VATICAN CITY, MAY 15, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Two women missionaries, from the United States and Spain, are the first to be beatified during the Pontificate of Benedict XVI.
American Marianne Cope (1838-1918) and Spanish Ascensión of the Heart of Jesus (1868-1940) were raised to the altars on Saturday in St. Peter’s Basilica. Portuguese Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for Sainthood Causes, presided at the ceremony.
The Bishop of Rome has taken up on this occasion the Papal tradition of not presiding at beatifications, a practice that was interrupted in 1971 by Paul VI, when beatifying Polish priest Maximilian Kolbe.
Beginning in the Holy Year of 1975, Paul VI presided over beatifications until the end of his Pontificate. John Paul II continued in the steps of Paul VI, and presided over the beatification of 1,338 members of the Church.
Cardinal Saraiva Martins delivered his homily in Italian, Spanish and English, taking into account a numerous presence of American, Latin American and Spanish pilgrims.
He described Marianne Cope’s life as “a wonderful work of divine grace.”
An evangelizer of lepers in Molokai, she was the successor of the apostle of the lepers on the Hawaiian island, Blessed Father Damian De Veuster.
Born in Heppenheim, Germany, she was christened Barbara. She immigrated to New York in the United States when she was three-years old, and eventually became a U.S. citizen.
She belonged to the Sisters of the Third Order of Saint Francis of Syracuse, New York. She held several positions of responsibility, but gave her final testimony of charity working with the lepers in the secluded island community, where she died Aug. 9, 1918.
“Blessed Marianne loved those suffering from leprosy more than she loved her very self. She served them, educated them, and guided them with wisdom, love and strength. She saw in them the suffering face of Jesus,” explained the cardinal.
“Like the Good Samaritan, she became their mother. She drew strength from her faith, the Eucharist, her devotion to our blessed Mother, and from prayer. She did not seek earthly honors or approval. She wrote: ‘I do not expect a high place in heaven. I will be very grateful to have a little corner where I can love God for all eternity,'” he stated.
The cardinal described Ascensión of the Heart of Jesus, co-founder of the Dominican Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary, dedicated to the evangelization of the Amazonian tribes, as “one of the great missionaries of the past century.”
“She made frequent apostolic trips to Peru and Europe, and even went to China. She had the temper of an intrepid and tireless fighter, as well as a maternal tenderness capable of conquering hearts,” he said.
Born Florentina Nicol Goñi in Tafalla, Spain, she eventually entered the congregation of Dominican Sisters of the Third Order of Huesca. She was a teacher and directress of the school adjacent to the convent.
At 45, she traveled as a missionary to Peru, where she helped Dominican Bishop Ramón Zubieta in the foundation of the Dominican Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary, of whom she was the first general superior. She died in Pamplona, Spain, Feb. 24, 1940.
Cardinal Saraiva Martins announced that Benedict XVI set the feast day of Marianne of Molokai on Jan. 23, and that of Ascensión of the Heart of Jesus on Feb. 24.