Pope Francis led a canonization mass on Sunday that added four new saints to the Catholic Church’s pantheon, including the parents of another saint, in a pause from a divisive Vatican summit on family affairs.
The October 4-25 meeting, known as the synod, is exposing deep rifts among top prelates on the approach to take towards people who stray from Catholic teaching on family life, such as divorcees, homosexuals and couples living out of wedlock.
“The men and women canonized today unfailingly served their brothers and sisters with outstanding humility and charity, in imitation of the divine Master,” Francis said during the mass homily in a crowded St Peter’s Square.
For the Catholic Church, saints are model Christians who, after death, live in paradise and can make miracles happen by summoning God’s intervention when prayers are addressed to them.
Ludovico Martin and Maria Azelia Guerin, who lived in 19th century France, had several children, including Saint Therese of Lisieux, one of the most revered French saints, who was canonized 90 years ago by Pope Pius X.
Francis hailed them as “models of sanctity and married life” in an interview published Thursday by French magazine Paris Match.
Martin and Guerin was promoted to sainthood after having been accredited with two miracles – the healing from serious illness of two children, who participated in Sunday’s mass by carrying the relics of the newly canonized couple.
Italian priest Vincenzo Grossi and Spanish nun Mary of the Immaculate Conception were also officially recognized as saints by Francis.
The pope did not make any direct reference to the synod, but urged priests to avoid being high-handed, aloof and judgemental, in a possible coded message of support for those who say the church should be more lenient towards those who stray from its teachings.
“Jesus exercises a true priesthood of mercy and compassion. He knows our difficulties at first hand, he knows from within our human condition; the fact that he is without sin does not prevent him from understanding sinners,” Francis said.
Bishops are due to wrap up their summit over the next seven days, but they have yet to find a consensus on the main bone of contention – a proposal by the reforming camp, led by the German Catholic Church, to drop a long-standing ban on remarried divorcees taking communion.
The controversy might be defused by handing it over to a panel of experts.
“It was suggested to set up a commission to study this topic after the synod, to avoid taking a premature decision,” Father Bernd Hagenkord, director of German Vatican Radio, told reporters on Friday.
Meanwhile, the Vatican’s top doctrine enforcer, German Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, told weekly magazine Focus that remarried divorcees should be allowed to take communion only “in extreme individual cases.”
While he opposed an absolute lift on the ban, Mueller said “in certain cases it can be allowed in matters of conscience.”
The cardinal’s comments echoed guidelines laid out in the Familiaris consortio Number 84, a 1981 document written by Saint John Paul II on the role of the Christian family in modern life.
“We can think further along these lines,” he said, adding that criteria for those taking communion should be based on “theologically responsible points of view.”