VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul II beatified six Italian nuns and priests, including a 17th-century preacher who encouraged the city of Vienna to resist the Turkish army — and with it, the advance of Islam in Europe.
The Holy Father said Capuchin Father Marco d‘Aviano had helped defend the “freedom and unity of Christian Europe” and served as a reminder that the continent is founded on “common Christian roots.”
John Paul pronounced the beatification decrees April 27 during a Mass in St. Peter's Square attended by tens of thousands of people. The promotion of six Italian sainthood causes was a point of pride for Italy, which the Pope called “a fertile land for saints.”
The others beatified all founded religious orders in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They included Father Giacomo Alberione, considered Italy's “apostle of the mass media"; Sister Maria Cristina Brando, who left a wealthy family to devote her life to Eucharistic spirituality; Sister Eugenia Ravasco, who founded schools in northern Italy; Sister Maria Domenica Mantovani, known for her care of the poor and sick; and Sister Giulia Salzano, who made a special effort to influence the religiously indifferent.
The Holy Father said all six figures showed the way of holiness to men and women of today, who are called to be “apostles” in their own social and professional spheres.
Blessed d‘Aviano was considered a potentially controversial figure (see Media Watch, this page) because his beatification underlined a historical flash point between Christianity and Islam on the European continent.
Although the war was political and not religious, some historians believe that had the Ottoman army won the battle of Vienna in 1683 much of Europe would have been “Islamicized” afterward.
Well known for his sermons, Blessed d‘Aviano preached extensively in Vienna and is credited with having inspired the city with a defense that culminated in a key military victory Sept. 12, 1683. The Vatican's biography of the priest said that during his stay in the city he had “recalled and underlined the Christian identity of Europe, which should be preserved.”
John Paul, while not mentioning Islam, said circumstances had placed this “unarmed prophet” at the center of historic events.
“To the European continent, which is today opening up to new forms of cooperation, Blessed Marco d‘Aviano recalls that its unity will be stronger if based on its common Christian roots,” he said.
Blessed d‘Aviano's beatification was seen by some Italian commentators as a provocation to Muslims, especially in the climate created by the terrorist attacks of 2001 and the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But Vatican officials who coordinate dialogue with Muslims said that, so far, the beatification had not even been mentioned by Islamic representatives.
The Pope ignored the interreligious aspect and focused in his sermon on the spiritual qualities of Blessed d‘Aviano and the other five figures. He summed up the reason for their beatification in a few words.
“The Good News is a universal message destined for all people of all times. It is personally directed to everyone and asks to be translated into real lives,” he said.
“When Christians become ‘living Gospels,’ they transform themselves into eloquent signs of God's mercy, and their witness more easily reaches the hearts of people,” he said.
The Holy Father, resplendent in gold vestments, remained seated during the two-and-a-half-hour liturgy. As in recent weeks, he celebrated Mass on a specially equipped chair that was raised and lowered by pneumatic pressure.
As the portraits of the newly “blessed” were unveiled and their biographies read, the loudest applause rang out for Blessed Alberione, a pioneer in Church use of the mass media. He founded the Society of St. Paul and later the Daughters of St. Paul, as well as a series of related institutes and organizations aimed at putting modern means of communication and publishing at the service of the Gospel.
Known today as the “Pauline family,” its members are active in 28 countries in numerous fields: editorial work, bookstores, journalism, cinematography, television, radio, audiovisual, multimedia, research, formation and animation.
Even before he was beatified, Blessed Alberione topped a recent poll promoting a patron saint for the Internet. The poll, featured at an Italian Web site, attracted 70,000 participants — about 40% from Italy. The Vatican has given no indication when it might choose a patron saint for Internet users.
The April 27 liturgy, celebrated on Divine Mercy Sunday, brought to 1,310 the number of people beat-ified by John Paul, according to the Vatican press office. For four others, the Pope has issued a decree confirming their status as “blessed.” The total of 1,314 is close to twice the number beatified by previous popes, under saint-making rules established in the late 1500s.
Beatification is the major intermediate step in the process of canonization, or declaration of sainthood. The Pope has proclaimed more than 460 new saints, more than all his predecessors combined.