Saints or Sinners?

A couple of years ago I spent part of my summer walking the Camino de Santiago. As a New Zealander, it was my first trip to France and Spain, and while I had read some of their histories, and understood the influence of Roman Catholicism in both countries, nothing prepared me for the glorification of the history of religious wars and the Crusades, especially in Northern Spain. In most of the grand cathedrals along the Camino de Santiago in Spain, St James is celebrated and portrayed as a Moor slayer astride a white horse decapitating Muslims as he liberates Catholic Spain from Islamic rule and influence. I found it all quite repugnant, especially Catholicism’s glorification of killing people of another faith in the name of religion. It’s the antithesis of the Gospel message. Equally so is the 21st century aristocratic portrayal of Roman Catholicism under the new Pope, Francis. Initially renowned for adopting the name of one Catholicism’s great reformers, Francis of Assisi, the new Pope’s ‘simple life’ captured the imagination of millions of Catholic Christians, of whom I was one, who hoped for an authentic form of Christianity as preached through Jesus’ message in the gospels.
Recently, Pope Francis presided over an ancient and archaic ritual in which two former Popes, John Xlll and John Paul ll were canonised and declared saints. “We declare and define Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II to be saints and we enrol them among the saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole church,” said Francis in the official proclamation. Leaving aside the arrogance of this claim, the ceremony itself was anything but simple, and showed the Roman Catholic Church in all its refined, aristocratic glory. The Princes of the Church, in their royal finery portrayed a whole other story of wealth and privilege at the expense of the two thirds of the world’s Catholics who are abjectly poor.

What kind of church did these two ‘Saints’ preside over? Here’s an apt summary from the late Christopher Hitchens:

How could anyone be declared a Saint while presiding over such an institution which was inflicting so much pain and suffering on its members-especially its children?

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