Becoming a Catholic saint today is much easier than it was at any point of time in the history of papacy, courtesy a far liberalised Church, according to conclusions drawn from a Harvard research paper.
There had been 434 beatifications (blessed) and canonisations (sainthood) in the last 35 years—an average of 12 per year—compared to 259 in a 393-year period of 1585-1978, when the annual average was just 0.65.
The maths apart, sainthood has been expanding along another path: geography. More and more people from outside Italy/Western Europe have been anointed as saints in the past three-and-a-half decades by the Rome-headquartered Church, which is one of the world’s oldest religious institutions and has more than 1.27 billion members across continents.
Before we delve into finer details, here is an introduction to the saint-making process and also some basic assumptions for this analysis:
Beatification is a step in the process of Canonisation. By it, the Pope allows public veneration of the in the local Church, within the religious congregation with which he or she was associated, and in other places by those who receive such permission. A person who has been beatified is addressed as ‘Blessed’.
Canonisation is the act by which the Pope declares that a person practised heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, is with God in heaven and is to be venerated through the whole Church.
You need to perform at least one miracle for beatification and another one for canonisation. A miracle is an extraordinary event, which is scientifically inexplicable and, in a cause for canonisation. It is directly attributed to the person who is being canonised. In the causes of saints, the miracles investigated are usually cures, because they are more easily documented.
For the purpose of this analysis, we are considering a period starting from 1585 to this year. Before 1585, papal approval was not required for canonisation and beatification.
Also for this analysis, we are going to ignore mass canonisations and include only individual canonisations. The numbers boil down to 693 beatifications and 290 canonisations in the above-mentioned period.
Now let us take a look at the pope-wise break-up of canonisations and beatifications.
As can be seen from the graphic, the number of saints and blessed grew manifold in the last three-and-a-half decades compared to the previous 400 years.
About 37% of all beatifications and 43% of all canonisation in the history of papacy happened in the last 35 years.
This was achieved in the recent years, following an alteration in the rules of making saints and the blessed. While the authorities brought down the number of miracles required for the process, they ignored in a lot of cases the waiting period—the number of years after one’s death, before which they can’t be considered for sainthood.
Now let us take a look at pope-wise number of beatifications per year.
Number of beatifications per year
As can be clearly seen, the rate of beatification hardly rose above 2 in the 400 years. Then we saw a spurt in it over the last 35 years. As also seen, the curve shows a rising trend that points to a much-higher number of the ‘blessed’ in the following years.
Number of canonisations per year
This graphic mirrors the results of the previous graphic. As seen above, there is a steep rise in the number of saints anointed each year. Also, a rising curve points to a future, where expect more saints and blessed can be expected.
Let us take a look the number of saints and blessed geographically. The place was decided according to the place of death of each person.
As seen from the graph, a chunk of the saints and the blessed have come from Italy, while a meagre 2% belong to Asia. But this trend is clearly changing, according to the initially-mentioned Harvard research paper titled “Economics of Sainthood” by Prof Robert J Barro.
According to him, through the 1970s, blessed persons were predominantly from Western Europe (including Italy). However, at least since 1980, there has been a clear globalization of the process. For example, from 1980 to 2009, the shares of beatifications were thus: 10% Eastern Europe, 3.5% Asia, 1.9% Africa, 10% Latin America and 5% North America.