VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI named two new "doctors" of the church Sunday, conferring one of the Catholic Church's highest honors on a 16th-century Spanish preacher and a 12th-century German mystic who wasn't even officially recognized as a saint until earlier this year.
St. John of Avila, Spain, and St. Hildegard of Bingen, Germany, join the ranks of only 33 other church doctors who have been singled out over the course of Christianity for their contributions to and influence on Catholic doctrine.
Benedict named them doctors at the start of a Mass in St. Peter's Square that kicked off a two-week meeting of the world's bishops to chart the church's new evangelization mission.
The synod coincides with the 50th anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 church meetings that modernized the church.
Some 262 cardinals, bishops and priests from around the world are in Rome for the synod, the largest number ever. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, was named by Benedict to run the meeting.
Addressing a sea of green-robed clerics, Benedict said the aim of the synod was to help reawaken the faith among Catholics who have drifted away from the church.
He said this crisis of the faith was reflected in the "profound crisis" of an increasing number of failed marriages.
"Matrimony," he said, "is a Gospel in itself."
At the start of the Mass, Cardinal Angelo Amato, head of the Vatican's saint-making office, read aloud the reasons why the church was proclaiming St. John and St. Hildegard doctors, saying their "holiness and eminent doctrine" shine hundreds of years after they lived.
Benedict is particularly fond of Hildegard, who was considered a saint in his native Germany but was never officially proclaimed one by the Vatican. Benedict, who himself referred to Hildegard as a saint, earlier this year passed the decree making her one officially, a requirement for her to be named a church doctor.
The last church doctor named was St. Therese of Lisieux, France, in 1997. The first church doctors were Sts. Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome and Gregory the Great.
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- Pope Benedict XVI