The road to sainthood just got a little broader.
Pope Francis on Tuesday issued an apostolic letter creating a new category — a fourth one — under which someone could possibly become a saint. The pathway focuses on people who sacrifice their lives for others, according to the Vatican news agency.
Previously, gaining consideration for sainthood in the Catholic Church took only three routes: martyrdom (dying for your faith); living a life of heroic, Christian values; or having a saintly and devout reputation. One of the most well-known figures to take one of those paths in recent times was humanitarian Mother Teresa, who was canonized as Saint Teresa of Calcutta in 2016.
The category added Tuesday, called an oblatio vitae or a “free offering of one’s life” as described by the Vatican, involves people who freely accept an imminent death for the good of others.
The new category has five main criteria, the Vatican said:
• The free and voluntary offering of one’s life and heroic acceptance of a certain and soon-to-come death;
• A nexus — close relation — between the offering of one’s life and the premature death of the one who offers it;
• The exercise of Christian virtues before the subject’s offering of his or her life;
• The existence of fama sanctitatis — the reputation for holiness — on the part of the subject at least after their death;
• The performance of a miracle that occurred after the individual’s death.
“They are worthy of special consideration and honor, those Christians who, following in the footsteps and teachings of the Lord Jesus, have voluntarily and freely offered their lives for others and have persevered until death in this regard,” Francis wrote in the letter, according to the Catholic News Agency.
Pope Francis made news recently when he issued a letter in mid-June saying all bread used during communion must have at least some gluten, a naturally occurring protein in wheat, which is common in breads, pastas, cakes and cereals.
Pope Francis, center, accompanied by Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, left, greets faithful upon his departure from Monte Real Air Base, in Leiria, Portugal, May 13, 2017. Pope Francis urged Catholics on Friday to ‘tear down all walls’ and spread peace as he traveled to this Portuguese shrine town to canonize two poor, illiterate shepherd children whose visions of the Virgin Mary 100 years ago marked one of the most important events of the 20th-century Catholic Church.