Dear editors at USA Today:
I thought that I would drop you a note, after reading a recent feature on your USA Today Network wire that ran with this headline: "What it takes to become a saint."
That's interesting, I thought. That's a pretty complex subject, especially if you take into account the different meanings of the word "saint" among Christians around the world, including Protestants. And then there is the unique use of this term among believers in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
At the very least, I assumed that this "news you can use" style feature would mention that, while the canonization process in the Roman Catholic Church receives the most press attention, the churches in the world's second-largest Christian flock -- Eastern Orthodoxy -- have always recognized men and women as saints and continue to name new saints in modern times. Also, high-church Anglicans pay quite a bit of attention to the saints, through the ages.
The Catholic process is very specific and organized, while the Orthodox process is more grassroots and organic. There is much to learn through the study of the modern saints in both of these Communions. This is a complex topic and one worthy of coverage.
Then I read your feature, which originated in The Detroit Free Press. It opens like this:
What does it take to become a saint?
Anyone can make it to sainthood, but the road isn’t easy. The journey involves an exhaustive process that can take decades or even centuries.
The Catholic Church has thousands of saints, from the Apostles to St. Teresa of Calcutta, often known as Mother Teresa.
Here are the steps needed to become a saint, according to Catholic officials. ...
What is the journalism problem here?
To cut to the chase, the entire story is dedicated to the canonization process in Roman Catholicism, without even a sentence or two acknowledging that other Christians recognize the unique status of holy women and men as saints, worthy of veneration (not "worship") by the church.
Perhaps the headline should have read: "What it takes to become a Catholic saint" or, to be more specific, "How the Vatican determines who is a Catholic saint."
The Vatican process that leads to canonization certainly deserves coverage and detailed coverage. I appreciate this passage in this feature:
Beatification to be called blessed can be done through two routes: The pope declares that the candidate is a martyr for his or her faith or proof of a miracle because of the intercession of the candidate is validated.
"God is the one who performs a miracle, but it is attributed to the intercession of the individual under consideration" for sainthood, Browne said.
Once a person is declared blessed, public veneration -- the honoring of the person or a relic associated with the person -- is allowed at the local or regional level.
That's helpful, since the public is often confused by reports of people being healed through a miracle performed "by" a saint, such as St. Pope John Paul II.
Why did I bring this up?
Well, I freely admit that this matters quite a bit to me, as a religion-beat journalist who studied lots of church history at the undergraduate and graduate-school levels. I was also raised Southern Baptist, before converting to Eastern Orthodoxy as an adult.
Trust me, I understand that there are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world and that the sainthood process in this great global church creates a lot of news, and even controversy.
Meanwhile, the world's Orthodox churches, combined, have about 260-300 million members and, as mentioned earlier, the process of recognizing new Orthodox saints is much more local and low key.
In other words: There is no one central press office that makes this kind of announcement. I understand why Eastern Orthodoxy receives less attention, on topics such as this.
Still, Catholics are not the only Christians with "saints," even if that term is used in different ways. Also, the ancient Orthodox churches venerate the "catholic" and "Catholic" saints of the first Millennium, before the schism between East and West. And our churches and monasteries continue to praise God for the lives of new saints and the miracles associated with them.
Maybe some of these facts deserved a sentence or two? Maybe even a paragraph addressing the rest of global Christianity? At the very least, maybe this otherwise fine piece of explanatory journalism needed a more detailed, accurate, headline?