not something you see in most people," Harrison said.

Irwin, now 49, credits his 11 years on the ski team with teaching him "how to recover properly, how to make things perfect even when they're not and how to get there quickly."

While he is physically in good health, the brain injury still impacts the Canmore man's life, hampering his short-term memory and his ability to communicate what he's thinking or transfer images in his mind to paper.

"That's one thing about brain injury -- it takes so long ...

"I have to recover, and that's important to me."

Harrison said the "other miracle" in Irwin's story is the work he's done.

Officially, he's worked through the Dave Irwin Foundation for Brain Injuries and unofficially he's raised awareness of brain injuries, while Harrison and his sister Dorothy have written a now-optioned screenplay to tell his story.

"When Dave was in hospital in a coma, all we wanted to hear was good coma stories, stories about people who had a brain injury and went on with life -- to know just because you've had a brain injury, it's not the end of your life," Harrison said.

- - -

For this big-eyed calico, only one name would do: Lucky.

The eight-month old feline was plucked from a certain death on Deerfoot Tr. April 1 by Cathy Adams-Stoski, who was driving with daughter Stephanie, 14, when the cat crossed her path.

"I thought I saw the cartoon page of a paper fly by," she said, but a look in her rearview mirror left her with the unmistakable image of a cat landing on its feet.

By the time she'd turned around and come back, many minutes later, the cat was in the closest lane to the shoulder.

"Cars were just whizzing over the cat, it was inches from the tires," said Adams-Stoski, who then scooped up the cat -- which was absolutely unharmed.

"It's the luckiest damned cat I've ever seen," said Adams-Stoski, who adopted Lucky last week.

Calgary Humane Society spokeswoman Cheryl Wallach isn't sure how Lucky happened to be airborne on Deerfoot -- whether someone threw her out of their car window or not.

But she said the story is just one of the miracles that keeps staff and volunteers buoyed through the hardship of dealing with animals that don't make it.

"We save thousands and thousands of animals every year, though we can't save them all," Wallach said.

Whether miracle, fate or chance, Adams-Stoski said she was destined to meet Lucky, who has been taken to by the whole family, even her husband, who wasn't a "cat person."

"That cat was meant to be here," she said.

- - -

For years, Pam Shaw struggled to carry the weight of her son's sickness on her own shoulders.

At the age of five, doctors found a tumour on Evan's spine, one that continued to grow the entire length of it.

She tried everything -- controlling his diet, taking him to New York for radical surgery, but all she was left with was a lot of stress and a little boy ravaged by the operation.

"I woke up sick ... I drove by my other son's school for blocks before I realized I missed it," said Shaw.

She learned about a new, experimental treatment in Houston, but her fundraising had gone nowhere.

"He had his MRI and it was a bad one," said Shaw, who was told Evan could die soon.

It was at that time Shaw, who wasn't very religious, said she began to ask for help rather than fight by herself.

Suddenly, a news crew did a story on Evan -- and a couple who saw it donated the ,000 needed to start the treatment.

Unknowingly, Shaw booked into a hotel near the couple's old church in Houston, and its members brought food, drove her and Evan to the hospital and one member even brought her little dog by every night for a visit with the boy.

"I was like 'God, you're blowing me away,' " she said.

After two years of treatment, Evan's tumour was reduced by 91%.

It's now completely gone.

The 12-year old still takes pills to keep the cancer at bay.

The spine surgery left him with scoliosis and trouble walking and the family still needs 0,000 to pay for the treatments.

But his mom isn't worried: "There have been a lot of miracles."

She said Evan was nervous about an upcoming surgery on his spine, and asked if it would kill him.

"I said, 'No, it won't kill you and it won't stop you from skiing. It won't stop you from falling in love with someone, having kids and a good job.' "
http://www.canoe.ca/NewsStand/CalgarySun/News/2004/04/11/416853.html
 
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#13
Posted on: Friday, April 16, 2004

Wait casts worry on Damien sainthood

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Staff Writer

When a tribunal of Hawai'i Roman Catholics wrapped up its investigation into a purported miracle attributed to Father Damien a year ago, there was optimism it would be enough to propel the Moloka'i legend into the legion of saints.

In fact, with strong medical evidence supporting the case, there was even speculation that Damien would earn his halo within a year.

But today, a year has come and gone, and there is still no word from Rome about when or if Damien will become a saint.

Sister Helene Wood, the vice postulator who is heading the cause for Damien locally, said she fears a problem might be holding up the process. She said she and others were hoping the date for Damien's canonization would have been scheduled by now.

"We're all a little disappointed it hasn't come out yet," Wood said yesterday.

The Belgian priest renowned for his service to the Hansen's disease patients of Kalaupapa in the 19th century is one verifiable miracle away from sainthood. The pope bestowed the title "blessed" on Damien in 1995, based on a miracle ascribed to him six years after his death in 1889.

Last year, the Honolulu Diocese assembled a tribunal to examine an O'ahu woman's story that her cancer was cured after she traveled to Moloka'i to pray at Damien's grave.

The patient and her family members were among those who testified before the tribunal. Also testifying was Dr. Walter Y.M. Chang, a Honolulu physician — and non-Catholic — who wrote about the spontaneous regression of the woman's cancer in the October 2000 issue of Hawai'i Medical Journal.

Chang wrote that a malignant tumor had developed in the patient's lung in September 1998 and then disappeared without the aid of therapy. The spontaneous regression of this type of cancer may be the first case report of its kind, the scientific paper said. Other doctors who treated the woman also testified.

When the tribunal adjourned on April 16, 2003, local Catholic leaders expressed optimism that Damien would achieve sainthood relatively quickly. The medical evidence appeared strong, they said, and Pope John Paul II has not been shy about elevating deserving servants of the Lord.

Wood said she's now perplexed as to why Damien's canonization hasn't moved along more swiftly.

She said she's wondering if the Congregation for the Causes of Saints — the Vatican panel that oversees the canonization process and makes recommendations to the pope — might be wavering over some testimony or other evidence found in the tribunal's 190-page report on the miracle.

Wood speculated that the committee of cardinals, priests, nuns, lay people and canon lawyers may have found a contradiction or some other flaw not seen in Honolulu. Wood said reading the evidence might come across differently to those across the ocean than to those who heard it here.

"We'll just have to wait on Rome and see if there's something we have to attend to, or something that needs to be done," she said.

The Rev. Joseph Grimaldi, the diocese vicar general and tribunal chairman, downplayed the delay, saying the canonization process is lengthy. "A year is a long time, but in Rome a year is nothing," he said.

Grimaldi said he understood the initial reviews in Rome were positive, and he remains confident Damien will achieve sainthood.

"There's no urgency. It's just a matter of time," he said. "I look forward to it myself. I don't have any inside scopes as to when it will happen. But there is no indication that it will be tomorrow or in six months."

It turns out the process did not get off to a fast start. While the case for Damien's miracle reached the Congregation for the Causes of Saints within eight days, the formal examination wasn't launched until Sept. 11.

According to the Web site of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary — Damien's order — the process was delayed because of a personnel shortage in the Vatican office. The official in charge of opening the case was hospitalized. Only upon his return from a vacation did the case move forward.

The pope, who has named 477 saints and beatified 1,324 people during his 25 years as pontiff, is scheduled to beatify six more individuals in St. Peter's Square on April 25 and hold canonization ceremonies for six others on May 16.
http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2004/Apr/16/ln/ln04a.html
 
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#14
I was eyeing this book up too:

The Miracle Detective : An Investigation of Holy Visions
by Randall Sullivan (Author)
http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0871139162/
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0871139162/

but it has got this rather disappointing review:

Posted on Sun, Apr. 18, 2004

Book on visions falls far short of miraculous

INVESTIGATION INTO APPARITIONS OF MARY FAILS TO PRESENT VIEWS OF SKEPTICS OUTSIDE CHURCH

By Judith Neuman Beck

Special to the Mercury News



``The Miracle Detective'' is a most perplexing book.

Its author, Randall Sullivan, seems an unlikely person to take on the question of whether several highly publicized late-20th-century visions of the Virgin Mary (in Bosnia, Arizona and Oregon) were real, because his background lies not in theology or religion but deep in pop culture. He's a contributing editor of Rolling Stone and Men's Journal magazines. One of his two previous books explored Los Angeles' infamous Billionaire Boys Club, the 1980s scam-investment and killing confederacy; the other investigated the murders of gangsta rappers Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G.

So why is he writing about Medjugorje, and Scottsdale, and a young Mexican-American woman who saw the Virgin in her trailer?

My guess is that Sullivan's not sure himself, which is one of the reasons his book is such a mishmash. It follows, chronologically, the circuitous route he trod after he read in Portland's Oregonian newspaper about 23-year-old Irma Munoz, who saw Mary in a landscape painting that adorned the battered trailer her family inhabited in the small Columbia River town of Boardman. But it winds up mostly nowhere.

This is not to say that there will not be readers who will be convinced that Mary has appeared to the people Sullivan interviewed. There are bound to be many who will so choose, because he cites many, many examples in which those who say they have seen her seem quite believable. And the Roman Catholic Church, after all, does have a history of making saints out of visionaries, the most recently famous being Bernadette of Lourdes. Sullivan points out, though, that the ``Holy See never has recognized any apparition of the Virgin, not even at Lourdes or Fatima,'' quoting the Rev. Peter Gumpel, one of two chief ``postulators'' for the Sacred Congregation of the Causes for Saints, charged with ``testing the miraculous and judging the holy.''

Sullivan started his research about 10 years ago. He traveled to far parts of the world and interviewed scores of Catholic priests, plus, most important perhaps, the visionaries themselves. At first, his research seems deep.

But it isn't, because it includes no non-Catholic skeptics. He only tells of the pro and con arguments within the Catholic Church, which makes his viewpoint parochial, to say the least.

Apparently he'd had the idea, first off, of writing a book about those people within Roman Catholicism whose job it is to determine whether visions are real, such as Gumpel -- thus the book's title. But circumstances, and the slow way the church and the Vatican operate, precluded that. It's quite clear that while Pope John Paul II is fascinated by the six young people in Medjugorje, Bosnia, who had visions of Mary for several years, and who turned their small village into one of the world's biggest pilgrimage sites, the church is unlikely to make a determination as to the validity of their experiences during their lifetimes.

So the book evolved into Sullivan's own memoirs of his trips to Medjugorje and other vision sites, his meetings with the people involved, and those who believed and disbelieved them. This is interesting, in the way memoirs often are, but answers no questions, especially because Sullivan waffles between being moved by what he's seen and heard and deciding it's got really nothing much to do with his own life.

He set the book aside for several years and then decided to finish it. One finds oneself pondering the world of publishing contracts and the fact that someone, somewhere, wanted him to finish the book he had agreed to write, no matter what.

It's too bad. But Sullivan is clearly in over his head. Greater minds than those at Rolling Stone and Men's Journal have pondered whether the Virgin Mary is making personal appearances, and his book eventually leaves one frustrated and even grumpy. How much better it might have been for both the reader and the author if he had expanded his own vision to the world outside the Catholic Church.

Yes, there are the token interviews and conversations with Jungian psychologists and the Jewish writer of ``A Course in Miracles.'' But they are simply pro forma nods to places where deep exploration is needed. His bibliography of 22 books is heavily weighted toward books by and for Catholics. That simply doesn't work in light of what this book purports to be: an investigation of holy visions.

Most likely, the book will sell well, and millions of readers will find it inspirational. Without a doubt, the heartfelt belief of the visionaries themselves comes through loud and clear. ``God gave me this gift,'' says Irma Munoz, who saw the Virgin in the trailer. That thought is echoed by all the others who have had visions.

Readers will have to decide for themselves whether Sullivan does that gift justice.

THE MIRACLE DETECTIVE: An Investigation of Holy Visions

By Randall Sullivan

Atlantic Monthly Press, 442 pp.,
http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/entertainment/books/8461680.htm

Anyone else read it?

[edit: Here is another review:

The Miracle Detective
Randall Sullivan
Atlantic Monthly Press / Atlantic/Grove Publishing
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 0-871-13916-2
Publication Date: 04-09-2004
450 Pages; .00
Date Reviewed: 05-12-04
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2004



REFERENCES

COLUMNS

Non-Fiction, Horror, General Fiction

It's been the hope of many a rational investigator that irrational phenomena will reveal the clockwork within when looked at with a dispassionate eye. The most inscrutable mysteries are supposed to melt under the calm gaze of systematic investigation. Start simple, get the facts, write everything down, and even the most complex conundrums will unfold into a series of simple cause-and-effect steps.

But it was a physicist, that most rational, that most disciplined of scientists who put the lie to this assumption. Werner Heisenberg suggested that the observer affects the observation. He was talking about particle physics, and called his idea The Uncertainty Principle. But it's one of those simple scientific laws that have a much broader application.

As he began to write 'The Miracle Detective', Randall Sullivan planned a simple, straightforward investigation into how the Catholic Church investigates miracles. He'd interviewed a woman who had experienced a miracle. The Blessed Virgin Mary had appeared in a cheap painting in the trailer where she lived with her parents. She had video, and the testimony of hundreds of witnesses.

Sullivan was intrigued, and even more intrigued by the bureaucracy the Catholic Church employed to investigate such events. He proposed the title of book to his publisher, who jumped at the chance. A visit to Rome would follow, and then to Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina. A series of simple steps would reveal the clockwork behind the Catholic Church's investigation and inevitably result in a better understanding of the Church, the beliefs it espoused and those who believed them.

More than ten years later, Sullivan's book is completed; his investigation is ongoing. 'The Miracle Detective' tells a number of stories. It's tricky and complex, just like the phenomena it describes. As Sullivan starts his journey, he's a confident reporter for one of the most respected publications in the world, sure of himself and rational. But as he's immersed in the immensely complex situations that serve up these apparitions, he finds that what he is observing is affecting how he is observing. The feedback loop between the investigator and the investigated becomes a fascinating phenomenon in itself.

'The Miracle Detective' is a book packed with dense, intense action from beginning to end. Sullivan pops off information that boggles the mind so regularly it almost becomes overwhelming. When he's in the Vatican, for example, he learns that the arm of the Church tasked with investigating modern day miracles is an outgrowth of those who conducted the Spanish Inquisition. Nobody expects that; and that's only the beginning. Once Sullivan gets to Bosnia-Herzegovina, he finds himself in a maelstrom of horror and wonder, terror and joy.

The circumstances that yield up an instance of Blessed Virgin Mary apparitions worthy of close attention are fairly well understood. The apparitions at Medjugorje offer a textbook example and prove to be the most thoroughly investigated supernatural events in history. Sullivan arrives nearly 15 years after their inception, and they are still going strong. His immersion in the world of Medjugorje is utterly compelling reading. He meets the seers -- there are six of them -- and finds them full of conviction and utterly convincing. From his descriptions, it seems that most readers would as well. He puts you on the ground in a city surrounded by death, in countryside so devastated that it looks as if a nuclear bomb has been detonated.

But even as he observes the scene at ground zero, so to speak, he begins to affect his own observations. Like John Keel in Point Pleasant, Virginia, investigating the Mothman Prophecies, he finds himself immersed in supernatural experiences of the sort he once thought to be investigating from an objective point of view. Surrounded by events that do not yield to easy explanation, Sullivan's simplistic point of view begins to shift. He's no longer hoping to simply interview the miracle detective; he has become the miracle detective.

As the book shifts from an investigative report to a spiritual journey, Sullivan becomes despondent. He returns to the United States, depressed and confused. There, he decides to look into a series of Blessed Virgin Mary apparitions in Scottsdale, Arizona. The voyage from the sacred to the seedy is disturbing reading. The events in Scottsdale have none of the ring of truth that those in Medjugorje have. The seers are busy writing books and producing videos. None of the rigorous scientific investigations are made, and the few desultory attempts yield nothing to redeem the visionaries.

By this time Sullivan actively wants to believe. His own experiences in Medjugorje have left him thirsty for more. But the Scottsdale apparitions read like the K-Mart version of those in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This is easy for the reader to see, and Sullivan does a great job of laying himself bare so that the reader is free to judge the veracity of all that he reports. Sullivan cleverly finishes the book in a series of conversations with Father Benedict Groeschel, who provides a balancing influence for both the reader and the writer.

Like 'The Mothman Prophecies', 'The Miracle Detective' depicts an investigator of the supernatural (events influenced by beings or realities beyond human ken) and the paranormal (abilities of the human mind not yet discovered or documented by science) who becomes a part of his own investigation. It's packed with details and a fascinating, apocalyptic portrait of a so-called tiny war that literally tore a country apart. It offers insight into the depths of religious fervor and the heights of the human imagination. It's not devotional, worshipful or evangelical. Glory gives way to the tawdry; revelation morphs into self-deception, and there's no easy line that's crossed, no simple rules to tell where one ends and the other begins. 'The Miracle Detective' might result in more questions than it answers. But it amply, entertainingly demonstrates that asking questions alters the mind every bit as much as finding the answers.
http://trashotron.com/agony/reviews/2004/sullivan-miracle_detective.htm

whihc is an intrguing review.]

Emps
 
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#15
More saint and miracle developments:

Nun who worked among lepers in Hawaii put on road to sainthood



April 19, 2004, 7:49 AM EDT


VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican approved the "heroic virtue" Monday of Mother Marianne Cope, putting on the road to sainthood the German-born nun who worked for more than 30 years with leprosy patients in Hawaii.

The campaign was formally launched in 1983 by the St. Francis sisters in Syracuse, N.Y. It was one of a series of decrees on sainthood causes approved Monday by Pope John Paul II.

Born Barbara Koob in Heppenheim, Germany, in 1838, she took the name Marianne in 1862 when she joined the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis.

She and six other sisters volunteered to go to Honolulu in 1883 when the then Kingdom of Hawaii sought help caring for leprosy patients. Five years later, she moved to Molokai peninsula, where she remained until her death in 1918.

Mother Marianne worked for a time with the Belgian-born missionary, Father Damien de Veuster, who has already been beatified.

The next step in the sainthood process for Mother Marianne is beatification, for which a miracle is required. Three years ago, the Diocese of Syracuse completed its inquiry into an alleged miracle attributed to Mother Marianne _ a girl's unexplained recovery from multiple organ failure.
http://www.newsday.com/news/local/w...pr19,0,3811664.story?coll=ny-ap-regional-wire
 

Mighty_Emperor

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#16
Doctors expected irreparable brain damage

Emily Killian
Star Staff Writer

KINGS MOUNTAIN — There was a time when Lane Wood’s family didn’t know if he would live to see his 19th birthday.

Because of a wreck on March 31, 2003, Wood’s prognosis didn’t look good.

His brain may have been damaged, doctors told his family. Wood’s pelvis had fractures in four places and his lungs had been injured.

“My brain had been knocked to the side,” Wood said, adding that he would have, according to doctors, irreparable brain damage. “If I lived,” he added.

“The first thing I remember was waking up in the hospital with a doctor saying there was bleeding in my brain,” he said.

He was taken to the hospital in Charlotte and said he could hear the voices of his family telling him to breathe, Wood said, because they were taking him off a ventilator.

“When I came to, it was when God had performed all the miracles,” Wood said.

After two days, his brain had returned to normal.

“It was obviously a supernatural force at work there,” he said.

But a little over a year since the wreck, Wood is back to normal — thanks in part to his and his family’s faith in God, he said.

Wood said he was on prayer chains all over the place and those prayers helped him heal in a little over a month.

“I have no doubt it was the prayers,” he said. “It’s still sort of crazy, looking back at how fast I healed.”

In the past year, Wood, a sophomore at Appalachian State University, has integrated his story of healing as a part of his performance with his band, One Way. The band leads worship for Campus Crusade for Christ at Appalachian.

He’s also been able to share his story with the 700 Club, a television show that is a part of the Christian Broadcasting Network and that reaches about a million viewers every day.

“A long time ago, I had gotten in touch with them basically about One Way,” Wood said.

But his e-mail went unanswered.

But a few months ago, he wrote another letter about the wreck — and he promptly got an answer from the show — they called within a week and decided to do a double feature on the wreck, his healing and One Way.

“It was cool,” he said. “They’re always very cautious about the people they talk to.”

After about an hour on the phone, CBN decided to go ahead with a story and people from the show set up shop in a hotel suite. The show’s producers also interviewed Wood’s doctors, family members and other band members.

“They cleared out a bunch of space and had cameras and all kinds of equipment and a lot of high-dollar stuff,” he said.

Despite the hard times, Wood said he doesn’t regret what happened because it’s a chance for him to share the miracles with others.

“I’m surprised based on human standpoints,” he said, “but I’m not surprised at the work and the miracles God can do.”

To visit Wood’s band’s Web site, go to www. thebandoneway.com.
http://www.shelbystar.com/portal/ASP/article.asp?ID=9473
 
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#17
Sunday, May. 16, 2004

Pope names six new saints


Vatican City — Pope John Paul II named six new saints Sunday, including a woman who became a symbol for abortion opponents because she refused to end her pregnancy despite warnings that it could kill her.

The Vatican has long championed the case of Gianna Beretta Molla, an Italian pediatrician who died in 1962 at the age of 39 — a week after giving birth to her fourth child. Doctors had told her it was dangerous to proceed with the pregnancy because she had a tumour in her uterus, but she insisted on carrying the baby to term.

In proclaiming her a saint, John Paul praised her “extreme sacrifice” and her simple but profound message.

“May our era rediscover, by the example of Gianna Beretta Molla, the pure, chaste and fertile beauty of conjugal love, lived as a response to the divine calling,” he said.

John Paul also praised the examples of the five other people canonized Sunday, including two Italian priests and a Spanish monk who founded religious orders, a Lebanese Maronite priest and a wealthy Italian widow who opened her homes to abandoned children.

John Paul, who turns 84 on Tuesday, read his entire homily and appeared in good form as he declared the saints to a crowd of thousands of flag-waving pilgrims gathered under a brilliant sun in St. Peter's Square.

Among the well-wishers on hand for the ceremony was Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, himself a Maronite Catholic who was in Rome to honor Naamatallah Kassab Hardini, a Maronite who lived from 1808 to 1858 and is credited with healing the blind and lame.

Hardini is the third Maronite to attain sainthood, and his elevation was certain to boost the morale of the estimated 900,000 Maronites in Lebanon, the largest of the country's Christian sects.

Also canonized Sunday were Luigi Orione, a popular Italian priest and founder of the Little Work of Divine Providence and of the Congregation of the Little Sisters, Missionaries of Charity; Hannibal Maria di Francia, founder of the Congregation of the Rogationist Fathers of the Heart of Jesus and of the Religious Daughters of Divine Zeal; Josep Manyanet y Vives, the Spanish-born founder of the Congregation of the Sons of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the Missionary Daughters of the Holy Family of Nazareth; and Paola Elisabetta Cerioli, a wealthy Italian widow who, after all four of her children and her husband died, founded the Institute of Religious of the Holy Family.

The pope has made giving Catholics new role models one of the hallmarks of his papacy. With Sunday's ceremony, he has proclaimed 482 saints in his 25-year pontificate, more than all his predecessors in the past 500 years combined.

In approving the six new saints, John Paul confirmed miracles were attributed to their intercession.

In the case of Beretta Molla, the Vatican says the first miracle needed for her to be beatified concerned a sickly Brazilian woman who recovered in 1977 after her fourth pregnancy. The Vatican says a second miracle occurred in 2000 when a healthy child was born to a young Brazilian woman who had lost her amniotic fluid.

Beretta Molla has been applauded as a courageous symbol for many in the church who back the Vatican's ban on abortion.
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20040516.wsaint0516/BNStory/Front/
 
A

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#18
Emperor said:
This thread turned up in a search for soemthing else but I have been looking into this kind of thing and I ran across this book if you are interested (if you do get it let me know if it is any good):

Making Saints : How The Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes A Saint, Who Doesn't, And Why
by Kenneth L. Woodward
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0684815303/
http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0684815303/

Emps
OK, so I'm a bit of a slow reader, but I finally finished it last week. Maybe you've bought it anyway by now, but a few comments, mostly about things in it that surprised me.

I found the book a bit dry (one of the main reasons it took so long) but its full of interesting information. The author is a Catholic himself, but he's a journalist rather than a priest and the book takes a pretty balanced view of things and is openly critical of the church in places, so no real authorial bias going on.

The first big surprise was that the whole saint-making process was reformed earlier this century. The requirement for miracles used to be much stricter (2 for beatification, 4 for canonisation IIRC) and is reduced in the case of martyrs of the faith (ie someone who is killed specifically for their Catholic faith rather than for a general moral standpoint that happens to be in line with Catholic teaching). The process now is also historical rather than legal. Rather than the old-style trial with a speaker *for* the potential saint and a Devil's Advocate speaking against him/her, the focus is now on preparing a detailed biography that deals with whether the candidate showed the necessary 'heroic virtue' for sainthood, and is supposed to address any flaws that would invalidate the candidates claim to be a saint. The issue with this, of course, is that the biography tends to be produced by people who already believe that the candidate is a saint and that there is no longer anyone with the job of proving the opposite. Those responsible for preparing the cause swear an oath to present both positives and negatives in the biographies, but its not entirely clear that they look hard for negatives. There are still several layers of review that the biographies have to get through, though.

The whole miracle thing is actually almost irrelevant to sainthood in the eyes of the clergy. Miracles attributed to a saint's intercession are merely proof that the saint is with god. Miracles carried out during the saint's lifetime could be the work of a trickster or even the devil and, so far as I could understand, are not considered relevant in assessing the candidate's sanctity. The church seems quite suspicious of such miracles. The requirement for documented/proven miracles can be waived by the pope, although this is rare. In fact it may only have happened once, although I'm not sure about that.

So the important thing in determining sainthood is heroic virtue, rather than miracles. A saint is to be presented to the faithful as an example of how to live, and that is all the term really means. 'Virtue' here is defined mainly as faith, hope and charity, IIRC. The list of canonised saints is not intended to be exhaustive, it is merely a list of people that the pope has confirmed are definitely with god. The total number of saints is considered to be much greater. Canonisation (but not beatification) is covered by Papal infallibility (itself a very recent doctrine, I was surprised to learn) and is therefore a very big deal.

I think those are the key things I learned from the book that I didn't know before anyway. It covers quite a lot of ground, including the early history of sainthood (for the first several centuries AD, saints were proclaimed purely by popular acclamation of the laity and the clergy had little or nothing to do with the process), why there are so few married or lay saints, what the real requirement for sainthood is (how do political martyrs fit in, for instance), why there are so few Popes who have become saints (well, a *lot* of Popes were made saints in the early days but in the last 900 years something like 3 of them have been cannonized).

Hmm, I wrote a bunch more but it seems to have been chopped off. I'll post the other half later coz I have to go in a minute ;)
 
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#19
OK cool - thanks for the update/review. I look forward to the other bit :)

----------------------------
This accords with soemthing I was pondering the other day (and which is a background theme to a lot of Forteana) - rare/extraordinary events seem to happen more often than people think:

Published Sunday, June 13, 2004

Unexplained Recoveries Are Common

By Gary White
The Ledger
[email protected]com

When it comes to extraordinary medical outcomes, patients and doctors often hold starkly different perspectives.

Where patients and their families sometimes infer divine intervention or miracles, medical professionals tend to interpret results in flatly rational terms.

Lew "Zev" Wajsman, a professor of urology in the department of surgery at the University of Florida College of Medicine, says that in 25 years of practice he has never experienced a case he would call a miracle.

"If the definition of a miracle is cancer disappearing by itself without any intervention, I didn't see a case like that," Wajsman said. "If somebody has cancer and survives, that's a miracle (to the patient) obviously, but the reason for the survival is either the patient was helped by treatment or has a type of cancer that will not kill him."

Wajsman recalls a case from his training 30 years ago when doctors were treating a young man for testicular cancer. The case seemed hopeless, and Wajsman considered it cruel that the dying patient was subjected to the continuing discomfort of a chemotherapy regimen.

To Wajsman's surprise, the patient eventually responded to the chemotherapy and survived. But he says the seemingly miraculous turn of events only proved the efficacy of a previously untested medicine derived from platinum. Wajsman notes that the metal is now commonly used in medicine and that at this point testicular cancer has a 90 percent survival rate.

Richard P. Sloan, a professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University, is one of the nation's best-known proponents of the rationalist approach to medicine.

"There are certainly unexplained recoveries as well as unexplained cases of illness in medicine," Sloan said. "It's by no means a perfect science, but just because they're unexplained doesn't mean they're miracles. . . . The history of medicine is full of accounts of cases we didn't understand and then 20 years later we do understand them."

Sloan says surprising outcomes -- both good and bad -- are part of the natural variation that governs all forms of life.

"When you recount a story like that, you also have to point out . . . there may be thousands of other cases in which precisely the same conditions applied to patients and who do precisely the same thing as your miracle case and they die," Sloan said. "And so if you look only at a single case, it's completely unrepresentative of what's actually happening."

Not everyone in the medical profession automatically dismisses the notion that some outcomes defy scientific explanation. Daniel Haight, a board-certified physician in internal medicine and infectious diseases and the director of the Polk County Health Department, acknowledges the element of mystery in the world of medicine.

"I think every physician has seen a case where . . . a good outcome was predicted to be very low and their patient turned out to be one of the few that were successful," Haight said. "Sometimes there are things we can't explain, and that's called different things by different people -- luck, miracle, chance -- but if it's a good outcome I think everyone will just accept it and be very happy."

Dr. John McGetrick, an ophthalmologist and plastic surgeon at Winter Haven's Gessler Clinic, says Roland Cook's survival of a horrific brain puncture challenged his idea of what is possible. McGetrick was one of three surgeons to treat Cook in 1987 after a car's fan blade blasted through his head.

"The real job of a physician and surgeon is to put things back together in such a way that the patient has the best chance to get a good outcome, and that's what happened (with Cook)," McGetrick said. "He had a devastating injury, and fortunately everything was put together real well and the patient healed. That's what we do. . . . We do our part and hope for miracles, but we don't expect them."
http://www.theledger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20040613/NEWS/406130389/1007
 
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#20
Hampton woman has a new saint in the family

Sunday, June 13, 2004
By Ann Rodgers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Geraldine Kassab Smith grew up under the gaze of a picture of her great-great-uncle, who, she was told, had been a healer revered as a saint in Lebanon.

Last month, the Hampton resident was in Rome to witness the canonization of St. Nimatullah Kassab Al-Hardini, whom her parents had called "St. Norman." There, on the papal altar of St. Peter's Basilica, was the same picture that had graced her childhood home decades ago in Phillipsburg, Centre County.

"I never expected that he would be canonized, if at all, in my lifetime," she said. But St. Nimatullah benefited from a streamlined process instituted by Pope John Paul II. A bookbinder and monk who died in 1858, he was canonized six years after the beatification that prompted Smith to seek out her Lebanese roots.

John Paul called her great-great-uncle a model for Lebanese Christians and Christians worldwide. "He gave himself completely to the Lord in a life full of great sacrifices, showing that God's love is the only true source of joy and happiness."

Of the three Lebanese saints, Nimatullah is the most popular because he was a man of the people, Smith said. Young musicians still write songs about him, which are played on the radio. His name became an Arabic verb, equating to "hardanize," which means to imitate him in holiness.

The Kassabs are Maronites, one of many branches of Eastern Catholicism that follow the practices of Orthodoxy but are loyal to the pope. Smith's father came to the United States from Hardine, Lebanon, as a child, and Smith was raised Roman Catholic. She knew little about her revered great-great-uncle other than that he was said to heal people and that his body didn't decay after death.

But she decided to attend his beatification in Rome in 1998, along with other Kassabs from Pennsylvania. There, they encountered Kassabs who still lived in the mountain village where the saint grew up and who were thrilled to discover their long-lost American cousins. The next year, Smith and two of her daughters traveled to Lebanon because, "I simply wanted to know where my father came from," she said.

She intended to stay in Beirut, where tourism was reviving after the long civil war. Shortly after her arrival, she got stuck in a hotel elevator. In a panic, she would later write, she promised God that if he delivered her alive, "I will search the highest mountain to find our family saint, enshrined somewhere north in the village of Hardine."

Not long after she was freed from the elevator, relatives from Hardine began calling to insist she stay with them. Then a priest from the village sent a driver and virtually kidnapped the three American women to bring them to their relative's shrine. Smith would later recount the adventure in a self-published memoir, "Rome to Beirut."

Hardine is a mountain region, with ski resorts scattered among its many churches and monasteries. Maronite Christians fled there from Syria in the seventh century to avoid forced conversion to Islam.

Smith and her daughters were treated like royalty. A pilgrimage in honor of Nimatullah's beatification drew 20,000 people on a trek through the mountains, and a blind woman was said to have been healed along the way. When Smith saw people kneeling before his statue, "It occurred to me that these strangers were praying to my own flesh and blood," she wrote in her book. "Could I do less?"

Born in 1808, Yussef Kassab had four brothers and two sisters, with three of the brothers also becoming priests or monks. In childhood, he was said to have spent hours on end praying in a cave, but he did not enter a monastery until he was 20. He took the monastic name Nimatullah Kassab Hardini and was trained first as a bookbinder.

He apparently continued to bind books for most of his life, but was ordained a priest in 1833. Stories about his holiness and healing powers captured the public's imagination, but he also was an important intellectual and political figure.

At a time when Lebanese Christians were pressured to speak Arabic or French, he taught his students in Syriac, also known as Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke and the language of the Maronite Liturgy.

During Nimatullah's lifetime, Lebanese Christians suffered persecution under the Ottoman Empire. As monasteries were burned and churches desecrated, he refused to flee. Instead, according to a biography on the Vatican Web site, he offered himself to God for Lebanon and his Maronite order of monks.

"He was instrumental in keeping Catholicism in the East during the Ottoman Empire, and Rome appeared to be grateful," Smith said.

Although he repeatedly refused to be made superior general of his order, he gave in to Vatican pressure to become assistant superior general. "Even when he was assistant general, he remained humble, refusing to have a special servant accompany him and attend to his personal needs, as was the custom in the order at that time," the Vatican biography said.

But he loved to teach and organized open-air schools for children of the poor. He was widely referred to as a saint during his lifetime. His prayers were said to have stopped a collapsing wall from crushing schoolchildren, to have cured blindness, deafness and paralysis, and even to have raised a Muslim child from the dead.

St. Nimatullah died of pleurisy at 50, holding an icon of the Virgin Mary and praying despite his fever. Witnesses said a mysterious, bright light filled the room at his death.

When a steady stream of pilgrims forced the monks to move his grave to a more convenient place, they discovered that his body had not decayed. This is often considered a sign of sainthood, and a formal investigation began in 1925.

People continued to claim miracles associated with prayers to him. The best known, the cure of a young man with blood cancer in 1987, led to his beatification in 1999.

Smith returned to Rome for last month's canonization, attending a concert in St. Nimatullah's honor at the Vatican. There was a private Mass the day after the canonization and an audience with the pope.

Today, Smith is planning to update her book. She intended it only as a keepsake for relatives but is now getting requests from all over the world. Her son recently visited Lebanon and discovered that the U.S. Embassy in Beirut had planted a garden in honor of St. Nimatullah.

Smith was never a skeptic, but discovering the saint in her family tree has changed her. "It deepened not just my faith," she said, "but my sense of self."
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/04165/330622.stm
 
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#21
Mother Theresa miracle

'Miracle' claim by Hudson nun

Asked Mother Teresa to save her from cancer

Wednesday, July 28, 2004
By Jeff Diamant
Newhouse News Service

When Sister Paula Rodrigo of Jersey City was recovering from cancer surgery last summer, other nuns in the area encouraged her to pray for the intercession of Mother Teresa, the late founder of the Missionaries of Charity.

Rodrigo placed on her scar a piece of gauze stained with Mother Teresa's blood. But hours after using the gauze, she became very ill.

"When I went to the hospital that night, I said, 'Why did I do that?' I thought I wasn't going to make it back home," the 41-year-old member of the Sisters of Divine Providence recalled.

Rodrigo was given a CT scan that night, but to the amazement of her doctors, there was no sign of cancer. She has remained cancer-free ever since, and her doc- tors are now optimistic about the nun's future.

That's a far cry from the prognosis she was given after her surgery in June 2003, when doctors told Rodrigo there wasn't much hope.

Now, Rodrigo and the other sisters want the Vatican to consider her recovery a miracle and included as a formal part of Mother Teresa's canonization process, which among other things requires that two miracles be attributed to her after her death.

The church already has linked an Indian woman's cure from a tumor to intercession of Mother Teresa, who died in 1997.

Could Rodrigo's condition be validated as the second miracle attributed to Mother Teresa, who founded the Missionaries of Charity in India in 1950 to help the "poorest of the poor" and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979?

The quest sheds light on one of the most debated parts of the canonization process - the investigation into alleged miracles caused by praying to a holy, deceased Christian who is a candidate for sainthood.

Church investigation of miracles is based on the belief that holy people, when deceased, can intercede with God to help the living, and even help cure disease.

But it is a complicated process involving multiple layers of investigation that strive to protect against fraudulent claims of miracles and premature medical diagnoses. So medical records are reviewed, and doctors are asked if a cure was scientifically explicable.

"The church is extremely careful," said Monsignor Robert Wister, a church historian at Seton Hall University. "If you claim you've been cured of a tumor, the first thing that has to be established is that you had a tumor."

Vincent Piccone, the doctor who initially treated Rodrigo in Staten Island, said that when she came to see him in June 2003, she had an advanced-stage cancerous tumor that prevented her from swallowing food.

Though doctors surgically removed most of the tumor, Rodrigo was not expected to survive, Piccone said.

"I wouldn't have expected her survival this long. And she's not only surviving, but she apparently is making some good progress in her recovery . It wouldn't have surprised me if she were dead by now."

Shortly after her surgery, Rodrigo returned to her job in Newark, where for eight years she had helped residents at a low-income apartment complex. About a month ago, she began a job helping teach mathematics and reading to 5-year-olds at the Child Learning Center in Newark.

Rodrigo, a native of Sri Lanka who came to New Jersey when she was 33, met Mother Teresa once, 20 years ago.

She said her prayers to Mother Teresa began last August, shortly after a sister from the Missionaries of Charity in Newark gave her the gauze and told her to pray to Mother Teresa for intercession.

After rubbing the gauze on her wound, Rodrigo, Sister Anastasia Hearne of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Roselle and several other nuns said a novena to Mother Teresa.

"She had great faith that was going to be Mother Teresa's miracle," Hearne said. "No one would think she'd still be alive today, let alone back to work."

Yet more proof is needed for the Vatican to use her recovery for Mother Teresa's canonization.

The Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, who manages Mother Teresa's "cause" for sainthood, said in an interview that he will not even consider using a cancer cure as a miracle unless it is at least 5 years old.

"It could be used, but the disadvantage is, you'd have to wait between five and 10 years . to see if the cancer has a comeback," said Kolodiejchuk, who works from Tijuana for the Missionaries of Charity and said he has received 700 miracle claims from around the world.

Kolodiejchuk said he is investigating some of the most promising miracle claims, though he said he was unfamiliar with Rodrigo's.

Another issue, in Rodrigo's case and others, is: Did the person who claims a miracle occurred pray to multiple sources? If so, it could hurt the case, because an existing saint rather than the person up for sainthood could be viewed as responsible for the miracle.

Rodrigo said she has prayed, for decades, to St. Mary, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Maria Goretti, but that her condition did not improve until she prayed to Mother Teresa and used the gauze with her blood.

People have told her not to expect her case to be selected, for all these reasons. But Rodrigo says this does not upset her, because she and others already have drawn inspiration from her healing.

"It's a miracle to us because we saw it with our own eyes," she said. "Those around me saw it, and their faith became very strong. It's for me very important. God in a very mysterious way has chosen me."

"You see, I'm a person who tried to follow Jesus my whole life. I want to give all my life. Amazing how Jesus . pulled me back to life and gave me message. I realize now, he was asking me to pray for healing. God is asking me to pray, pray, pray for other people. I feel that the more I give for others, I feel more strong."
http://www.nj.com/news/jjournal/index.ssf?/base/news-2/109100940820361.xml
 
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#22
On the Stigmata thread I said this:

Emperor said:
Its a complex dance - the Vatican like to hold the miracles at arms reach so they aren't tainted if it is shown to be a fake and they have quite elaborate procedures fo investigating these things (see the Miracles and Sainthood thread).

However, it really does suit them to have such miracles in their arsenal and they have been deployed tactically in certain situations (esp., in recent years in former Communist countries in Europe) to help advance the churches cause as such wonders punch right through to the same kind of appeal other Fortean phenomena have and they can provide the kernel of various cults).

Essentially they reap the rewards without coming across as too credulous and/or flawed in their judgement.
http://www.forteantimes.com/forum/showthread.php?s=&postid=420374#post420374

and it is probably best dealt with on this thread rather than sidetracking an interesting thread. So this is the passage I was thinking of from page 251 - 254 of:

The Mummy Congress: Science, Obsession, and the Everlasting Dead
Heather Pringle (2001)
PB:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0786884630/
http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0786884630/
HB:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0786865512/
http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/1841151114/

It was while moving in the circles of Italian Egyptologists that he [Ezio Fulcheri] received a peculiar, irresistible phone call in 1966 from Monsignor Gianfranco Nolli.

A prominent Egyptologist, Nolli was the inspector emeritus of the Vatican's Egyptian Museum, which houses many of the antiquities that ancient Roman travelers had plundered from Egypt. But Nolli also served the Vatican in a lesser-known capacity — as a consultant to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. This august body, composed of nearly two dozen cardinals, archbishops, and bishops and assissted by a small core of ecclesiastical investigators and scientific consultants, works out of a brick and stone building near St. Peter's Square. Its chief duty is to examine the lives, writings, and purported miracles of people of extraorordinary holiness, referring those it deemed most worthy of redognition as saints, blesseds, and martyrs to the pope forhis final decision.

Nolli had been given an unusual project by the Congregation. He was looking for a pathologist to assist him in

-----------
some of its more difficult aspects. Fulcheri, a devout Catholic, agreed to meet him in Rome. Nolli lived in a three- story house whose aging rooms were filled to the ceiling with books. With alert, darting eyes that seemed to take in everything, the elderly priest explained to Fulcheri that he had long made a study of the ancient connections between the Holy Land and Egypt and Egyptian mummies, and it was on account of this latter speciality that the Congregation had approached him with an unusual request. They wamted him to preserve the body of the dissident Ukrainian cardinal Josef Slipyj, who had recently died. And they wanted him to do so with an Egyptian-style embalming.

Slipyj, it transpired, was a strong candidate for canonization. A vocal opponent to Communism in Ukraine, the cardinal had been arrested and sentenced to hard labor in the Siberian Gulag at the end of the Second World War. After eighteen years of privation, Slipyj had been exiled to Rome, where he died in 1984. Fulcheri had never heard this story before, but he understood at once why the Vatican wanted the prelate preserved. "Sometimes there is a man or woman that the people love, and for this reason they want to preserve the body for a cult and in many cases for political reasons," he explained to me. "Some people spend a lot of time in church and there was an idea to have the body there to remind them." The Vatican worried that as Communism faded in Ukraine and a new era of religious tolerance dawned, other religions might gain a strong new foothold in the country. The Roman Catholic Church did not want Ukrainians to forget its long history in Eastern Europe, nor its bitter opposition to the old Communist regimes. If Slipyj

-----------
were canonized, his splendidly preserved body could help jg the Ukranian memories.

........
-----------
........ Nolli and Fulcheri declared the mummification a success, and they immediately informed the Congregation of ther results. Shortly after, the Vatican flew Slipyj's mummified corpse t the capital of western Ukraine, Lviv, where it was buried in thencrypt of a cathedral, pending canonization.
A longer exstract of the chapter (on Incorruptibles) can be foudn here (I foolishly OCRed first without checking so any errors in the above are mine):

http://www.nhne.com/misc/incorruptibles.html

Camporesi in his book:

The Incorruptible Flesh: Bodily Mutation and Mortification in Religion and Folklore.
Piero Camporesi, Translated by Tania Croft-Murray (1988)
Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

has argued that the Incorrupt are a vital resource for the Church. They are a source of various flows and other miracles and as well as alleged evidence of God's workings they essentially act like a lightning rod for the power of the Almighty which can often be funneled off (there are numerous examples of flows from a saint's body being soaked up on cloths and handed out to pilgrims - essentially providing a large supply of relics).

They, the normal bodies of saints and relics are powerful politicl chess pieces (in descending order of power - the relics might be more like pawns) which, as the above quote shows, can be strategically created and deployed to further the Church's aims.

By keeping them at arms length the Catholic Church can present itself as a modern religion while saints and miracles allow them to also plug directly into the underlying 'pagan' religions it co-opted (by replacing the pagan festivals with their own, etc.) and their pantheon and magic.
 
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#23
French doctor first to vet Lourdes “miracles"

(AFP)

9 August 2004


LOURDES, France - French doctor Patrick Theillier is not your run-of-the-mill physician—instead of diagnosing common colds and stomach ailments, he spends his days separating miracles from myth.

Theillier is in charge of the Catholic church’s medical bureau in Lourdes, the “miracle” town in southwest France visited each year by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who pray for a cure from its blessed spring water.

This weekend, Pope John Paul II will make his second visit to Lourdes, where 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous saw apparitions of the Virgin Mary in 1858 and then discovered the holy spring.

“My primary task is to differentiate between illusion and reality, to listen to the description of a physical, psychological or spiritual experience,” the 60-year-old Theillier says.

“It’s always a moving process worthy of respect, even if people sometimes make mistakes,” he adds.

“My second duty is authentication. There are about 50 people a year who come to declare “miracles’—but there are only four or five cases that are actually investigated,” the doctor explains. The office run by Theillier makes an initial assessment of apparently inexplicable cures. If a case is strong enough to merit further investigation, it is referred to an international medical committee.

After a lengthy inquiry, the committee subsequently advises the subject’s local bishop whether a cure is potentially “miraculous”.

A total of 66 cures in Lourdes have been officially declared ”miracles”—the last dating back to 1987.

Theillier, a practising Catholic from the northern town of Lille, says he rediscovered his own faith “among the Muslims” in Morocco, where he worked for two years as a volunteer.

In 1998, Theillier applied to work in the Lourdes medical bureau and was hired.

“I just had to ensure that my work would be totally independent from that of the clergy,” he notes.

Theillier says his meetings enrich his life with pilgrims and hundreds of doctors who come to Lourdes, which he describes as a “laboratory of healing”.

“Yes, faith can heal, but a miraculous cure is neither in one’s head nor is it pure magic,” he says.

“It’s always surprising, but it’s never as simple as meeting a cancer patient who has spontaneously gone into remission. There is a real-life experience, a healing from within.

“Medicine cannot explain everything. Science and faith should not be forced to compete.”

In October 1987, Jean-Pierre Bely, a Frenchman who suffered from multiple sclerosis, said he was completely cured during a trip to Lourdes. The church made his “miracle” official in 1999 after a lengthy medical investigation.

The Catholic church is extremely cautious about proclaiming miracles, as evidenced by the small number of recent official declarations—only four since 1960.

According to Theillier, of some 7,000 cures reported to the Lourdes medical bureau, 2,300 of them defy medical explanation.

“There are certainly more people who have been miraculously cured than the official register indicates,” the doctor says.
http://www.khaleejtimes.com/Display...ugust/theworld_August206.xml&section=theworld
 
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#24
The business of miracle-working

When the Pope arrives in Lourdes today, he will be greeted in equal numbers by pilgrims and purveyors of plastic iconography. Alex Duval Smith asks if commerce has overtaken religion in France's most holy town

14 August 2004

Jacqueline Faron believes in miracles. A volunteer receptionist at the 900-bed Notre Dame guesthouse where Pope John Paul II will sleep tonight, she has never seen a miraculous cure. But she has heard of many. "There have only been 66 officially recognised miracle cures at Lourdes - the Church is very cautious about proclaiming them these days - but I don't see why the Pope could not be the 67th," she said.

This morning, after being greeted amid tight security by President Jacques Chirac at Tarbes airport, the much-travelled but frail 84-year-old Pope - on only his second trip outside Italy this year - will arrive by Popemobile at Bernadette's cave. Half an hour later, after drinking its water, he will be wheeled to his room in the guesthouse opposite, for a rest.

''We have cleared the fourth and fifth floors for him,'' said Mrs Faron. "This is not a hospital - we assume he brings one of those with him - but it is a very comfortable guesthouse indeed." From the lobby, panoramic lifts convey guests to the rooms. Outside, on the eve of the Pope's arrival, there is a queue of wheelchairs waiting for the ride.

Fatima Namari, 78, who has a French Scout at her disposal to take her on rickshaw trips around town, arrived in Lourdes on Wednesday. "Two TGV trains full of patients brought us from Paris yesterday. I have a weak heart and, for me, this is quite wonderful. I booked my trip for Assumption weekend long before we knew that the Pope was coming. I do believe people are cured in Lourdes but I am here simply to pay homage to Our Lady," she said.

Every year, six million saintly and sickly people travel to this town in the Pyrenees which was once small - and still only has a permanent population of 15,000 people - but now has 270 hotels and is second only to Paris in terms of the number of tourist beds available. The town's tourist office says that visitors spend about €350m (£200m) in Lourdes every year.

Outside the so-called Sanctuaries area - which is in the centre of Lourdes and includes the cave and three basilicas - the streets are decorated in bunting in the colours of the Holy See, yellow, blue and white. Underneath it, a fairly particular cross-section of society is represented: people in wheelchairs and rickshaws vying for space with nuns and monks and medical staff in white coats pushing empty hospital beds or drip-stands.

The souvenirs on sale in more than 200 shops lining the streets of Lourdes prove that the Virgin is no guardian against bad taste. Mary-shaped plastic bottles are on sale for 50c and a five-litre empty jerrycan for Lourdes water costs €3.50. The Lourdes candle factory - owned by the family of the French Health Minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy - has been in top gear in the past few weeks and the racks of the souvenir shops are filled with its products.

Monique Sandwidi, aged 50, said shopping was an important part of her visit with her 80-year-old West African mother, Blanche. "Back in Burkina Faso they are very excited about the souvenirs we will take back - Lourdes water, of course, and medallions of the Virgin. I came here with €250 that was given to me by a friend so I would buy her a chest-high plaster statue of Mary. We have just come from the factory and that statue is now being freighted to Paris and onwards to Burkina Faso," she said.

So commercial has Lourdes become that the basilicas in the town cannot cope with the number of dedication masses bought by pilgrims while they are here. The masses - which cost €17 - are subcontracted to churches in the Third World.

A volunteer, Marie-Astrid Bouyeure, a 16-year-old student from Rouen who was pulling a rickshaw containing an elderly man from Nantes, was unfazed by the commercial aspect of Lourdes. "I have come here every year with my parents since I was little and, to be honest, I do not even notice the shops. If you're not here for the shops, they do not bother you. The Lourdes water, in the taps by the cave, is free and there is nothing to stop people from just filling up an empty Evian bottle," she said.

Tomorrow, on a lawn by the Notre-Dame guesthouse, the Pope is due to officiate at an open-air mass to celebrate the Feast of the Assumption - a festival which was established in 1850 and marking the Virgin Mary's ascent into Heaven. A total of 300,000 communion wafers have been ordered for that service alone.

This year, Roman Catholics are celebrating 150 years since the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854. The dogma - a rule of faith proclaimed by the Vatican - is considered to have been confirmed in Lourdes between February and July 1858 when 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous saw 18 apparitions of the Virgin in a cave.

When Bernadette told Church officials that, on her 16th apparition, the figure had said, ''I am the Immaculate Conception'' they believed her on the grounds that she was a simple country girl who could not have heard of the new dogma, proclaimed in Rome only four years earlier.

The dogma affirms that Mary was born in a state of grace, never to be tempted by original sin. Soon after the Church decided that Bernadette was telling the truth, pilgrims started to travel to Lourdes to drink the water in the cave. By the end of the 19th century, a total of seven miracle cures had been proclaimed.

John Paul II - who is on his second papal pilgrimage to Lourdes - believes the hand of Mary deflected the bullets of his would-be assassin, the Turkish gunman Mehemet Ali Agca, in St Peter's Square 1981.

According to his media team, Pope John Paul II believes Lourdes to be blessed with a "special grace" among shrines to Mary - of which he has visited about 500 - and it is unsurprising that he should wish to travel here for possibly his last pilgrimage, given the advanced state of his Parkinson's disease.

A year ago, the Pope became confined to a wheelchair, and journalists covering the Vatican report that the Popemobile has had to be adapted because he is now incontinent. They say the biggest health risk currently faced by the Pope is internal haemorrhaging or a pulmonary embolism, as his illness makes it increasingly difficult for him to draw breath. His doctor, 79-year-old Renato Buzzonetti, is travelling with him, as well as 35 other medical staff.

"This is a private pilgrimage, not a state visit," said Mgr Jacques Perrier, a French priest who invited the Pope in January but had to wait until June for doctors to confirm that he would be well enough to travel. "His entourage seems confident that he will be fine. He is handicapped by his illness but he is still very clear-headed and strong-willed. He has always managed to maintain a strong private strain to his ministry and I knew that he would want, if he could, to spend some time, quietly and in solitude, in the cave."

Before he became Pope, Karol Wojtyla's first trip to western Europe in 1947 was marked by a pilgrimage to Lourdes, and since becoming head of the Roman Catholic Church in 1978, he has been to France and its overseas territories eight times. He was last at Lourdes in 1983 and on that occasion a local group of anarchists blew up a statue of Pontius Pilate a few days before his arrival.

France is one of the more troublesome members of the Pope's flock and the Vatican's relations with Paris have been particularly strained this year. President Chirac, who is a low-key but practising Roman Catholic, was strongly criticised by Rome earlier this year for his stand against including any mention of Christian heritage in the new European constitution. The Vatican has also been openly critical of French government moves this year to reaffirm the country's constitutionally non-religious status by banning displays of religious affiliation - Muslim headscarves but also large Christian crosses - in state schools.

The affiliation of Lourdes is very clear and even though volunteers say they have seen both Muslims and Buddhist pilgrims pass through, these are nowhere to be seen on Assumption weekend.

Dr Patrick Theillier, the man employed by the Church to vet alleged miracles at Lourdes, confirms that people of many faiths come to the town. "I have several files of Muslims who have shown credible evidence of having been healed here. But there is no way the Church is going recognise cases of non-Catholics who have been cured," he said.

The plaque on the office door of Dr Theillier, a 60-year-old GP, reads: Medical Bureau (declarations of healings). Pilgrims are expected to report improvements in their condition to him. They are then kept on file for several years before being assessed by an international medical committee and, ultimately, the Vatican. The last miracle recovery - the 66th - was recognised in 1999 when a French multiple sclerosis sufferer, Jean-Pierre Bély, was deemed to have been cured, four days after a trip to Lourdes 12 years earlier.

Statistically, the cures have favoured the French (55 of the cases), women (eight out of 10 cases) and religious or the clergy (11 cases).

Dr Theillier, who was a homoeopath and acupuncturist before training in mainstream medicine and working in Morocco, sees two or three people every day who wish to report that they have been miraculously healed. "It becomes a counselling job," said Dr Theillier, who has been employed at Lourdes since 1998. "The vast majority of people who come to see me are not healed and are actually seriously ill. Recently I saw a 65-year-old man, who was extremely devout, but in advanced stages of lung cancer. He assured me he had been cured but, just looking at him, I could tell he was not.

"There are cases of spontaneous remission and I do believe that faith can heal. In fact, as a doctor, one does not have to be at Lourdes to come across patients who are fatally ill but who manage to survive for several years. The phenomenon of spontaneous remission exists everywhere but it is pushed to its ultimate degree here at Lourdes," he said.

As for the chances of a cure for the pontiff, Dr Theillier does not rate his chances higher than anyone else's. "You have to be careful. I do not believe in magic. But Lourdes is important to people. It is a place where people can feel they are living their faith. There is nothing wrong with that if it helps people,'' he said.

-----------------------
15 August 2004 05:42

© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd
http://news.independent.co.uk/europe/story.jsp?story=551283
 
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#25
Seeing & believing

Visions of Mary, other such 'miracles' put faith - and science - to the test


06:54 PM CDT on Friday, August 13, 2004

By IRA J. HADNOT / The Dallas Morning News

Gloria Fino led a devout but uneventful life – until several months ago, when she experienced something her Catholic priest could not explain.

The 34-year-old woman from Robstown, outside Corpus Christi, said she saw an oil-like substance streaming from the eyes of a portrait of Jesus.

That was all it took for the world to come to her door. And for her name to be added to the list of those who say they've seen weeping portraits of Jesus, images of the Virgin Mary on a variety of surfaces, rosaries turned to gold, holy statutes that suddenly start bleeding or developing heartbeats.

But is seeing actually believing?

What happens when miracles are subjected to scientific scrutiny?

Religious experts are skeptical of many claims of miraculous sightings. Still, they say, those claims can strengthen faith, even if they can't be scientifically verified. Reports of spiritual apparitions abound, even in these modern, rationalistic times. Thousands are drawn to the sites of such claims, hungry, it seems, for a direct encounter with the divine.

Also among those attracted to such sightings are the so-called "miracle detectives," scientific investigators who seek explanations grounded in physical laws.

Detective lingo

"Miracle detectives," the people who investigate reports of religious supernatural phenomena, have a language of their own. A glossary of frequently used terms:

Apparition: Appearance of someone who is dead. Since the Middle Ages, most reports of spiritual apparitions have involved the Virgin Mary.

Ecstasy: A spiritual state in which one loses sense of time and location and does not respond to external physical stimuli.

Locutions: Supernatural words perceived as a clear, distinct message.

Simulacrum: An image, usually the face of Jesus or Mary, in such unexpected media as a stain, rust, a cloud, a tree trunk, a streaky image on glass, etc.

Stigmata: Wounds like those sustained by Jesus in the Gospel accounts of the Passion.

Visionary: The person who sees an apparation or otherwise experiences one of these inexplicable phenomena.

SOURCES: Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal; Encyclopedia of Catholicism; Webster's New World Dictionary

"I really wish I would come across something that confounds science. I really do," said Joe Nickell, who has investigated paranormal claims – from haunted houses to extraterrestrials – for more than 30 years.

The professional magician, with a doctorate in English literature, specializes in looking into reports of religious phenomena. He said he has never come across a "miracle" for which there wasn't a rational explanation.

Mr. Nickell noted that such sightings far more often than not involve Catholics. ("Why don't Baptists report seeing visions?" he asked). The church, in his view, doesn't do enough to debunk such claims.

But some scholars of Catholicism said that's not the church's job.

"The Catholic Church is very hesitant to make statements about such events," said Timothy Matovina, director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame.

"In the end, for those who don't believe, no proof is sufficient. And for those who do, no proof is necessary."

People of all religions, he said, draw from encounters with the mysterious – whether it's faith healing, speaking in tongues, prophecy or communing with angels.

And pilgrimages to the sites where such events reportedly occur are attempts to have direct encounters with God, he said.

"Today's religion is about experiencing God or being close to those who say they have. ... These gatherings of people from all walks of life seeking a spiritual encounter create their own energy and are powerful magnets."

For Randall Sullivan, it is possible both to doubt and to believe. A journalist raised by two atheists, he wrote The Miracle Detective: An Investigation of Holy Visions. The book examines several sightings of the Virgin Mary, including those in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, a tiny village where such apparitions have been reported since 1981.

"I was supposed to stay in Medjugorje a week and it turned into an entire summer," he said. "Being there changed my life. The deep belief I saw expressed was transforming."

He didn't see the Virgin Mary – though he did write about a "mysterious" young woman who helped him up the mountain where Mary's appearance was first reported.

Spending time with one of the Medjugorje "visionaries," the people who claim to have seen the Virgin, affected him profoundly, he said.

"I was convinced I would meet a liar. But I had an absolute certainty she was telling the truth, that she was not crazy."

Mr. Sullivan said he was so moved by the faith of the villagers, and those who came to Medjugorje seeking healing, that he later converted to Catholicism and had his children baptized.

His book has been criticized by some because he weaves into his detailed examination of holy visions an account of his own spiritual conversion.

Mr. Sullivan defended the ambiguity in what he learned about Medjugorje and himself.

"Because of my work, I have profound respect for the mysteries of the church. I want people to know you can have doubt and still believe," he said.

It can take decades – or longer – for the church to rule on whether a sighting is authentic, said a spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. There are no formal written guidelines, he said, adding that each bishop decides whether an investigation is warranted and how it is conducted.

Mr. Sullivan's interest in the process began in 1994, when a young woman in a rundown trailer camp near his hometown of Portland, Ore., claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary. The reported sighting attracted people from across the country. He became curious about the interviews, field investigations and theological research that go into an official inquiry. His book, while focusing primarily on Medjugorje, examines 100 years of apparitions and related phenomena.

"There is an astonishing amount of physical evidence supporting the authenticity of these events," he said. " 'Inexplicable' is a tame word to describe them. They cannot be explained by medical science."

Mr. Nickell disagrees. He works for the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, established by the late astronomer – and noted atheist – Carl Sagan. (Mr. Nickell declined to discuss his own religious beliefs, beyond saying that he approaches his work with healthy skepticism.)

In Medjugorje, he said, "the bishop's own investigative panel found that the children had been coached and had changed their stories a couple of times about who actually saw the Virgin." He noted that the Catholic Church, after more than 20 years of looking into what happened in the village, has not added Medjugorje to its official list of "confirmed" Mary sightings.

Of the hundreds of reported Marian apparitions, the church has officially authenticated 22. The most famous are those by Juan Diego in Guadalupe, Mexico, in 1531; Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, in France, in 1858; and three children in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. (Pope John Paul II is in Lourdes this weekend paying homage to Mary. The Feast of the Assumption, when Catholics celebrate her being taken up into heaven, is Sunday.)

In Medjugorje – which remains under study by the church – some see a miracle. Others see a profit motive.

"Here was this poor village that became a tourist destination with gift shops and hotels. Thousands were coming," said Denis Janz, a religion history professor at Loyola University in New Orleans. "The local bishop did receive a report from a panel of psychologists and theologians that was quite damning. But it was suppressed for years because of the economic impact such disclosures would have."

In 2002, Pope John Paul II canonized Juan Diego, the Aztec who said he saw Mary at Guadalupe. As proof for a doubtful bishop, she reportedly caused her image to be burned into his cactus-fiber cloak. Today, Juan Diego is revered by millions of Mexican Catholics.

According to Mr. Nickell, "An investigation of the cloth in 1556 said the image had been 'painted yesteryear by an Indian.' " A later investigation by an art historian, he said, showed the fabric had been "prepared with a brush coat of white primer."

Juan Diego's story, he said, appears to have been borrowed from an earlier Spanish legend in which the Virgin appears to a shepherd. Other church critics have said the pope's streamlining of the canonization process "rushed Diego into sainthood" without proper historical evidence that the peasant even existed, much less saw Mary.

Church officials have dismissed questions about Diego, which have flared on and off for centuries.

"There is no doubt about the existence of Juan Diego," the Rev. Eduardo Chavez Sanchez of Mexico City told the National Catholic Reporter . Father Chavez was the Vatican's investigator for Diego's canonization. He told the newspaper there are two dozen documents, dating from the 1500s, that confirm the Aztec's existence.

As is the case with most holy sightings, what really happened back in May in Ms. Fino's Robstown home may never be known.

According to Catholic practice, the decision on how or whether to investigate the matter was left to the local bishop, Edmond Carmody of Corpus Christi.

Because the painting stopped "weeping" after two days as suddenly as it had begun, Bishop Carmody said, no investigation was warranted.

"We're in a humid part of the country. If it had kept occurring, we would have changed the environment. We would have brought it to a climate-controlled place, an air-conditioned church, and then called scientists from the university," he said.

"We are not saying it was a fraud. ... But we aren't ready to pronounce it as divine, either. Something physical happened. The reporters saw it; the priest saw it. We have to be careful not to attack people's faith."

Ms. Fino said she'd been praying for her grandson, who was hospitalized in Houston, when she asked Jesus for a sign. That was when the portrait, a gift she'd received three years earlier, started weeping, she said.

Word spread, and suddenly hundreds of people were streaming to her small house to see the painting and receive a piece of cotton soaked in the mysterious substance.

Her priest, the Rev. Gerry Sheehan of St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Robstown, went to the Fino home.

"I saw the painting and turned it over. The back was not wet," he said. "Gloria Fino is a devout person. You don't have to take my word for that. Her neighbors describe her as faithful and not someone who would exaggerate or try to pull off a hoax."

Some who claim to have witnessed miracles may engage in "pious fraud," Mr. Nickell said. Their purpose is not to maliciously deceive so much as to give religion a little nudge. "They are normal people hoping to promote their faith," he said.

Mr. Nickell has examined the Shroud of Turin, which some believe to be the burial cloth of Jesus, and a burial box that some claim held the bones of James, identified in the Bible as Jesus' brother.

He's been to Medjugorje. He's inflicted cuts upon himself to show how stigmata can be faked. He's checked for heartbeats in statues.

He has written several books, including Looking for a Miracle: Weeping Icons, Relics, Stigmata, Visions & Healing Cures (Prometheus Books, ) and regularly appears on television to discuss his work.

He did not examine the weeping Jesus in Robstown, but offered some insights into how such an effect might be achieved. He said, for example, that one could take a nondrying oil, like olive oil, put it in a dropper and squeeze it into the corner of the eyes. A "mysterious substance" could then run for days.

The Catholic Church, in Mr. Nickell's view, "unwittingly encourages such activity by taking a passive approach to investigations and explanations. They may be very skeptical privately, but will tolerate it publicly if it brings greater understanding and strengthens their faith."

Father Sheehan disputed that. "The church wants to be careful not to give fraud a seal of approval," he said. He added, however, "If people are moved, their belief strengthened, we are not going to trample on their faith."

Whatever others believe about Gloria Fino's experience, her priest said, she never doubted Jesus.


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Mary sightings around the world

Catholics have reported seeing the Virgin Mary all over the world. Of more than 1,000 sightings, 22 have received full approval from the Catholic Church. Marian experts say the appearances follow a pattern: She most often appears to young women in impoverished areas, and her message encourages prayer, repentence, devotion and the teachings of Jesus. Here are the sightings that have Church approval:

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http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/religion/stories/081404dnrelapparition.8dfe5.html
 
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#26
Priest offers 00 to disprove miracles of Lourdes

By Linda Morris
August 30, 2004


A Sydney Catholic priest has challenged sceptics of religious miracles, posting a 00 bounty for anyone who can prove the Lourdes miracles he has investigated are fakes.

Medical science might explain some cures attributed to the shrine in southern France but not every instance of miraculous healing, says Paul Glynn, a Marist Brother.

Father Glynn and his cousin Bill Dougherty, a former regional newspaper proprietor, have offered the 00 reward from their own pockets.

Millions of pilgrims have flocked to Lourdes since 1858, when a French peasant girl, Bernadette Soubirous, said she had been visited by an apparition of the Virgin Mary.

The Catholic Church has since recognised 66 miracles at the site, the most recent in 1987. A medical tribunal set up to investigate claims of miracles describes about 6800 cases as medically inexplicable, Father Glynn said. He said the cases had not met the condition of a declared miracle.

Father Glynn, based in Hunters Hill, has interviewed four people and reviewed the case notes of a further 20. He is convinced of their authenticity.

"It can take 12 to 20 years before miracles are even accepted," he said. "There must be a proven physical disease where pre-existing medical conditions have been documented, the cure must be instantaneous ... and it must be complete and permanent.

"They must be prepared to be examined by a medical tribunal and return to Lourdes to be re-examined for several years after."

Father Glynn announced the reward to parishioners of St Kevin's Church, Dee Why, yesterday in an attempt to convince non-believers of the power of faith.

To win, a recognised professor of medicine must review the case medical notes and be prepared to verify and identify an explicable reason for cure and long-term recovery.

Australian Skeptics acknowledged the Lourdes medical tribunal was painstaking in its investigations of alleged miracle cures. But the number of cures accepted as miraculous by the Catholic Church compared to the number of visits was hardly indicative of a statistical link between Lourdes and cures, it said.

It also pointed out that Bernadette herself was not cured, and died of tuberculosis.

Barry Williams, executive officer of the NSW chapter of Australian Skeptics, is one who will not be taking up the challenge.

"It's like trying to prove a negative, which is almost impossible. I suspect many of those so-called cures are no longer alive and 00 wouldn't come near to covering the costs of an inquiry."

Some of the claims, he said, were "self-delusion", some the result of physiological healing
http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/08/29/1093717837898.html
 
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Anonymous

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#27
Saints - What are They

What exactly is a saint? Are they only a Christian thing or do they have them in Judaeism and Islam?

What is the dogma relating to their powers to intervene in daily life?

How are they appointed?
 

Mighty_Emperor

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#28
Steve: I've merged your psot with this thread as it has already been discussed here. I'd recommend the two books I posted on the first page as they cover all your questions and more.
 
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Anonymous

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#29
Thanks Emps. I'll get these and read them.

Just a couple of quick questions while I'm waiting for their arrival:

Does Jesus say anywhere in the bible that we can expect saints to appear to us in the future? Or where does this whole idea come from?

And what is the actual dogma concerning saints. Is at:

a) That they are divine beings who can themselves intervene on our behalf; or

b) That the miracles they are associated with are evidence of special powers given to the saint during his or her life; or

c) That these were a sign of God's intervening in the life of the saint?

I'm asking this because if the answer to the question is c) then how do we get from there to the assumption that the saint can still actively intervene on our behalf now that he or she is dead? In other words, if they were themselves the beneficiary of miracles worked through them or on their behalf, then why should they suddenly gain 'magical' powers after their deaths?
 
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Anonymous

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#30
A saint is basically someone who is held up as an example to the faithful.

The official catholic view (not necessarily the view of the laity) is that its miracles *after* death that are important. Posthumous miracles are due to the saint interceeding with god on behalf of the faithful. Miracles carried out during a saint's lifetime may actually be seen as suspect by church authorities, as the source of their power may not be divine and could even be diabolical. If the saint maintains the ability to influence events after death then this is evidence that the saint is with God rather than in hell. Its this evidence, combined with a life that provides a good example for Catholics generally, that leads to an official declaration of sainthood.
 
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