All the faithful in heaven are saints, the Catholic Church teaches. But some have been officially recognized as worthy of emulation and veneration through the formal process of canonization.
“The [saints] surrender to God’s love was so generous an approach to the total surrender of Jesus that the Church recognizes them as heroes and heroines worthy to be held up for our inspiration. They remind us that the Church is holy, can never stop being holy and is called to show the holiness of God by living the life of Christ,” states the book “Saint of the Day,” edited by Father Leonard Foley, OFM.
Saints aren’t made by the Church, but recognized for what God has already done. Estimates of the number of saints range from less than 3,000 to 10,000 deceased individuals. But there is no definitive head count, because not all saints have been officially recognized.
A few days after “All Saints’ Day,” Angelus News sat down with four students — seventh-grader Azzyria De Cascas and eighth-graders Viviana Harvin, Bryan Velasquez and Alberto Hernandez — at All Saints School in El Sereno. We wanted to get their take on sainthood today compared to the 10th century. That’s when Pope John XV became the first pontiff to officially proclaim a saint: Bishop Ulrich of Augsburg.
Don’t have to be perfect
“What do you think makes a saint?” the students at the table in the school’s library were asked.
“The way they act,” said Azzyria. “What they have done for other people. Their stories. Their religion. Like, how they found God.”
“Do they have to be perfect?”
The seventh-grader was shaking her head. “They can be flawed. Their story can be like they were bad people and then they found God. And they turned into a different person afterwards.”
“I think what makes a saint is they have to have done miracles for people,” said Viviana, sitting next to her. “And they have to have feelings for other people, and do good things. They have to be respectful to other people. But everyone makes mistakes. If they had a bad life, at the end of their life they could have been a great person.”
The eighth-grade boys were leaning a little back in their chairs, nonchalantly glancing sideways at the girls.
Bryan agreed about a saint is someone who ends up being really good. “Because God calls people in many different ways and at different times,” he remarked. “So if they’re about to die, or if they’re just starting life, God can call them. He knows that he wants them in heaven with him.”
“I think whatever makes a saint is also how they act in their life, and how they, like, try to be Jesus in their lifetime,” Alberto said. “And I think God doesn’t really look at the bad stuff they do because he’s a good father. But he looks at the good stuff and how they act with people during their whole life.”
The library couldn’t have been better decorated for this discussion. The walls were covered with big sheets of paper with the title “All About My Favorite Saint.” In the middle were crayon drawings or pictures of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, St. Martin de Porres, St. Michael, St. Anne, St. Juan Diego, St. Joan of Arc, St. Patrick, St. Jude, St. Rose of Lima and many others. And the yellow octopuses, brown-and-green turtles and pinkish-blue whale swimming in a blue sea above the posters seemed to be paying particular attention to the goings-on below.
“Do you think there could be saints today,” the students were asked.
Azzyria pointed out Mother Teresa being recently named a saint for her work with the dying in India. Viviana said how just being close to your family and helping others you don’t know could make you a contemporary saint.
“Back in the day, it was really hard for people to be Catholic or actually continue their faith because of the Roman soldiers, and many were martyred,” said Bryan. “But now we have the option to really follow God without being stopped. Some people don’t take advantage of it. It is harder ‘cause there’s more temptation than there was. Because now we have drugs and stuff. And to be a saint, you have to give your whole life to God.”
Alberto was nodding. “Like what he said, there’s drugs, more temptation and all the technology. It’s just going to be harder. But to be a saint today I think you’ve just got to help other people, and move away from bad friends.”
Viviana had a cousin who would go up to homeless people and just start talking to them. She’d ask if they needed anything. “And her mom would always get really mad: ‘You don’t know that person!’ ” said the eighth-grader with a half-grin. Azzyria thought her grandma could be a saint because she helped her family so much.
Bryan’s nominee was an old lady she often saw strolling around L.A.’s El Soreno community, even though something was wrong with her legs. She also approached the homeless without fear, bringing them food. “I’ve seen her,” he said. “She’s always walking by, going to church, helping anybody in need. And she prays for people. She’s prayed for my mother and father.”
“Well, I know many people who could be a saint,” declared Alberto. “I think, like, this whole school. We give stuff to the poor at Thanksgiving and around Christmas. We do ‘pajama drives’ for little kids who are poor. And we raise money with our ‘Jeans for Jesus’ and mission free-dress days.”
Azzyria’s favorite saint was St. Francis of Assisi. Why? Because he started off a bad person who only thought of himself, but answered God’s call and received the stigmata. “And he liked animals,” she said, looking at Viviana. “Would he really talk to animals?”
“He would have a conversation, sort of.”
“Yeah, animals liked him, and he liked animals,” said Azzyria, remarking, “I like animals, too.”
That broke up both girls. The boys, however, remained semistoic.
“I admire the same saint that Azzyria does,” Viviana said. “What I love about him is he didn’t care that people thought he was crazy.”
Padre Pio was Bryan’s pick. “He got the stigmata like St. Francis of Assisi,” he pointed out.
Alberto said, “My favorite saint is St. Jose’ Sanchez del Rio. He was a martyr in the persecution of Catholics by the Mexican government. They wanted him to switch sides, but he wouldn’t. So they tortured and killed him. And it just touches my heart because he was just 14 years old. You don’t see many saints who are that young. He was a martyr and he just fought for Christ.”
And there was someone right at All Saints they thought might qualify, too — their principal, Ms. Maria Palermo.
“She’s very caring,” reported Viviana.
Bryan said, “She helps people.”
“And she likes animals,” pointed out Viviana.
The students talked about how she cared for a stray mangy dog with bite marks and fleas who showed up at the elementary school. And they laughed about how she even gave him a bath.
The consensus was a resounding “no!” But the students also agreed that the person had to do more than just help people like the homeless — no matter how good that was.
“Well, you have to pray to God and, like, just devote your life to God,” explained Alberto. “I think it’s very hard to become a saint today because there’s all these factors about not becoming one. But I think there’s also some good factors. Like there’s charities and foundations where you could help. But it’s really praying to God.”
Bryan was nodding. “You have to make sure what you do helps people in life. And it will please God one day.”
“I just think saints are really good people and they got recognized for what they did,” said Azzyria. “There still could be saints now. But it’s a long process that they have to go through in order to become a saint.
“Yeah, it’s hard to become one,” Viviana chimed in. “I think it’s amazing how they would help people in the world. And it’s not obligatory that they have to. But they choose to because they feel like they want to do what God wants.”
Bryan leaned forward. “The way to become a saint is to really pray a lot and do some really kind stuff to people. So just follow God’s corporal works of mercy and just follow what Jesus did and God wants you to do.”
Alberto had the last word. “They’re just putting their life to help another life,” he said. “And I think that’s very generous of them. And like Bryan said, they follow the corporal works of mercy and just pray for other people.”
"I just think saints are really good people and they got recognized for what they did. ... There still could be saints now."