This volume is a continuation of the revision and updating of Alban Butlerís Lives of the Saints. This new edition of Butlerís Lives, published between 1995 and 1999, consists of twelve volumes for each month of the year and presents many, but not all, blessed and saints recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. Prompted by the liturgical reforms of Vatican II and the staggering promotion of saints during the pontificate of John Paul II, this new series has been well-received as an invaluable resource. Now Burns in this current volume provides a very useful updating of this series by including all beatifications and canonizations enacted between late 1999 and 2003.
Burns presents 130 entries from this period covering a considerable spectrum of figures. Notable are founders of religious order, bishops, popes (Pius IX and John XXIII), martyrs, missionaries, clerics, and laity. In his introduction, Burns observes that this company of blesseds and saints represent some shifts in the traditional demographics of sanctity in the Roman Catholic tradition, though not in a dramatic way. While in this volume there are more women, laity and people from the developing world represented, the majority still remain male, clergy or religious, and from western Europe. Though this volume contains 130 entries, this does not represent the full number of people commemorated. A number of entries represent groups of martyrs, in some cases numbering in the dozens or hundreds, as with the martyrs of Ukraine or St. Augustine Zhao Rong and the 119 Companions of China. Burns aptly notes that most of these martyrs were either victims of the Spanish civil war, the Nazi regime or various communist governments, but martyrs like Archbishop Oscar Romero or victims of state security services in the Americas are not represented, reflecting the political priorities and sympathies of the Vatican and the mitigating factors that complicate canonization processes.
Perhaps the single thing that makes this particular volume unique is that all the figures in it are products of John Paul IIís remarkable canonization campaign. This feature distinguishes it from the previous twelve volumes of this series that covered two millennia of Christian devotion to the saints. As Burns notes, John Paul IIís promotion of sanctity was a prominent element of his desire to strengthen local manifestations of Roman Catholicism around the world in accordance with his particular vision of the role of the Church in the contemporary world. Given the impressive work of the late pope in this regard, what will be the future of canonization processes in the Vatican? Since the end of 2004, eleven blesseds and saints have been proclaimed. Will they represent the end of the single greatest production of saints in the history of the Church? Will Benedict XVI and his successors retain the same enthusiasm for making saints? As with many aspects of our age, one senses while considering this volume that we are on the brink of a new period, but we remain uncertain regarding its shape.