Three Lessons from the Vatican’s Miracle Hunting Team

Becoming a Saint in the Catholic church isn’t as easy you might think. There are strict criteria that need to be met before someone is officially given this title. It’s one of the most important honors a person can receive but not one that is given lightly as we saw with Pope John Paul II.

Pope John Paul II died in 2005 but didn’t become a saint until 2013. What happened during those 8 years? Miracles.

To become a saint — through a process of canonization — a person must have lived a life of service to the church and have performed two miracles. The first criteria are easily met, especially by former Popes. They have likely spent the majority of their life in the priesthood. Becoming a Saint is a well-deserved meed.

The second criteria are tricker. The miracles must be attributed to the person, and they tend to happen after the person’s death. That means that people must come forward after experiencing a miracle event.

For Pope John Paul II, the first miracle happened when a woman was healed of Parkinson’s after praying to him. The second miracle happened when a woman was healed from an otherwise terminal brain aneurysm. 

I know what you’re thinking. How could the church possibly know that these miracles took place? The church is one step ahead of you. They treat all of these claims seriously. 

Whenever a miracle occurs, a team of investigators starts going through the event. They will interview relevant people, talk to doctors and look for evidence that could prove the miracle false. They call this team the Miracle Commission.

The phrase “devil’s advocate” actually comes from this miracle team. This team is actively advocating against God and the canonization of any individual. It’s their job to be skeptical of any miracle claims.

Miracles have stringent criteria. The person must have only prayed to the individual in question, e.g., Pope John Paul II. The person must have had a condition with no possible cure, e.g., terminal cancer. If their disease or situation had a probable success, i.e., 10% chance of survival, the miracle wouldn’t count. 

This is why it took 8 years for someone like Pope John Paul II to become a saint. It takes time for these miracles to take place and for them to be verified.

There are lessons to be learned from the Miracle Commission. First, do you have advocates on both sides of any issue? It’s far too common to see everyone get behind one idea or plan even if it isn’t the best possible option. Assign people to advocate multiple options when determining your strategy.

Second, is your team actively looking for people to recognize? The Church goes out of its way to canonize its most important members. You’re probably not going to convert your employees into Saints but make sure that you’re highlighting the great work of specific individuals.

Third, are you consistently examining success? Teams can sometimes get stuck deconstructing why things failed instead of obsessing over why something worked and how to do more of it.

One more thing before you go! Do you know how to get more insights out of your data? 

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