ROME—Today’s world can learn a lot from St. John of Avila, according to those who have studied the life of the newest Doctor of the Church.
“St. John of Avila is far from us in time, but nearby for his figure, his life, his evangelizing witness and for his teaching,” Archbishop Juan del Río Martín of Spain’s Archdiocese for Military Services told CNA.
Archbishop del Río Martín was one of three experts on the Spanish saint who gathered in Rome on Jan. 20 for the presentation of a new book in Spanish that explores the writings of St. John of Avila.
The archbishop, who wrote his doctoral thesis on St. John of Avila’s teachings, believes that Pope Benedict made an investment in the future of the Church by choosing the 16th-century saint as a doctor of the Church.
The Pope has called the Church to a new evangelization, he notes, and in the “Apostle of Andalusia” she has a “model of how to evangelize.”
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. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Francis Borgia, among others.
He is credited with re-evangelizing the southern Spanish region of Andalusia after it was reclaimed from the Moors.
The Apostle of Andalusia is now venerated in Spain as the patron of the nation’s priests.
In fact, Pope Benedict chose a meeting with priests and seminarians during World Youth Day celebrations last August in Madrid to declare that the saint would become a Church “doctor.”
He hoped 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.”
The recognition places St. John of Avila among 33 others, such as Sts. Thomas Aquinas, Augustine and Therese of Lisieux, whose contributions have been declared a source of truth and of value to Christians in all times. Church “doctors” are also required to have manifested “eminent learning” and “great sanctity” in their lives.
María de la Encarnación González, the postulator of the saint’s cause for being declared a Church doctor, said that John of Avila truly lived out his faith and knew how to share it.
“St. John of Avila was a great communicator. Therefore, the work he did has led him to this point where the Pope considers that he demonstrated all of the requisites to become a Doctor of the Church,” she said.
Though no date has been announced for his installation, it is significant that the Pope has chosen him to be a doctor as a “new evangelization” movement gears up in the Catholic Church.
Not only has a special Vatican department been created to oversee these efforts in the West, but bishops from around the world will come to Rome in Oct. 2012 to discuss the topic for three weeks.
“How do we evangelize in the 21st century?” asked Archbishop del Río Martín. Catholics must learn to express their love for Jesus Christ the way St. John of Avila did when he said he felt “leased by Christ,” the archbishop remarked.
“In Jesus Christ,” he said, “was revealed a God of love, who preaches and sends out love. And that love must be shown to men through the word, the sacraments and charity.”