Canonization is the solemn act by which the Pope, with definitive sentence, inscribes in the canon or catalogue of saints a Christian person who has been previously beatified. By this act, he declares that the person placed on the altar now reigns in eternal glory and decrees that the Universal Church show him honor due to a saint. The solemn canonization of a saint is an infallible and irrevocable decision of the Pope. For the Pope to decide for the canonization, he needs a divine sign of approval which we call a miracle.
A miracle may be defined as an extraordinary religious occurrence that came about through a special and gratuitous intervention of God. It is contemporaneously a sign or a manifestation of a divine message to man and a call to conversion. A miracle is a supernatural occurrence, and so, it cannot be explained scientifically. A major miracle is required for the canonization.
After the beatification of Pedro Calungsod on 5 March 2000, many different divine favors were reported by people who asked for his intercessory aid. Choosing a major miracle from among these favors was not an easy task. There had to be sufficient objective documentation. Such a criterion was met in a medical case that happened on 26 March 2003 at a hospital in Cebu City. The supernatural occurrence was reported by the doctor himself who was the one who invoked Blessed Pedro Calungsod.
The presumed miracle is about the rapid recovery of a 49-year-old patient from Glasgow Coma Scale score 3 and the absence of motor and sensory deficits thereof.
Coma (from Greek “koma” = deep sleep) is a deep state of unconsciousness in which individuals do not consciously respond to stimuli in their environment. The Glasgow Coma Scale is used to measure the depth of coma based upon observations of eye opening, speech, and movement. When we say that the Glasgow Coma Scale score is 3, it means that the patient is in the deepest level of coma. The patient does not respond with any body movement to pain, does not have any speech, and does not open his eyes.
The coma of the patient concerned started the day before, that is, on 25 March. It was caused by hypoxic encephalopathy which means a lack of oxygen supply to the brain (hypo = less + oxia = oxygen; encephalo = brain + pathy = disorder). In turn, the patient’s hypoxic encephalopathy was caused by a cardiac arrest which happened on 24 March. The heart stopped pumping blood that carries oxygen to the brain. Three days earlier, on 21 March, the patient underwent a heart surgery which was a mitral valve replacement and coronary artery bypass grafting. Both procedures went remarkably well. But, three days later the patient became so restless and had hard time breathing that led to the cardiac arrest and, eventually, to hypoxic encephalopathy.
Brain cells are extremely sensitive to oxygen deprivation. Some brain cells actually start dying less than five minutes after their oxygen supply disappears. As a result, hypoxic encephalopathy can rapidly cause death or severe brain damage. The longer the patient is unconscious, the higher risk for death or brain death, and the lower chances for a meaningful recovery. Complications of hypoxic encephalopathy include prolonged vegetative state – basic life functions such as breathing, blood pressure, sleep-wake cycle, and eye opening may be preserved, but the patient is not alert and does not respond to his surroundings. Such a patient usually dies within a year, although some may survive longer while having neurological deficits.
And so, on 26 March, knowing that the patient could die at any moment, the attending physician, who is an internist and cardiologist at the same time, invoked the aid of the Visayan teenage martyr saying, “Blessed Pedro Calungsod, please save the life of this patient! Perform a miracle!”
At 2 PM of the same day, the patient was subjected to an electroencephalogram (EEG), a test that measures and records brain waves representing electrical activity in the brain. It was done to find out if the patient in coma was brain dead or not. The EEG result was bad. According to the neurologist who interpreted the EEG, “There are some instances where there is a flat line. You hardly see any waves. This indicates the absence of electrical activity in that part of the brain. There are other areas where the waves become faster. The fact that there are instances where the tracing becomes flat or that there is the absence of electrical activity means that there are several parts of the brain that are not functioning anymore. The tracing is of poor prognosis. The chance of recovery is actually very small.” And if ever there was going to be any recovery, the patient would be in a vegetative state.
Nevertheless, at around 6 PM, just four hours after the EEG test, the patient started to gain consciousness.
In his testimony, the attending physician said, “It was rather a rapid recovery. Patients in such a situation would normally recover only after some weeks – that if they ever recover; but, in the case of this patient, it was in less than 48 hours. It was a definitive recovery from Glasgow Coma score 3 to normal mental status and no motor and sensory deficits upon discharge. The patient survived and is still alive today.”
The resident physician on his part said, “The recovery was gradual but not ordinary. It was gradual in the sense that, first, there was eye blinking; then there was the head movement. It was not ordinary in the sense that it was too soon; the patient was back to normal in about two days; was already moving, responding and would understand us talk. The patient had been in the lowest coma score. With that, one could not expect a big chance for recovery, and a very soon, rapid recovery at that.”
Another neurologist commented, “The recovery was quite rapid. I have seen a lot of hypoxic encephalopatic patients and they did not improve that fast, taking into account the fact that the examination showed a very markedly impaired brain stem function.”
After that incident, the attending physician made some consultations and discussions with other doctors for almost two years to verify if there could be some scientific explanations to the fact. One neurologist said, “If the patient was only like drowsy, the EEG waves would have shown movement artifacts and the patient could be awake in a few moments. If the patient was just sedated, most likely these reflexes should have been present; but, because of cerebral anoxia, there were no brain stem reflexes in the patient.”
Finding out that there could have been a supernatural occurrence, the attending physician reported the case to the postulation of the Cause for the Canonization of Blessed Pedro Calungsod. Subsequently, an Archdiocesan Canonical Process which involved physicians was instituted in Cebu to verify the presumed supernatural occurrence. The Process went through nine sessions from 15 December 2004 until 6 June 2005. Its positive result was presented to the Vatican which in turn recognized the validity of the Process on 25 November 2005. The Positio Super Miro which is a systematic presentation of documents and arguments on the presumed miracle was then prepared and submitted to the Vatican on 18 May 2006.
During the following years, the Vatican made a series of clarifications to which the postulation in Cebu also made precise and exhaustive responses. Six Vatican consultor physicians had to gather three times to discuss and clarify some details of the reported case, first on 29 May 2008, then, on 30 September 2010, and finally on 24 March 2011 when they unanimously pronounced that the reported case was beyond natural or scientific explanation.
On 2 July 2011, six Vatican consultor theologians authenticated that the supernatural healing was due solely to the intercession of Blessed Pedro. Then, on the following 11 October, fifteen Vatican consultors, among which were 7 cardinals, 5 archbishops and 3 bishops, unanimously affirmed that what the consultor physicians and theologians declared could point to an authentic major miracle and that it is opportune to declare Blessed Pedro a saint. A Decree on the authentic major miracle was then drawn up by the Vatican.
On 19 December 2011, Pope Benedict XVI received in audience His Eminence Angelo Cardinal Amato, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and authorized the promulgation of the Decree concerning the miracle attributed to Blessed Pedro Calungsod. By that decree, the Pope has made known to everyone that there is indeed an authentic major miracle performed by God through the intercession of Blessed Pedro.
On 18 February 2012, during the Consistory in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI formally announced that Blessed Pedro Calungsod will be canonized a saint on 21 October 2012.
It must be noted that the miracle performed by God through the intercession of Blessed Pedro Calungsod has been meant for the entire Church and not exclusively for the individual persons involved in the fact. Thus, the postulation has not disclosed as of the moment the names of the patient and the doctors. This is also to protect as much as possible the privacy of these persons and to help us direct our attention to the miracle itself which is a special and gratuitous intervention of God; a sign or a manifestation of a divine message to us and a call to conversion.
Let us then be assiduous in preparing ourselves spiritually so that we may be able to receive God’s abundant graces that come with the canonization of Blessed Pedro Calungsod.