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Pope Francis has announced a new way to becoming a saint.
He has added a fourth pathway to possible sainthood on top of the existing three criteria.
Until now, gaining consideration for sainthood in the Catholic Church required martyrdom, living a life of heroic values or – less frequently invoked – having a clear saintly reputation.
The Vatican announced that the Pope has issued a law outlining a new route: people who lived a good Catholic life and who freely accepted a certain and premature death for the good of others.
While John Paul II streamlined the canonisation process, the norms for beatification have been in place for centuries.
Under the new category, a miracle must be attributed to the candidate’s intercession prior to beatification, the first step towards canonisation as a saint.
Martyrdom, which stipulates being killed out of hatred for the faith, does not require a miracle.
Under the new rules, those who lay down their lives to help others by ‘following in the footsteps and teaching of Jesus’ will be eligible for beatification.
In an apostolic letter, Pope Francis wrote: ‘The heroic offering of life, suggested and sustained by charity, expresses a true, full and exemplary imitation of Christ.’
The Vatican’s official journal, the Osservatore Romano, said candidates for beatification under the new rules could include Christians who tended to sick people with the plague who went on to die of the disease.
Pope Francis said these Christians are ‘worthy of that admiration which the community of the faithful has usually reserved for those who have voluntarily accepted the martyrdom of blood or have exercised the Christian virtues to a heroic degree’.