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PEORIA, Ill. (CNS) -- The Vatican's June 28 decree that U.S. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen lived a life of heroic virtues and should be considered venerable -- advancing his sainthood cause -- prompted much rejoicing in his home state of Illinois.
"This is a great day for the Catholic Diocese of Peoria and the Catholic Church in America," said Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria, who added that the "heroic virtues of a son from central Illinois and a priest of Peoria have been recognized by the Catholic Church."
"Fulton Sheen's zeal, wisdom, and holiness should help us build our faith," he said.
Msgr. Stanley Deptula, executive director of the Archbishop Fulton John Sheen Foundation in Peoria, said it was "not a coincidence that the church would render its decision on the heroic virtue of Archbishop Sheen on the same day as the Supreme Court issues its decision on the health care plan."
He said the timing of the announcement shows how the church in the United States "needs heroes" and that Archbishop Sheen can "be an inspiration and a consolation to our bishops and other church leaders" since he was "a man of courage, and priest of prayer."
The decree issued by the Congregation for Saints' Causes and signed by Pope Benedict XVI said Archbishop Sheen should be considered venerable because he heroically lived Christian virtues.
In general, the church must then confirm two miracles before sainthood is declared. The first miracle is needed for beatification and the second for canonization.
The decree came just more than 13 months after Bishop Jenky, as head of Archbishop Sheen's home diocese, presented Pope Benedict with two thick volumes about the life of the prelate.
Archbishop Sheen, who was born in Illinois in 1895 and died in New York in 1979, was an Emmy-winning televangelist. His program, "Life is Worth Living," aired in the United States from 1951 to 1957.
Last September, a tribunal of inquiry was sworn in to investigate the allegedly miraculous healing of a newborn whose parents had prayed to the archbishop's intercession.
"We are all living through this wonderful moment," said Andrea Ambrosi, postulator of the cause for canonization of Archbishop Sheen.
"As you can tell, the cause is taking a special road -- and quite quickly thus far. This is due to the importance of this cause for Fulton Sheen's sainthood to the American church and all the faithful. We hope to go on with continued momentum," he said.
Father Andrew Apostoli, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal from New York who is vice postulator, said he was "excited by this news."
He similarly noted the significance of the announcement falling on the same day as the Supreme Court decision on health care law, pointing out that Archbishop Sheen was a "great leader of the faith, a defender of the freedom of religion and of our rights as Americans."
He said Archbishop Sheen "certainly had much to say in defending religious freedom -- not just in our country but around the world."
Oblate Father Andrew Small, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies, pointed out that Archbishop Sheen's role as head of the Propagation of the Faith from 1950 to 1966 enabled him to spread the Gospel message "far and wide -- from Peoria to Pretoria; New York to New Delhi."
"He teaches us still that the church is missionary by her very nature," he added.
Bishop Jenky announced that he will celebrate a public Mass of Thanksgiving to honor Archbishop Sheen Sept. 9 in Peoria's Cathedral of St. Mary -- the same cathedral where the archbishop was ordained to the priesthood. More information on the Mass can be found at the website: www.celebratesheen.com.
In a June 29 teleconference with reporters, church officials pointed out the uniqueness of Archbishop Sheen's cause, saying he would not only be the first U.S.-born male saint but also a saint who impacted so many people who are still alive today.
They also noted the significance of his willingness to use modern technology to spread the Gospel message.
Msgr. Deptula said the archbishop is "such a great patron, a great model for those who work in the media in the way he used the tools at his disposal to lead others to Christ." He also said Archbishop Sheen's example highlights the "tremendous value" members of the media can play as "missionaries in a profound way of this new evangelization" reaching audiences far beyond what the archbishop would have imagined.
The priest said the "venerable" decree of Archbishop Sheen "should be a great shot in the arm, a great encouragement to those who do work in the media" to use "modern tools of blogspots, Facebook, Twitter ... to give witness to Christ."
Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops