Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore will be one of more than 5,000 priests, bishops and cardinals to take part in the canonization Mass for Popes John XXIII and John Paul II today at the Vatican.

Named to the episcopacy by John Paul II in 2001, the archbishop is the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty. Prior to today's ceremonies, Archbishop Lori discussed the canonizations, the lives and legacies of the saintly men and the way that both of them advanced the Church’s mission in contemporary America.


What do you think are the most important aspects of these canonizations?

Well, I think the most significant aspect is the holiness of these two pontiffs, the humility and the joy of John XXIII and, really, the contemplative mystical prayer of Pope John Paul II. I think, really, that the most fundamental thing that we are celebrating is the life and holiness of these two pontiffs and the importance of holiness for the Church’s mission of evangelization.

John XXIII was a man who remained in touch with his humble origins. I think he saw himself very much as a pilgrim soul making his way through the world. In his life of prayer, he maintained, sort of, a sense of humor with God, as a way of letting God be God. And I believe that, because of that, he reflected to the world a great joy and a great openness that everyone found to be so attractive. And so we call him the “Good Pope John” as a result of that.

As a young priest — many, many times as a young priest — I had the experience of seeing John Paul II prior to the morning Mass in his chapel, absorbed in prayer. And it is really my belief that everything he said and did as pope passed the way of contemplative prayer, and as a result, what he said and did was so very, very profound and credible.


What sort of graces would you like to see come from these canonizations?

John XXIII convoked the Second Vatican Council to renew and strengthen the Church’s mission. Pope John Paul II interpreted the Council for us authoritatively and focused us on the New Evangelization, and that work is being continued under Pope Francis.

What I would hope and pray is that these dual canonizations will be a great impetus, a great grace, for carrying forward the Church’s mission of evangelization, not only in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, but beyond.


How do you see it affecting the culture of life?

John Paul II spoke prophetically to the world about the transcendent dignity of the human person, and, when he wrote Evangelium Vitae [The Value and Inviolability of Human Life], he wrote a most beautiful and profound defense of human life, from the moment of conception until natural death.

It is impossible to think about the New Evangelization apart from the gospel of life. What we bring to our culture and to people who are looking for God is a profound sense of the sacredness of human life, its inviolability, its dignity and its openness to friendship with God. And so, the New Evangelization certainly must include prominently the gospel of life.


Is it important that these two popes are being canonized together?

John XXIII … convoked the Second Vatican Council, and … John Paul II contributed to it and helped us to understand it. It just seems to me that Pope Francis is holding up these two saintly pontiffs so that, once again, we will focus on the authentic renewal of the Church’s life and mission that the Council called for, including that universal call to holiness that is so prominent in Lumen Gentium [the Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church].


Do you think that these joint canonizations could help redress the abuses that took place after the Council and perhaps bring it back on the course, which is what perhaps John XXIII envisioned?

Yes, I think so. It seems to me that the Second Vatican Council, while not a dogmatic council, focused us very, very much on the kerygma, and it taught us how we should truly understand everything as flowing from the Incarnation, the life and teaching of Christ and his death and resurrection. I think Pope Francis is calling us back to the heart of the Gospel, so that we can once again talk to each other in the Church, understand each other and go forward on a sound basis.


What relevance do you think the two popes have with regard to the United States, and which teachings resonate the most with the United States?

Certainly, in the case of John XXIII, his encyclical Mater et Magistra [Christianity and Social Progress] struck resonant chords in the United States. We are used to using the language of human rights. I believe he, in a most appropriate way, appropriated that language into the Church’s social teaching. And that social encyclical of his, I think, continues to be highly influential.

In the case of John Paul II, there are so many ways that he affected the life of the Church in the United States. Clearly, his call for a “New Evangelization” is one of those. I think his renewal of priestly formation in the life of priests is of capital importance. His social encyclicals have exerted a tremendous influence.

But I think what we also remember is that he loved us. He visited us. He understood and he appreciated our culture. And I think for that reason, as well, we remember John Paul II so gratefully and lovingly.


Are there any other stories or anecdotes from your memories of JPII that you can share?

Well, there is one: In the year 2000, I brought my mother and father to Rome. And we went to the morning Mass, and after Mass, I had the chance to introduce my mother and father to John Paul II. And my mother just spontaneously said, “Most Holy Father, I am so happy to see you.” And the Pope smiled at my father and at me and then at my mother. And he pointed to her and he said, “Mama.” What I love about that is that he communicated in such a beautiful, human way. For all of his brilliance, for all of his mysticism, for all of his greatness, he could communicate at a very loving level, a true pastor of souls.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.