By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
São Paulo, Brazil
Benedict XVI has canonized the first saint born in Brazil, an 18th century Franciscan named Frei Antônio de Sant’Ana Galvão, popularly known as “Frei Galvão,” whom the pope praised as a model of Eucharistic piety, priestly sacrifice, and charitable service of others.
Though Benedict did not put it this way, Frei Galvão is an icon of what the pope considers an authentic form of liberation theology: one that puts God and the life of the spirit first, direct charitable care of others second, and only then draws consequences for a just social order.
In that sense, Benedict held up Frei Galvão as an illustration of what the pope regards as a deep truth: That no program of social service or political action will ever bring lasting justice and peace, if it is not rooted in the full truth about the human person expressed in Jesus Christ.
To underline the point, the pope quoted himself, from his homily in Cologne during his first foreign trip: “Only from the saints, only from God does true revolution come, the definitive way to change the world.” He called the saints of our epoch as the "true reformers."
“United with the Lord in the supreme communion of the Eucharist and reconciled with him and our neighbor, we will thus become bearers of that peace which the world cannot give,” Benedict said in his homily for the canonization Mass at São Paulo’s “Campo de Marte,” before a crowd in the hundreds of thousands.
“Will the men and women of this world be able to find peace if they are not aware of the need to be reconciled with God, with their neighbor and with themselves?” Benedict asked rhetorically. “The action of the church and of Christians in society must have this same inspiration.”
In keeping with his pastoral emphasis on Catholic fundamentals, the pope urged Brazilians to renew their devotion to Mary, their reverence for the Mass, the importance of marriage, and their consciousness of the need to confess their sins.
Benedict stressed Galvão’s sense of sin, quoting a phrase from his formula of canonization: “Take away my life before I offend your blessed Son, My Lord!” The pope said these are “strong words” which should form part of the spiritual life of every Christian.
The pope urged Brazilians to “oppose those elements of the media that ridicule the sanctity of marriage and virginity before marriage.”
In a Catholic culture heavily influenced by the charismatic movement and by progressive currents in the church, where observance of the fine points of Catholic liturgical law has never been a towering priority, Benedict added that Christians must learn from priests, inspired by Galvão, through the “exemplary manner in which they carry out the prescribed rites.”
Given that Galvão was a Franciscan, Benedict praised the Franciscan charism and offered special greetings to the members of the Franciscans present at the Mass. He also praised the Conceptionist Sisters at the Monastery of Light in São Paulo who spread devotion to Galvão.
Interesting, in his public references to Galvão, Benedict XVI has never mentioned what for many Brazilians is the most important aspect of his devotion – the paper “pill” which he instructed devotees to ingest while reciting a prayer to the Virgin Mary, in hopes of various miracles. The miracle which cleared the way for his canonization, for example, involved a woman with a blockage in her uterus which should have prevented her from carrying a baby to term, but who become pregnant after ingesting one of Galvão’s pills and was able to give birth to a healthy son.
Benedict’s reticence may reflect the fact that while he has a healthy respect for popular religiosity, it’s not at the heart of the personal spirituality of this more cerebral and reserved pontiff.