Vatican Corner 02-23-2020

In Argentina in 1954, Jesuit Father Mauricio Jiménez Arteaga, SJ, a beloved priest, preacher, teacher and confessor died. He had been well-know, and had a reputation for holiness. His legacy lasting over the years and in 1974 an investigation of him began with the goal of eventual beatification and canonization as a saint. On January 15, 1979 his grave was dug up in the cemetery of Colegio Maximo in San Miguel, Argentina and his coffin had practically disintegrated. However, his body was discovered to be completely intact and flexible. Two weeks later when the body was reburied it was the job of the Jesuit provincial, Fr. Jorge Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) to record what was discovered about the body. He wrote “I bear witness and swear before God our Lord that during these days, from the exhumation until today, the mortal remains of Fr. Mauricio Jiménez did not undergo any treatment to conserve its incorruption. In the same way, no element of this kind has been placed in the zinc coffin in which his body has just been placed (reburied).” In March 2018, Father Mauricio’s body was moved 30 blocks from the Colegio Maximo to the Villa Trujui neighborhood where Jesuit missionaries had worked from its establishment and where people are still praying for Father Mauricio’s swift beatification. It is a scientific fact that all carbon-based life forms on earth eventually die, their bodies decay, turn to dust and get composted. As Genesis 3:19 says, “For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The minerals in the dust might even get recycled. For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church held that individuals of the purest faith remain in a lifelike state after death with their bodies resisting decay. There are a number of documented cases where people’s bodies have been found preserved years after their death and without any scientific explanation. There are churches all over the world today where saint’s incorruptible bodies are on display. Some of those bodies have begun to decay with the skin turning brown, while others are still fighting decomposition even hundreds of years after their death. In the 20th century, the Catholic Church discontinued using incorruptibility as a prerequisite for sainthood, and it can’t be counted as a miracle anymore. The reason for this was not that fraud was discovered in some cases, but that some people found with incorruptible bodies did not live saintly lives at all. One such person was Cardinal Shuster, an Italian archbishop, who had been a fascist and friend of Dictator Benito Mussolini. “Flexible” is said to be the most common word associated with incorrupt corpses, not “lifelike”. Wax or metal masks are sometimes applied to the incorruptible bodies for protection. There is confusion sometimes caused because many Catholic churches have wax figures on display and not real bodies and they have poor explanation signs. Some of those wax figures have saint’s real incorruptible relics place inside the figure. An incorrupt saints body is just to be seen as a physical manifestations of the saint’s soul in heaven and the incorruptible body is only miraculous in the sense that miracles are attributed to the veneration (deep respect and reverence) held for the saint.