GK Chesterton the 'miracle' worker headed for sainthood
'Father Brown' author could be first English saint in 300 years following a report that Catholics are praying to him
A renowned author may become England’s first saint for 300 years after Catholic couples claimed he answered their prayers for “miracle” children.
GK Chesterton is best known for his short stories featuring the character Father Brown, a crime-solving priest loosely based on the man who was involved in his conversion to Catholicism in 1922.
But now he could become England’s first Roman Catholic saint since the 17th century, after an official report examining the strength of his case is published next month.
The Daily Telegraph understands that the document, commissioned by the Bishop of Northampton, will show that Catholics are praying to Chesterton and asking for intercession – his intervention in their lives.It will also dispute claims that Chesterton held anti-Semitic views and used Jewish character tropes in his work.
After the report is published the bishop will decide whether to open a “cause” with the Vatican, which begins the formal investigation into the extent of Chesterton’s holiness and the sanctity of his life.
Pope Francis may look favourably on the application, having reportedly been a member of the GK Chesterton Society in his home country of Argentina.
At a later stage of the canonisation process, the Vatican will look for evidence that he has performed posthumous miracles by answering prayers.
The report's findings show that infertile couples, in particular, are said to have singled out Chesterton, himself childless, to ask for miracle conceptions, said Canon John Udris, who compiled the report.“Very interestingly, I have noticed people saying that they are praying for him,” he said.“Because they didn’t have any children, Frances and Gilbert [Chesterton], so they are finding him as a bit of a go-to person, if for example a couple is infertile and looking to have a child.
“[Miracles] will be, if the cause is opened, down the line, what will people be looking for. And of course, people have already been feeding back,” Udris said.Chesterton was an eminent writer, and produced hundreds of stories, books, essays and plays.His works of Christian apologetics are highly regarded, and he was eventually knighted by Pope Pius XI before his death in 1936.
Opponents of Chesterton’s canonisation point to alleged anti-Semitic views he expressed in his lifetime, including the presentation of Jews as greedy or cowardly in his literary works.
Later in his life, Chesterton said that Jews should have to wear distinctive dress so that they could be identified, and opposed the defendant Alfred Dreyfus in a trial widely perceived to be an anti-Semitic miscarriage of justice.
Udris said that while presenting the views of “people who have hesitations, reservations, and actually who are dead set against the cause” is crucial to his report, his personal view is that there “wasn’t a racist bone in his body”.
“I won’t be making any recommendations, although he [Bishop Doyle] knows and I’ve made no bones about my personal hopes that the cause will be opened,” he said.
The last English saints to be canonised were the so-called Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, who were executed for treason and related offences between 1535 and 1679.
Although the 17th-century martyrs were recognised by Pope Paul VI only in 1970, if Chesterton’s cause is successful he would be the first English saint to have lived for more than 300 years.
The process of canonisation must begin at least five years after a person’s death, except for in exceptional circumstances decided by the pope, such as the canonisation of Mother Teresa.It usually takes at least 50 years, and the Vatican must find evidence that at least two miracles have been performed.
Chesterton’s grave is in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, and has become a landmark of local interest, although Udris said that residents “wouldn't have conceived of him in any sense as a candidate for a sainthood”, and that much of the pressure for his canonisation had come from abroad.
Members of the Argentinian Chesterton society and supporters in the US and Canada were the first to petition the Bishop of Northampton to begin the canonisation process in 2013.
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