Saint Petrus Canisius, the Pope noted, gave us the indication and the “method” by which “Christian life does not grow if it is not nurtured by participation in the liturgy, especially during the Holy Mass on Sundays, and personal daily prayers.”
“In the middle of the thousands of activities and multiple stimuli that surround us, it is necessary to find a moment of recollection every day before the Lord in order to listen and talk to him. At the same time, the example that Saint Petrus Canisius left us is always relevant and of permanent value, not only in terms of his writings, but especially with regards to his life. He taught us with clarity that the apostolic ministry is incisive and bears the fruits of salvation in the hearts only if the preacher bears personal witness of Jesus and knows that he is a tool at his disposal, closely united to Him in the faith in his Gospel and his Church, with a morally coherent life and an incessant prayer as love. This is true for every Christian who wants to live fully and faithfully his bond with Christ.”
In continuing his brief round of catechesis devoted to the doctors of the Church, the Pope reminded the 6,000 people present in the hall, that Pieter Kanijs, aka as Canisius in Latin, was born in 1521 in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, a town where his father was mayor. He attended the important spiritual centre of Saint Barbara run by Carthusian monks. In 1543, he entered the Jesuit order in Mainz. Ordained priest in 1546 in Cologne, he attended at the Council of Trent the following year.
In 1548, Saint Ignatius of Loyola had him complete his training in Rome before sending him to College of Messina, where he performed humble domestic work. In 1549, he earned his doctorate in theology, and Saint Ignatius sent him to the Duchy of Bavaria, in Germany. As dean, rector and vice chancellor of the University of Ingolstadt, “he took care of the academic life of the institute and the religious and moral reform of the people”. In Vienna, where he was in charge of the diocesan administration for a short while, “he carried out the pastoral ministry in hospitals and prisons, both in the city and the countryside, and prepared the publication of his catechism.”
In 1556, he founded the College of Prague, and until 1569 was the first superior of the Jesuit province of upper Germany. In this post, he set up a close-knit network of Jesuit communities, across the German lands, especially colleges, which were the starting point for the Catholic Reform.
In this period, he took part in the Colloquy of Worms with Protestant leaders. He was also nuncio to Poland, took part in the diets of Augsburg, and intervened in the final session of the Council of Trent where he spoke on the issue of the Communion under the two species and on the Index of Prohibited Books. In 1580, he retired in Freiburg, Switzerland, where he devoted himself to preaching and writing. He died on 21 December 1597.
He was beatified by Pope Pius IX in 1864, and proclaimed the second apostle of Germany by Leo XIII in 1897. He was canonised and proclaimed doctor of the Church by Pius XI in 1925.
Saint Petrus Canisius “spent most of his life in contact with the socially most important people of his time and exerted special influence through his writings,” the most widely circulated being his three catechisms, which he wrote between 1555 and 1558.
“The first catechism was meant for students who could understand elementary notions of theology. The second was for boys from the popular classes receiving their first religious education. The third was destined for boys who attended middle and high schools. The Catholic doctrine was presented in short question-and-answer form and biblical terms, with clarity and without controversial language.”
“This catechism trained people for centuries. As late as during my father’s times, the catechism was called the ‘Canisius’,” the Pope said. Indeed, “this is one of the features of Saint Petrus Canisius, namely his capacity to harmoniously reconcile faithfulness to dogmatic principles and respect for each person”. This way, “he separated wilful and guilty apostasy from the blameless loss of faith,” which this led him to say that “most Germans” who went over to Protestantism “had no guilt”.
“At a time in history thick with confessional conflict, he avoided, and this was something extraordinary, the acrimony and rhetoric of anger, so rare in discussions among Christians at that time, on both sides, and sought only to preserve spiritual roots and revitalise the faith and the Church,” aided in his endeavour by his “vast and penetrating knowledge” of the Holy Scriptures, and his “personal relationship with God and austere spirituality.”
“A deep personnel friendship with Jesus was typical of Saint Canisius’ spirituality.” The saint worked for the renewal of the Catholic faith guided by three principles: peace, love and perseverance. He was “clearly cognizant that within the Church he was continuing the mission of the Apostles. This reminds us that each true evangeliser is always a tool when he is united, and thus fruitful, to Jesus and his Church.”