POPE FRANCIS has adjusted a centuries-old procedure on how people can become saints.
Until now, there were only three paths to achieving sainthood in the Catholic Church – being killed for the faith (martyrdom), living a life heroically of Christian virtues, and having a strong reputation for religious devotion.
The new category, introduced in an official letter from the Pope, is "one of the most significant changes in centuries to the Roman Catholic Church's saint-making procedures," Reuters said.
According to the Vatican's official news service, this fourth category has five main criteria:
1. The individual must freely and voluntarily offer their life in the face of "a certain and soon-to-come death"
2. There must be a "close relation" between "the offering of one's life and the premature death of the one who offers it."
3. The person must show Christian virtues, at least to an ordinary extent, before and after offering their life.
4. They must have a "reputation for holiness" at least after their death.
5. They must have performed a miracle. This is a major difference from the "martyrdom" category, which does not require a miracle.
The Pope's letter announcing the new category is called "Maiorem hac dilectionem” – from the passage in the Gospel of John: "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
Examples of people who might fall into that category include “those who take the place of someone condemned to death or expectant mothers with fatal diseases who suspend treatment so their babies can be born."
Nevertheless, candidates will still have to have two miracles attributed to them to achieve sainthood.
The Vatican pointed to Polish priest Maximilian Kolbe as an example.
Kolbe was being held at Auschwitz during World War Two when he offered to take the place of a fellow prisoner due to be killed.
He was executed in 1941 and eventually canonised in 41 years later in 1982.
The Catholic Church has posthumously conferred sainthood on its most holy followers for almost 2,000 years.
Well-known saints of Ireland include St. Patrick, St. Brigid, St. Columba and most recently Charles of Mount Agnus – who died in 1893 and was canonised almost a century later in 1988.
When the Pope adds a new path to becoming a Saint pic.twitter.com/Sf7rx2lbjm
— Classy Catholic (@ClassyCatholic) July 12, 2017