Pope Francis’ 2017 apostolic letter Maiorem hac dilectionem laid out the qualifications for beatification via offering of life. As in the path of heroic virtue, two scientifically verified miracles through the individual’s intercession are required: a first for beatification and a second for canonization.
There must also be a clear connection between the offering of life and the premature death.
But an innovation is that the candidate for sainthood is not required to have lived a life of “heroic virtue” prior to the act of offering his or her life for love of God and neighbor.
The pope declared the threshold to be the exercise of Christian virtues “at least as ordinarily possible.”
One postulator -- the person who guides a diocese or religious congregation through the beatification process in Rome -- told CNA that he personally thinks this is encouraging in his striving for sainthood.
Paolo Vilotta has been a professional postulator for around 10 years, and has helped to present some 60 saints’ causes, mostly originating from Brazil, to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
As an “eyewitness” to the canonization process, Vilotta said that the Church always takes her time to examine causes with precision, and it will be no different for sainthood candidates possibly falling under the offering of life category.
“The procedure is always the same,” he stressed.
Three years after the pope’s change, there has yet to be a sainthood cause permitted to advance under the new category. But according to Vilotta, a possible case is being considered by the congregation right now.
Ponzo mentioned two 20th-century saints who she believes, if judged today, could fit into the category of a life offered for charity.
The first is St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan friar and priest who died at the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz in 1941. According to Ponzo, his life and death “is very difficult to classify” under the two traditional paths.
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At Auschwitz, Kolbe offered to take the place of another prisoner, who was a father, to be killed by starvation. After two weeks with no food or water, he was the only prisoner still living, and was killed by lethal injection.
Pope John Paul II wanted to characterize the death of Kolbe, then a Blessed, as martyrdom, but he met with criticism, as many disagreed that Kolbe’s death at the hands of the Nazis could be said to be “in hatred of the faith.”
In 1982, John Paul II canonized Kolbe as a confessor, declaring him to have lived a life of heroic virtue, and to be a “martyr of charity.”
Ponzo also cited the example of the wife, mother, and physician St. Gianna Beretta Molla, who died soon after giving birth to her fourth child. While pregnant, she was diagnosed with a uterine tumor, but she refused treatment plans which included abortion, which would have directly killed her child, or a complete hysterctomy, which would have indirectly done so.
Molla “was a practicing, observing Catholic … but whose heroism rested above all in the substitution of her own life for that of the daughter in her womb,” Ponzo said.
“The ‘offering of life’ condition was introduced because the two traditional bases for canonization did not cover a form of sanctity which has been widely recognized in Catholic tradition but did not appear in the juridical definition of sainthood,” Ponzo argued in her research article.