The Two Great Popes

Two beloved modern popes – John XXIII and John Paul II – are to be canonized at the Vatican this Sunday by Pope Francis. John Paul II is remembered for helping to bring down communism and for inspiring a generation of Catholics. Many now call him “the great,” only the fourth pope to have earned such recognition. And while much of the crowd’s focus will be on the Polish pope’s remarkable achievements, Pope John XXIII – known as “Good Pope John” for his kindhearted nature – was no less revolutionary. The Second Vatican Council is the fruit of his great vision of a Church renewed.

Roman officials said they expected 3 million visitors in the city during the period from Easter celebrations to the canonizations this Sunday. Nineteen heads of state and 24 prime ministers are expected to attend the canonization ceremony in St. Peter’s Square. In line with Pope Francis’ “no frills” papacy, organizers said the canonizations would be a much more sober affair than the three-day extravaganza that marked John Paul II’s beatification, the last step before sainthood, in 2011.

Francis has long signaled his support for making a saint of John Paul II, whose funeral nine years ago saw mourners chant “Santo subito [Saint now]!” In his 2005 testimony to officials responsible for the sainthood cause, Francis, then Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, praised John Paul’s approach to death as “heroic”: John Paul considered stepping down as pope but chose to serve until his death. “John Paul II taught us, by hiding nothing from others, to suffer and to die, and that, in my opinion, is heroic,” said Bergoglio.

Normally, for one to be declared a saint, at least two miracles should be attributed to them. Pope John Paul II appears to be on fast-track to sainthood. The two miracles attributed to the deceased need to be verified to be considered. The first was a French nun, said to be cured of Parkinson’s disease. The second, a Costa Rican woman, was cured of brain aneurism.

In the sainthood of John XXIII, it’s a different situation. The Catholic Church attributes only one miracle to his intercession with God, but Pope Francis made an exception. From the very beginning of his priestly ministry John XXIII taught us to see goodness in others, to love people and to hope beyond all hope when situations indicated otherwise. He won over the world, in many ways to what Pope Francis is doing now because of his unabashed simplicity and genuine goodness and humour. He called the Second Vatican Council back in the 1960s. The historic meetings led among other things to Holy Masses being said in the local languages, rather than Latin, and changed the way Catholics relate to the world, other denominations and religions.

The canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II on 27th of April will mark a historic moment in the Catholic Church. Both men were gifts of God to the world at very specific moments in history. They remind us that God provides the leaders we need at the right moments. That they receive the highest honour on the same day is in itself a statement of tremendous significance.

Fr Gilbert Banda SJ

Fr Gilbert Banda SJ is interested in Ignatian Spirituality.

g.banda@jesuitinstitute.org.za @gilbertbanda
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