The Vatican’s strategy to make up for shrinking numbers of the faithful in the traditional catchments of Europe and the West has energized the Catholic Church in India.
However, the process of canonization, mandating two miracles, has nevertheless led to a controversy over the archaic practice, centered on medical as well as theological grounds.
On October 13, Pope Francis conferred sainthood on Thrissur-born Mother Mariam Thresia, the founder of the Congregation of the Holy Family.
This prompted the Kerala chapter of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) to seek an explanation from Doctor V.K. Sreenivasan, a neonatologist at the Amala Institute of Medical Sciences in Thrissur, for reportedly “certifying the miraculous cure of a newborn afflicted with a seemingly incurable primary pulmonary hypertension.”
The child reportedly recovered dramatically after its parents prayed to Mother Thresia from the hospital bed in 2009.
“Dr Sreenivasan, who travelled to the Vatican as a witness, has to tell us what specific markers he had found in the child’s condition to claim supernatural healing. We come across many instances of a cure, often very rare and medically the least anticipated. But to call them miracles is outside the pale of medical ethics,” says Doctor N Sulphie, the IMA state general secretary.
The criticism from within the Church against miracles is centered on the legacy of saints, hailed as iconic examples rather than miracle workers or intercessors. The fullness of heroic lives of virtues, as witnessed by fellow humans, should be sufficient for their veneration as role models. Miracles are merely the interpretation, attributing divinity to causes mortals espouse.
Says Fr Paul Thelakat, the chief editor of “Sathyadeepam” (Light of Truth): “I do know that the Church has strict procedures with respect to miracles and relics, but I may suggest a real rethinking from the theological and scientific point of view two items in canonization, namely the necessity of two miracles and relics. It is time to have a cultural, theological and pastoral re-evaluation of the meaning and the relevance of relics in our times.”
India, home to Christianity for centuries, has survived the paradox of being without a saint for nearly 2,000 years. The first Indian saint was Gonzalo Garcia, a martyr, canonized in 1862. Out of a total of six saints in the country, five were canonized after 2000.