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A sign more than a slip of the tongue

· Two Popes called Angela of Foligno a saint and mystic before her equivalent canonization ·

“The Lord has provided that, after centuries of waiting, a Pope who would take the name of Francis would extend the liturgical cult in honour of blessed Angela to the Universal Church, enrolling her in the list of saints”. So wrote Bishop Gualtiero Sigismondi of Foligno. It was Benedict XVI who had authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to speed up the process of canonization for the great mystic of Foligno, who lived during the second half of the 13th century, thus departing from the normal practice by virtue of an ancient, universal and uninterrupted cult.

Angela’s journey of conversion, which reached its heights in Assisi, was a process of ongoing dispossession: of material goods, affections, and herself. In entering into the “depths” of the Cross, Angela experienced something similar to what happens when we look at stained glass windows: seen from  outside they appear dark, heavy and even dreary; but seen from within, in reflecting the light that shines through them, they come to life and reveal all their splendour. “It will not be easy to call her a saint,” Sigismondi continued, “since we have already become accustomed to calling her blessed, and yet the hearts of those who are devoted to her  have always known her to be a saint. An occasional slip of the tongue will be inevitable, and yet it is beautiful to remember that even two Popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, have called her a saint. Rather than a slip of the tongue, in both cases it was a presentiment and a sign.

Benedict XVI, in fact, dedicated his 13 October 2010 Wednesday General Audience to the great medieval mystic. As he explained on that occasion, Angela was born into a well-off family around 1248 in Foligno, where until the age of thirty-seven she lived as a wife and mother. Certain events, including natural calamities and war, affected the life of Angela who little by little became aware of her sins, until she took a decisive step. Benedict XVI continued: “In 1285 she called upon St Francis, who appeared to her in a vision and asked his advice on making a good general Confession. She then went to Confession with a Friar in San Feliciano... The Book of Visions and Instructions of Blessed Angela of Foligno, in which is gathered the documentation on our Blessed, tells the story of this conversion and points out the necessary means: penance, humility and tribulation; and it recounts the steps, Angela’s successive experiences which began in 1285”.

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