Making Saints

May 14, 1991

Queen Isabella of Spain a saint?

It has been proposed, apparently linked to the 500th anniversary next year of Christopher Columbus' voyage to the New World, which Isabella bankrolled.

Whether or not canonization should be treated as a promotional gimmick, like the Tall Ships regatta that spiced the American bicentennial, the idea ran into immediate opposition from other anniversary watchers who remember 1492. That was the year of the fall of Granada, completing the Christian reconquest of Spain from the Islamic Moors. And it was the year in which Queen Isabella signed an edict forcing Jews to either convert or be expelled from Spain.

The issue became controversial enough that a Vatican panel, the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, passed a resolution

recommending that Isabella not be beatified, the first step in the process of canonization. That doesn't necessarily end the matter, for jurisdiction belongs to a different body, the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, but it illustrates the ubiquity of politics, even in the spiritual realm.

Also ubiquitous is money.

Another woman mentioned as a possible saint is Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, the 19th-century Cuban refugee who founded Baltimore's Oblate Sisters of Providence. Archbishop William Keeler plans to petition the Vatican for her canonization -- a process that could cost a million dollars. The money is needed to research Mother Lange's life and provide evidence of miraculous works attributable to her influence. She would be the first black ,, female saint of the Roman Catholic church.

It seems an odd irony that so much money must be raised to honor a woman whose life and works were devoted to caring for the sick and ministering to black Catholics.

Compared to Queen Isabella, however, Mother Lange surely offers to today's believers the better model of Christian virtue.

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