It is no surprise that Gaudete et exsultate, Pope Francis’ latest apostolic exhortation on holiness is making news (and waves!). Hopefully, it is also making saints.
Pope Francis exhorts the faithful to seek holiness. He encourages and edifies us, giving us the examples of many saints. Forty to be exact, (if we include those declared venerable and blessed) throughout the text.
Some of the saints are the “tried and true” favorites that almost Catholics know: Thérèse of Lisieux, Mother Teresa, Francis of Assisi, and Pope John Paul II, for example. But other saints are much lesser known. Some may be all but unheard of!
Let’s get to know some of these more obscure, but certainly holy men and women!
Venerable Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyęn Văn Thuân
Mentioned in paragraph 17 of the text, Pope Francis sets before the faithful the example of Venerable Van Thuân, “When Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyên van Thuân was imprisoned, he refused to waste time waiting for the day he would be set free,” the pope writes. “Instead, he chose ‘to live the present moment, filling it to the brim with love’. He decided: ‘I will seize the occasions that present themselves every day; I will accomplish ordinary actions in an extraordinary way'”.
Venerable Văn Thuân was a priest, bishop, archbishop, and eventually a cardinal from Vietnam. Imprisoned for 13 years (9 of them in solitude!), he did not waver in his faith. He felt a special connection the many martyrs of Vietnam. Upon his release from prison, Venerable Văn Thuân was placed under house arrest. He was only allowed to leave to go on a visit to his aging parents in Australia and to meet Pope John Paul II in Rome. In 1991 he was expelled from Vietnam. Pope John Paul II appointed him vice president, then president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 1994.
Venerable Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyên Văn Thuân was determined to love. He displayed heroic charity when he freely and willingly chose to love and pardon those who imprisoned him. When asked why, he responded “. . . Jesus has taught me to love everyone. If I don’t, I am no longer worthy to be called a Christian.”
Blessed Maria Gabriella Segheddu
Blessed Maria Gabriella is mentioned in paragraph 5 of Gaudete et exsultate as an example of the holiness of giving one’s life and offering one’s life for the good of others. “We can think, for example, of Blessed Maria Gabriella Sagheddu, who offered her life for the unity of Christians,” Pope Francis wrote.
The daughter of shepherds, Maria heard God call her to religious life. She entered the Trappist Monastery in Sardinia and devoted her life to prayer, and particularly to the cause of Christian Unity. Mentioned in John Paul II’s encyclical Et Unum Sint as well, she is a model of self giving and immolation. Her desire for Christian Unity and her love of God, allowed her to suffer and die with peace and without complaint. She died at the age of 25, after suffering through 15 months of tuberculosis, on April 23, 1939.
Saints Roque González, Alonso Rodriguez, and companions
In paragraph 141, Pope Francis reminds the faithful that sometimes entire communities or groups of people are canonized. This is usually for their witness even unto death for the faith. It is in this context in which he mentions Saints Roque Gonzaléz and Alonso Rodriguez. .
“Growth in holiness is a journey in community, side by side with others. We see this in some holy communities. From time to time, the Church has canonized entire communities that lived the Gospel heroically or offered to God the lives of all their members.” The pope went on to give several specific examples, writing, “We can think, for example, of the seven holy founders of the Order of the Servants of Mary, the seven blessed sisters of the first monastery of the Visitation in Madrid, the Japanese martyrs Saint Paul Miki and companions, the Korean martyrs Saint Andrew Taegon and companions, or the South American martyrs Saint Roque González, Saint Alonso Rodríguez and companions.”
Missionaries in Paraguay, these two Holy priests were martyred with another missionary priest, Saint Juan Castillo. Like the other holy saints mentioned in paragraph 141, these three martyrs not only were willing to sacrifice everything for love of God, but they left behind a legacy of love and loyalty to the faith that continues to this day.
Blessed Charles de Foucauld
Quoted in paragraph 155, Bl. Charles de Foucauld needs more than a paragraph to recount his amazing life and conversion. “If we realize that God exists, we cannot help but worship him, at times in quiet wonder, and praise him in festive song,” Pope Francis writes. “We thus share in the experience of Blessed Charles de Foucauld, who said: ‘As soon as I believed that there was a God, I understood that I could do nothing other than to live for him.'”
Charles’ early life was one of searching. Initially orphaned at age six and raised by his grandfather, he eventually renounced all religion and joined the army. His stubbornness, refusal to give up a mistress, and hesitancy to follow orders soon caused his dismissal from the army. Charles went on an expedition to Morocco and was intrigued by the devotion of the Muslims to their faith. This curiosity ignited a spark which grew into a flame. If there was a God, Charles wanted to know him.
Charles de Foucauld found his faith at age 28. He became a priest at age 43. He traveled to remote places where he wished to be an example of the Gospel and to live a life of hospitality and solitude. He translated the Gospels into Tuareg and today there are several orders, lay associations, and spiritual institutes that were inspired by his example.
Saint Cura Brochero
It can be surmised that this saint, whose full name is Jose Gabriel del Rosario Brochero, is special to Pope Francis. This saintly priest was the last saint then-Cardinal Bergoglio proposed for Canonization before becoming Pope! He is referenced in paragraph 162. Th pope writes, “As the sainted Cura Brochero observed: ‘What good is it when Lucifer promises you freedom and showers you with all his benefits, if those benefits are false, deceptive and poisonous?'”
The “cowboy priest,” as he was affectionately called, suffered from leprosy. But this did not slow him down, nor did it stop him from tending to his large flock of faithful Catholics in Argentina. He could be seen riding a mule and wearing a sombrero as he traveled great distances to bring the sacraments and hope to Argentinians throughout his huge parish. He was devoted to the sick and would remark, “woe if the devil is going to rob a soul from me.”
Saint Brochero started a school for girls and a house for Spiritual Exercises. He died on January 26, 1914, most likely from the leprosy he had contracted by visiting and hugging a leper who lived in his parish.
Here’s a list of all the saints mentioned in Gaudete et exsultate (and where you can find them in Pope Francis’ latest apostolic exhortation!):
Blessed Maria Gabriella Segheddu – paragraph 5
Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross – paragraph 8
Saint John Paul II – paragraphs 9, 45, 91, and 96
Saint John of the Cross – paragraphs 11, 117, and 148
Saint Hildegard of Bingen – paragraph 12
Saint Bridget – paragraph 12
Saint Catherine of Siena – paragraph 12
Saint Teresa of Avila – paragraphs 12 and 149
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux – paragraph 12 and 72
Venerable Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyên Van Thuân – paragraph 17
Saint Ignatius of Loyola – paragraphs 20, 69, and 153
Saint Josephine Bakhita – paragraph 32
Saint Francis of Assisi – paragraphs 46 and 100
Saint Anthony of Padua – paragraph 46
Saint Bonaventure – paragraph 46 and 174
Saint Augustine – paragraphs 49, 52, and 142
Saint John Chystostom – paragraph 52
Saint Thomas Aquinas – paragraphs 59 and 106
Saint Paul – paragraphs 60, 73, 76, 86, 113, 122 and 127
Saint Luke – paragraphs 70 and 81
Saint Matthew – paragraph 96
Saint Vincent de Paul – paragraphs 100 and 126
Saint Teresa of Calcutta – paragraphs 100 and 107
Saint Benedict – paragraphs 102 and 142
Saint Faustina Kowalska – paragraph 121
Saint Thomas More – paragraph 126
Saint Philip Neri – paragraph 126
Blessed Pope Paul VI – paragraph 130
The seven founders of the Order of the Servants of Mary – paragraph 141
The seven blessed sisters of the first monastery of the Visitation in Madrid – paragraph 141
Saint Paul Miki and companions – paragraph 141
Saint Andrew Taigon and companions – paragraph 141
Saint Roque Gonzalez and companions – paragraph 141
Venerable and blessed Trappists of Tibhirine – paragraph 141
Saint Scholastica – paragraph 142
Saint Monica – paragraph 142
Saint Joseph (in the context of the Holy Family) – paragraph 143
Blessed Charles de Foucauld – paragraph 155
Saint Cura Brochero – paragraph 162
Lastly, Pope Francis mentioned the example of The Blessed Mother “I would like these reflections to be crowned by Mary, because she lived the Beatitudes of Jesus as none other,” he wrote. “She is that woman who rejoiced in the presence of God, who treasured everything in her heart, and who let herself be pierced by the sword. Mary is the saint among the saints, blessed above all others.”