VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While all Christians are called to live a life of holiness, only some are recognized as having lived life in such a way that they are canonized as saints, said the prefect of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints.
For the church, the candidate for sainthood must have lived the Christian virtues in a "heroic" way and there must be a broad recognition or "fame of holiness" of the candidate that makes him or her an exceptional and inspirational model for people today, Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, the prefect, said.
The distinction is important, he said, because there is "a universal call" for everyone to live a life of holiness, which is to journey along the path that leads to an encounter with Christ. And, yet "there are some concrete cases that may serve as encouragement, as inspiration, also as (receiving) greater attention, and that is holiness (recognized with) canonization."
The cardinal spoke at a Vatican news conference Sept. 19 offering a preview of a conference, "Sainthood Today," in Rome Oct. 3-6.
The conference aims to discuss and share with the wider public the criteria involved in saints' causes, particularly the "fame of holiness among the people of God," the cardinal said, and how it differs from the kind of "fame" associated with popularity, especially in the mass media.
For the church, the "fame of holiness" that must be evidenced in a cause for sainthood combines two aspects, he said.
First there must be "the conviction of the faithful about the holiness of a person, a conviction that arises from the perception of something exceptional, and it results in a request for intercession for one's own or others' needs," he said.
And this kind of "exceptionality" in the way the candidate lived must also "awaken in the people of God the awareness that we are all called to be saints" and, therefore, act as an inspiration and model for leading a holy life, he added.
He said the need to show "fame of holiness" has been "a bit overlooked" when it should be the starting point for a sainthood cause, not a kind of footnote added on to documentation showing the way a candidate lived the Christian virtues.
The conference also will discuss what the church means when it recognizes someone lived those virtues to a heroic degree, he added.
This kind of heroism is not "something muscular," being like Superman, he said, but it is "living one's human nature in fullness" with Christ.
It is a heroism of giving one's life, in response to God's call, as "an exemplary gift to Christ which sparks a desire in us to imitate" them, the cardinal said.
The conference also will look at how the church may better present its saints to the world so they are seen not as figures of the past, but as inspirational models and proposals for living life today, he added.