Do the saints in heaven see and know all that we are doing? If so,…
‘Accidental evangelization’: extolling the virtues of the Saints
Oct. 13 had been anticipated for months, ever since the day was selected. Travel plans were made, and hotels were booked. God certainly didn’t disappoint with the weather, as the near capacity crowd gathered under cloudless skies, praying and cheering.
Turns out, it was a big day for the Saints.
New Orleans won 13-6 in sun-soaked Jacksonville, Florida, in front of more than 60,000 fans. The deciding score was a 4-yard pass in the fourth quarter to give the Saints the victory. It only would have been more fitting had it been a Hail Mary.
The sports world and the Catholic world gloriously collided on Oct. 13 when Pope Francis, in celebration of the canonizations of five new saints, tweeted out to his 18 million Twitter followers: “Today we give thanks to the Lord for our new #Saints. They walked by faith and now we invoke their intercession.”
Thanks to a partnership between NFL teams and Twitter, the pope’s use of the #Saints hashtag automatically embedded a fleur-de-lis — the logo of the New Orleans Saints — within the tweet, and it did not go unnoticed by Saints fans, who responded en masse with tweets and memes as they claimed Pope Francis as part of their famed Who Dat Nation. A few highlights:
- “Pope Francis told 18 million followers that he was #WhoDatNation I love it.”
- “This guy knows something. … If you bet against the #Saints today, God help you.”
- “Replies: 50% Amen Father, God Bless you; 50% Who dat Father.”
- “The mix of football and Catholics on this thread might be the best thing ever.”
- “Canonize Drew Brees.”
- “And we must ask the Lord to forgive the #Saints for their tresspasses (sic), which cost them 10 yards on a key third and long.”
Following the victory, the New Orleans Saints’ official Twitter handle tipped its hat in appreciation, tweeting: “Couldn’t lose after this. #Blessed and highly favored.”
But then, the team has been highly favored among Catholics since it came into the league on Nov. 1, 1966 — All Saints Day. New Orleans has long been a bastion of American Catholicism; it is the second oldest diocese in the United States (behind Baltimore), and its St. Louis Cathedral is the oldest continuously active cathedral in the country. To honor the city’s Catholic heritage, the team’s owners named them the Saints, even seeking approval from then-Archbishop Philip Hannan. A book of columns written and compiled by the legendary New Orleans sports reporter Peter Finney quotes the archbishop, who was asked by Dave Dixon, an official who helped bring the NFL to New Orleans, if naming the team the Saints was sacrilegious; he responded: “I told Dave I’d have no objection. But I also reminded him, from the viewpoint of the Church, most of the saints were martyrs.”
Later, in 1968, the archbishop even wrote a prayer for the Saints: “Our Heavenly Father, who has instructed us that the ‘saints by faith conquered kingdoms … and overcame lions,’ grant our Saints an increase in faith and strength so that they will not only overcome the Lions, but also the Bears, the Rams, the Giants, and even those awesome people in Green Bay. … Grant to our fans perseverance in their devotion and unlimited lung power, tempered with a sense of charity to all, including the referees … and may the ‘Saints Come Marching In’ be a victory for all, now and in eternity.”
So Pope Francis is hardly the first clergyman to extol the virtues of the saints — or the Saints. After the pope’s tweet, a Vatican spokesman said it was a case of “accidental evangelization” and that “maybe someone who didn’t know will become aware that there are other ‘saints’ to pay attention to.”
And following the canonizations in Rome, there are five more on the roster: St. Josephine Vannini, an Italian religious who helped found the Daughters of St. Camillus; St. Maria Rita Lopes Pontes, a Brazillian known as Sister Dulce; St. Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan, an Indian who founded the Congregation of the Holy Family; St. Marguerite Bays, a laywoman and mystic from Switzerland; and St. John Henry Newman, a British convert who was named a cardinal and became one of the Church’s greatest theologians.
To these new saints and all the saints in heaven, pray for us.
Scott Warden is managing editor of Our Sunday Visitor.