Since December of last year, you’ve likely been counting down the days until Blessed Mother Teresa — the saintly Albanian woman whose ministry in India has inspired countless people to holiness and whose Missionaries of Charity help the poorest of the poor — will be formally canonized as a saint. That day is growing closer (Sept. 4, 2016: only 4 days left).
On March 16, 2016, Pope Francis announced that Mother Teresa’s canonization was official, spurring great attention in the media. Throughout this year, there will be a number of other men and women who are to be beatified/canonized by the Holy Father. Read on to find out more about some of the Church’s newest saints in the making.
Takayama Ukon, Blessed Samurai
Takayama was a samurai and daimyo (a vassal to the shogun, the Japanese military commander) in the 1500s, after the first Christian missionaries had made their way to Japan’s soil. Takayama’s father was a convert to Christianity, and Takayama himself was baptized in the faith when he was 12 years old. Because the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu prohibited Christianity, Christians in feudal Japan were the subjects of great persecution. To stay true to his faith, Takayama was forced to abandon his high status and later fled into exile with 300 other Christians. He died in Manila in 1615, shortly after arriving in the Philippines. Due to the hardships he suffered under persecution in his home country, which led directly to his ill health and death, Pope Francis approved his beatification as that of a martyr.
Bl. Jose Gabriel del Rosario Brochero, Gaucho Priest
Fr. Brochero was an Argentinean priest who, in the words of Pope Francis, “smelled of his sheep.” After his ordination and holding a post as a philosophy teacher for his seminary, Fr. Brochero was given charge of the parish of St. Albert, which covered the space of 1,675 square miles. Riding on the back of a mule, dressed like a gaucho (Argentinean cowboy) in a sombrero and poncho, this humble priest traveled all over, leading his far-and-wide parishioners through the Spiritual Exercises and bringing the sacraments to the sick. To improve access to the poorer highland regions, Fr. Brochero built nearly 125 miles of roads, set up post and telegraph stations and even planned the rail network through the Valley of Traslasierra. In tending to victims of cholera and leprosy, he eventually contracted leprosy himself, which led to his death in 1914. His last words are held to be, “Now I have everything ready for the journey.”
Bl. Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio, Teenage Cristero
Young José lived during in Mexico in early 1900s, during the time of the Cristero War. When Mexican President Plutarco Elías Calles enacted anti-Catholic policies — closing Catholic schools, exiling and executing priests, etc. —a decade-long conflict followed between the State and the Cristeros who defended the country’s priests and the Catholic faith. Despite his age, José chose to follow in his older brothers’ footsteps by joining the Cristeros, wanting to give his life for Jesus and gain eternity in heaven. José was later captured during heavy fighting between the Cristeros and government troops, imprisoned in local church sacristy. To force José to renounce his faith, government officials to intimidate him by hanging one of the other captured Cristeros in front of him, but José wouldn’t speak a word against his faith. His captors later skinned the soles from his feet and forced him to walk barefoot to the cemetery. There, the officials said José would live if he said “Death to Christ the King.” José instead shouted “Viva Cristo Rey (Long live Christ the King)!” and was subsequently shot. He was fourteen years old.
Fr. Engelmar Unzeitig CMM, Angel of Dachau
Fr. Engelmar was a priest of Czech origin who served the people of Germany and Austria during the rise of the Nazi party. Because he preached against the Third Reich and condemned the Nazis’ abuse of the Jewish people, Fr. Engelmar was arrested by the Gestapo in April 1941. The 30-year-old priest was sent to Dachau, where countless other priests were also sent during World War II under the Nazis’ ill-treatment. While being in a concentration camp was bad enough, soon an epidemic of typhoid fever hit the camp. Fr. Engelmar and 19 other priests were the only ones to volunteer to tend to the victims, comforting those dying of typhoid and offering them last rites. Fr. Engelmar succumbed to typhoid himself in 1945, mere weeks before Dachau was liberated by American forces. His trust in God to the point of surrendering his life in service to others is what earned Fr. Engelmar the nickname “Angel of Dachau.” While in the camp, he wrote to his sister, saying this: “God’s almighty grace helps us overcome obstacles…love doubles our strength, makes us inventive, makes us feel content and inwardly free. If people would only realize what God has in store for those who love him!”
The example of Mother Teresa and all of the soon-to-be canonized/beatified men and women of the faith should be the great hope for our modern Church. As Pope Francis has said in “The Joy of the Gospel,” let us learn from the saints who have gone before us, bravely facing the unique social and political struggles of their place and time so that the gospel message might be known throughout the world.