Monday, January 19, 2015

What does it take to achieve literal sainthood – do Serra, Clemente qualify?

What does it take to become an officially-recognized saint of the Catholic church? It seems the criteria are ever evolving to the point where future saints aren’t going to be universally recognized.

With our current society being in a mode of wanting to turn every possible issue into a politically partisan brawl, how long will it be until our choice of saints becomes an issue to pick a fight over?

WHAT MOTIVATED ME to think about this was a pair of stories I stumbled across last week – one about the fact that Father Junipero Serra will be canonized as a saint. The other about the fact that certain people want to make a saint of one-time Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Roberto Clemente.

For those who are scratching their heads at the mention of Serra, he’s a character most of us encountered briefly in elementary school history classes. He was a Catholic friar who helped create the settlements that have evolved into California’s major cities.

Which means he helped create the first European settlements in what is now the United States. Although my own memories recall being in a fifth grade class in which none of my classmates could even fathom how to pronounce Serra’s name.

Serra helped to bring the Catholic church and European ways to the indigenous peoples who previously had called the west coast their home. We certainly wouldn’t have our modern-day society if not for his efforts.

OF COURSE, THE Los Angeles Times reported that is what ticks some people off to the point where they’re going to resent the fact that Pope Francis has given the 18th century friar the highest recognition the church can bestow upon his memory.

Because the Catholic church, in its desire to spread its influence and “save the savages” from eternal damnation, imposed such pressure to assimilate that the tribal influences were devastated – along with many of the individuals to whom foreign diseases brought by the church’s individuals wound up being deadly.

Serra – the saint who created our society, or some sort of Catholic killer?!? I’m sure there are those who can come up with even more over-the-top rhetoric when expressing their contempt for the lack of a native presence in California.

Then again, there are those who are all too eager to believe that California – and just about everything west of St. Louis – was a vast land of emptiness until the white settlers came along in the 19th century.

I’M SURE THEY’LL be the ones who will aggressively push Serra’s sainthood because it fits their notion of what the world ought to be.

Although I wonder what they’ll think of the notion of slugger Sammy Sosa’s idol also being recognized as a Catholic saint? It hasn’t happened yet – and may never happen. These kinds of things take time.

But the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported how the producer of a documentary film about Clemente’s life now wants to document the “miracles” he performed so that he can get official Catholic recognition.

Clemente was a ball player from 1955 until 1972 and is likely the best ball player the Pittsburgh Pirates ever had – whose career, and life, came to a sudden end when the airplane he was riding while filled with goods for victims of a Nicaragua earthquake crashed into the ocean near San Juan.

CLEMENTE’S BODY WAS never recovered. Although his memory became all-the-more elevated. Baseball gave Roberto its highest honor when it eliminated the five-year waiting period and immediately inducted him into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Apparently, that isn’t good enough for some.

Richard Rossi, who made the documentary and is trying to build actual support for sainthood, cites evidence of Clemente’s knowledge of pressure points and how they could be used to help ease pain. Does that amount to the ability to heal the sick? By that definition, just about every chiropractor qualifies for sainthood!

But how many chiropractors could win the World Series MVP (in 1971, against the Baltimore Orioles) while also inspiring the Latin American community? Or create a culture along the West Coast?


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