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A statue of Margaret of Castello at St. Patrick Church in Columbus, OhioWikimedia

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April 29, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – It was hardly a fast track, but 14th century St. Margaret of Castello – who was beatified in 1609 – was elevated to sainthood by Pope Francis on April 24 using a process called “equipollent canonization.”

The Arlington Catholic Herald explained exactly what that means:

“The decree is what the Vatican terms an ‘equipollent’ or equivalent canonization; when there is evidence of strong devotion among the faithful to a holy man or woman, the pope can waive a lengthy formal canonical investigation and can authorize the person's veneration as a saint.”

I’m not sure why the Vatican chose to do it this way, since her intercession is said to have prompted many miracles, but I’m very happy for St. Margaret of Castello, patron saint of the unwanted. For decades, we at Priests for Life have certainly promoted devotion to her and spread the story of her life everywhere.

That story is almost too hard to contemplate. Born around 1287 blind, lame and apparently with dwarfism, her socially prominent parents, who had wanted a boy, were horrified thinking word would get out that their baby was less than perfect. They spread the lie that she had died at birth.

They gave her to a servant who loved and cared for her, but the servant slipped up once and almost let guests at her parents’ castle catch a glimpse of Margaret. To ensure that never happened again, her father, filled with the arrogance that marks the culture of death, had a single-room cell built next to a church in the forest and walled her into it. An interior window allowed Margaret to hear Mass; another window on an exterior wall let servants pass food into the girl. 

The priest there discovered Margaret had a fine mind and loved God, so he spent time teaching her the faith. When her family fled from their home when she was a teenager, they took Margaret with them, only to lock her away in an underground vault near their new home. 

A year later, her parents brought her to a tomb in Castello where people were said to be receiving miraculous cures of various ailments. When Margaret was not healed, her parents just abandoned her there. Two beggars befriended her and ultimately Margaret’s life began to improve, although with many setbacks along the way. 

She died at the age of 33 on April 13, 1320, after having served for years in the habit of the Third Order of St. Dominic. It has been reported that the whole city attended her funeral – that was how well-known and beloved she had become – and that a crippled girl was healed during the Mass.

St. Margaret’s life offers many profound lessons for those of us in pro-life. She disappointed her parents twice at her birth, by being female and for failing to be perfect. Today, both of those things can prompt parents to choose abortion. The world is missing millions of girls because of this preference for sons in so many cultures.

Also, she was unwanted by the very people who were supposed to love and care for her, in much the same way the unborn are unwanted by those who have envisioned a different timeline for their lives.

St. Margaret’s profound physical ailments teach a powerful lesson about how every life – no matter how compromised, no matter how “imperfect” – has value and every person has a contribution to make.

And the question that challenges us most deeply is: If we were there, and knew Margaret was locked up in that cell, would we have spoken up?

St. Margaret’s canonization comes at an interesting time in the U.S., as more states are passing laws to protect babies from abortion based on their sex, race, or disability. Prenatal testing now allows parents to know long before their baby is born if he or she will be everything they have dreamed of and planned for. Babies falling short of that ideal – like those with Down syndrome or dwarfism – are frequently aborted.  

I invite everyone who believes in the sanctity of every human life to join me in praying this prayer I wrote some years ago for Margaret of Castello, the newest saint for the pro-life movement.

Your care extends to every human person,
No matter what afflictions they suffer,
And you uphold the dignity of every human life,
Regardless of the false ways that the world may calculate its value.
You gave us St. Margaret of Castello as a sign and a challenge.
You permitted your glory to shine through her human weakness,
And called those around her to love her
Despite her physical limitations.
Forgive us when we fail to defend the least among us.
Through the intercession of St. Margaret,
Give us grace to speak up for the outcast
and to welcome those who are rejected.
When this brief life is over,
Grant that we who have welcomed all our brothers and sisters,
May be welcomed by you into the life that never ends.
We pray through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Father Frank Pavone is the National Director of Priests for Life.