Christians who willingly risk their lives to save the life of another are now eligible for beatification, Pope Francis stated in an Apostolic Letter released by the Vatican on July 11. The new category, called oblatio vitae -- Latin for "the free offering" -- marks the fourth pathway to beatification, a precursor to a person being canonized as a saint.
“The heroic offering of life, suggested and sustained by charity, expresses a true, full and exemplary imitation of Christ,” the pope wrote in the letter.
The papal letter was issued as motu propio or "on his own impulse," meaning the decision was made from the pope's own will. Newsweek reports that discussions for the ruling began in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in 2014.
The other three paths to canonization are having an extremely holy reputation, living a life of heroism or being martyred for the Christian faith. Although martyrdom also involves death, the new category is distinct from it.
To fall under the category of "oblatio vitae," an individual need not die for the faith, but for the purpose of saving another person's life.
According to the pope's letter, Christians who willingly die for others are “worthy of that admiration which the community of the faithful has usually reserved for those who have voluntarily accepted the martyrdom of blood or have exercised the Christian virtues to a heroic degree.”
Osservatore Romano, the official journal of the Vatican, reported that those who tended to the sick during the plague and then died from it themselves could be candidates for beatification under the new rule.
Chiara Corbella, a 28-year-old woman from Italy who died after refusing cancer treatment because it would harm her unborn child, would also be eligible according to an I-Media report cited by The Guardian.
Despite the extension of beatification criteria, there are still a number of other qualities a person must have to be beatified.
In addition to knowingly risking death for the sake of another and subsequently dying because of it, a person must have lived a Christian life and have had a reputation as devout person. A person must also be attributed with at least one miracle to become a saint. Only martyrs are exempt from having had a miracle.
Before Pope Francis, Pope John Paul II had canonized the most saints of any pope with a total of 482 people. He was later beatified and canonized as a saint for the miracle of allegedly curing a French nun of Parkinson's disease, The Guardian reports.
Pope Francis has nearly doubled his predecessor's record by having canonized 838 people so far, though 813 of them were martyrs from a single 13th-century event. The new ruling is likely to increase the number of saints canonized due to greater number of those who are now eligible.