POPE Benedict XVI said yesterday he would soon confer one of the Catholic Church’s highest honours on an influential 16th-century Spanish saint, making the surprise announcement during a Mass at a world youth festival.

Benedict drew sustained applause from the seminarians, priests, bishops and cardinals gathered in Madrid’s main cathedral, when he announced at the end of the service that he would “soon” declare St John of Avila a doctor of the church. The title is reserved for those churchmen and women whose scholarly writings have greatly served the universal church.

There are currently 33 such doctors, including St Augustine, St Francis de Sales and St Teresa of Avila. Pope John Paul II added St Therese of Lisieux to the list in 1997. St John of Avila is the patron saint of Spain’s diocesan clergy and was considered one of the greatest preachers of his time.

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