A saint is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness, likeness, or closeness to God. However, the use of the term saint depends on the context and denomination. In Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Oriental Orthodox, and Lutheran doctrine, all of their faithful deceased in Heaven are considered to be saints, but some are considered worthy of greater honor or emulation.
Depending on the religion, saints are recognized either by official ecclesiastical declaration, as in the Catholic faith, or by popular acclamation.
Use of the term
The English word saint comes from the Latin sanctus, with the Greek equivalent being ἅγιος (hagios) 'holy'. The word sanctus was originally a technical one in ancient Roman religion, but due to its globalized use in Christianity the modern word "saint" is now also used as a translation of comparable terms for persons "worthy of veneration for their holiness or sanctity" in other religions.
According to the Catholic Church, a saint is anyone in Heaven, whether recognized on Earth or not, who form the "great cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1). These "may include our own mothers, grandmothers or other loved ones (cf. 2 Tim 1:5)" who may have not always lived perfect lives, but "amid their faults and failings they kept moving forward and proved pleasing to the Lord."
The title Saint denotes a person who has been formally canonized—that is, officially and authoritatively declared a saint, by the Church as holder of the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and is therefore believed to be in Heaven by the grace of God. There are many persons that the Church believes to be in Heaven who have not been formally canonized and who are otherwise titled saints because of the fame of their holiness. Sometimes the word saint also denotes living Christians.
Formal canonization is a lengthy process, often of many years or even centuries. There are four major steps to become a saint.
The first stage in this process is an investigation of the candidate's life by an expert. After this, the official report on the candidate is submitted to the bishop of the pertinent diocese and more study is undertaken. The information is then sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints of the Holy See for evaluation at the universal level of the Church. If the application is approved the candidate may be granted the title Venerable (stage 2).
Further investigation, step 3, may lead to the candidate's beatification with the title Blessed, which is elevation to the class of the Beati. Next, and at a minimum, proof of two important miracles obtained from God through the intercession of the candidate are required for formal canonization as a saint. These miracles must be posthumous. Finally, in the last stage, after all of these procedures are complete, the Pope may canonize the candidate as a saint for veneration by the universal Church.
Folk saints are dead people or other spiritually powerful entities (such as indigenous spirits) venerated as saints, but not officially canonized. Since they are saints of the "folk," or the populus, they are also called popular saints. Like officially recognized saints, folk saints are considered intercessors with God, but many are also understood to act directly in the lives of their devotees.
Frequently, their actions in life as well as in death distinguish folk saints from their canonized counterparts: official doctrine would consider many of them sinners and false idols. Their ranks are filled by folk healers, indigenous spirits, and folk heroes. Folk saints occur throughout the Catholic world, and they are especially popular in Latin America, where most have small followings; a few are celebrated at the national or even international level.
Folk saints tend to come from the same communities as their followers. In death, they are said to continue as active members of their communities, remaining embedded within a system of reciprocity that reaches beyond the grave. An offering to a folk saint might include the same votive candles and ex-votos (tributes of thanks) left at the shrines to canonized saints, but they also frequently include other items that reflect something of the spirit's former life or personality.