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Aren’t Martyrs Automatically Canonized?

Q: The feast of Saint Charles Lwanga and companion martyrs (June 3) recently raised a question for me. On July 17, 1794, 16 Carmelite nuns were guillotined in Compiègne, France, for their faith. As a secular Carmelite, I have always considered them a beacon of love and uncompromising faith. Doesn’t the fact that they were martyred for their faith automatically make them saints? Why would any miracles be needed?

A: God does not wait for the Church’s canonization process in order to decide who gets into heaven. The canonization process is to the benefit of the Church on earth—not to keep God’s records straight.

If two groups of people in different centuries give up their lives for their faith, does it make sense to discuss who is more or less deserving of that title?

I applaud your devotion to the Carmelite martyrs. Perhaps you will live long enough to see them officially canonized.

Incidentally, in 1964 when Pope Paul VI canonized Charles Lwanga and his companion martyrs, the pope made reference to several Anglican young men who were killed by the same king and for the same reason.

May all of us be as open to God’s grace as all the saints in heaven (formally recognized or not) were.


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