Since coming a very close second to Mitt Romney in the 2012 Iowa Republican caucuses on 3 January, Rick Santorum is now a serious contender to win that party's nomination in this year's US Presidential election campaign. Fortunes change. Only a few weeks ago, Santorum had been dismissed by the mainstream American press for supposedly being out of touch, irrelevant or a no hoper. Now we see that the American people are beginning to think otherwise. They know an honest man when they see one.
European history is littered with the odd saintly monarch, such as St Louis IX of France or St Edward the Confessor. These men ruled as unashamedly devoted followers of Jesus Christ. They cared for the poor, for justice and for the lives of all their subjects. They built churches and helped the Church's mission. Their reigns were wedded to the truth of the Beatitudes and they humbly served their people, taking Christ as their pattern. So far, though, there haven't been many saints within the ranks of non-crowned heads of state. Maybe it's because kings and queens owe their positions to God, whilst presidents are at the mercy of opinion polls? Also, of course, post-Enlightenment republics tend to obsess about the so-called separation of Church and state - which can make things difficult if their politicians aspire to be saints, too!
It might be, though, that if Santorum (a name that actually means "saint") was elected the next President of the United States, the people of that great land will also gain their first potentially saintly leader (in the religious and Catholic sense, that is). After 230 years, it's time that Americans had a devoted and truly Christian President, even if a few Protestants have brought some Christ-centred faith into the Oval Office from time to time. Political leaders like Rick Santorum, who truly serve God, will always seek the good of the people they work for, whilst those whose primary obedience is to the shifting sands of public opinion invariably find it very difficult to conform both privately and publicly to what is truly right and just.
Santorum knows this. He has already mentioned that if elected US President he would not be another Jack Kennedy - Catholic in name only. His Christianity motivates both his private conscience and his public policy. He wears his faith on his sleeve, and if people don't want a man who is loyal to Christ as their political leader, then more fool them. As many have already noted, Rick Santorum isn't going to water-down his religious convictions or reject his privately held morality in order to secure the Presidency. In fact, he trusts that people will be attracted to the truth and to a man who is willing to defend it - standing firm and not bending to the whims of the pollsters. With Santorum, what you see is what you get. People like that. Media pundits, though, are mystified by it.
So far in his public career, Rick Santorum has spoken his mind freely on a range of issues that many politicians - especially here in Europe - would shy away from. He has openly and unapologetically declared himself to be pro-life and has also stated that he would oppose 'gay marriage', even to the point of invalidating the ones that might already have been contracted in the various States that recognise homosexual unions.
On social issues, like poverty, Santorum also tends to adhere to the Church's teaching - ensuring care for society's most vulnerable members, whilst also wanting a safer, more secure and ultimately peaceful world. He believes in the inherent sanctity of work, but also knows that the 'widow and orphan', so to speak, need compassion and mercy. Santorum would also take a firm stand to ensure that nations like Iran would no longer be in a position to hold other sovereign states to ransom - although his desire for another war is worrying. I also quite like the fact that Santorum has called the hysteria surrounding climate change "junk science" - but don't tell the Pope that, as he's a keen personal advocate of the green movement!
In his private life, former Senator Santorum has had to endure many hardships, which he has always borne with grace and an exemplary acceptance of God's will. His greatest cross must have been when he and his wife, Karen, tragically lost a child a few years ago. Another of their six remaining children suffers from a serious genetic illness. Yet, Santorum has even shown great serenity and peace in the face of his enemies' taunts - which have often been horrifically personal and also unjustly directed at his family (some even making 'jokes' about the way he and his wife chose to mark their child's death). He retains the joy of one who is deeply devoted to Christ and his Church. of one who knows the true value of human life. He is unashamedly proud to be a Catholic, and a traditional one at that. Unlike the Kennedys, then, his religious faith is not merely used as a political tool (even if some of them were also religious). Catholicism for Santorum is not a means of garnering the Irish, Italian or Latino vote. It is something to which he and his family are deeply attached.
In fact, Rick Santorum, along with Karen and their children, regularly attend the weekly Solemn Mass in Latin at their local Catholic church, St Catherine of Siena, Great Falls VA - at which it seems that Gregorian chant is the norm. Santorum is also an active Knight of Malta. He was also present in Rome to mark the 100th anniversary of St Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer's birth at a special Opus Dei celebration. At that event nearly 10-years ago to the day, he told the well-known Catholic journalist, John Allen, that President Kennedy's distinction between private religious conviction and public responsibility had caused "great harm in America". He went on to add: "All of us have heard people say, 'I privately am against abortion, homosexual marriage, stem cell research, cloning. But who am I to decide that it's not right for somebody else?' It sounds good, but it is the corruption of freedom of conscience." Now, there's a man who believes what he says, and says what he believes - a very rare politician indeed!
Already, many Catholics and other Christians, as well as people of good will from a wide range of beliefs, are rejoicing to see that this God-fearing man is now closer to making it into the White House than he was only a few days ago. It even seems that Santorum-mania has caught on over on this side of the pond, too - especially amongst some of the UK's Catholic bloggers. Anthony Radice at A Tiny Son of Mary has started a Rosary Crusade for the intention of getting Santorum elected (called "Rosaries for Rick"), whilst Richard Collins at Linen on the Hedgerow recently recalled that the nuns who taught him encouraged the whole school to pray for JFK in 1960 - with the intention that a Catholic would become leader of the free world. As Richard points out: "The odds have never bothered God so why should they bother us."
With that in mind, then, I for one - although not an American and therefore obviously having no actual vote in the US Presidential elections - will be casting a spiritual vote by joining others in praying the Rosary for Rick Santorum. I invite those who read this post to join me in saying a Rosary for Rick .
Not wanting to prematurely canonize Santorum, I truly believe that if he were to become the 45th President of the United States, that country would have gained its first properly saintly leader. Without wanting to judge JFK - the only Catholic to have been elected to the White House so far - too harshly, either, I think it fair to say that the 35th President was no saint. In that sense, the fact that Rick Santorum is currently a real contender for the Republican nomination is surely a cause for joy. Be sure, though, that those who hate life, truth and the Gospel's profound liberty, will do all that they can to attack this good man. For that reason, please pray for Rick Santorum and his family - remembering that "with God, nothing is impossible" (cf Lk 1:37).