By Moses Njagih
The beatification of Maurice Michael Cardinal Otunga reaches a turning point today (Friday), as public hearings on petitions about sainthood commence.
This morning, a special tribunal formed to collect evidence from the public over the deceased cleric’s suitability to sainthood will take a public oath before starting their work.
The historical oath will be administered at a special Mass to be presided over by John Cardinal Njue at Holy Family Basilica, after which members of the tribunal will start a thorough, but secret, inquiry into the life of the late Otunga.
Secret witnesses will be called to the inquiry to give evidence based on their interaction with Otunga, who at the current stage of beatification bears the title "Servant of God".
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The outcome of this inquiry, known within the Catholic Church as the Diocesan Phase, will determine if the beatification will proceed to the next stage, the Roman Phase, to be held at the Vatican, where Otunga could be declared a Saint.
Dr Waldery Hilgeman, the new Postulator (lawyer) appointed to spearhead the process following the death of Rev Fr Anthony Bellagamba, held a Press conference Thursday where he explained the remaining phases of the beatification process.
Dr Hilgeman, a layman appointed by Cardinal Njue, would, however, not divulge the names of those to sit in the tribunal, saying they would be revealed this morning when they take their oath to begin the inquiry.
"The official process, which is historical, begins tomorrow (today). What we had was only a preliminary process, but tomorrow (today) is the landmark point of the process," revealed Hilgeman.
The Postulator, who will have his office based in Rome, Italy, has appointed Brother Reginald Cruz to be his vice and head the day-to-day process of the Diocesan Phase involving the tribunal’s work. Cruz said the identity of those to be summoned by the tribunal would remain secret.
"This is to ensure that the witnesses are not influenced before they appear at the inquiry. Equally, nobody should interview those summoned to the tribunal on the questions that they have been asked at the inquiry," said Cruz.
The Postulator urged Kenyans to be patient and pray for the success of the process, saying it could take as long as between seven and ten years.
Once the tribunal finishes its inquiry and hands him a report, Hilgeman explained that he would then be required to write a Positio, a thesis he will be expected to table before the Holy See in Vatican, for their determination on the suitability of Otunga to be a Saint.
"If the work of the tribunal is not sufficient and good enough, then my work will also be difficult since I have to prove in my thesis to the Holy See that Otunga is a holy man and deserves to be a holy Saint," said Hilgeman. But it is the requirement of a proof of "two incurable, instantaneous and permanent miracles" that would eventually give way for the declaration of Otunga as a Saint.
The miracles have to happen courtesy of a prayer made through the intercession of Cardinal Otunga.
"A miracle, and a difficult one for that, has to happen and the Vatican convinced that type of a miracle is sufficient to declare sainthood," explained Hilgeman.
After the first miracle, he said Otunga, who by then would have assumed the title "Venerable", would graduate to the title "The Blessed".
"Only after the second miracle is declared would a date be set where the Pope would canonise and declare Otunga a Saint," the lawyer said.