Research Seminar: "John Paul II’s Canonization Policy: the Italian Case" - Valentina Ciciliot (Notre Dame)


Location: Special Collections, Hesburgh Library

The Italian Research Seminar

Valentina Ciciliot (Notre Dame) - "John Paul II’s Canonization Policy: the Italian Case"

Thursday January 26 at 5:00pm in Special Collections, Hesburgh Library

The expression “canonization policy”, though not unanimously accepted by Catholic historiography, indicates the presence of a particular papal project behind canonization – one that is not just pastoral, but also political. This concept is highly applicable to the approach of pope John Paul II, who declared a significant number of “blessed” (1342, 968 men and 374 women) and “saints” (482, 375 men and 125 women) during his pontificate (1978-2005). This amount constitutes more than half of all saints proclaimed by the Catholic Church from the establishment of the Congregation of Rites (1588). The sheer numbers involved point compellingly to canonization being turned into an active instrument of ecclesiastical governance.

Additionally, the public impact that a beatification or a canonization can have on society suggests a new attempt by the Catholic Church to reinforce its presence and influence across the world, particularly through proposing specific hagiographical models related to the needs of local communities. It could also be considered that these models are designed to assert the Vatican perspective. The high number of Italians declared blessed and/or made saints strongly suggests the special interest the pope showed in the sanctity of the country. The high concentration of beatifications and canonizations of hagiographical figures from Italy can be explained only in part by the canonical system, which regulates the process of canonization. This system influences the ease to open and support a cause – most especially from a financial point of view –, if the pressure group behind the candidate for sainthood is located near the Vatican. More precisely, two phenomena emerge: first, the attempt to create a specific public image of Italy as a nation which has been a historic stronghold of Catholicism and is still capable of reacting to secularization; secondo, the objective of laying down more effective guidelines and robust directives for civil society. In other words, by proposing Italian hagiographical models, John Paul II was striving to mold Italy’s national identity in a Christian form, thus attempting to make Italy a role model for other European countries.

Valentina Ciciliot is a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow at the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism (University of Notre Dame), working on a three-year project on the origins of the Catholic charismatic movement. Previously, she was a research fellow at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice (Italy). She was awarded her PhD at the University of Reading (UK) in 2013, undertaking research into John Paul II’s canonization policy, with a particular focus to the cases of female sanctity. Among her publications: “Le beatificazioni e le canonizzazioni di Giovanni Paolo II come strumenti di governo della Chiesa”, Humanitas, 65 (1/2010); “‘Heritage Talks. Heritage calls’: Some Instances of the Canonisation Policy of John Paul II in Italy”, Modern Italy, 18 (3/2013); “La strategia canonizzatrice di Pio XI (1922-1939) tra femminismo, Francia e fascismo”, Rivista di storia del cristianesimo, XI (2/2014); “Una santa sotto i riflettori: Madre Teresa di Calcutta tra lotta antiabortista e carità globalizzata”, Memoria e ricerca, 53 (3/2016).