Pope Marches 40 Saints Off Official Church Calendar
Vatican City— The Roman Catholic church dropped St. Christopher, the travelers’ patron, and more than 40 other saints from its official calendar Friday.
In a separate action it also made optional the commemoration of more than 90 other saints, including St. Nicholas, from whom evolved the Christmas legend of Santa Claus.
Those dropped from the liturgical calendar were removed because of doubt that they ever existed. The action seemed certain to confuse many Catholics who have been venerating them for years.
The reclassification of St. Nicholas, whose legend as patron saint of children grew in some countries into the Santa Claus tradition, was made for a different reason.
Church authorities stressed that there was no doubt of the authenticity of St. Nicholas, a southern Italian bishop, or of another saint similarly affected-St. George, the legendary dragon slayer who has been patron saint of England since the Crusades.
Their commemoration was made an option of local authorities throughout the world simply to relieve the entire church of the obligation to honor saints not universally well-known, Vatican spokesmen said. Perhaps the best-known saint to be dropped was St. Christopher, patron saint of travelers, who tradition says carried a child across a swollen ford and discovered the child was Christ. Millions of St. Christopher medals are attached to automobile interiors to invoke St. Christopher’s help for a safe trip.
The sweeping reform of the list which includes feasts, fasts, special days, and other religious occasions-downgraded saints whose existence or exploits are now doubtful. The decree was aimed at putting more emphasis on the crucifixion and Christ.
The exact number of saints affected by the decree, dated Feb. 14 and effective Jan. 1, was not known because the Vatican did not issue an official list of those dropped or demoted, only of those still in good standing. Newsmen had to compare old calendars with the new list. There were at least 40 affected.
Comparison of lists took hours and was complicated by the new list which was issued only in Latin language. Confusion was compounded by the fact that some of the expunged saints were inadequately identified. Among those also reduced in stature was St. George, once considered to be the model of knighthood, and credited in legend with slaying of the dragon.
Saint Nicholas, a third century saint whose Latin name, Sanctus Nicolaus, gradually became Santa Claus, remains on the church calendar. But Catholics are no longer obliged to honor him on his special day—Dec. 6.
There isn’t any Santa Claus—and that’s official. The Vatican Friday demoted St. Nicholas, above. At the same time, in a sweeping calendar reform. Pope Paul VI eliminated another of the most popular of all Catholic saints, St. Christopher, whose medallion, below, hangs around the necks of millions of travelers.
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