Pope Benedict XVI has honored the 16th century Spanish priest St. John of Avila by naming him the 34th Doctor of the Catholic Church.
“In making this announcement here, I would hope that the word and the example of this outstanding pastor will enlighten all priests and those who look forward to the day of their priestly ordination,” said the Pope at the conclusion of a special World Youth Day Mass for seminarians at Madrid’s Cathedral of the Almudena on August 20.
St. John of Avila was born in 1500 in the town of Almodovar del Campo, 155 miles south of Madrid. A Christian of Jewish descent, he studied law at the University of Salamanca before being ordained a priest. He went on to become a great preacher, author and mystic, writing works that influenced St. Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Francis Borgia among others.
His best-known works include “Audi Fili,” a tract on Christian perfection, and his collected spiritual letters to his followers. He was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970, with his feast day falling on May 10.
The title of ‘Doctor of the Church’ is bestowed upon a saint whose writings are deemed to be of universal importance to the Church. The Pope must also declare the individual to be of “eminent learning” and “great sanctity.” Other Doctors of the Church include St. Augustine, St. John Chryosostom, St. Francis de Sales, and St. Catherine of Siena.
“It is very happy news because he is the patron of secular priests in Spain, and it was a surprise because we didn’t know this announcement was going to be made,” said 22-year-old Madrid resident Alfonso Rodriguez-Ponga, speaking to CNA after the Mass.
“I think that he’s a very important saint for Spanish people,” said 28-year old Almudena Vigie, also from Madrid, “and I think that it’s very good news because we all in Spain love this saint and we study him at school and know all about him. And now, hearing the Pope say he’ll be a Doctor of the Church is very good news. We are very happy.”
The last saint to be given the title was the 19th century French nun St. Theresa of Lisieux. Her elevation to the rank was announced by Pope John Paul II during World Youth Day in Paris back in August of 1997, with the proclamation coming into effect two months later.