As Catholics, we venerate saints to show the proper reverence and respect for the pious lives they led before entering into Heaven. We pray and ask for the intercession of the saints in Heaven, so that they may pray for us on our behalf. We even venerate saints as the Heavenly advocate and special intercessors for many patronages. But just how many saints are there? The answer is surprisingly complicated.
According to the Church, a “saint” is anyone who is in Heaven, whether their status as being in Heaven is recognized on Earth or not. A “Saint” is used to denote a person who has gone through a rigorous formal canonization process of the Church.
Its problematic to try and determine how many saints there are, not only because the term can refer to anyone in Heaven, but because the process of canonization was not constant throughout history. By the year 100 AD, early Christians were already honoring other Christians who had died and were praying for their intercession. Early saints were locally declared by a community, rather than canonized formally through the Church.
Throughout the Middle Ages however, the canonization process started to become formalized and reserved to the Holy See alone. The first official canonization took place in 993 AD by Pope John XV of Saint Ulric, and by 1588 Pope Sixtus V charged the Congregation of Rites and Ceremonies with the vetting of candidates for sainthood.
The number of how many saints there is traditionally stated to be at minimum 2,000 but most likely exceeding 10,000. However, historians have debated the specific headcount because records of saints before the introduction of a canonization process are few and far between.
Throughout his papacy, Pope Francis has canonized 885 saints, with his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI having canonized only 45 saints.