Louis and Zélie Martin will formally join their daughter, doctor of the Church St. Thérèse of Lisieux, in the communion of saints on Oct. 18 at the Vatican. Pope Francis, on March 18, officially recognized a miracle attributed to the intercession of the husband and wife, and on June 27, he approved the decrees for their canonization at a consistory of bishops.
Carmelite Father Antonio Sangalli, the vice postulator of the cause for the canonization of the Martins, opened the investigation into their lives of sanctity immediately after hearing of the miracle in early 2008. The Martins were beatified on Oct. 19 of that year.
Father Sangalli recently spoke to the Register about the miracle, the significance of this canonization — the first time a married couple has been canonized together in Church history — and the couple’s sanctity.
Would you describe briefly the miracle related to the canonization and how you came to know about it?
It actually began rather randomly. I was heading to Spain, accompanying the reliquary of St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s parents, Blesseds Louis and Zélie Martin, after delivering the reliquary to the then-Pope Benedict XVI after their recent beatification.
During the pilgrimage, we stopped at a sanctuary [Lérida] in Spain dedicated to St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus located near Barcelona (in fact, it is the only sanctuary in Spain dedicated to this French saint). There, we had scheduled a time for the veneration of the reliquary, and it was during this visit that I first heard the news of an “alleged miracle.” The shrine’s rector introduced me to a Spanish couple, Santos and Carmen, who were there in thanksgiving for the recent miraculous recovery of their daughter, Carmen Perez Pons, which they attributed to the Martins. Carmen was born prematurely and with numerous pathologies and stage IV left-intraventricular cerebral hemorrhaging. I immediately became interested in the case.
After that meeting, January 2009, I began an inquiry, gathering documentation and testimonies in order to verify if the case had grounds for further investigation. After certain verifications, we decided to undertake a more thorough study. The investigation took place from 2008 to 2014, from the time the canonical process was opened to when it was closed, including when it was brought to the Holy See in Rome.
How did it come about that Carmen’s parents decided to pray for the Martins’ intercession?
Carmen had been born Oct. 15, 2008, four short days before the beatification of Louis and Zélie Martin. Considering the little girl’s name, birthday and nationality, Carmen’s parents originally planned to ask the intercession of St. Teresa of Avila [a Spanish Carmelite saint and doctor of the Church, whose feast is Oct. 15, the day of Carmen’s birth].
While Santos sought a church dedicated to St. Teresa, he stumbled upon a Carmelite monastery in Serra, near Valencia. It was the Carmelite sisters who suggested the couple pray to the newly beatified couple. That November, in communion with the sisters and many in the community, Carmen’s parents began a novena for the girl’s healing — she was expected to die or survive with severe physical-psychological difficulties. Inexplicably, little Carmen started to overcome all of the grave medical complications, eventually leaving the hospital as a perfectly healthy and normal child.
You must have been obviously pleased, but were you surprised at the news of the Martins’ upcoming canonization?
Yes. For me, it was a surprise. No one expected a beatification and canonization to take place over so little time. It happened so fast. Thanks be to God, however, I met Carmen’s parents. But the reason is inexplicable [regarding the quick process] because no one can “produce” a miracle. Miracles happen, and we find ourselves amidst them. It was very providential: first that it happened and then how I came to know about it. Miracles can never be the fruit of a strategy or something we put into action.
Time between a beatification and canonization can take years. Yes, four years passed in this case, but it was not expected, and awaiting a miraculous event, but in which one was already in discussion, [requires] a serious study to take place. Not only is the upcoming canonization God’s gift, but also the desire that God wants these spouses to be recognized as saints [together], the first ever in the Church’s history, and thus a new phase in its history. It signals that the vocation of marriage marks a path to sanctity and can be lived and achieved, as these two did.
Given this current cultural period, in which the family is in crisis, what is the significance that a married couple will be canonized together? These are parents who already have one daughter canonized and another being considered for sainthood, Léonie (Visitation Sister Francoise Therese).
The family has a privileged role, a role par excellence, in the formation and tradition of the Christian faith. It is the primordial place in which one first becomes Christian. Often, it is through the witness and experience of faith from the parents that one begins to learn and live the faith. Then, we must consider a dad and mom as a couple: A married couple is not only called to live as an example of conjugal love, but also openness in family life. They must demonstrate that the faith is not something merely personal and enclosed, but participatory and missionary. It has a part to play in evangelization — the gospel of the family — which means the propagation of the faith in an active manner. We must use instruments appropriate for our time to transmit the faith in family life, in the upbringing and education of children.
In view of the upcoming Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, October 2015, it will, without a doubt, be looking at the important role that a married couple, a dad and a mom, has in the life of the Church, with their specific role of evangelization that begins in the home with their children; also, fundamentally how spouses live their vocation as a means of sanctification and how they approach the married life. All of these elements will be looked at in the light of faith and with Christ at the heart of the spousal union, as was the case of Louis and Zélie Martin.
Since you have studied the cause of the Martins’ canonization, how would you describe the personal characteristics and spiritual charisma of this couple?
Louis and Zélie were a Christian couple dedicated to living the faith in a manner appropriate to the laity, a spirituality adequate for the married life, a holiness achieved and lived through married and family life. They demonstrated that conjugal love is a means to sanctity, a journey toward holiness made by two together. This, for me, is the most important characteristic for consideration of the family today. There is a huge need of this: a simple spirituality achieved in daily life.
Some time ago, Pope Francis explained that the Christian life is anchored on two pillars: corporal and spiritual works of mercy. He explained how incredibly important works of mercy are. Works of mercy were the very base on which Louis and Zélie Martin built their life. They showed love for neighbor, for family, for life, through corporal and spiritual works of mercy; and by carrying out these works, they grew in love for God and neighbor.
As we know, Pope Francis recently called for a Jubilee of Mercy, which, like the Martin parents, we must live out through works of mercy. We must carry out these works in all areas of life: at home, work, school and within all of our relationships. This, to me, was the Martins’ special charisma that they impart to us.
Register correspondent Cecilia O’Reilly writes from Rome.