Pope Francis approves miracle of ‘World Youth Day cardinal’ paving the way for beatification

Pope Francis has approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of fellow Argentine, the Venerable Eduardo Franceso Cardinal Pironio, paving the way for the cardinal’s beatification, the last step before canonization.

No date has yet been set for his beatification.

At the time of his death, Pironio was president-emeritus of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the Vatican body tasked with organizing the global Catholic youth event, World Youth Day.

The Holy See’s official website said the Pope approved the publication of a decree regarding the miracle attributed to Pironio’s intercession in an audience on Wednesday morning with the Prefect of the Dicastery for the Cause of the Saints, Marcello Cardinal Semeraro.

According to the website of the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, the miracle attributed to Pironio involved the healing in 2006 of Juan Manuel Franco, a 15-month-old boy in Argentina who suffered from acute respiratory distress syndrome after inadvertently inhaling and swallowing porporino, a metallic glitter, that his mother was using for restoration work. 

He was immediately rushed to a hospital where his condition turned for the worse. The doctors, seeing that the boy was having difficulty breathing, transferred him to the Intensive Care Service of the Specialized Mother and Child Hospital of Mar del Plata, where he was subjected to further medical interventions, which did not improve his condition.

While he was being treated, his parents asked for the intercession of Pironio, using a prayer printed on a booklet that they had received from a local parish priest. The boy’s condition suddenly improved and he was discharged from the hospital less than two weeks later.

The Dicastery said the medical board assigned to review the boy’s healing found that his “rapid, complete, and long-lasting recovery” could not be explained scientifically. 

“The causal link between the invocation and the rapid, complete and long-lasting healing, which cannot be explained scientifically, was recognized,” the Dicastery said.

Pironio was born in 1920 in Argentina to a family of Italian immigrants. He was the youngest of the 22 children of José Pironio and Enriqueta Rosa Butazzoni.

In an interview conducted months before his death, Pironio said that his birth was “somewhat miraculous” after doctors told his mother that she would not be able to have more children after she became gravely ill after giving birth at 18 years old to her first son. 

“I am the twenty-second child, the last born, and I have to recognize that the story is somewhat miraculous. …When their first son was born, my mother was only 18 years old, and she became gravely ill. She was in bed for six months, unable to move. When she recovered, the doctors told her that she would not be able to have more children, and that if she did, her life would be in grave danger. She later gave birth to 21 more children – I am the last – and she lived to the age of 82,” he said.

He finished both his studies in philosophy and theology in Argentina. He later obtained a Licentiate in Theology at the Pontifical Angelicum Athenaeum in Rome.

Returning to his home country, he was ordained on Dec. 5, 1943. He was a seminary staff member, vicar general of the Diocese of Mercedes, and rector of the Metropolitan Seminary of Villa Devoto. He attended the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1964 as an expert.

He was appointed bishop on Mar. 24, 1964 by Pope Paul VI. He attended the later sessions of the Second Vatican Council as a Council Father, not anymore as a theological expert. 

His Vatican career started on Sept. 20, 1975 when he was named Pro-Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. He later became Prefect of the same Congregation when he was appointed cardinal in 1976 by Paul VI. He held that office until 1984. 

He participated in the twin papal conclaves of 1978 that elected Pope John Paul I and Pope John Paul II respectively. He was once touted as the possible first pope from Latin America during the 1978 conclaves. 

John Paul II named Pironio President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity in 1984. It was in this position that Pironio became the staunch promoter of the World Youth Days, next only to John Paul II who initiated the global youth gathering.

Pironio was in Manila for the 1995 World Youth Day, the tenth iteration of what is also called as the “Catholic Woodstock”. It was Pironio’s last World Youth Day outside of Rome. The 1996 World Youth Day was celebrated in Rome. He retired in Dec. 1996.

During the Sunday Angelus at the concluding Mass of World Youth Day at Luneta Park which saw what was then the biggest papal crowd in history, John Paul II acknowledged the work of Pironio along with local Filipino bishops like the late Jaime Cardinal Sin of Manila and the late Ricardo Cardinal Vidal of Cebu who was then the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. 

Pironio was diagnosed with bone cancer and died in Rome in 1998.

Permission to open his cause for canonization was granted on March 24, 2006. On Feb. 18, 2022, Pope Francis bestowed upon Pironio the title “Venerable” a testament that the late cardinal lived a life of heroic virtue.

Speaking about his illness, Pironio once said: “I thank God for the privilege of the Cross. I’m very happy for having suffered much. I’m only sorry for the fact that I didn’t suffer correctly, and for the fact that I couldn’t always carry my cross in silence. I only hope that, at least now, my cross becomes luminous and fertile.”

On the 10th anniversary of Pironio’s death, the then-archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis, wrote that whenever one spoke with Pironio, “he always gave you the feeling that he felt like the worst man in the world, the worst sinner.”

“He opened a panorama of holiness to you from his profound humility,” he wrote. “He opened horizons to you, with him you experienced that he never closed the doors to anyone, even the people he knew hadn’t understood him.”

Beatification is the Catholic Church’s public recognition of a deceased person’s entrance into Heaven and capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in their name. 

Before 1634, beatifications were done by local bishops. Pope Urban VIII issued the apostolic constitution Cœlestis Jerusalem, reserving the authority of beatification to the Holy See.

Pope John Paul II issued further reforms of the beatification process in 1983, one of which is a requirement for one confirmed miracle to have taken place through the intercession of the person to be beatified. Miracles are almost always unexplained medical healings, scientifically investigated by commissions of physicians and theologians.

A candidate who was proven to have died a martyr’s death would not need a miracle prior to beatification.

Beatification is the last step before a candidate is canonized, a process wherein the name of the new saint is enrolled in the list or canon of saints of the Catholic Church. 

Once beatified, Pironio’s liturgical feast day will be celebrated by territories, religious institutes, or communities in which he is particularly venerated. 

Only after canonization can a saint’s liturgical feast be celebrated in the Universal Church.


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