An Oct. 27-29 conference in Rome and Siena will honor Saint Catherine of Siena, 550 years after her canonization.
Fr. Bernard Ardura, president of the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences, explained in a Vatican press conference that “the figure of St. Catherine extends far beyond her own earthly existence and takes on a powerful symbolic value” for the Church today.
In his Oct. 21 announcement, Fr. Ardura said the study of St. Catherine “serves to remind us of the unshakeable faith which she possessed and which made her spiritual mother to so many Christians.”
Her example is especially important, he said, as the Church prepares for the 2012-2013 “Year of Faith” announced Oct. 16.
The conference entitled “Virgo digna Coelo” (Virgin Worthy of Heaven) will study the 14th century Dominican philosopher and theologian's life, work and legacy. The Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences has arranged it along with the Archdiocese of Siena and the Dominican Order.
Fr. Ardura explained that the conference will hold four sessions to allow “a deeper examination of the saint and her influence.” Most of the meetings will take place in Rome, but delegates will also travel 120 miles north to the saint’s hometown for the opening of a new exhibition about her.
Born into a middle-class Tuscan family in 1347, Caterina Benincasa received her first vision of Christ around age six. She later recalled that Jesus smiled at her, blessed her and left her in ecstasy.
At 19, after experiencing a “mystical marriage” to Christ, she gave her life over to prayer and proclamation of the Gospel. Throughout northern and central Italy she urged reform of the clergy and called the lay faithful to the “total love of God” found through repentance.
Catherine also authored many letters and spoke fearlessly to those in power, often urging peace between Italian city-states. She successfully lobbied for Pope Gregory XI to return administration of the Church from Avignon in France, where it had moved since 1309, back to Rome.
In 1380, St. Catherine died in Rome where her body now lies beneath the high altar at the basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. She is also one of the two patron saints of Italy, together with Saint Francis of Assisi, and a co-patroness of Europe.
At Friday's press conference, Fr. Ardura noted that St. Catherine “enjoyed great recognition among theologians … for her exalted theology and her influence in the renewal of that discipline.” Pope Paul VI named her a Doctor of the Church in 1970.
Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, will address the first session of the “Virgo digna Coelo” conference, while the second meeting will study St. Catherine’s canonization.
The conference will then look at St. Catherine's relationship to the religious orders of her day, before a final session – held partly in Siena, at the new exhibition about the saint – to discuss her legacy.