VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday proclaimed Spanish St. John of Avila (1499-1569) and German St. Hildegarde of Bingen (1098-1179) “doctors” of the church, one of the Catholic Church’s highest honors.
The proclamation of the two new doctors of the church was made by the pontiff before several tens of thousands of people who gathered in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican for the opening of the two-week synod of the world’s bishops to chart the church’s new evangelization mission.
The two saints join the small number – just 35 proclaimed over the Catholic Church’s 2,000-year history – of doctors of the church.
St. John of Avila is the patron of the Spanish clergy and joins other great doctors of the church who were born in Spain: St. Isidoro of Sevilla (560-636), St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) and St. John of the Cross (1542-1591).
Other doctors of the church include St. Catherine of Siena and St. Therese de Lisieux.
The proclamation was made in St. Peter’s Square at 10 a.m. and afterwards the thousands of people present broke into sustained applause lasting several minutes and holy music was played.
The gaze of all present was directed to the main facade of St. Peter’s Basilica, where huge pictures of the two new doctors of the church had been hung.
The proclamation had been requested by Cardinal Angelo Amato, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
After the reading of brief biographies of the new doctors, the pope performed the proclamation rite in Latin.
“St. John of Avila lived in the 16th century. Deeply knowledgeable about the Holy Scriptures, he possessed an ardent missionary spirit. He knew how to deeply penetrate the mysteries of the redemption performed by Christ for humanity. A man of God, he combined constant prayer with apostolic action,” the pope said.
Pope Benedict XVI added in his homily at the associated Mass that the Spaniard devoted himself to preaching and increasing the practice of the sacraments, “concentrating his efforts on improving the training of candidates for the priesthood and laypersons, with an eye toward an enriching reform of the Church.”
Attending the proclamations was a large official Spanish delegation headed by Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria and the president of the Junta of Communities of Castile-La Mancha, Maria Dolores de Cospredal Garcia.