Pope Francis has canonised the first married couple to be made saints together at a ceremony in St Peter’s Square yesterday.
Louis and Zelie Martin had nine children, including Saint Therese of Lisieux, who died age 24 in 1897.
The parents became saints in their own right in a ceremony at the start of the final week of a summit where bishops and cardinals are discussing issues such as same-sex unions and communion for Catholics who divorce and remarry.
In order to be granted sainthood, the couple needed to have performed a miracle. Pope Francis said earlier this year that the pair had done that by curing a Spanish baby called Carmen. She was born prematurely and suffered a brain haemorrhage, but her parents prayed for the Martins’ intercession and she survived.
The Vatican recognised another miracle in 2008, saying the couple responded to prayers from the family of a sick Italian child called Pietro Schiliro.
Both Carmen, now seven, and Pietro (12) were present at the canonisation ceremony yesterday.
Francis told followers gathered in St Peter’s Square that the couple, Louis and Zelie Martin, “practised Christian service in the family, creating day by day an environment of faith and love which nurtured the vocations of their daughters”.
The Pope is particularly devoted to the 19th-century French Carmelite nun, fondly known as “The Little Flower”.
Francis has had a copy of Therese’s Story Of A Soul on his bookshelf since his days as a novice. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he had her image on his desk. And he has said that whenever he has a problem, he directs his prayers to Santa Teresita, as she is known in Spanish, and often a white rose appears to him as a sign that she has heard his prayers.
The Pope’s aim is to provide Catholic families with saintly role models who took particular care to educate their children in the faith: The Martins bore nine children, only five of whom survived. All five became nuns, including the youngest, Therese, at the age of 15.
“It’s the first time a couple have been canonised as a couple, and this is a beautiful sign for Christian families, who often are left without any support and have to go against the grain, especially in the West, to live and educate their children in the truth of creation and with that love that God has given us in Christ,” said the Rev Romano Gambalunga, the postulator who followed the saint-making case through.
It is not insignificant that both miracles required for the canonisation concerned the inexplicable cures of newborns born with what doctors determined to be life-ending ailments.