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10 things you might not know about saints

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While he was pope, John Paul II canonized 482 people and beatified more than 1,300. On Sunday, he will be beatified, a key step on his own road to possible sainthood.

/ The Catholic Church recognizes two types of saints: Confessors and martyrs. Confessors show their purity through their extreme virtue; martyrs prove their piety by dying for the faith. Early Christians considered martyrs to be saints automatically.

/ The first U.S. citizen canonized was Frances Xavier Cabrini, a native Italian who is the patron saint of immigrants. The nun who helped found schools, hospitals and orphanages died in 1917 in one of the places she had built — Columbus Hospital in Chicago.

/ A first-class relic is a piece of a saint's remains. While a relic's authenticity is usually difficult to prove, its ability to capture the imagination of the faithful throughout history is undeniable. You can see relics — usually very small splinters of bone or pieces of cloth — in many Chicago churches, including Holy Name Cathedral, Queen of All Saints Basilica in Sauganash and Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica on West Jackson Boulevard.

/ Clare of Assisi, a 13th century saint, was in her sickbed, away from church. But she reported a vision in which she was able to see and hear the Mass anyway. Because of that skill, Pope Pius XII in 1958 declared her the patron saint of television.

/ St. Anthony of Padua's reputation as a great speaker is reflected in a tale about the transfer of his remains to a new vault in 1263, three decades after his death. St. Bonaventure reported that Anthony's tongue was undecayed and still red in color, so Bonaventure picked it up and kissed it.

/ Santeria, a religion that originated among slaves in Cuba, is Spanish for "the worship of saints." It's so named because the religion's first followers hid their reverence for African gods (orishas) under the guise of worshipping Catholic saints. Today, Santeria is an African-Catholic hybrid that serves as an example of syncretism, a combination of religions.

/ There was no Great Saint Purge in 1969. Word that many saints would no longer be remembered at Mass on their traditional day was misunderstood to mean they were no longer saints. Not true. Pope Paul VI was cleaning up the church calendar, demoting saints of which very little was known or who lacked worldwide significance. But the confusion and hurt were very real for believers of St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, whose statue rode shotgun in many an American's car.

/ In medieval France, a cult developed over a dog known as St. Guinefort. As the story went, Guinefort was guarding his owner's infant and killed a snake to protect the child. But the owner saw blood on the baby and the greyhound, assumed the worst and killed the dog. For centuries, a well that held Guinefort's remains was a pilgrimage site for people who considered the dog a saint. But Catholic officials banned such veneration.

/ Saints are often depicted in Christian art with telltale symbols related to their lives or manner of death. For example, St. Stephen, the first martyr, usually holds a basket of rocks, signifying how he was stoned to death. St. Bartholomew carries his own skin because he was flayed alive. St. Luke is often depicted with an ox because of the Gospel writer's emphasis on sacrifice.

/ You may know that the New Orleans Saints were named after the famous song "When the Saints Go Marching In." But did you know the birth of the team was announced on All Saints' Day, Nov. 1, 1966? The name was cleared with local Catholic Archbishop Philip Hannan, who gave his blessing, and then added: "Besides, I have this terrible premonition we might need all the help we can get."

Mark Jacob is a deputy metro editor for the Tribune; Stephan Benzkofer is the Tribune's weekend editor.

mjacob@tribune.com

sbenzkofer@tribune.com

Sources: "101 Questions and Answers on Saints," by George P. Evans; "Martyrs and Martyrdom in England, c. 1400-1700," edited by Thomas S. Freeman and Thomas Frederick Mayer; "In the Company of Animals: A Study of Human-Animal Relationships," by James Serpell; "The Encyclopedia of Saints," by Rosemary Guiley; "This Saint's for You!" by Thomas J. Craughwell; "Saints Preserve Us!" by Sean Kelly and Rosemary Rogers; "The Dictionary of Saints," by Annette Sandoval; "Santería: The Religion, Faith, Rites, Magic," by Migene González-Wippler; "The Rough Guide to Unexplained Phenomena," by Bob Rickard and John Michell; "Saints and Their Symbols: Recognizing Saints in Art and in Popular Images," by Fernando Lanzi, Gioia Lanzi; "Dictionary of Saints," by John J. Delaney; "The Saints, the Superdome, and the Scandal," by Dave Dixon, Peter Finney; Chicago magazine; New York Times, National Post (Canada); newadvent.org.

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